The Christian Bubble

2 Timothy 4:3 ESV

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions

Matthew 6:33 ESV

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Corinthians 11:18-19

For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it.   For there must also be heresies among you, that the approved ones may be revealed among you

I want to address an issue which I believe is quite a common occurrence amongst young Christians. I have been at university for seven years now and this post comes from observance over the seven years, but particularly I have felt the need to write this in the last few months.

We love to be around people who are like us; young, idealistic, fun and above all Christian. After all, in that environment we don’t have to address any issues such as drinking alcohol (there is no pressure to drink) or ideas which we find different from ours. We find our safe space.

Safe spaces are great; they allow us to find people who agree with us, who won’t challenge what we say. Or so we think. I believe that we often change ourselves to fit in. I don’t know about anyone reading this, but I often find that young Christians seem to almost be identical in what they listen to, what they enjoy, and the way they talk. It is all a bit weird.

I will be the first to say it; I’m not really your average young Christian. I have never found it easy to be around young Christians, and there are many reasons for that. That isn’t saying I haven’t found friends amongst young Christians, I can think of a few great guys who have been an absolute blessing to me. But I do think these cliques do not help. After all, I’m stubborn and won’t change my ways because other people don’t like it. I don’t fit into the stereotypical young Christian trope and I’m ok with that. I’m actually grateful for it. It means that for one, the focus goes to the Word, and the Lord. My Christian friends don’t make me fit a system but just want me to love the Word and Him and that is great.

You won’t find me around these guys all the time (most of them don’t even live where I live anyway). I love to spend time with non-Christians.; in fact, most of my friends aren’t believers and, as Christians, aren’t we meant to live in the world? I know Ryle argued otherwise, but I honestly believe we can play a big role in people’s lives.

And this comes to my problem with these cliques and bubbles. Apart from the fact I think they turn you into a generic young Christian (I mean literally its weird), they keep your light hidden. They water down your doctrine. I just think of the typical university Christian Union. Most treat the CU like a social club, a place to hang out, and have little interaction with non-Christians. Perhaps I am wrong but I don’t get any other impression. I have often heard the expression that the CU is a ‘home away from home’, but that shouldn’t be the case. Our churches are our homes; the CU is not a church. The ‘bubble’ means that rather than an evangelical centre and mission field, the society becomes a safe space; where they sing happy things that make them feel good, rather than sharing the love and light of Jesus Christ. Rather than standing firm in the faith, the doctrine is watered down so there are no disagreements. It is not wrong to create strong friendships in this environment, far from it, having close Christian friends is vital, but rather these friendships being a product of our labour, it is what we seek first and only.

It creates an isolating atmosphere. I know a few people know who do not go to CU because they do not fit in. If you are Reformed like myself, then I feel the CU is difficult, and personally for me, it became a no-go place. You feel as though you have to be one of them and that is just wrong. The cliques on the outside make you feel as though you miss out, that you are not part of them. If you just want to meet one of them, you find that you can’t because the rest of the clique say no or what not. Christians shouldn’t be like this. We should be accepting people, loving people, and not staying within our comfort zones.

It creates an unwelcoming atmosphere. Our churches, our societies should never be unwelcoming. Yet they are, because we prefer the safe space, rather than what is right. We water down our theology and doctrine to fit in. We keep our light hidden. Christians, we ought not to be in bubbles and in cliques. We need to be radical, be adventuresome and be courageous.

What About Climate Change?

The Netflix documentary ‘Our Planet’, has helped re-energise another generation of climate change warriors. Along with the formation of Extinction Rebellion and the prolific use of social media, it’s not surprising that “single-use” was the most popular word of 2018 . But how should Christians respond to the climate change debate? 

It saddens me having to preface this but firstly ignorance and denial cannot be our position. Climate change is happening regardless of how unhappy we are with the direction media or political extremists are taking the conversation. We as Christians must engage with the climate change debate with the limitless compassion of Christ and the gospel clarity that defines us as his people. Where there is pain, suffering, injustice and decay, all symptoms of a fallen world, we as Christians are commanded to speak into the mess and point people towards the gospel (Matt 5:16, John 17:15-18). Climate change along with the cultural climate we’re in, provides an opportunity to showcase our God-given role as responsible stewards and perform this duty with Christ’s kingdom in mind. 

