Wednesday, May 09, 2007


I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who believes.
Romans 1v16.

Tuesday nights are Navs nights (= Navigators). I get in the car and drive my little self off to uni at 7pm, and meet with a whole lot of other Christian students. Then we all go off in small groups to different flats and do a Bible study. We have just started going through Romans, chapter by chapter.

The last few weeks have been rather depressing for me. There's a lot of stuff that seems to be going wrong for people. It seems a bit attention-seeking for me to say that it's depressing for me when it's all happening to other people, but that is seriously how it's been. Just knock after knock after knock for people I know and care about, or know a little, or don't know at all.

I've had a few crises in my past and here I am, still a Christian, going reasonably strong. So really, I should have sorted out any issues I have with the topic of suffering. The thing is, when it comes to my suffering, I don't have to try and be sensitive to myself or anything like that. I am aware of how I feel and so I can be grateful to God for many things despite the things that don't make me happy. However, it's not so simple to tell others to be grateful, especially when what they're going through is about five hundred times worse.

I'm not the sort of person who feels embarrassed to say that I am a Christian, most of the time. I'm not particularly interested in how that may change someone's opinion of me. I'd rather they knew, actually. All the same, there's part of me that gets very, very embarrassed that I subscribe to a belief system that says yes, suffering sucks, but there's something more important than that. It's so easy to slip into all the little cliches that Christians come up with to explain away suffering - everything happens for a reason - God is in control - sometimes God answers prayer with a no - etc etc etc. They just embarrass me now and I don't want to admit that I am so arrogant as to pretend I can get something meaningful out of suffering. And then I start getting very, very confused. Because I do believe God is in control. I just don't know why he doesn't choose to intervene sometimes. I'm studying the military resistance to Hitler at the moment, and Hitler escaped assassination by the minutest of chances a significant number of times - why did God allow Hitler to be lucky? And my mind becomes a huge tangled spider's web. And I don't want to try and explain suffering to someone who is suffering, because I know that nothing I say can explain it.

Yesterday, for the Navs study, Romans 1v16 glaringly stood out to me. There are times when it has been very dark and scary for me over the last few years. But somehow I didn't just drop the gospel, because for me, beyond all the darkness, the gospel trumps death. Beyond all the suffering, all the contradictions and confusions, the gospel is a powerful thing and the only thing in the world that could ever offer hope to get through death and suffering.

So my conclusion is: I don't need to explain suffering yet. I'm sure to have more question marks about it and I'm sure to find it difficult. But I do have to trust God to pull me past it, and I do have to stop being ashamed of a faith that dares to say that something about suffering is meaningful.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

the heavenly man

I succumbed to temptation a few weeks ago and finally bought myself a copy of this book - The Heavenly Man. Written with Paul Hattaway, this is a memoir-type book about Brother Yun, one of the Chinese house church leaders who is now living in exile from China. As it turns out, the urge to spend money this time wasn't so much temptation as a jolly good idea.

Several people had recommended the book to me before, and it seems like everyone has read it. I was therefore a bit dubious about reading it, because I thought it might be a Purpose Driven Life-type book - which was an okay book, and the forty days thing was fantastic for our church, but the book itself didn't grab me as that amazingly helpful personally. Anyway, I'm digressing (as usual). The Heavenly Man is in no way a fashionable but vacuous Christian read. Be prepared, if you read this, to really want to change your life. So it wasn't written by a Tolstoy or a Rushdie. It doesn't need to be because the story is so amazing. I'm not going to go into the details because that would ruin it for you, but this Brother Yun is one impressive person, and his story of the Chinese church is amazing, encouraging and humbling. His personal sufferings for the faith are heroic, and he doesn't hold back an opinion on how the western churches are tending these days. But at the same time, I did not come out of this book feeling wicked and lukewarm. Instead, I almost wanted to be persecuted so I could have a chance to stand up for God. Is that masochistic? Maybe I should rephrase. I came out of this book excited, because God really does exist, and because I have a chance every day to represent God in a hostile world. A Big but exciting responsibility. So far I doubt I've lived up to it but this is one of those few books that I could actually say has changed my life, and not feel corny saying it. Highly recommended.