In whose name?

Hallowed be your name Matthew 6:9b

All right, all right. I know. I start a new series and then disappear for two and a half months. What can I say? There’s blogging, and then there’s life. And without life, what would there be to blog about?

Anyway, here I am now. And I want to talk about swearing. You see, most Christians appear to think this line of the Lord’s Prayer is about blaspheming. And yes, I did use to cringe a bit when my Austrian Jewish mother came out with ‘Jesus Maria!’ (pronounced ‘YESsus MaREEa’) or ‘Oh Christ!’. Funnily enough I didn’t mind so much when she simply said ‘Oh God’ – it felt more generic, somehow. But since she died, I’ve become quite a swearer myself. I have to restrain myself in polite company (mainly Christians) and I try not to use nicknames for female body parts as curses (but sometimes four letter words are just so punchy and satisfying…).

The thing is, Jesus didn’t actually say anything about this kind of swearing at all. When he commanded us to ‘Swear not at all’, he wasn’t talking about posting ‘OMG’ or ‘Jesus wept’. What he was attacking was the idea that by invoking our children’s lives, or our grandmother’s honour (or dare I say by placing our hand on a Bible or a Qur’an?) we were somehow demonstrating that we were telling truth at that moment, whatever we might do at any other time. Instead he told us to speak truth at all times, which would mean we never needed an oath. That’s why traditionally, Quakers and Mennonites refuse to swear oaths in court, instead simply affirming that we are bearing true witness – which we aspire to do at all times, not just in a witness box.

So when Jesus prayed that his Father’s name be hallowed, he can’t possibly have been talking about swearing. That is not what ‘taking God’s name in vain’ means at all. Rather, it surely means using God’s name to put an imprimatur on our own enterprises, whether they conform to the will of God or not. So when a nuclear submarine, a means of wiping out thousands of people bearing God’s image, is called ‘Corpus Christi’ and blessed by a chaplain, that is taking God’s name in vain. That is God’s name not being hallowed. And when a country that has become rich from slavery, as ours did, is called a ‘Christian nation’, that is taking God’s name in vain, and God’s name not being hallowed. And when, as I read recently, a well known ex-patriate Christian, who has not lived in the UK for decades and knows nothing about the effect of the last government’s policies on the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, pronounces that the Conservative victory in the recent election was ‘supernatural’ – that is taking God’s name in vain, and that is God’s name not being hallowed. To take God’s name and attach it to something that is clearly nothing to do with the agenda of the Prince of Peace, that hinders rather than furthers the Kingdom of God – that is blasphemy.

I believe that when Jesus prayed that God’s name be hallowed, he was asking that it should only be used in connection with God’s purposes – to create a new heavens and new earth, to bring about the peaceable Kingdom – and that it should never be brought into disrepute by being used to justify cruelty, oppression or hate. That is hallowing God’s name: to use it only as a label for enterprises that actually bring good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, sight to the blind. And I want to echo Jesus’ prayer that we should only use it that way.

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Our divine parent

‘Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven’ Matthew 6:9

For some time I’ve been meaning to write a short series on what we call ‘the Lord’s Prayer’, so a couple of weeks into Lent seems as good a time to start as any.

What strikes me most about this model for prayer that Jesus gave us, is the opening word ‘Our’. We talk of ‘having a personal relationship with Jesus/God’, a phrase that never appears in Scripture (the first hearers of Jesus or the Gospels and Epistles would not even have known the meaning of the word ‘relationship’, nor probably the word ‘personal’). But this is unashamedly a communal prayer. We have a parent (the emphasis is surely on the parenthood rather than the gender of the parent) in heaven. Where is that? Dallas Willard has pointed out in The Divine Conspiracy that the people of this time would have conceived of seven heavens, the first one being the air around us. So you could paraphrase as ‘our joint parent who is as close as the air we breathe’. This is a long way from ‘be near me Lord Jesus, look down from the sky’!

Having a joint parent, of course, makes us all siblings, with reciprocal obligations to each other. My only biological sibling, my older brother, let go of his own life forty years ago (I won’t say he ‘took his life’, because what he was actually doing was rejecting it, not taking it). I was unmarried till my 36th birthday, and lived in fear of what life would be like when my parents died and there was no one in the world who had an obligation to look after me (only one grandparent was alive when I was born, she lived in Vienna and died when I was 12, and I had no known cousins except some second cousins in Hungary). One day I was reading my Bible (I no longer remember what part) and read the verse ‘The Lord is my redeemer’. In a footnote, my Bible told me that the word used for ‘redeemer’ meant ‘kinsman-redeemer’, the person who was obliged to support you financially and socially, the role Boaz had in relation to Ruth. What a comforting discovery, to know that God was my closest relative – my ‘man-bap’ (father/mother) to borrow the phrase used of the Indian army in Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet novels (in that case, patronisingly, but here protectively).

