Tag Archive: Romans 13


For this year’s weekly countdown to Christmas I have chosen a selection of poems. I hope you like them. On the Sundays I offer a short verse which I have penned. For Wednesdays I have browsed my bookshelf and racked my memory to find something which might be suitable.

One important point about poetry (which I tend to forget when reading on my own) is that poetry is best read out loud. Even if you are by yourself it is worth reading your chosen poem out loud. It means that you have to decide where to put the emphasis, whether to run over two or more lines in one breath and where to put in meaningful pauses and/or natural breaks to catch your breath.. The advantage of this is that you make the poem your own; I also find that I have to pay just that little bit closer attention.

Waiting

I’m good at being patient
I can wait
When I have all the time in the world
And it doesn’t matter
Pizza delivery – there is a guarantee or your money back
Bus – I’ve got all morning

In the car – someone else is driving,
I can relax and tune out the world
When it is not urgent
“We’ll arrive round about lunchtime” gives us three hours each way
No rush.

But when I am driving
When there is a precise time to start
When it is urgent
When there is danger
Or the distress of the unknown – or simply a very full bladder –
Then what use is patience then
Hurry up, it can wait, I can’t

God sets his own timetable
In heaven where “it’s not time as we know it, Jim”
Hurry up, God, I can’t wait, I can’t wait

God is good at waiting, has to, it’s his nature,
Waiting, that’s what eternity is for
So I wait, impatiently, for eternity’s time.

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Advent Sunday 2013

Why are we waiting? I’m bored!

What do you do while you wait? What do you do with the time that has been suddenly given to your but is not long enough (you think) to start a new task? For example, your guest said they would arrive at 12.30 pm, it is now 12.40 pm. It is too soon to start phoning or texting (or is it?) and you cannot (or don’t want to) start without them. What do you do? Play eye-spy?

Or your flight/train has been delayed. You have shown your ticket, checked your luggage, had your lunch so what do you do now? If you have a smart phone you might check your e-mails – but how many times can you do that?

The thing is, if we have to wait, especially unexpectedly, it is easy to get impatient and before long we might find that our travelling companions, colleagues or family, get the wrong end of our frustration. This is a time when the commandment “love your neighbour” might help us. On these occasions, whether waiting for a bus, for Christmas or the return of Jesus, we do well to remember “Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans chapter 13 verse 10, NRSV). We might not have a catch-all strategy of what to do while waiting, but at least we have an idea of “how to do”.

We might find it hard to be patient but it is in our power to be kind.

A prayer for Advent Sunday

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen. (Common Worship: Advent Sunday)

Should Christians go to war?

Probably not.

That might seem a bit glib and there are several things to consider in coming to a judgement about these things. For Christians that includes what the Bible has to say on the matter and then doing our best to apply those insights wisely. In my tradition that means taking account of the insights of other Christians and the world we live in.

I had been asked by my church to consider the above question given the current crisis in Syria but this is neither the first nor the last time that such a question has been asked. About eight of us met to think about this and discuss a couple of questions. Firstly, I pointed out that there is a fair bit of warfare in the Old Testament and we should recognise that.

Holy War

We took as our example Joshua and the fall of Jericho, in particular chapter 6 of the book of Joshua. The background is that God has promised his people a new land to settle in but first they have to get there, conquer and then settle in it. As well as defeating the people of Jericho, Joshua and co slaughter every single person there: men, women and children (with the notable exception of Rahab and her kin). This is total war and mandated by divine command. It is in the Old Testament that we have the teaching: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.

I believe that the Old Testament has much to teach us but the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ is the end or destination of the Law (see Romans chapter 10 verse 4). We also have Jesus’ teaching and example which does not sanction holy war. There is speculation that one of the reasons that Judas fell out with Jesus was his refusal to take the path of armed resistance against the Roman occupiers of the Promised Land. Jesus’ teaching takes us beyond the idea of Holy War. I find it very difficult to see that God would sanction Holy War when his only Son demonstrated another path.

