There are some songs that speak into the very fibres of the traveller and Dido’s classic album “White Flag” has several tracks that do exactly that. Here’s one of those here but I’d love to hear your suggestions!
To many extents, this just follows on (in a less wordy, theological way) from yesterday’s longer post. But sometimes getting a big picture does a different thing from seeing something up close. I remember standing on top of some of Europe’s tallest cliffs and thinking that really they weren’t anything amazing. Until I zoomed in with my camera on a large sea bird wheeling around in the air 100m below, and saw just how small it was.
A moment of realisation.
And that’s where travel experience can sometimes stir the imagination to greater degrees than the experience of simply reading Scripture and hearing God speak. To the person who has never seen snow or knows nothing of the concept, reading “your sins though red like scarlet shall be white as snow” probably doesn’t mean that much.
And so it is with desert wandering. If you’ve never been in a desert, it’s hard to fully appreciate how easy it is to “grumble like an Israelite” (see Numbers). Now I don’t think most of these things will radically alter anything we believe (I’m not sure anything extra-Biblical ever has, or will), but they may affect the depth of appreciation we have for God, His word and His world.
When you’ve spent a night in the desert in a pop-up tent, or walked a gruelling day without seeing anything but sand around you, or driven a day in a car that isn’t designed for desert driving and that is fast running out of petrol (so much so that you turn off the air conditioning, just to preserve fuel), then you can start to imagine what walking purposeless days on end must have been like for the Israelites.
Discipline for continually doubting God’s good purposes, even after He had rescued them from slavery in special ways. For 40 years they wandered the desert, until the next generation were prepared to accept that God might just have a future for them, as well as a past redemptive narrative.
It’s not the usual Christmas cheer but it is inevitably to do with Christmas: divine justice.
You see, throughout the scriptures God had been extremely gracious to the world, and in particular, to His people. Although we read at our carols service from John chapter 1 that “the law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus”, it doesn’t mean that grace was unknown in the old covenant. In fact, the old covenant was in itself a covenant of grace. We could turn to many a place to illustrate this but let me choose several more obvious examples:
Genesis 15 (quoted in Romans 5 and Galatians 3. I freely promised you, therefore…) :
He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Exodus 20 (I graciously rescued you, therefore…)
And God spoke all these words:
2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.
Throughout the scriptures grace (unmerited favour) goes hand in hand with judgement. More recently at our staff team days we were considering such, even as far back as Eden. Grace because if they’d stayed in the garden, there would not have been anywhere untouched by sin. Ultimately that would have been hellish to continue to live there in a spoiled place forever. The temple imagery (a place of God’s presence), so popular in modern thought on Genesis 1, would be spoilt forever. Through Genesis 1-11 we see the riff of violence, judgement and grace in a continuous cycle as the people move further east of Eden.
Reading through the book of Numbers, it is hard to look past God’s relationship with His people being based on grace, given the amount of moaning they do. Moaning that resembles a questioning of the Divine character, rather than simply a few meaningless words. And Leviticus calls the people to such high standards of holiness (“be holy as I am Holy”) that no-one could have merited anything worth talking about!
So why do we get raiding parties that seem to be divinely allowed?
Well precisely because of what we’ve seen elsewhere. Grace and judgement often go together. It is God’s grace that sends raiding parties to judge unfaithful people, to call them back to His way of human flourishing:
(Judges 2) ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, “I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.” Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 And I have also said, “I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.”’
4 When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5 and they called that place Bokim.There they offered sacrifices to the Lord.
One generation and 4 verses later:
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.
And so continually, although God provided local rescuers in different parts of the country despite their disobedience, the people soon forgot His gracious provision and went back to their ways. The stories of the judges are not primarily meant to point us to amazing people who we should emulate, but rather to a gracious God who used temporary means of grace to stave off those raiding parties who were the source of judgement.
It raises three big questions for us today that I can think of:
- How continuous is the old covenant with the new covenant today?
By that I simply mean, should we expect divine raiding parties (or earthquakes, tsunamis and other such) to come sweeping unfaithful nations today? Or even if God doesn’t relate so much to nations anymore (?), is their correlation to individuals? Perhaps Luke 13 (the Tower of Siloam) and the death of Jesus could be of good help to us. I’m not sure ISIS or earthquakes are specific judgements necessarily (for God’s divine justice will largely be satisfied at the cross or on judgement day), but as we do not know (God’s wrath is being revealed continuously if Romans 1 is correct), let us turn from our sin and call others to do so regardless. May catastrophes of this world keep us sharp in our spirituality. The (dis/)continuity of covenants is one that I look to learn from older, wiser heads than I, who have wrestled with the whole of scripture for many more years than I have.