And here in this prayer of Jesus, we are all made into each other’s ‘kinsman-redeemer’, with a duty of care for each other, and all under the umbrella of the most loving parent, whatever gender (or none) you conceive that parent to be. Do we acknowledge this connectedness when we recite this prayer in church? We should.

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Sorry, Henri, I don’t agree

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18, NIV)

There’s a new hermeneutic about. It’s called ‘I don’t think this means what you think it means’. I’ve noticed it popping up online, though usually in relation to misuse of language, rather than to biblical passages. I may indeed be the first to apply it to the Bible. On the other hand, it may just be a new version of the good old ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’, which is always worth trying out.

Be that as it may, I received an email recently from the Henri Nouwen Society, to whose daily reflections I subscribe, and it was on the above passage. Here’s what the late great Henri Nouwen had to say on it:

Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things-the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation, and so on-will get better. Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.

All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like. Let’s live with hope.

Now it’s not exactly that I disagree with Nouwen here. There is a difference between optimism and hope, and it does have to do with trusting in God’s intention to fulfil God’s promises. But where I find what he has said inadequate, is this: he associates optimism with an expectation that things will get better in concrete terms: the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation. Yet when he turns to hope, he associates it with some abstract condition called ‘true freedom’. By so doing, he implies that true hope, hope in the fulfilment of God’s promises, has nothing to do with ‘the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation’.

Yet if you look at the people he cites as examples of true hope, their hope had absolutely everything to do with conditions in this concrete world. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Gandhi, Dorothy Day (I don’t know enough about Rumi to say) all spoke out about their hope for a transformed world where human relationships, the economy, the political situation would be changed for the better (and the weather too, insofar as climate change is a justice issue…). The fulfilment of God’s promises has enormous relevance to all these areas, not just to some afterlife where something undefined called ‘true freedom’ reigns.

So Henri Nouwen, much as I love your work, I do not think this passage means what you think it means. The ‘things that are unseen’ are not to do with some ‘spiritual realm’ detached from concrete conditions in this world. What Paul meant by ‘what is unseen’, I believe, is precisely the justice, peace, equality, food and shelter for all, that we do not yet see in this world, but which we will see on ‘the Day of the Lord’. The ‘unseen’ does not pertain to some heaven far away, but to this very material world, which God so loved that he gave his Son. The only difference between the optimist and those with hope, is that those with hope know that God’s transformation of the world is assured.

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The less you see

Jesus said to him… ‘Blessed are those who have seen and have come to believe.’

No he didn’t, did he? Here’s what he actually said:

Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 20:29).

But you could be forgiven for thinking that he said what I posted at the start. For many Christians today, it seems to me, measure faith by how many miracles, healings and spiritual gifts someone has received. A person with a constant sense of God’s presence and activity is seen as a person with great faith; disabled or ill people who are not healed are (shamefully) blamed for a lack of faith. Anyone like myself or various friends of mine, who rarely have any sense of God’s presence or power, are seen as having little faith.

What Jesus says to Thomas here is the exact opposite. Those who believe because they have seen some spectacular act of God, or because everything in their life generally goes right, are those with scant faith, for they have to be shown magic tricks to believe. While those who have constant struggles, whose prayers hardly ever seem to be answered, and who yet put their trust in God, are the ones with magnificent faith.

The clue is in the word: faith. I don’t have faith in the chair I’m sitting on to hold me up; I know it will, from long experience. But if I deliberately fall backwards in my drama workshop so the person behind can catch me, I am exercising faith. I don’t know they will, though I may have some evidence from their previous behaviour. It’s faith. It’s not sight. Simple.

Paul makes it quite clear in 1 Corinthians that faith is temporary, as is hope. They are qualities we have to practise while we don’t yet see all things restored and God being all in all. When we do, then faith and hope will be redundant.

In the meantime, it is those who don’t see and yet believe, who are commended for their faith. In a sense, the less we see, the more faith we have. Those who always see, whose prayers always have answers, really have almost no faith at all. God has to feed them constantly with results to keep them going, as a mother constantly feeds an infant. Or perhaps as a father holds on to his daughter’s bicycle while she learns to balance. It will be hard for such when God takes off the stabilizers, and they have to learn to ride on their own.

