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Sermons

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Atheism and the Real (inconvenient) God [Sermon Notes]

StNicholas Goulburn

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Atheism and the Real (inconvenient) God
Sermon Notes from Sermon
presented by the Reverend Ross Hathway
on the 30th of April, 2017

Jeremiah 10:1-16; 1 Corinthians 8:1-6

Illustration:  In his Sydney Morning Herald column Peter Fitzsimons’ regularly mocks sports stars who attribute their success to God. He points out the problems with these claims. What’s going on when they don’t win? Is God off the job?
And what would happen if two divinely blessed teams clashed? Who would get the win then? The god who blesses you with sport wins is a nice god to have.
You can accuse Fitzsimons of taking cheap shots, but you have to admit that belief in God can be rather convenient and comfortable.

Today is the first of four sermons dealing with some issues facing Christians and particularly in the face of what is called the new Atheist movement.

 New Atheism, also called evangelical atheism[1] or, often pejoratively,[a][3] militant atheism and fundamentalist atheism,[2][4][5]is a movement promoted by some atheists of the twenty-first century.[6] This modern-day atheism and secularism is advanced by critics of religion,[7] a group of modern atheist thinkers and writers who advocate the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever their influence arises in government, education and politics.[8] The phrase "New Atheism" was coined by Gary Wolf in a 2006 article in Wired magazine.[9]

Atheist criticism echoes the prophets and challenges us about which God we believe in.
When we respond to the atheist criticism we may have to reconsider our own view of God.
One of the themes of the new atheists is that the age old concept of God can be explained scientifically or naturally.
Their explanation is that our minds are wired to find patterns of explanation and a personal intentionality in the universe in order to give life meaning.
The role of religion is seen as creating and reinforcing social cohesion, unity structures.

These arguments got back to a German C19 philosopher who said religion is an expression of human consciousness, and the idea of God is a projection of human nature.
Humans need someone like us to be in control of affairs, so we embrace the idea of a divinity who reflects our nature and guarantees what we most desire.
Other people had said this but he went further and said religious faith is a problem.

This is an important question for Christians to face.
Perhaps believing in God is just a way of helping us cope with a big universe.
Is religion just a ‘crutch” to lean on.

That is, Is God a Human Invention? Interesting re the first 2 commandments,.
The prophets of the Old Testament made a similar point about idol worship etc. .
They mocked people whose gods were convenient and comfortable and controllable.
In Jeremiah 10 the prophet ridicules people who have to decorate their gods so they are beautiful and nail them down so they don’t fall over.
Even then they can’t talk or walk.
Jeremiah is shocked that living breathing people could bow down to lifeless figures.
The Israelites of the time were worshipping a fraud.
The result is that they are “senseless and without knowledge” and “shamed” by their  idols (Jeremiah 10:14).

The contrast with the true God is huge.
He is the great king and ruler, no one is like him (Jeremiah 10:6-7).
He made the whole universe by his wisdom and understanding and rules it all. F Collins.

Paul builds on the same ideas in 1 Corinthians 8, idols are nothing – only the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is the true God.

 

Three points are worth making:

  • We must not be afraid to say that other gods are nothing.
    If we let people define ‘god’ broadly and not biblically then we have to agree that god doesn't exist.
    Our discussion is not about a general theistic god, but only the true and living God who is the Father of Jesus.
     
  • God must not be repackaged to make him more comfortable – we have to know him as transcendent, majestic, infinite, eternal and the God of wrath and judgement. Absolute knowledge of good and evil come from him.
     
  • Our thinking about God can be idolatrous, we can shrink the true God to a size that suits us. 

Here are some of the ways we try to repackage God: 
Policeman, parent, Grand Old Man, Heavenly Mate, Perfectionist, Busy God, Contractual God, Santa Claus, Divine Mr Fix-it, CEO, Magician, Military Chaplain, Backstage Manager, Murmuring Voice, Spoil Sport. Someone to Outsmart to Bless us. You can add to the list.  

So, how do we find and keep our idea of God true?
The short answer is: keep going back to the Bible.
We need to particularly look at Jesus to keep challenging our view of God.

The full scope of revelation in Jesus will blow apart our shallow ideas of God.
It turns out that God is more generous, more holy, more beautiful and more terrifying than we’d ever dream.
The God who made all things will call everyone to account and owes us no favours. Compared to him we count for nothing.
Remember Jeremiah 10:10: “the LORD is the true God …  the living God …  the eternal King, when he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.”
J.I Packer. “There are few things stressed more strongly in the bible than the reality of God as Judge”.
Yet this God takes on humanity and sinks to the depths of our pain.
He becomes obedient even to death and bears for us the burden we cannot bear.
He restores us to know and love him so we can be what we are truly meant to be. 

Knowing the true God in Jesus frees us from the prison of our own projected desires and returns us to true worship.
The new atheist philosopher lay bare the false gods, but can only offer a universe where we worship ourselves.

Conclusion.  “Are we falling into the trap of making our God too convenient?”…
An Inconvenient truth… Al Gore.
The God of the Bible is an inconvenient truth when people hear of Him.
But when we know him it makes sense and is wonderful.
For God is love. He has shown us the only way the only truth and the only Life… 

Sunday 930 Service Sermon - 10th September, 2017.

StNicholas Goulburn

Sermon Topic: The Gospel to the Philosophers

Sermon Date:  10th September, 2017.

The Reverend Ross Hathway preached.

