Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The weather here in Hong Kong is at last a little bit cooler! We are now getting ready for some big events over the next few weeks not least our Feast of Christ the King on November 22 when we celebrate the founding of our Church.

Today I post the fourth in my series of radio talks about Calvin.

Talk Four: Loved in Christ

Calvin’s theology defies easy summary despite attempts in the past to do so. Certain themes do occur regularly, however, themes which are often neglected in the preaching and teaching of the Church today. One theme is that God is in control. No matter how hard life may seem and how bad things may get, God remains in charge and is able to bring good out of evil.

People often accuse Calvin of being hard and cruel and of projecting these characteristics onto to God himself. So that, it is said, in Calvin’s theology, God becomes distant and unforgiving. I think, sadly, that this may have been true of some versions of Calvinism, but it is certainly not the God of Calvin himself, the God he devoted his life to serving and worshipping. The God who is in control is for Calvin the God who loves us in Christ.

When was it that God first loved us? Scientists tell us that the universe came into existence some 13 billion years ago. St Paul in his letter to the Ephesian Christians writes that God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world. It is all too easy to read words like this without grasping what they are saying. Think for a moment about this means. It means that before everything went bang, before the stars were born, before the dinosaurs roamed this earth, before the emergence of human life, before we were even a thought in our parents’ mind, God loved us.

Jesus said that ‘no-one could come to him unless the father drew them’. We didn’t choose God, he chose us in Christ before we were born, and then, at the right time, he called us to himself. This ought to give us massive reassurance. God loves us absolutely and unconditionally. He knew from before the universe began what we would look like, think like, and behave like. He know everything there is to know about us. He knows even those things about us that we don’t want to admit to ourselves and certainly not to other people.

And yet knowing all this, he still loves us and goes on loving us. No wonder then that St Paul asks, ‘if God be for us, who can be against us?’ We need have no fear of being rejected by God and no fear of anything getting in the way of us being loved by God. This is the point of that wonderful passage in chapter 8 of St Paul’s letter to the Romans:

‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)

The Bridget Jones books and films have deservedly been very popular, and I am delighted to learn that another is in production. Renee Zellweger is brilliant as Bridget. Bridget is very susceptible to the opinions of others. She is constantly trying to please people. She worries about how she looks, what she wears, what she weighs and tries, normally unsuccessfully, to change to win approval. An amazing moment for her comes when Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth, tells her that he loves her just as she is. Just as she is. She doesn’t have to be someone else or pretend to be someone she isn’t. He loves her just as she is.

If we wonder whether God loves us and accepts us or not, the absolute assurance that we have is that he did so a long time ago and nothing can change this acceptance. Jesus in his life showed us the love of God. He accepted the very people that the society of his day marginalized and rejected. He reached out to them no matter who they were, where they came from, or what they had done. God knows us better than we know ourselves and in Christ he reaches out to us still – just as we are!

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