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The violent entering the kingdom of God

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Matthew 15:34-39)

This is by way of a postscript to last week’s comments. Never mind the bystanders whose grasp of Hebrew/Aramaic is less than perfect (my grasp of either is nil!), and who give Jesus drink purely to prolong the spectacle (or do they actually want him rescued?). What has recently stood out for me is the centurion’s response. This man is not only a) a Gentile in the service of the occupying forces but also b) a man who lives by violence or the threat of it. And yet it is he who gets the point, while the others miss it.

You might expect this soldier to come out with his ground-breaking statement after Jesus has said ‘It is finished’ or perhaps after that touching scene with his mother and the disciple John. It would be even more appropriate, perhaps, if he were to make his profession of faith after hearing Jesus say ‘Father, forgive them’, and thus publicly renounce violence and embrace non-resistance. But he doesn’t. Instead, he speaks immediately after Jesus has cried his apparently most despairing utterance from the Cross. At this point, Jesus appears to be utterly defeated, throwing in the towel at his abandonment by his previously ever-present Father.

Yet it is here that the centurion recognizes the universal principle I suggested last week: ‘Power is made perfect in weakness’. Here, when Jesus is desperate, unable even to move, hardly able to speak, that a man of violence gains his insight into the victory that is expressed in absorbing violence, not returning it. Dare we act any differently, when we are threatened? Because when we meet violence with violence, our gospel is null and void. Only when we suffer violence and refuse to return it, do we have any good news for the world.

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Whose power, whose weakness?

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a)

Recently I was at a conference on mental health issues and Christian responses to them. I heard one speaker quote from this passage, using the words ‘For my power is made perfect in your weakness’. ‘No’, I thought to myself, ‘that’s wrong – surely it’s “my power is made perfect in weakness”; the “your” isn’t there, she or the translation she’s using has put it in.’ Now today I look at this version, the NRSV, and discover that not only is ‘your’ not there, but ‘my’ isn’t there either! Simply ‘power is made perfect in weakness’. What are we to make of this?

One reason I objected to the way the speaker had quoted it, was that it seemed to me to imply that in order for God to be powerful or strong, we had to be weak. Doesn’t this sound rather like a bullying or abusive God? What kind of Father (or Mother) requires their children to be weak so that they can show their power? Surely a creator God would want her/his children to exercise the strengths and gifts that God had placed in them, not to relinquish those strengths to make God even more triumphant?

What I originally wanted to say in this post was something like this: Without the ‘your’, surely Paul is saying here that God’s power is made perfect in God’s weakness; that when God is a helpless, incontinent, uncoordinated baby in a feeding trough, or when that baby, grown up, is nailed wrist and foot on an instrument of torture, barely able to breathe, that is paradoxically God at God’s most powerful, defeating the powers of evil and death by sheer vulnerability, by refusing to use the weapons of oppression and violence.

But now I’ve noticed that the ‘my’ is the translator’s addition too, I think there is even more going on here. Paul appears to be stating a universal law: that when God or ourselves are at our most powerless, when we refuse to use the world’s ways of gaining power, it is then that we have most impact, then that we are truly victorious. It occurs to me that there are really only two types of Christian in the world: those who think their faith makes them invulnerable, and those who believe their faith calls them to be vulnerable. I know which type I like better, and which type I aspire – though I have a long way to go – to be.

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Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world (Hebrews 11:1-2)

Well, I’ve written several posts now and it’s occurred to me that while I explained on the home page what my purpose was with this blog, I haven’t really outlined what my guiding hermeneutic, or principle of interpretation, is. As we all know (or we should) there is no such thing as a neutral, unbiased, ‘plain’ interpretation of Scripture; we all stand somewhere, and operate with conscious and unconscious assumptions, and the more we can make the unconscious ones conscious, the better, or at least more transparent, our interpretation will be.

You may have noticed already that I have a leaning towards making the female characters of the Bible, and a woman-centred understanding of key passages, more visible. I make no apology for this: the Bible is vastly skewed towards male stories and male perspectives, but there is no need for us to make it more so than it already is, and there are many neglected female stories and perspectives that we can rescue. We may also note that, especially in Luke’s account, Jesus seems to go out of his way to include women both in his actions and in his parables. As a lifelong woman myself, I feel passionate about pointing this out! My hermeneutic is very much a hermeneutic, not so much a hermeneutic.

But if there is one verse (well, two really), that encapsulates my chosen approach to Scripture, this is it. Indeed, I could actually boil it down to what I consider the most important word in this sentence, the one in the middle: ‘but’. Why not ‘and’? Because what I think the anonymous author of Hebrews is saying, is that a) revelation is progressive, so new revelations may supersede or expand upon older ones, and b) Jesus, the supreme revelation of God, relativizes every other form of biblical revelation, so that since Jesus, no other part of the Bible can be read independently of his life, death and resurrection.

