Modern laws

Recently a man I Tehran was jailed as a consequence of visiting a sorcerer who demanded $500 to grant him invisibility spells. Thinking he couldn’t be seen he entered a bank and confidently grabbed money from the customers. Their response was such that he was clearly visible! Obviously the sorcerer or wizard was an imposter, as they all are; but we know that in science fiction both Romulans and Klingons can disappear, and Harry Potter has an invisibility cloak which allows him to vanish. The only time I am invisible to others is when I jump the queue, which is happening with monotonous regularity!

Children can put their head in a box and think they cannot be see, and playing peep-o is a fun time of apparent invisibility, but that kind of joy has long gone and reality sets in. There are times in normal life when we wish we could disappear and resurface in another clime, or wish the earth would open and swallow us from embarrassment. The answer is teleportation which swiftly whisks us away to another country without an extradition policy! However, there are a group pf lawyers called ‘Gikii’ who now meet annually to discuss laws relating to future technology, and its possible legal implications. If we were transported and something went wrong who is liable?

In 19th Century England a law was passed that demanded that a motorcar driver must employ somebody to amble ahead of their vehicle, waving a warning flag. If that were still applicable it would take me 5 hours minimum to get to HICC from my bungalow, and of course the same back again. Ten hours travel for a 38 minute message [average length of my sermons] and a new pair of shoes each month for the flag man. In the US it was legislated that the property rights for an individual encompassed the sky directly above their homes, which meant that as aircraft were invented and developed, planes were routinely trespassing. They had to rush into operation new laws which said the airspace above their property was a ‘public highway.’

Thus there is often a knee-jerk reaction when a new gizmo challenges past common sense, for most legal professionals are occupied with the past not the future. However, as we face a robot age, it is possible to programme all robots to be encoded with case law, so they are never caught out but can argue their case fluently. But, what if they commit manslaughter or possibly a rogue one murders someone? It is possible. To be pre-emptive is not really necessary, but being prepared for disruptive technologies is wise.

For instance what would happen if an autonomous car hit and killed a pedestrian, who would be to blame? Did the owner of the car update the software or was he lax? Did the pedestrian have any knowledge that meant they were too casual in consideration of the car’s function and abilities? e.g., it would suddenly lurch into action, like a horse could kick if you stood behind it. Also, what if a robotic hedge cutter went rogue and sliced up a neighbour, where does liability lie? And, robots can talk, parrots mimic but are not original. Therefore a robot can say something about somebody in public and be sued for defamation of character. “Your credit card, sir, has maximised by you buying too many pornographic videos.”

This leads me to ask whether God has had to change His laws because of modern lifestyle and anticipated future trends. Satisfyingly the answer is no, He hasn’t, and no He won’t. The only question He really asks is “Do you accept my son Jesus Christ for your salvation?” Nothing else really matters; through the centuries nothing will change that eternal question and it will be answered in one way only: “Yes, I did” or “No, I didn’t.” Forget modern technology, they cannot affect or change the penalty of forgiveness for sin.

However, God did change one law, and it was immense. He allowed divorce; it was not so from the beginning, but due to the hardness of man’s heart. He must have been grieved in His spirit at the magnitude of man’s rebellion and waywardness. The modern generation have now changed that divine law, and wreaked havoc on marriage interpretation so that 30,000 legal documents have to be altered – mindless confusion indeed, and even then, it will not define marriage accurately. Meddling with God’s laws brings confusion and disaster; we sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

Future Life

If we were to describe our life here and our life in the state to come, we would say without doubt that here, it is a life of service, and there a life of recompense. It is doubtful that due to the providential disposal of our lot anyone has missed the life of toil and service, except a privileged few. Paul when looking to his earthly life says he was occupied “. . . in labours, in watchings, in fastings;” (2 Cor. 6:5). He was not exempt from the drudgery of the way by privileged position. John speaks of future days: And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from now on.  ’ Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour; for their deeds will follow them.’ ”(Rev 14:13)

No matter how holy, righteous and necessary our works here, there is a tendency to wish for the ultimate rest. Paul’s task was to plant churches, raise dead souls to new life, release the captives of darkness and set free the oppressed. But he looked and stretched for that future day when he would lay down his crown at Jesus’ feet and enter the final rest of God. There remains therefore a rest to the people of God.”

The context is this; God has set forth and instituted a day of rest in commemoration of his rest from creation. Years later he declared to his chosen people a rest through Joshua who would lead them into victory and settlement in the Promised Land. Both these rests were typical and pointing forward to a Sabbath rest in heaven. There is yet, therefore, an eternal Sabbath to dawn upon us.