“An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”

Jesus said “But I say to you… turn the other cheek”. This is recorded in Matthew’s gospel chapter 5 verses 38-39. He has inherited an Old Testament idea but now takes it further. You could say that the original idea was to limit people’s responses so that revenge is mitigated by justice. This is learnt in many a school playground. One child hits another (it does not matter whether this was deliberate or not) and the response of the other is to punch and kick back several times. It may be in order to make sure the first person does not do it again but an immature child may simply be letting their anger get the better of him or her. To “give as good as you get” is fairer advice than “beat them to submission”.

However, Jesus’ teaching is to not respond in kind but to “turn the other cheek”. In other words, to be the place, the person where the violence stops. This is not easy and there are some problems with this. For example, a bully might try to take advantage of this by hitting someone and then saying “You can’t hit me because you are supposed to turn the other cheek” and few of us are comfortable with letting a bully get away with it.

But there is more, when Jesus is arrested some of his disciples are ready to resist and use their weapons. However, Jesus tells them to put away their sword (Matthew chapter 26 verses 50 to 54). Jesus has a heavenly army at his disposal and yet he refuses to use it. You could say that he would rather die than use lethal force. Jesus’ example inspired the first Christians to the extent that they often chose martyrdom in preference to violence. After all, Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew chapter 5 verse 9). Pacifism is the norm in the New Testament.

Just War

When the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was after he had won a battle. He has seen a shining cross in the sky (I guess some kind of halo or cloudbow, rare but not unheard of) and was told “By this sign you shall conquer”. In the letter to the Romans (chapter 13 verse 1 to 5) it says that Christians are to obey the Emperor. There are implicit conditions: the authorities are expected to punish vice and reward virtue – i.e. not be corrupt. So it would appear that it is OK for Christians to join the armed forces and obey those in lawful authority over them. This put us in direct conflict with Jesus’ own teaching and example. Bit of a headache here.

Meanwhile, we have not even considered the most obvious verse regarding this topic: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus chapter 20 verse 13 and reiterated in Romans chapter 13 verse 9). Our default position must surely be against killing anyone. What is one to do given that the perfect world, the Kingdom of God, has not yet been fully realised? We live in this world even if, in the end, we are not of this world but just passing through.

One solution is the concept of the just war. Given that there is war, what can we do to reduce its bad effects? First, we recognise that when we go to war it is at best the lesser of two evils. It is still wrong but it may seem to us that it is the better alternative. Not everyone would agree with that statement. Perhaps we can help restrain violence, even if we cannot eradicate it – but we risk compromising our principles. I personally would say that I am an almost pacifist – I do not have the courage of my conviction. Pacifism takes great courage and I admire conscientious objectors for that reason.

Over time some rules have emerged. I would not say that they make war right, but they help to reduce its harm and make it manageable. The just war criteria are:

  • the aim must be to restore peace and justice / to stop evil
  • there should be proper legal authority
  • lethal force should be the last resort – all other means must be exhausted
  • it should not be in self-defence
  • it should be proportionate to the evil to be remedied
  • it should discriminate between combatants and non-combatants
  • it should be expected to succeed

Each of the criteria needs unpacking but here I will just make a couple of observations. Legal authority usually means a resolution from the United Nations but if your country has just been invaded you do not have to wait for a vote. If you are invading someone else’s country you do. “All other means” can be problematic because of differing opinions of when the options have truly run out. Not “in self-defence” might seem strange but is in keeping with the “turn the other cheek” ethos. I would suggest that this principle rules out most, if not all, pre-emptive strikes. This principle may have contributed to the nuclear missiles staying in their silos during the Cold War. “Discriminate between combatants and non-combatants” is painfully difficult when dealing with terrorism for instance.

While the Just War approach has its weaknesses, not least its roots in dealing with Mediaeval warfare, it has its merits. Indeed, I was impressed that in the recent parliamentary debates, the concept of a just war was implicit if not explicit in the contributions that many MPs made.

Another consideration not included in the above is the environmental impact of war and the use of lethal force. To put it one way, what is the point of winning a war if you cannot live in the land any more?

What would you do?

To aid our group discussion I posed two questions. The first was based on this scenario: imagine that the Good Samaritan came across the traveller while he was still being robbed. What would the Good Samaritan do?

The second question was: What would Jesus do?

