Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Welcoming and Warning

There is something fascinating going on in Matthew 18:5-6.  Matthew brings together two sayings which are separated in Mark (by three verses) and Luke (by eight chapters!) to make a really interesting juxtaposition:
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
What has been particularly stimulating my thinking this morning is the tying together of two themes: welcome and hospitality on the one hand, and leading another into sin on the other.  I feel like one of these gets a lot of airplay in contemporary debate.  The idea of being inclusive and welcoming is very important - and rightly so.  Here it is, from the mouth of the Lord: to welcome someone in Christ's name is to welcome Christ himself (and Mark adds: also to receive the one who sent him, i.e., the Father).  Christian hospitality is crucial, and it is only right that it be talked about a lot.  We could do with moving on to actually practice it, to be honest.  It's worth noting that the discussion here is about welcoming believers - i.e., about practical Christian unity - rather than hospitality towards those outside the community (which the NT addresses elsewhere).  Still, here is an agenda which we ought to get behind - and none the less because in a more general, fuzzy sense it is a popular agenda in the world at large.

Logically, we might think that the 'but' in Matthew 18:6 should be followed by an opposite, something like: whoever turns someone away turns me away.  Instead it is followed by the warning that if anyone causes a believer to sin (literally, to stumble), it would be better for them to drown.  The link, presumably, is partly caused by the ongoing image of the believer as child (reinforced in the narrative by the actual presence of a child).  But that surely isn't all.  Matthew presents this as one complete thought: you should welcome believers in Jesus' name, but you shouldn't cause them to sin.  It is not hard to imagine the multiplicity of ways in which one might cause a believer to sin: by giving a poor example; by failing to encourage and support; by failing to welcome and include, I guess, such that they are cut off from church life; and also by teaching falsely about right and wrong.

I wonder whether there is something here that needs teasing out for the sake of our current discourse.  One of the dynamics in the church at the moment is that there are those pushing for a change in the church's ethical teaching so as to be more inclusive.  I feel like that is taking the theme of Matthew 18:5 and ignoring the 'but'.  The NT has a particular horror of those who will teach the church to believe falsely and behave wrongly.  Matthew is perhaps particularly strong on the latter - consider Matthew 5:17-20.  If we take seriously the call of the NT to radical welcome and inclusion in the name of Jesus, we must also take seriously the call to ethical purity for the sake of Jesus.

Matthew 18:6 is not gentle language.  It is, nevertheless, gracious language.  It is unlikely that anyone who is on the end of an appeal to stop leading others into sin will feel that it is gracious - especially not if language about millstones is involved - but if the Lord Jesus is right (if!) then it is gracious to abruptly correct someone, to point out that they are endangering the souls of themselves and their hearers.  Arguably, it is part of receiving an erring brother or sister in Christ's name to rebuke them strongly, to warn them that they are in danger of forfeiting that name - and all the more so if they have taken on the role of a teacher.

It is not a contradiction of Matthew 18:5 to also read Matthew 18:6.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Though the earth gives way

I preached Psalm 46 at CCC this past Sunday.  It opens with this great picture of the security of God's people:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Even if everything falls apart - and it is the very destruction of creation that is envisaged here, the undoing of God's good ordering of things through the division of the seas and creation of dry land - even if it all collapses, we will not fear.  Why not?  Because God is our hiding place.  God is our firm foundation.  He is a very present help in trouble.

As an aside, what a great phrase that is!  We can talk about the omnipresence of God if we want to, and certainly the Bible does sometimes talk that way, but the perspective of this Psalm on the question of God's presence is: are you in trouble?  Then God will be there to help you.  This is not a piece of philosophy; it is gospel gospel gospel, all the way down.

One of the things that the rest of the Psalm makes clear is that this uncreation is directly related to human action, human war and destruction.  It is not about 'natural disasters' so much as it is about the ruining of everything through the chaos of a humanity which has 'liberated' itself from God's wise and righteous ways.