Bible Readings:
Isaiah 40: 21-26
Acts 17: 16-34

Connections with the hearers, correcting their misconceptions, conversing with their ideological framework, convicting them of their compromises with their consciences in the light of their own intellectual commitment are critical steps. It is also necessary to confront them with their need of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, because of the coming day of Judgement. These are all the essential features of a dialogue that is distinctly Christian and Biblical.

Source for some of the content: Introducing the Athenians to God, by B.W. Winter https://goo.gl/gBjvLM

Sunday 930 Service Sermon - 7th May, 2017.

StNicholas Goulburn

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Sermon Topic: Suffering and God - 7th May, 2017.

The Reverend Ross Hathway preached on Suffering and God.

Bible Readings:
Ecclesiastes 2:1-26
John 1:1-18

Suffering and God
Sermon Notes

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26 & John 1:1-18

Introduction:   Suffering is the great argument against the existence of the Christian God. There is no neat answer to the ‘problem’ of suffering,
Sooner or later we will be asked “How can you believe in a totally true and powerful God given the evil which exists”.

The logical options seem to be:
- deny God’s goodness,
- deny God’s power or
- redefine evil so that it doesn’t really exist.

None of these responses work for the Biblical Christian.
Neither can we simply say, “It will be OK in the end”. Glib/platitudes.
Even the words of Romans 8:28 “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”, can seem sickening in the face of awful evil and suffering.

Important > the Bible gives us a perspective on suffering and evil which is deeper and more mysterious and more satisfying than a straight-forward explanation.

 In the face of suffering there are two things we need to know/remember:

  • How far the world is from what God intends and
  • The wonder of God’s work of redemption.

Ecclesiastes. The Preacher says life is a puzzle with key pieces missing.
The puzzle is that the world seems to be both wonderfully good and unjustly brutal.
Ecclesiastes doesn’t give us the whole Christian story.
It focuses on the confusion of living in the ruined world.
We can only start to make sense of that world when we know more about it.
And what we need to know can’t be guessed from how things are now.

Bible > only the message of God’s great redemption in Jesus gives us a way of making sense of things, including God.
Although the world has gone wrong, God has not given up on it.
John’s Gospel starts by saying that there is a “darkness” (John 1:5),
and that the world does not accept the Creator’s Word (John 1:10).
Yet the Word became flesh. (John 1:14)
John 3:16 > God’s love for the world means that he sent Jesus to save, rather than condemn.
So the Christian message is that how things are now is not what God intended, nor how they will remain.
We only know that God is powerful and good because of Jesus.
God’s is committed to redeeming the world through Jesus.
A day will come when “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to sin and decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-21).
That only happens through Jesus.
What has gone wrong with our world because of human disobedience, is undone by God when he takes on humanity for himself and lives the life we should have lived and dies the death which is the curse for our rebellion against Him.
When Jesus rose from the dead God was redeeming his people from sin and corruption, and also repairing and glorifying the whole ruined cosmos. 

God redeems our ruined world and us as ruined creatures from the inside…
He does it by the incarnation and the fully human life and death of Jesus.
God puts himself into his creation, he bears our pain and suffering, he carries the curse we deserved in order to put things right.

God does not stand apart from our suffering and pain and struggle, he saves us by taking part in that struggle.
God’s great work of redemption in Christ is the reason that Christians have hope.
The promise that death and corruption and pain will be done away with is based on God’s victory over them in Jesus.

This means that we don’t have a neat logical answer to the problem of evil and suffering.
Important > However the logical problem is not the real problem of evil.
The real problem is that we are trapped in it and suffer from and are guilty of it.
What does Gospel tells us we can say about evil and suffering?

Don’t talk as if suffering and evil make sense  
Christians sometimes talk and write as if we can explain why there is evil.
I’ve heard people claim that there had to be evil so that God’s glory would be shown fully, or so that humans could exercise free choice, or so that God could save sinners. None of those are explanations that the Bible gives for evil, and they are too neat/simple. 

Christians do not have a nice neat answer to the problem of evil,
The Christian answer is not to explain evil.
There is a mystery about God and His will which we can’t explain…
but the Gospel declares that God is good & loving and has overcome evil and will end it.

What the world is like is no guide to what God is like.
When people decide there is not a good God because of the way things are now they are making up their mind without getting the whole story. (for example, A.B. Facey).
If we leave Jesus out of the picture it rules out the most important way in which God shows his power and goodness.
 

Recognise the reality and depth of the problem of suffering and evil.
Of all the questions people ask about God this is the most penetrating/painful.
We must not treat it as if it is dealt with easily.
Logically it is difficult.
Experientially suffering and evil can be crippling and soul-destroying.

God will save his people from the suffering of the world, but now he saves them through the suffering of the world. Christians of all people, as we follow a crucified messiah, demonstrate how to deal with the reality of suffering.

People need the hope of the Gospel not clever answers about evil.
As with the Apostles we are to acknowledge the question of death and then declare the hope of the gospel.

When we ask questions about God and suffering, we are asking about a God who has entered into our suffering in order to undo the mess. 


Conclusion.
Can atheists really ask about evil?
We can ask atheists what basis they have for knowing what is good and evil.
How do they know that the world is wrong and not the way it should be?
Why are human atrocities really atrocious?
An atheist can’t develop an answer which is fully convincing.
However, Christians recognise that no one can escape the ideas of goodness & rightness.
We live in a world that still echoes with God’s goodness.
Even when people are trying their hardest to get away from God and his ways; they still feel the powerful pull of His goodness, beauty and truth. (The next sermon focuses on this point).