I thought the answer to each question was obvious but our group surprised me by coming up with several different responses.

What do you think?

“Wake up because your salvation is even closer than ever. Give up dark deeds and put on the armour of light”

(Romans chapter 13, verses 11-12, paraphrase)

It would be so very easy to get wound up over Advent – everyone else, it seems, thinks it’s already Christmas. Christmas trees up for some time already; Christmas songs and carols playing in the High Street Shops, mince pies appearing everywhere (rather like those black cubes in an episode of Dr Who a few week’s ago) and my first Christmas meal this week. (There are more to come; they come with the territory so I shouldn’t complain too much I suppose.) I get wound up because Advent (starting on 2nd December this year) is supposed to be a time of preparation not the celebration. So a bit of Christmas shopping might be in order and making sure the address book is up-to-date – that’s fine. But it is supposed to be a season of waiting – waiting in the expectation that God will fulfil the promises he has made.

Now, I find it hard enough to be patient as it is, but, when everyone else has already started Christmas, waiting another 3 1/2 weeks is that much harder. God give me patience! (Amen to that!)

A prayer from “Common Worship”

Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen. (Additional Collect for Advent Sunday)

God save the Queen

We are commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second. That’s not just here in England but in many other countries in the Commonwealth too. I do know that while some of us will celebrate this occasion in some way during 2012, there are others who respectfully decline to do so. They might say, for example, that choosing a Head of State should not be an accident of birth; or they might say that it is not fair that one family should have such a privileged position.

However, the fact is that no system of government is perfect. Much depends on the attitudes and qualities of the leaders of the time – whatever particular system might have put them there.

I believe that the best model of leadership is that of Jesus. He is Lord and Master to his disciples but he also washed their feet. He showed that while leaders may have particular privileges, they should never think of themselves as superior to the next person. They should also have in mind that they are accountable for their actions – not to be self-serving or a law unto themselves. In our Queen, Elizabeth II, we have an example of a leader who appears to have very much taken to heart the idea that leadership means service.

So, I for one, am happy to spend at least a moment or two to thank God for her reign; remembering that the whole world is under the sovereignty of Jesus the Christ, who is King of kings and Lord of Lords.

God save the Queen!

Likewise a bus stop, a railway forecourt, a hospital, a letter box, and a Christmas stocking?

The answer: waiting. (For a bus; meeting someone off a train; waiting for news of a birth, death or a test result; the arrival of a letter or a package; and receiving a present). As for George Formby, the “Ukulele Man” of 1950s fame, one of his popular songs included the line “leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street, in case a certain little lady comes by.” In other words, he is waiting for his sweetheart.

And I’d like to suggest that the season of Advent, the four weeks or so leading up to Christmas, is chiefly about waiting. What are we waiting for? For Jesus, of course. Why? To celebrate his arrival.

Uppermost in our minds is his birth over two thousand years ago and the main business of Advent is getting ready to celebrate his birthday. If He really is the saviour of the world, then it should be a party to which everyone is invited. To be sure, that isn’t one big party in one location but lots of smaller celebrations: we don’t intend inviting the whole neighbourhood into our small home. But there is the notion that no one should be missed out. So this is the time of year when many charities get our attention to a degree that they don’t usually – and we feel a greater obligation to give a bit more generously to, say, charities for the homeless and hungry whether nearby or overseas.

OK, so not everyone feels like “peace and goodwill to everyone” but it is an ideal that we aspire to. I’ve long been uncomfortable with so many people having the Christmas party without a second thought to whose birthday is being celebrated but I have started to come round to the idea that at least there is usually a sense that it is a celebration to be shared. Some people seem only want to eat, get drunk, and not bother about anyone else. That may be a party, but it is not a true celebration I think.

Meanwhile, at the back of many Christians’ minds is looking forward to another arrival: the New Testament talks about the time when Jesus Christ will return again. It seems to be deliberately vague about the precise date, time or place but fairly certain that is will be sudden, unexpected and obvious to all. Any one who claims that they have calculated when this will be or say they have worked out exactly how to interpret the clues in the Bible are wrong. They deceive themselves – Jesus himself says that only God knows that kind of detail.