This rest was for, and only for the “the people of God.” God’s mercy is for everyone, “for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,”(Matt 5:45). but his rest is only for blood-washed kingdom people. As we read Christ’s admonition in his mountain-side teaching we see he localised his offer of life to the “poor in spirit”(Mat 5:3) those who mourn for sin and those who were amazingly meek. It is their inheritance; it is the valid title deed for the “pure in heart.”(Matt 5:8).

Who then are the ‘people of God?’ They are those with whom Moses desired fellowship: “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;” (Heb 11:25-26). Moses was marked out by his love for the brethren, and his sacrificial life revealed that. His deportment was consistent with someone who eschewed the environment of privilege in Pharaoh’s court. We do not read of any particular ‘pleasures of sin’ he adopted, but sufficient that his lifestyle lay itself open to possible misdirection and compromise. He rejected those of ungodly association and chose poor slaves; the lowest of that society. It is evident he was part of that august company called ‘the people of God.’

Those people are marked out as significantly exclusive, Peter describes them like this; we are now “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.”(1 Peter 2:9) Designated and honoured as such so that we can “show forth his praise of him who has called [us] out of darkness into his own marvelous light.”(same source as last time).  A ruined race, outcasts of paradise, redeemed unto eternity. Christ stooped to lift us up, he bled to heal our wounds, he died that we might never die, and he suffered that we might reign.  Our appreciation is endless.

Lastly, “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,”(Phil 3:3)  That’s it, we worship in the Spirit; there is no other way to worship.  The people of God glory in Jesus Christ, and praise him above all things. His living word instructs, his promises support, his priesthood intercedes, his kingship overrules and his governance provides wisdom. Thus we have no confidence in the flesh, for flesh fails and betrays us, it spots our white garments, it restrains prayer, it clogs the river of God and it clips the wings of aspiration.

There are many forms of rest; rest from the daily toils, rest from the anxiety of duty, rest from the sorrows of painful suffering and rest from a seared conscience unable to forgive. Whichever and whatever, their number is legion. But one day we will shake them all off like autumn leaves blown by a gentle breeze, and finally we will be free from temptation and conflict. Erstwhile we await our final transformation; we walk diligently according to the signposts of God.

Past Grumbles

Over the last few weeks I have been writing articles and preaching sermons with a slant towards suffering and I have been asked by several people to produce a book of these writings and sermons. This will take about four months but in the meantime I have included here the article I wrote for the Elim national magazine now called Decision. This was when I was in my late thirties, about forty years ago, at a crisis point in my life. As I wrote it Patricia came into my study, read it and said, “Finish it positively for it is full of negative moaning.” It was written about her physical condition so she had the right to state her mind. Here it is:

“Oh Lord, I’m in distress, in fact the word to describe my exact feeling is despair. I have never sunk so low and been so disillusioned over circumstances. Everything, yes literally everything seems to have gone wrong. The Working together” of Romans mocks my situation and God seems to be somewhere beyond an angry sky. I just wait for the next thunderbolt to fall, knowing that the present pain is so great that a little more will not matter.  I’m crumbling inside and all the vain platitudes from fellow saints are the mouthing of cold comfort.               

This adversity stretches into the distance in its vastness and my unbelief pushes it past the horizon. As I open my mouth to sigh my tongue is parched and dry. “If only” is my constant theme. I languish in pity so thick that it sticks to my feet in a morass of misery. Words hardly explain my state; they are inadequate to reveal the silent hurt that burns inside.    

If I am honest, and honest I must be, I resent this thing called the will of God. I prayed for His hand to lead me into a walk that shines with love’s sweet smile, expecting in my zestful hope that he would take me to Transfigurations Mount. Instead He took me to a valley so dark and drear that even music seemed out of place. Stark trees like dead fingers are my companions and ragged rocks my cold pillow. Here I am hunched in stumbling weariness, slithering on slopes of shale, failing and fussing, moaning and groaning, bleeding and bothered and thoroughly shot through of every personal pride. I lay me down and weep until my soul is dry. Why God, oh why is this the way and not another? Must it be the dark and drear and not the bright and crystal clear? Will this poverty of joy lie like a shadow on my life much longer?

Lord, I cannot stand it. Enough is enough; turn on the lights and speak in the darkness. Change the chaos into peaceful order even if it takes six days, Lord. Begin now and do not leave it. Can I nudge your arm with my tears? Do these broken sighs mean anything to you? Won’t you stop as you did to blind Bartimeaus and speak with the voice of victory?

I understand, Lord, that you chasten those whom you love, but the pressure has been on for a long time now. There must be a difference between chastening and this. I’m bruised all over. You’ve left your mark on my heart and head and I hate to think where else you will lay the stick. Is all this necessary? For I love you, you know that, and I do try to follow you, you know that also. Then why this way which is so alien to all my inclinations and desires?

