Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Lover

(an imagined juxtaposition of Hosea and Picasso -- the Picasso parts are based on actual quotes from the artist)

I create by destroying, I give to the world by taking. The broken are the fools who do not believe in their own genius. He can who thinks he can, and he can't who thinks he can't. This is an inexorable, indisputable law. I acknowledge no other. I am because I am, and I am sufficient. It is enough to be me.

You have called me to love as You love, and my heart is broken. I am not God, I am a man, and my heart cannot stretch this far without breaking. You have given me a broken woman as my wife, a woman who has no interest in fidelity, a person reduced to a commodity to be bought and sold. How can I even be certain that my children are my own? Nothing is truly mine, yet all is Yours, and I fall into the hole between desire and fulfilment—yet even this crevasse is not so deep that Your love is not deeper! I have seen, not just in the faithlessness of Gomer, but in the shallowness of my own heart how weak and fickle a people we truly are and how great is your constancy.

There are only two types of women, goddesses and doormats, and I know what to do with each. Fidelity? What is that but a crude form of bondage? Only the masters matter, those who create. God? He is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things. Love? Love is the greatest refreshment in life. It serves me, I do not serve it.

How shall I speak of Your love? We flail, we flee, we fall apart into infidelity, and you remain constant. We cannot fall outside the compass of your love. You are the husband who is faithful to His faithless bride, the father who cannot give up on His errant child. I have held the pieces of my heart in their bleeding confusion through the lonely watches of the darkness, knowing that the one I gave my own name to is revelling in another’s arms. And I have seen that my Gomer is Israel writ small. But, in response must my love grow to be as tender as yours? And as I grapple with betrayal I dare to wonder a thing I scarcely dare to put into words: is there some sense in which the maker of the universe, the almighty Lord of Hosts, has a broken heart?

Truth? Why do people make so much of it? If there were only one truth you couldn’t paint a hundred canvasses on the same theme! The world today doesn’t make any sense, so why should I paint pictures that do? We all know that art is not truth, art is a lie that makes us realise the truth. We must pick out what is good for us where we can find it.

You alone are truth, and your love is the highest truth that we can know. You love us as a husband who stays true to an untrue wife, as a father who cannot give up his wayward and rebellious children but holds them still closer in His heart. We stumble gracelessly through the motions of living, constructing our own truths, but that is a folly which ends in dust and ashes. Choose our good for us, Oh Lord, for you are the only one who is wholly right the only one who is holy.

If I had been a priest I would have become pope, but I am an artist so I became Picasso. It is all about me – I am!

Lord, heal our waywardness and teach us to love as you love. We are nothing without you

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Through the Long Night

He watched them walk away, out of the garden, down the hill, and tasted the pain of that moment. Even with their first glory withered, they were strong, and beautiful, the crowning glory of His creation. But their light had gone out. Though the sun hung vivid and burning in the sky, they were walking into that darkness their descendants would call history. They had, themselves, become that darkness. It was a darkness full of petty evils that would grind their souls to dust. It was the kingdom of death, and the end of the beginning

And, as the long night continued, it grew darker, and darker and darker – violence, lust, hatred, murder, and the twisted worship of perverted things. Downward the world spiralled, away from its only source of light and hope, and the tears of its children were more bitter than the saltiness of the sea. And the day came when the waters covered all the earth, and the grossest evils were washed away – but the darkness had not been defeated, and the small group of people on that lonely boat carried it still, each within them.

Years passed. A man was called out, in obedient faith, and stumbled, in broken love, to follow the calling. Children were born, a nation grew, small lights shone in the darkness like faint and distant stars. But few saw the light, and they clung, by choice to the darkness, even though it cost them everything. There was a great redemption, the calling forth of a race of slaves to become the people of light, but even at their best they were fitful followers, and sometimes their darkness was very dark indeed. He sent leaders and prophets, torchbearers into the darkness, and there would be a momentary flare of light, a brief flash of understanding, before the darkness descended again. And the night endured. And through the long night the faithful endured, hoped, prayed and wept.

Then there came a night when light invaded darkness – and the heavens themselves were afire with praise. For He, Himself, the Light of the world, the light from beyond all worlds, came down to become one of them, to live inside the darkness, under the heavy burden of the shadow of death. Could it possibly be that the long, long night was finally drawing to a close? He came in the darkest hour of night, bringing life, and that life was the light of men. But, locked in darkness, they did not understand, and they rejected the light. And thus He entered into the deepest darkness, and the light-bearer became the sin-bearer, and the light of the sun was hidden, and the darkness of death swallowed Him up. And there, in the deepest night, He overcame, and returned to the light, bringing the promise of morning with Him.