And the response to this chaos of humanity is two-fold.  In the present, the Psalmist says, God's people remain secure no matter what.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
Notice the water!  Outside, the foaming of the terrible seas and the tidal waves which sink the mountains; inside, the quiet river bubbling gently over its stony bed and refreshing the people of God.  "Whoever believes in me," Jesus said, "out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  The Holy Spirit with God's people is their refreshment and their security.

And then in the future, God will put an end to the destructive ways of humanity.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
When God calls the nations to be still, and know that he is God, it is because he has ended their chaos once and for all.  The security of God's people in the present is like an outpost of the future, a glimpse into the final security of all creation when God has made it impossible for the earth to fall into the sea or for human beings to rise up against him and one another.

So here's the thing: there are a variety of things that make us feel like the earth is falling into the sea.  The political turmoil in the UK makes me feel that way.  I imagine I will also feel that way (and I realise with rather less justification) when England crash out of the World Cup.  (I am just putting this here as a hypothetical example, I know it's not really going to happen.  It's coming home, right?)

The point is that pretty much all our hopes, whether they are in people, institutions, or processes, are insecure.  Our only solid hope is that in all the trouble that comes our way, and through all the turmoil that shakes the earth, God is our very present help through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ, who supplies to us the glorious sustenance and refreshment of his Holy Spirit.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Dropping Grudem

For pretty much as long as I've been a Christian, Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology has been the standard textbook of conservative evangelical theology.  I have often noted that sadly many people have not taken seriously Grudem's warnings that his book is intended to be introductory (I mean, it's subtitled An introduction to Biblical doctrine, which should be a clue) and have treated it as the final word.  I'm thankful that a wise pastor encouraged me early in my Christian life not to let my theology rest with Grudem but to press on to deeper things.  (That is not to say Grudem wasn't helpful to me - I'm grateful to those who gave me a copy.  It helped me especially to begin to think through positions on baptism, spiritual gifts, Scripture...  But I didn't end up resting with him.)

Anyway, this week Grudem has declared that the building of a border wall in the US is morally good, on the authority of the Bible.  Read the article.

My conclusion from this is that we ought to stop using Grudem's Systematic Theology, or at least demote it from its current position as go-to.

In case you're wondering, this is nothing to do with the politics of the article.  I'm not one of those people who thinks we should boycott people's works because they don't agree with us politically.  I don't even have a very strong opinion about the wall, to be honest.

My concern is for exegesis and theology.

Grudem's argument for the morality of the wall boils down to: the Bible often speaks positively about walls, so building walls is good.  This is of course backed up by a plethora of quotes from Scripture.  But that is all there is to it.

I really don't think this is how the Bible works.  For starters, Scripture does not intend to answer this question, and therefore to read it as if it contained a straightforward answer to a question which it doesn't raise is pretty rash.  It's a flat reading of Scripture, which doesn't seem to recognise that Old Testament references to the walls of Jerusalem can't be crated up, transported over the centuries into a wholly different culture, and then unpacked and used just as they are.

I also don't think it's how theology works.  If we wanted to apply Scripture to this question, we'd have to do more than pile up references to walls from the Bible.  Scripture bears witness to Christ.  That is what it is for: to show us the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  And then of course that witness has implications for all sorts of areas of life and ethics.  But we would need to do the work.  In what way do those references to walls bear witness to Christ?  They do!  Surely the security of Jerusalem throughout the Old Testament, and the walls which are described as encircling the New Jerusalem in Revelation, are images of the eternal security which the people of God have in Christ.  Well then, we have a fair bit of work to do if we're going to work out what the ethical implications might be for nations in the modern world.