2. Can God really divinely permit (and I would even dare to say ordain) human means of raiding parties and death-bringers?
For this, I look to experts in the field of old testament studies like Kenneth Kitchen who has written “On the reliability of the Old Testament“, Paul Copan who has written “Is God a moral monster?” or Paul Coulter who has more briefly addressed things online here.
3. What can we learn from the book of Judges?
Well many things. But running themes seem to be how gracious God is, how holy God is, and how actions that seem not to trouble or harm anyone, still hurt the intimacy of our relationship with God. Worshipping the gods of the nations. Inter-marrying with people who won’t help us pursue God. Not bringing up the generations that follow in the light of who God is.
But what has this to do with travel?
Well, may we not worship travel, nor relate intimately with those who do. And may we be those who bear the grace and judgement of Jesus as we travel. For you cannot bring the grace of Jesus without the judgement of Jesus. The two are tightly entwined.
(2 Corinthians 2)
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.
The Pauline letters are brimming with heart-filled longings and yearnings of his heart. And given some of them are directed at people he’s never even met before, it’s quite incredible to read. Check out this one to the Colossians:
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people….
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will”
He sure wears his heart on his sleeve and follows it through with action. Perhaps that’s how he gets away with some incredible rebuking and correcting in his letters too!
If you get time over the Christmas/New Year season, why not read through his letters afresh, with eyes for Paul’s passion for people?
It makes my Christmas card writing come into new light. Am I just writing the “same old” because that’s what we do or am I taking deep personal interest in those I write to? Am I writing to impress others, or am I writing for their sake, and the sake of the gospel?
But those who I bond with over longer distance communication, tend to be those I visit and travel to. I mean it’s not always that way. There are always those special people that even when you don’t communicate much in months, you still feel like you’ve never left each other when you get back together again!
And here it is: “the” cave.
It’s part of a 22 mile tunnel system built out of the chalk earth in Chislehurst, Kent (England). Named after druids, Romans and Saxons, there’s actually not so much evidence that these date back the huge number of centuries that the guides suggest, but it’s a nice story.
But more importantly than history (for what did history ever teach us??), this cave supposedly was the host of many a good gig, as pirate radio station “Caroline” hosted many an underground (quite literally) concert to hundreds of fans. Since being made a legal venue (and the derivation of said station being caught, though still finishing with a Jimi Hendrix double header even after that), many continue to have used it until 1994. Sadly legislation on alcohol (none allowed) and numbers (only 250 allowed in all 22 miles at once) mean that little happens outside of official tours and re-enactments, today.
But it’s got me thinking. There’s plenty that could still go on in here…
I live a privileged life. In modern terms, I’d come under the “WEIRD” acronym.
Rich [in world terms],
Particular ways of viewing the world, and nothing necessarily wrong with any of them. Some say I am also weird in other ways, but we’ll leave that for now. I am also a privileged male that sits as part of a dominant culture over females (unconsciously for many) in some ways.
And partly because of all of these inherited things, I get to have the potential of travel for pleasure. Whether I choose to use that potential, is another question. But many students I work with this year have said back to me:
“It’s ok for you! You’ve already travelled lots. But for me – why do I have to consider all of these things in my travel? I’ve still to have my fun!”
Underneath the question lies the assumption: “Travel is my right.” Everyone does it. It’d hardly be fair if everyone can do it but you’re telling me to think why I want to do it!
Which is why we encouraged our students in Ireland a few years ago to think that “This is not your cow”!
Psalm 50 says:
“for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”
Worth reading it all here
If God has given us our every breath, let us be thankful.
If God has given us our minds to think about what we don’t have, let us be thankful.
If God has given us our lips to express ingratitude, let us be thankful!
The thought behind this advert and campaign was to get us all to think of how many things we have been given in life. The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills has given us a few proverbial ones to mind for a short while. So let’s thank him and use them wisely!
If I fall into the WEIRD category, let me not flagellate myself and isolate myself from using my influence or seeing things from that viewpoint. No, let me use this status for the service of others.
May I use:
Western lenses only if they help humanity thrive, and only alongside my eastern friends. Education to empower others and alongside those who aren’t as educated.
Industrialised outlook to benefit others and in conjunction with those who are not.
Riches to enjoy giving sustainably to those who have not in engaging ways.
Democratic principles lightly, knowing they are not the solution to everything.