And so we wait, through the long night, and we know that the darkness is no longer such a terrible thing, for He has promised the morning shall come, and the glory that shall break upon us on that day is His glory, and night shall be no more. And there shall no longer be any need of sun nor moon, for the Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in His wings, and he has said, and will say, “Let there be light!”

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Come, bright star, now is your time. For this purpose you were created at the beginning of time, and have bided for aeons hidden amongst so many others, far away, where men must stretch their eyes to notice you at all. When Abraham was called to look up at the countless stars, his eyes slid straight past you, there was nothing to distinguish you from myriads of others. But now is the perfect moment of God’s eternal plan. It is time for you to catch resplendent fire, so that those who watch the heavens will read your meaning, and will follow you through the desert places to have the privilege of worshipping the newborn Desire of Nations.

Come, old woman, priest’s wife bowed under the burden of barrenness. Your husband is struck dumb, but you will feel the wonder in your own flesh, for a son will be born to you, past hope or expectation, the forerunner long foretold. And you will tingle with the awe of those who walk amongst miracles, for by this sign of life within a long-dead womb, you will know of the approach of the Messiah. And you shall know the favour of the Lord, and his Spirit shall come upon you, and you will give comfort and strength to the virgin mother in her time of need.

Come, sheep in the Bethlehem pastures. In just a few short months your feckless, woolly lives will be interrupted by the jubilation song of Heaven. For a little while the angels of God themselves will watch over you, while your shepherds speed to the town to see this wondrous sign, a child wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger. For He, Himself, has come to be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, and the day will come, years from now, when no more of you will be dragged from your flocks to lie beneath the knife of the priests, for there will be no more priests, no more temple, no more altars – just the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sin of the whole world.

Come, little, ordinary Judean town. Once you were the birthplace of a king, but now all your bustling is to prepare yourself to obey the edict of a distant emperor. His word is law, but in your midst a greater king than David will be born; one who has come to overthrow the law of sin and death, and His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and He shall be called the Prince of Peace. But though He shall be among you, and kings from a far country will come to give their homage, you will know nothing of him, and when Herod’s soldiers come with their cruel swords, you will have no idea why your children die. But for a little while you will give shelter to the Son of Man who has nowhere to lay His head.

Come, carpenter of Nazareth. You must take to wife the woman who bears our only hope in her womb. Things you do not understand will happen all around you, and you must be steadfast. It is not asked that you should comprehend these things, (could any man do that?), it is only asked that you should be faithful to your charge, to protect the one who was born to die through these vulnerable years, until it is His time to give His life as a ransom for many.

Come, busy world, cease your strife for a moment to hear the prophets’ promise and the angels’ song. Through these aching ages you have battled thorns and thistles, and seen your greatest hopes return to dust. You have sought on the high horizons for the glittering things you prize, but when you get closer, they fade like a mirage. But He will come, in the darkness, and you will not even see Him. And He will be despised and rejected of men. He is the answer to the questions you are too afraid to ask. And He will call you to come to Him, and you will turn away your eyes. But He will love you still, though death and hell shall get in the way. For He is coming to you to be the Saviour of the world, and to plant His deathless kingdom in your midst.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Sure and Certain Hope

She lay there gazing at the child in her arms. Isaac they had called him, meaning laughter, because she had laughed with incredulity at the impossible announcement that she would bear a child. But the doubts were over, and the miracle lay in her arms, and now she did not know whether she laughed or cried.

It had been a long journey, and the physical journey from Ur had been the smallest part of it. She remembered the night that Abram had first come to her and spoken of his encounter with God. It had been a frightening and wonderful adventure to leave behind the only world she had known: a world of comfort and opulence and familiarity; but also a world where she knew that she was scorned and belittled behind her back for being a childless, aging woman. These promises seemed like a dream, Abram’s dream (though Abram always preferred to call them God’s dream), and they would lie there at night and ponder their meaning: to become a nation, (how could one do that without a child?), to bear a great name (something men seemed to care so much for), to be under God’s direct protection (yes, every step of the way she had seen that) and, most intriguingly of all, to be a source of blessing to all the nations of the world.

And they had gone on; and on, and on and on, for twenty five years. And as time went on, the word of God to Abram became more explicit: the heir of these promises would be the child of his own body. The whole idea seemed crazy – who were they, barren all their lives, to suddenly produce a child in the weary dryness of old age? That was like expecting fruit on a dry branch ready for pruning. She had made a mistake then, assuming that from his body meant not from hers. And Ishmael was the price of her want of faith.