And here's the thing: when you go from this article and look back into Grudem's Systematic Theology, something which I've had cause to do recently, you realise that this is the method throughout.  We need a better textbook.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Undivided

I have just finished reading Undivided by Vicky Beeching, her memoir of struggling with the tension between her evangelical faith and her secret attraction to women, and finally her coming out as a lesbian and the ruptures it caused between her and the church tradition she loves.  It is a powerful book, and a book that will be widely read.  It deserves to be widely read, perhaps especially by conservative evangelicals.  It ought to ring alarm bells for us on so many levels.  This is not really a review so much as a series of thoughts and reflections, relatively unprocessed (I have literally just put the book down, having read it in a few hours - it's a page-turner).  My thoughts roughly group themselves under three headings: how should we read this book?  what do we need to change as a result of reading it?  what is the implicit theology at work within this book (and therefore presumably within Vicky Beeching's life)?  Then I just have a concluding reflection.



Firstly, how to engage with this book?  I've read reviews suggesting that it is a mistake to treat it as a polemic or apologetic, a mistake to expect theology, because this is a memoir, a personal reflection.  This is, I humbly submit, to completely misunderstand this cultural moment.  Everything is now autobiography: philosophy, politics, theology.  Everything is personal.  The way in which polemic, apologetic, and yes, even theology, are now conducted with most success is precisely through the medium of self-reflection and self-presentation.  Vicky Beeching has written a powerful apologetic for a revisionist position on Christian sexual ethics.  And there is a theology contained and taught therein.  The problem is, we're not yet used to engaging critically with this sort of writing: we've been educated to think that somebody's experience is not open to debate.  Of course there is some truth in that: if this is the way it seemed to you, then this is the way it seemed to you, and I have no right or reason to question that.  But it is easy to smuggle in the assumption that if this is the way it seemed then this is the way it was.  In that way, a memoir gets behind our defences and makes us agree without ever having to argue.  So, engage critically.  And yet...  It is still a memoir.  This is a real person's life, and empathy is called for.  Critical thought, compassionate heart.  Engage both to the maximum setting.

Second, what does the church need to learn from this memoir?  Oh, so many things.  There are parts of this book that grieve me deeply.  The subculture of shame which Glynn Harrison talks about in his excellent book A Better Story is evident throughout: the church culture in which Vicky Beeching grew up was apparently one in which sex was shameful, and homosexual feelings were particularly shameful.  (See chapter 29 especially for the appalling ways in which this affects people of all sexual orientations, and page 13 for a desperately sad recollection of Beeching's own first sense of shame).  If only the gospel has been applied at this point!  If only it had been possible to be open about what was going on, without the sense of shame!  But that clearly wasn't possible.  Would it be better today, in our churches - in my church?

The book also presents a church culture in which asking hard questions was discouraged.  One of the most telling passages in the book for me came early on, when Beeching describes her childhood struggle with various stories from the Old Testament.  It seems like this was the beginning of a period of repressing the tough questions, and therefore of maintaining a distorted picture of God (because how can you not have a distorted picture of God if you repress aspects of himself which he has revealed?).  Churches need to get much better at seeing doubts and questions, not as threats to faith, but as opportunities to deepen faith through tough engagement with God's word.

There is so much other stuff.  Dealing with hypocrisy - openly and clearly - and applying discipline (56 - there is a lot to be disturbed about in Beeching's description of her time at Wycliffe Hall).  Not relying on big conferences and events, but rather on the regular ministry of word and sacrament (see chapter 5).  Getting rid of a bad theology of easy change.  Thinking carefully about mental health issues (163).  Banishing a triumphalist theology.  All of this and more.  I would like every church leader to read this book and think about our weaknesses as they are exposed in this memoir.  We can and must do better.

Third, what about that implicit theology and apologetic?  Well, this is a conversion story.  It turns on a  reading of Acts 10: Peter is taught that God has called Gentiles clean, and this is then applied to gay people. (See pages 168-172).  That doesn't work as a reading or application of the story, to be honest.  The Lord is not berating Peter for being a religious bigot who needs to liberalise here; he is announcing to Peter a new stage in salvation history.  But that doesn't matter, because Beeching felt God himself make the application to her (171).  "God had spoken" (172).  This sort of subjectivism is not uncommon, of course, in evangelical circles - maybe I should have included it as one of the things the church needs to learn to lose.  For Beeching, this is the scales-falling-from-eyes moment; from here on, she is an undivided person.