So what is a Christian to do? Be alert. I want to suggest that being watchful, “awake”, and alert is not a difficult thing to understand. We do it in all sorts of different situations already. At the bus stop we know not to wander away in case the bus comes while we’re window shopping; we don’t give up waiting for our friend if their train happens to be delayed; we wait in, all day sometimes, for a parcel we have ordered and so on. Even children could teach us something: they know about keeping awake on Christmas Eve and are often up early on Christmas day itself!

Jesus likens this waiting to servants waiting the return of their boss (Mark chapter 13 verse 34). The servants aren’t expected to do anything particularly different but to do the chores they know they have to do and not be complacent. In other words, not to say to themselves: “Why bother? He’s not going to come back today, is he?” And the point is that he might not – or he might.

If Jesus Christ truly is both Son of Man and Son of God, who lived, died, was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, then it is reasonable to believe that he will return again at some point. And, if that is so, it is something we can rely upon more than buses, trains, deliveries or even a certain little lady passing by.

So we are being asked to consider changing the voting system for elections to the House of Commons. Currently we have FPP (First Past the Post) which is a nice straight forward system. A number of candidates stand for election, the voters cast their vote for their preferred choice and the one with the most votes wins. Simple. If you have just a handful of people standing for election and lots of people voting this system quickly gives a clear result. For example, in a group with a hundred voters one candidate might get 55 votes, another 40 and the third just 3. The one with 55 votes has a clear victory. Where it starts to get complicated is where the voting is more evenly spread out across lots of seats. You could have a situation where every victor has, say, 40 of the votes and the other two 30 a piece. That would mean that one party could win 100% of the seats with 40% of the votes. That hasn’t exactly happened but with FPP you can have a party with most seats but not most votes (as did happen in the UK in 1974). It is not all that unusual for the number not voting for a winning candidate to be significantly greater than the number of electors who did – it just requires the opposing votes to be spread out between two or more others – that duly elected MP may even have a comfortable ‘majority’.

Each system has its drawbacks, FPP included; in fact an article in the New Scientist from last year the writer suggests that “Democracy is always unfair”.
I suppose it depends on whether you are happy with a minority party having all the power (and all political parties in this country are minority parties)…. I think I’d like the power shared around some as I’m not totally convinced by any of the parties’ leaders or policies.

It also depends whether you are voting somebody in  or trying to keep the “nasty party” out. Who the “nasty party” is will depend on your own preferences and prejudices, of course.

AV (the Alternative Vote system) is not PR (Proportional Representation) but a tweak on FPP. If the candidate with the most votes still has less than 50% then the people running the election look at the second preferences of the votes of all the people who voted for the person who had least votes. That person drops out of the race while all the other candidates may get some extra votes. If anyone now has 50% of the vote they are duly elected. If not, the process carries on until eventually one person reaches that 50% mark.  It is possible for a candidate to catch up or even over take the person who had most votes in the first round so some might be a bit miffed about that. Plus if you voted for the winning candidate in the first place and they win in the end your vote only gets counted once – but are you going to complain if they’ve won?

The overall effect on the outcome of any of these elections depends on how much tactical voting there has been and how much there will continue to be. Hopefully more people will feel able to give first preference to their preferred party/candidate.

My experience of STV (the Single Transferable Vote system) is not altogether happy. It is a lot harder to keep a particular party/candidate out through tactical voting – which is perhaps an improvement – but it seems that even with more than one representative to be elected in a given constituency the three never include any of my first preferences!

The fact remains that if you vote for a minority party who never get elected, how is your opinion going to be counted? Is democracy about fair elections or is it about every one having a voice that is heard? The crucial thing, I believe, is that however one is elected, you should seek to serve the whole community and not just the part that has happened to elect you.

The Christian principles involved here are that:

  1. every human being is a child of God,
  2. anyone in a position of authority is there by divine permission not divine right,
  3. leaders are there to serve the community and not be self-serving, and
  4. no one is perfect (every single human being is a sinner) and that includes our leaders as well as the electorate.

I shall probably vote for AV in May but somewhat reluctantly. Whatever system we have my lot never seem to get in.

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