Unlike student campuses recently, I don’t think the answer lies in banning the privileged. No, let us empower them to use their gifts wisely! And the greatest empowerment? For me, it’s living with a God with me who is outside of time and space and such categories. It’s seeing things through such eyes, and living in a worldwide Church (not the institutionalised sort you may be thinking of) where most of the people are not in these WEIRD categories. Every day I can wake with that attitude, and that empowering. It’s life-changing!
And I live with a community of others who do too. That’s how when I first graduated and entered a job serving others (and not earning much), I got given a free car by someone I didn’t know well, who didn’t earn much either. It’s how each week an old lady provides milk from her measly welfare payments, so that the Cork International Student Cafe can have tea and coffee. It’s how I hope most of my travel has not been for sheer pleasure, but to serve the best interests of the world and the Church.
And so what about my right to travel?
Well, regardless of how others are using their rights, I’ve been entrusted with a fair few cows, and I’m trying to be accountable to others and to God in how I use them. How you use yours, is up to you. But I’d suggest the only “right” lies with the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills. Knock on His door demanding your rights to travel and see what He says. That said, He’s known for His generosity.
“What about travelling just to rest? You didn’t mention that in your talk. Sometimes I have no energy for anything but chilling out. What do you think?”
This was one piece of helpful feedback I got from a student as I spoke in University of Limerick Christian Union. As always I try to differentiate the question behind the question. None of our questions are asked in a neutral mindset.
But from a theological point of view, rest is important. I’m someone who needs to hear that. It’s not wasted time. It’s not any less spiritual than working or mission.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2)
Unlike I heard in a Youghal church one Sunday fifteen years ago, here, even God in His infinite being and capacity rests and calls a day “set apart” or holy. For me, I think this creation ordinance that was kept long before the 10 commandments were given (Exodus 16 one example at least), is one we still have to keep today, for our good (and the good of society). In the world that screams “survival of the fastest” (Os Guinness), nothing is a greater joy than to….
Stop and enjoy time with each other, and if you believe, time listening to God and with His people. It’s the only way many small [family] businesses could still compete against corporate giants, if the country legislates against 24/7 opening. I did it throughout my university education (at Nottingham) and thrived mentally because of it.
But our question lies in whether holiday should be complete rest time. For some like myself, who are so consumed in pastoral situations across an island (both where I grew up and primarily in Munster), some of the mental freedom will come from completely removing myself from a situation and escaping somewhere where the phone can be switched off and the emails can’t be read.
And so I think we also need rhythms of rest and work, and periods of life where things are complete rest. Does this often need to be travel? Perhaps not (as the older generation will often testify in their lives). Can travel help mentally with this? Most certainly. My question would go back:
“Are you using your holiday to love God and love others?”
And sometimes, that’s completely resting and not visiting missionaries, nor growing in understanding about the Christian Church nor sending postcards to encourage others in the faith. All this rest for the sake of honouring our bodies and minds that God has given us to use wisely, and for the sake of serving others better when we return.
As I grow in my love and enjoyment of Him, I tend to find however, that even my resting can be intentionally an active rest without forfeiting how deep-seated a rest it is. We love to hide behind labels of introvert or extrovert, personality type, strengths and weaknesses, and I’m not saying these are insignificant. But let us not unthinkingly hide away from sacrificial godliness because of a label. I can tell you my Myers Briggs result, my Strengthfinder test results and many other results. But it doesn’t stop the Holy Spirit taking my weaknesses and using them for the glory of the Father. In fact, so often it’s what He delights to do. Using me in areas I know are not my strength, at times I least want to be used by Him, and in places I want to get away from thinking about God! What a joy!
Was our questioner keen on justifying travel without serving, or were they an over-burdened heart that was fast growing weary of this world and over-working to justify themselves?
My heart always tries to find Godly sounding reasons to justify what it wants to do (resting or over-working). Perhaps they were too. But in some cases, they’d be very right to rest completely. So let me hold my heart accountable but not assume negative of others!
Now someone was having a laugh when they named this chap the patron saint of wayfarers. Just take a moment to stop and say it out loud quickly in an accent and you’ll figure out why (bolt-off)! Am I pushing it??
Now I’m not one to think of any particular person as worthy of “saint” status (and if I did, I’d probably make a good few saints from every religion and none), but it humoured me on a London rush-hour travel when I was walking past the catchily named “St Botolph without Bishopsgate“. Try flyering people for a carol service in that church…
“‘Scuse me sir, could I invite you to our carol service at St Botolph withou….”
(sees person already 10 metres down the road)