At this point my wife intervened and I added this last paragraph:                

The Psalmist got the victory, so please teach me, Lord. He said “I will praise the Lord no matter what happens” [NEB 34:1], yet I don’t think that I can. Anyhow, it would take a superhuman effort, and I feel so terribly human at the moment. I’ve been down twice and the third time is coming up and the straws are fast disappearing: but perhaps that may be the answer. I’ve clutched at too many straws in the past and not at you. Hanging on to the hay can be pretty precarious. I think that I may be getting it at last, Lord. My grip has been on the transient things that have no substance outside time. It has been all vision and not faith. Because I could not a see way out I thought there wasn’t one. You’re getting all the straws sorted out and burning them one by one. It’s the heat from the fire that’s causing the all the pain. I’m too near the stubble and I’ve been reaching into the fire. The sunlight will succeed the shadow, the mountain the valley. While grumbling this matter over with you I failed to notice the terrain growing smoother and there is a suggestion of light on the horizon. It’s changing, lord, and I hardly recognized it.” 

Locusts

Locusts were the plague of American farms for decades and the eruption in the mid-1870s entered into legend. On 6th April 1877 John Pillsbury, the Governor of Minnesota called for a day of prayer to plead for divine deliverance from them. A few days later the insects rose up and left as inexplicably as they had come, never to return again.

When the Rocky Mountain locusts swarmed, they darkened the skies over vast swathes of the western and central US, from Idaho to Arkansas. One eyewitness said that such a swarm passed over Plattsmouth, Nebraska, in 1875 and was estimated to be 3000 kilometres (1,800 miles) long and 180 kilometres (111 miles) wide. When they finished feeding “You couldn’t see that there had ever been a cornfield there,” said one farmer. These big beefy locusts were considered the greatest threat to agriculture in the west, but the vast swarms vanished a few days after that day of prayer in 1877 and were totally extinct within 30 years. The last recorded one that was found alive was in 1902 by a river on the Canadian prairie.

Entomologists tried to learn everything they could about this species of locust – what triggered them to swarm, what they ate and how they reproduced? During that disastrous outbreak in the mid-1880s farmers fought back with every tool they could muster. When their pioneer wives draped blankets over the produce, the locusts simply ate them and went on with the vegetables. However, when they just disappeared they began to ask why.

An ecologist from the University of Wyoming discovered the answer. He and his students recovered 130 intact bodies of the Rocky Mountain Locust, the legacy of the swarm that had risen out of the river valleys of western Wyoming in the early 1600s; long before European settlers changed the face of the west. The analysis of the scattered parts in the ice on Knife Point Glacier confirmed that locust swarms passed regularly over the mountains during the centuries before their extinction.  As he sought for further facts he came upon the works of Charles Rilley, an entomologist who spent much of the 1870s and 1880s searching for ways to kill the locusts. His conclusion was that ploughing and irrigation would destroy the eggs in their ‘permanent breeding zone.’ These were in the river valleys of Montana and Wyoming, where the incoming settlers chose to farm, but as less than 10% of the arable land was being cultivated he doubted if it would have a significant impact.

However, when he superimposed the map of the breeding grounds with the farming map, he found they were identical, and that when the farmers had unwittingly chosen to cultivate the area for wheat and hay in the 1800s they had inadvertently charted the locusts’ extinction.

It took 30 years for the prayer of John Pillsbury to be fully answered, but eventually it was, through natural causes. God can use anything from anyone to answer prayer, and will take His own time to accomplish it.  Joseph had a vision, and no doubt prayed for its fulfilment, but his answer lay in rejection and a dungeon. His brothers sold him into slavery and his master’s wife made false accusations against him. Yet, after about 17 years, God answered the prayer and restored him and in one day fulfilled the prophetic dreams he had been given.  It was through an apparent simple happening. Dreams were part of the mystic belief of that age and the Pharaoh had such an unsettling dream that he demanded interpreters to answer his unease. Joseph could interpret dreams but little did he realise that in answering that mystery it would lead to the salvation of his wider family. Just like the Montana farmers who, when they cultivated the river valleys, would, in years to come, save their own livelihood and hence their families. God’s ways are mysterious and marvellous.

As we go about our lives in the mundane execution of daily routine, earning an income and living through seasons of life, we can unsuspectingly answer our own prayers. The faithful servants of Matthew 25 were given various talents to trade. Without knowing or realising it, their lives would change due to the responsibility of the imparted talents, and their reward would be the consequential transformation of their lives. Their faithfulness to the task would unknowingly kill the locusts of dilatoriness, doubt, laziness, fear and self-preservation that could destroy the fruitfulness of life. The locusts of suffering, adversity, trial and temptation which can strip us bare of fruitfulness and a life-harvest can become just a memory as we extend our trust in the divine pleasure over our lives.