However, the term ‘stewardship’ is a complex one to unravel as the concept is never explicitly explained in Scripture. It’s absence doesn’t deny it’s relevance just requires more careful thinking. 

In Genesis 1 God places Adam and Eve in a Garden named Eden. He commands them to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens”. Here, God establishes humanity to be divinely appointed to rule over creation. So where can we infer stewardship from and how does this inform our decisions today in the heat of the climate change debate? I wish to argue that stewardship is the process by which we implement our dominion. Although God has made us “a little lower than the heavenly beings” and given “dominion over the works of your hands”, we are to enact this rulership with wise, servant-hearted integrity. Firstly, Dominion was given as a human mandate at the start of creation. It is not solely the church’s responsibility nor should individual Christian’s take this upon themselves. Our ‘go forth and multiply’ mandate is given in Matthew 28, to bring new life into the Kingdom. Secondly, we must understand how sin has affected this role of dominion. Exploitation has become synonymous with Dominion yet that is not how it was intended. Systems of abuse, cycles of decay and entire industries built on the suffering of others are not in harmony of a Christian agenda and therefore we should step away from such practices. As “mirrors or carriers of Christ to others” we cannot employ methods of harm and abuse towards the environment, instead Christ-like Justice and Dominion must be exercised over all of Creation. Therefore, thirdly, we are to imitate Christ in how we exercise our Dominion over creation. If “for by him all things were created” then Christ is King over the melting glaciers, empty forests and dying wildlife and groans with his creation as it bears the scars of the fall. He is sovereign, therefore, we don’t despair yet he is our example and look how he feeds the birds and dresses the lilies. Who are we to despise creation if this is how our King cares for it? 

Limitless Compassion

Changes in the global environment are, if not to ourselves yet, reaching crisis level. Lives have been lost, species made extinct and vast swaths of natural habitat destroyed. Our society rightly is appalled by such horrors and we can respond with compassion to their upset. Listening, therefore, is crucial. Be informed of what is happening and be ready to change. If your waste disposal is putting wildlife at risk, reduce your plastic pollution. It may require humility to accept advice from those you don’t whole-heartedly agree with. Being informed and responding graciously with the facts put in front of us, save us from the stigma of Christians being uninterested or ignorant of the world around them. With a clear grasp of the conversation surrounding climate change, we then have a stronger position to lead the fight to protect our planet. Surely having Christian environmentalists, scientists, social activists, educators, campaigners, politicians at the forefront of this discussion will be beneficial for everyone. Not only can we imitate Christ in servant-hearted dominion but we can also by explaining to people why we do what we do, point them to the full message of the gospel.

Gospel Clarity

The panic that fuels much of the Extinction Rebellion propaganda, appears to echo apocalyptic prophecy. However the End Times will look, the Christian can rest assured that God is entirely in control and mankind will not be able to predict when the end of the earth will be. If we begin to despair and lose our faith in God, we have lost our gospel clarity. Similarly, we must be wary of falling into incorrect thinking that says we can truly save the world. Having gospel clarity about who saves the world and God as creator, should affect how we interact with the world, will keep us from doubting God’s sovereignty or developing a saviour complex. Therefore, we should “stir one another up to love and good works”, not only pointing each other towards our eternal hope but also encouraging each other to be more active in our love, respect and appreciation of God’s world. 

Finally, as we reorganise what we mean by gospel clarity, let’s recognise how our fellow humans are being affected by climate change. Natural disasters strip entire communities of their livelihood, overpopulation that leads to not enough food being distributed where it’s needed, drought, famine, floods, wars over natural resources – these are all events that will affect our planet’s most vulnerable people groups first. Forget saving the turtles by banning plastic straws, or reducing your carbon footprint by cycling to work – people’s lives are at risk because of climate change. A radical care for people is an imperative for the Christian primarily because they are made by God and are valuable in their essence but, secondly because their souls are eternal. How we adapt our lifestyles, our treatment of animals, engagement in social justice, must all be centred around a Biblical perspective of ourselves and those around us. The finite details of how that will look depending on our context and stage of life but servant-hearted dominion will seek to rescue humanity from danger and point them towards their saviour.