This is a very Anabaptist hermeneutic, though I think I was unconsciously using it long before I was consciously Anabaptist (in fact when I began to discover Anabaptism, it was not so much a new understanding, as a realization that I had already been Anabaptist for 20 years but didn’t know that was what I was). For the Anabaptist interpreter (and that means ordinary church members, not just academic theologians), Jesus is the hermeneutical key, the lens through which we view the rest of the Bible. This is much more than just searching for predictions and foreshadowings of Christ in the Old Testament; it is using the life and teaching of Jesus as a yardstick to assess any interpretation of other Scriptures, both OT and NT: if an interpretation appears to contradict the actions and teachings of Jesus, it is probably wrong.

The use of ‘but’ here says to me that while there is continuity between OT revelation and God’s self-disclosure in Jesus, there is also a radical discontinuity: ‘You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…’. And we must always balance that continuity with that discontinuity, otherwise we descend into legalism, Christendom compromises, and the error of the Galatians, who thought that salvation was by grace, but sanctification by law.

So that’s my stall set out, and I hope you will continue to buy from it. I shall continue to write here, whether anyone reads me or not. But if you do read, please do let me know what you think – it can be quite lonely sending little satellites out into cyberspace and never hearing back!

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  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. (Luke 2:52)
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ (Luke 10:25-28).

I’m sure the lawyer in this passage never did a Myers Briggs test. How would his personality type have come out? Introvert or extravert? Certainly extravert enough to brave the crowds around Jesus. Sensing or intuitive? Perhaps far enough along the sensing spectrum to want a ‘right answer’. Definitely a thinker rather than a feeler. And, given that he was a lawyer, probably more judging than perceiving. Let’s call him an ESTJ. Of course the only thing we can say for sure that he shared with Myers and Briggs was a tendency to see things in four parameters. Or was that Luke? Luke was certainly fond of pairs: every time he quotes a parable or story in which a man is the lead character, he pairs it with one in which a woman is the lead character – check it out.

Did you notice that Luke, or the lawyer, has actually misquoted, or added to, Deuteronomy 6.5? For in the original verse from Deuteronomy, only heart, soul and might are mentioned. Interesting, isn’t it, that it is a lawyer who adds the missing ‘mind’? He also merges it with the Levitical command to love one’s neighbour, which suggests that he was, not exactly a human rights lawyer (that would be an anachronism) but one who recognizes that the law is designed for human flourishing. Perhaps these two verses were commonly linked at the time; I’m not enough of a biblical/historical scholar to know.

But what interests me is that fourfold linkage of heart, soul, strength and mind. It took me years to notice how it links up with Luke’s description of Jesus’ ‘hidden years’, where he is shown as growing intellectually (wisdom), physically (years, sometimes rendered as ‘stature’), spiritually (divine favour) and emotionally/socially (human favour). This portrait corresponds perfectly to the lawyer’s quartet, as he calls us to to love God with our emotions, our spirituality, our physicality and our intellect.

In some branches of twentieth century evangelicalism, especially the non- or pre-charismatic, loving God with the mind has been prioritized over the other aspects of our humanity. And this was for good reasons: leaders such as the great John Stott wanted to give their faith an intellectual content that could stand up beside the best of secular philosopy and science. However this could at times go with a distrust of emotions and the physical, which on a popular level was expressed as ‘faith not feelings’. This dictum was right in urging us not to let our faith fluctuate with our moods. But it also did a lot of harm to those of us who leant more heavily to the Feelings side of the Myers Briggs third parameter – especially women, who could be excluded from leadership, and indeed from being listened too, because we were seen as more (read ‘too’) emotional.

I am no advocate of the late unlamented Toronto Blessing; but when Stott questioned it with the words ‘I would not want to lose control of my mind’, I did wonder how he managed to go to sleep every night! The mind is only one of the four dimensions in which we are to love God, and when it dominates, we may develop a very limited or distorted image of God.

What would it mean to love God with our emotions? With our physicality? Eric Liddell never said, and would probably never have said, that famous sentence from Chariots of Fire, but when he says it in the film, the scriptwriter is identifying something important. I suspect if we are unable to love God with our feelings and our body, we will have little understanding of what it means to love God with our soul/spirit. Because the image of God in us consists of more than our rationality. It resides in our ability to relate, to communicate, to love, to ‘enjoy the world aright’, as the C17th poet Thomas Traherne says in his wonderful Centuries of Meditation. Do this, and you will live.

