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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 06.06.2024

Video for June 4th, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. This is another I recorded in Bahrain last week. I’m standing by one of its top tourist attractions, the Tree of Life. It is an old tree, but probably not the one mentioned in chapter 3 of Genesis. It doesn’t seem to have much fruit on it for one thing, and even if 17th century Northern Irish Bishop Usher’s estimate that the earth was created on October 22nd, 4004 BC is right, I doubt it would be that old.  Its also a long way from the Euphrates river.

In that story, this tree speaks of God’s divine intent that humanity should enjoy him forever. Unfortunately, this site doesn’t have the other tree mentioned in the story, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The pairing is important in the task of understanding our deepest nature as human beings. We are made in the image of God with all the reflected glory that entails, and the vast potential as image bearers to take care of the earth, use our innate creativity to bring new complex things into being from the simple raw ingredients, and foster a community of love that leads to human flourishing.

However, we are fundamentally broken in a way that makes it impossible unaided to reach that potential. This is widely dismissed in contemporary culture as repressive and damaging.  The reaction in the Church to previous portrayals of God as simply wrathful and judgemental can water it down to an afterthought and not central to a diagnosis of the human condition and an essential pre-cursor to the Gospel being good news. Personally, as I reflect on my own interior world, I see it as a statement of the bleeding obvious.  The story of the fall of humanity is one of taking to ourselves a discernment of right and wrong that is beyond our capacity. When God says to humanity in Genesis 2: 17, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die,” He is not talking of biological death, but spiritual estrangement from the source of life in Him. We have biological life, but spiritual life requires us to be plugged in to the source of it. 

Donna Tartt, in her novel the Goldfinch writes, “From William Blake to Lady Gaga, from Rousseau to Rumi to Tosca to Mr. Rogers, it’s a curious uniform message, accepted from high to low: when in doubt, what to do? How do we know what’s right for us? Every shrink, every career counsellor, every Disney Princess knows the answer: “Be yourself.” Follow your heart.”

Only here’s what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted? What if the heart, for all its own unfathomable reasons, leads one wilfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all blandly held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? Is Kitsey right?  If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away?”

Jeremiah puts it this way in chapter 2:13, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns that cannot hold water.” The human problem as Jeremiah sees it is that people using only their own judgement to decide right and wrong, cut off from God’s moral and psychological framework, end up making their judgements on what actually feels good in the moment. “If it feels good, do it”, as the Nike ad says. But if I cannot even decide what is ultimately best for me without God’s guidance and help, what hope is there for acting in ways that will bless those around me. Hurt and broken people hurt other broken people and the cycle goes on.

But as Paul reflects on this working out in his own life, in comes the Gospel: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He discovered on the Damascus road in his encounter with Jesus a love that looked his wickedness full in the face and forgave it, removing the blockage of sin. He received the gift of the Spirit to begin the work of transformation.  We know from the tone of much of his letters, that still had some way to go. But Paul also knew that despite that, he was now on the journey to the life symbolised by this tree. As he signed off one of his last letters to his protege Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.” The Gospel will lead us there too.


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