On a more practical side one may ask questions regarding zero-waste living and how this equates with Christian hospitality, how does our faith inform our diet (aka should we all be vegan?), can adoption be an avenue Christians take in reference to overpopulation and how, if there is a class bias within this whole debate, are Christians perpetuating this? At least I think those may be interesting! If you have any thoughts, please comment below or if you disagree with everything I’ve said, still comment! 

Further references

https://arocha.org.uk/

https://www.plantwise.org/about/ 

https://ruthvalerio.net/ 

https://www.ourplanet.com/en/ 

https://www.tearfund.org/ 

https://justloveuk.com/about-us/vision

https://www.thejusticeconference.co.uk/

https://www.thegoodtrade.com/

https://knowtheorigin.com/blogs/ktotalks

https://www.desmogblog.com/2014/03/05/pentagon-climate-change-impacts-threat-multipliers-could-enable-terrorism 

A God’s-eye-view on mental health

I’m not going to sugar-coat the situation.

I am diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Although I only sought medical attention early this year, I have suffered with these conditions for many years now.

Now, I realise that having these conditions does not imbue me with a blanket-ability to discuss every case of mental health – because I only suffer from two, I am not a professional and depression and anxiety vary from person to person.

Nevertheless, like some of you I have experienced panic attacks, insomnia, rough dreams, constant fear and depressive and suicidal thoughts. From this – albeit narrow – experience of mental health, I really want to be of some help and encouragement to fellow members of the Mental Health Illness Community.

Mental health, with all its complexities, is insufficiently dealt with in society, and – particularly in the academic sphere – there is a gross misunderstanding of the very concept of health issues which surpass the shoulders.

The very fact that an unprofessional such as myself feels the need to ‘plug a gap’ in the narrative, as it were, reflects this, I think. One of the reasons for this is how ‘illogical’ mental health issues appear. For those who have not suffered similar things, it can be difficult to understand the complicated – sometimes abstract – intricacies of mental illness.

To be frank, this is, on the whole, not the fault of the person who cannot understand; I know many genuinely kind, lovely people who really want to understand, but simply can’t. To a certain extent it’s our duty to try and educate as far as we can, but after that point, understanding that some others can’t understand can be helpful.

That being said, I want to encourage some of you who are suffering much at this time. And no, this is not a “you should be joyful, you’re a Christian” kind of lecture, nor an “everything’s going to be fine” chant with no substance – I’ve had both of those preached at me (in a literal as well as metaphorical sense) and know that both can be harmful and discouraging.

Of course, both of these things are true! The apostle Paul exhorts all Christians to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4v4), as well as propounding the fantastic truth that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8v8).

But if you’re anything like me, you’ve had these verses quoted at you enough to make you feel a little despondent as to the church’s knowledge of the Bible!

Ultimately, the most important thing is searching the scriptures yourself and seeing the nuances of God’s message for the sufferers of mental illness, which I cannot fully offer in the comparatively short block of text as this article.

Nevertheless, I want to – try to – cover a little about how God’s word has spoken to me in my dark moments. I want to structure a few helpful truths by answering these questions:

  1. Who is God?

‘God is love’ (1 John 4v8).

He is the Creator, who knows the stars by name and sits above the circle of the earth, reigning and ruling, keeping the universe together in his perfect knowledge and wisdom: ‘For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him’ (Colossians 1v16).

He looks after creation meticulously, with a care that only a God of love is capable of and would desire to exert.

‘the very hairs of your head are all numbered’

What’s more he loves humans particularly. Setting Adam and Eve as the crowns of his creation, God set them over all creatures and plants. Jesus states that the God who plans the life-time of a sparrow cares even more for humankind: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows’ (Matthew 10v29-31).