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Saving us from God?

Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;  but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)

I love Hebrews, even though its list of faith heroes in chapter 11 is not at all good on including women. But these few verses have begun to bother me. What does it mean to say that Jesus intercedes with God for us? Does it mean that a compassionate Jesus pleads with an intransigent God who would otherwise not grant our requests? It reminds me of a very profound question I saw somewhere on the internet (probably Facebook, there’s some gold there among the dross of public piety): ‘Does Jesus save us from God?’ The question was, of course, about how we view the Atonement, but it could equally be applied to the strange claim that Jesus intercedes with God for us.

Since beginning to dwell on these verses, especially verse 25, I’ve begun to see it a different way. God’s reluctance to grant what we pray for, is perhaps all in our own imagination. We pray, sometimes with desperation, but we don’t always feel confident that God is hearing or will act. Our image of God can be distorted, can suggest a God whose arm has to be twisted. Poor interpretation of the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, can reinforce this impression. Surely the point of the parable is that if even a Judge Jefferies type can eventually be worn down, how much more quickly and willingly will God, who is not an unjust judge but a just one, receive our prayers.

What this verse in Hebrews has come to mean to me, then, is that when we pray, with however little faith, we are plunging ourselves into the stream of Jesus’ constant prayer for us. That prayer is not so much to a reluctant Father, but is rather against the evil in the world, and indeed the evil in ‘high places’. Jesus is not mediating our prayers to God; Jesus’ prayer for us represents the immeasurable longing of the whole Trinity for our good, and the good of the creation. The Father prays, the Son prays, the Spirit prays. So when we pray, we are accessing a ‘prayer force’ way beyond our little, timebound,  narrow-visioned requests. We are swept up into the great desire of God for a transformed universe.

Viewed in this light, our prayers are just a tiny drop, not only in the turbulent sea of the world’s prayers, but in the great ocean of God’s prayers. Does it mean God prays to God? And if it does, why not? After all, it is in the nature of persons to exhort themselves to achieve things. But it also means, perhaps, that God’s prayer is a word of defiance against destruction, against greed and violence, against the ‘accuser of the brethren’ (and especially the sistren…). If such a God is on our side, who indeed can be against us?

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Love at first sight?

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18 Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”‘ 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him. (Mark 10:17-21a).

Do you believe in love at first sight? I don’t just believe in it, I’ve seen it. In fact I’ve experienced it, multiple times. There are just some people you meet, and you know instantly that they’re on your wavelength, that you want to relate to them. It’s not always sexual; I’ve felt like this about men, women, whole families, places, works of art. Something just fits. On the other hand, I’ve met people I didn’t think much of at first sight, but whom I instantly knew were going to be important in my life. One of them, I’ve been married to for 25 years!

I don’t see any reason why Jesus shouldn’t have had this common human experience. Yes, at a spiritual level he loved, and loves, everyone infinitely. But at a human level, there must have been people – and indeed we know there were people – whom he just felt drawn to more than to others. ‘Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’ (John 10:5). ‘One of his disciples — the one whom Jesus loved — was reclining next to him’ (John 13:21).

What should we make of this apparent ‘favouritism’? If Jesus apparently loved, or at least liked, some people more than others, does that mean it’s all right for us to do the same? And does it mean he still prefers some of us to others – and if so, on what does he base that love or lack of it? Scary stuff…

Perhaps we should take a lesson from the figure representing God the Father in The Shack, who frequently remarks that she is ‘especially fond of’ X or Y’. But when asked whether there is anyone she is not ‘especially fond of’, she is unable to name any – she is ‘especially fond of’ absolutely everyone. Or to put it another way, I think God loves every single one of us exactly the same amount (which is unlimited) but each in a totally individual way according to how God has created us. Just as a good parent, in fact, does not love any one of her children more or less than the others, but at the same time, loves each in a different way.

As human beings, there are always going to be people we like or love more than others, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Only in the new heavens and new earth, when we are fully who we are meant to be, will we be able, like God, to be ‘especially fond’ of absolutely everyone – to love everyone to the same degree, but each one in an individual and totally different way. In the meantime, we will always have people we don’t warm to, or positively dislike. And when Jesus told us to love our enemies, perhaps as well as those who actively seek to do us harm, he also meant those people who have never done us any harm at all, but whom we just find irritating or unattractive or uninteresting. Maybe those are the very ones we are meant to love ‘at second, third, or umpteenth, however unwelcome, sight’. God give us the gift of being able to…

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