But then the promise had been reiterated, and Abram (now Abraham) had undergone circumcision. Again, it seemed preposterous at the time, though she had been awed by how willingly Abram had obeyed. Surely it was a kind of madness, this symbolic token which implied a giving up of human potency and strength as the very seal upon the promise that potency, strength and fruitfulness would be given to the flesh beyond the very boundaries of hope? There had been tears in her eyes for her husband that day.

Then, beyond hope, she found herself with child. At first it was too hard to believe, and she ascribed her symptoms to all kinds of diseases. But, when the child quickened there could no longer be any doubt, and she had stood at the door of the tent, gazing out upon the stars (those desert stars whose uncountable fiery numbers were supposed to symbolise the number of their descendants), until she could see them no longer because of the tears of wonder prickling from her eyes.

And now the child was born, healthy and strong, from her body too old and worn to have nourished such vigour as his, and she knew, flesh to flesh, the life-giving power of the promise of God. She had doubted for so long, not with active unbelief, but with a weariness that turned away from the effort of daring to hope one more time. And the child was given anyway – the mercy of God to a barren stock. She held him and she marvelled, for if this impossible promise came true, beyond the dark expiry point of all normal human hope, then why should she doubt any other part of God’s given word. And she thought of the promise of the Blesser of all nations, the Restorer, who would one day come from their descent and somehow bring the broken peoples of the earth to God again, and she knew that this was not a mad fantasy, but, beyond human understanding, a sure and certain hope.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

In the Rain

It was a terrible time to live in Israel. No one remembered a drought like this, and we who still cared about the words of God could find no record of something this bad. But we did find out why, and that frightened us. If the Lord had turned against us, what hope could we have? There had been warnings before, of course; but it seemed that most people didn’t care anymore.

Way back when our people first came to the Promised Land, we had been told by Moses himself that the rain that fell upon this land was God’s direct blessing, a sign of our dependence on Him. It was part of the covenant. If we were faithful in obedience, keeping the covenant, then the Lord would be faithful in sending the bounty of the rain upon this rich and fertile land, and we would be blessed with fruitfulness and prosperity. But, of course, there was a flipside to the promise. If we turned away and worshipped other gods and bowed down to them, then the Lord would shut up the heavens against us.

And now it had happened. The prophet Elijah had appeared before King Ahab and warned him, but did they take any notice? Ahab had married the heathen woman Jezebel, and from all accounts was completely wrapped around her little finger. What did he care if the nation deserted the God of our fathers? Other nations around us worshipped other gods: Baal and Asherah, and even more abominable gods like Moloch and Chemosh. And those nations were more powerful and prosperous than we were. So he encouraged the worship of Baal throughout the length and breadth of the land, and the people suffered from a terrible drought.

But so perverse had things become in Israel, that many of those around us, instead of repenting from their idolatry, turned the tables on us and blamed those of us who remained faithful to the Lord. Apparently we were making Baal angry, by refusing to worship him, and so it was Baal who withheld the rain. Frightened starving people quickly become angry people, and as the drought went on we had to worry about the potential of violence from our neighbours, as well as where our next meal was coming from. They were terrible times, and the death toll was mounting.

It was Elijah’s reappearance that saved us in the end. He set up a terrible showdown on top of Mount Carmel between himself and Jezebel’s priests. While gathered Israel watched fearfully, the drama of the day was played out, and Elijah (or rather, Elijah’s God) was shown to be totally victorious when the fire from heaven consumed not only the sacrifice but the altar and the very ground around it. No one emerges unscathed from the sight of God’s holy fire, and even those of us who had remained the faithful remnant were awed and overwhelmed by the sight.

Afterwards we milled around uncertainly. Elijah had ordered the priests of Baal to be taken away and killed; the king and his intimates were eating and drinking. What do you do in the aftermath of a battle between the gods, when the terror of the moment is still upon you? We marvelled that Ahab could feast himself so readily, as if these things had not shaken him in the deepest places. We were starting to make desultory moves towards home, not saying much to each other, because the mundane words of everyday seemed suddenly lifeless, when there was an interruption. Elijah’s servant came running through the crowd to inform the king that it was time to depart, the rain was on its way. Word spread from lip to lip, and realising how difficult the way home would become in heavy rain, we quickly dispersed.

But now, as the waters of blessing and restoration pour down from the skies, I stand here, soaking wet, almost feeling the revival of the land all around me, and I wonder. The priests of Baal may have been destroyed for now (though there will always be more), but what about the little Baals so many Israelites still worship in their hearts? Isn’t the root of idolatry a longing for a God who is small enough for us to understand and manage? Has that changed? Yet God has sent the rain, and the gift of life is returned to us. What does it mean? Where do mercy and judgement meet without destroying one another? And how is the Holy Lord of the covenant the same God who now sends rain on the just and the unjust alike?