By calling himself the good shepherd and vinedresser, Jesus wants us to understand that the care of a shepherd who has raised his sheep and protected them since birth, and the constant digging, seeding, watering, pruning and reaping of a vinedresser are still not equal to his love for us. He is not just a shepherd, but a ‘good’ shepherd.

God is powerful.

he rules over the entirety of living existence, both celestial and earthly. His voice is the voice of many waters, he is like a fire in his holiness – nothing but holiness can survive in his presence. He has the power to dictate what does and does not happen, and has planned all for the good of his people.

God is understanding.

Throughout the Bible he is described as a father who cares for his children, holding them in his ‘everlasting arms’.

‘You[…]put my tears in Your bottle’

Moreover, Christ in his earthly suffering went through human existence, and hence ‘we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4v15). One of my favourite verses is: ‘You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book’ (Psalm 56v8)?

We have a God who has the omnipotence to create our universe and sustain it, but also the care and consideration to take an invested interest in the individual. He both understands us and has the power over our mental health. We are in safe hands; he knows the plans he has for us (Jeremiah 29v11), and even if it seems difficult at the moment, even before we existed he knew exactly what he had in store for us: ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2).

2. What has God done for us?

The Lord has created each person individually. He doesn’t passively survey a production-line of human babies, but cares for every human being as worthy of his attention:‘For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s  womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Psalm 139v13-16).

‘In Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.’

Recently my sister-in-law birthed a wonderful little baby boy, Alistair. Birth is a miracle, each baby is individual, and having this reality quite literally ‘brought to life’ before my eyes has been amazing.

But apart from literal ‘shaping’, God shapes us spiritually as his people. He is sanctifying – continuing to perfect – us as we grow in him as a potter does his clay (Jeremiah 18). He uses difficulties to humble us and make us view more clearly and accept his plan for us. God cares, and he cares for individuals.

Ultimately, however, God’s greatest gift to humankind has been the sending of his son to the world to live a life free from sin, then go to the cross and suffer and die for sins which he had not committed so that we can be right with God.

The Trinity was willing to disrupt their perfect heavenly communion so that Christ could die for the sins of unworthy humans. He took on our sins and bore the wrath of God – what we would have experienced in hell – in our stead. He died so that we do not have to experience that same second spiritual death and suffering.

Now Christ has returned into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for his people as the one mediator between God and humankind, and preparing a special place for his people: ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14).

‘God[…]will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able’

We now live in anticipation of his second coming, where we shall see him face to face, and praise him forever. Here he guides and guards us, not allowing any difficulty or trial to overcome us: ‘No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (1 Corinthians 10v13).

And we have, at the end of the day, so to speak, nothing to fear: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1v7).

This may seem very difficult to align with mental illness. Often it feels that all is not well – we feel very profoundly abandoned, unworthy and many other things.

But these things are not of God.

God does not tempt anybody. All he is doing is allowing Satan to twist illness in order to tempt us, but God only allows Satan this ‘wiggle room’ so that we will grow as Christians and understand him and our purpose in this world to a much greater extent.

Never forget that ‘nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8v39).

God is good and takes no sadistic pleasure in allowing Satan to make us suffer. He only does this for our benefit, because he knows that we will be spiritually healthier through this suffering.

3. Who are we as a result?

At this point it’s probably fairly obvious.

We are the blood-bought children of God, we are the ones he has worked hard to create and who he loves individually and infinitely. We are wonderful, because a wonderful Creator has created us. We have an amazing future ahead of us, because he is preparing heaven for us. Right. Now.

We are here on this earth in order to bring glory to him, and so that we can grow into greater reflections of him. Only through suffering can we understand (and even then in a greatly reduced sense) what Christ has gone through for us.

And given the fact that the comprehension of the latter is what makes heaven so amazing, we have to go through suffering.

We are not purposeless, whatever the devil – or models on adverts, or our grades, or we ourselves – might say.

We are special, because God has declared us so, both verbally and in action.

We are loved. For God has loved us.