So what is the theology here?  I've already noted the way in which Beeching struggled as a child with passages in the OT that showed God's judgement (15-17).  It seems more accurate to say she didn't struggle with them: "My simple childhood faith was rooted in God's love and kindness, so I tried to focus on the stories that emphasized those qualities." (17)  Fair enough, you might think, for a child, but when this reminiscence is picked up later, after the coming out story, it's clear that they never have been processed (see page 224 - note that the sort of vitriol Beeching recounts here is indefensible in terms of the passages of Scripture cited).  The practical theology operative here involved denying aspects of the biblical witness to God in order to remake him in more amenable image.  A God totally without wrath - certainly not the God of the Bible.

Along with this, the assumption that what God really wants for us is that we should just be ourselves.  That we are all accepted just the way we are.  I suppose that follows.

A lot of the theological approach involves downplaying the idea of doctrine or of the faith as a deposit of revelation to be received.  Kallistos Ware appears as a catalyst to Beeching's developing feeling that the life of faith is not about knowing, but about pressing further into mystery (96).  This sort of mysticism allows for a sense that we're all on a journey, and that greater knowledge of God lies in the future, not in any past revelation.

That is significant for the apologetic, which has three main prongs.  The first is that the church has historically supported ethically bad things, and has only been dragged out of its moral morass by a few principled crusaders. (This is, I think, the thrust of chapters 9 through 11).  Beeching presents this as a pattern: the church always wrong, with the exception of a few progressives.  It is, of course, the standard story of liberal society (based on and derived from the liberal Christianity of the 19th century).  It won't stand up to historical scrutiny, but it doesn't need to: just the impression that those who remain orthodox on sexuality are on the wrong side of history is enough.

The second prong is to make people aware that there are scholars who read the Bible differently.  I've written about this (in a slightly sarcastic tone...) before.  If it can be shown that someone somewhere, ideally an 'expert', holds a different interpretation, that is enough to throw off the shackles of orthodoxy (see, for example, 86-7).  It is worth noting again that one need not actually decide that the alternative interpretation is the most natural one; that it exists is enough.  In the memoir, it is striking that it is not finally reading liberal approaches to the Bible's teaching on sexuality that brings the breakthrough, but a highly subjective sense of God speaking through Acts 10 whilst sitting in the Brompton Oratory.  The different interpretations just serve to prise one's fingers slightly from orthodoxy.

The third prong is the apologetic of harm.  So much of the book is devoted to showing that the church's teaching on sexuality harms people.  This is powerful, because doing no harm is basically the only value left in our society.  If something makes people unhappy, causes them hurt - then it is morally bad.  I'd want to say three things to that: firstly, that it isn't true - there are other values which also have to be considered; second, that the church clearly has harmed people (not least Vicky Beeching), and we need to both grieve for that and seek to be better; and third. that I do not believe it is orthodox teaching on sexuality which has done the harm but certain caricatures of it coupled to a shame culture.

This has become very long, so briefly a concluding thought.  The saddest thing for me throughout this memoir is that I'm not convinced Vicky Beeching has ever really understood, or at least appropriated, God's grace.  She characterises herself as a perfectionist, desperately aware of her flaws (50), and gives the impression that she's always felt anxious about letting people, and God, down.  She admits having an obsessive need to be theologically right about everything (94).  When she finally sat down in the Brompton Oratory and felt God change her perspective through her reading of Acts 10, "It was hard... to accept a new perspective.  I was offended at the idea of losing the badge of righteousness I had earned by holding to traditional Christian views."  (171)

The impression here is of someone sadly trapped in legalism.  And with that in mind, I can't read this as a story of liberation.  How I would have loved it to have been the story of how that need to establish one's own righteousness was vanquished through the acceptance of God's righteousness freely bestowed!  But there isn't that: just the realisation that she's been righteous all along, because righteousness means self-acceptance.  Maybe I'm wrong.  But that's how it reads to me.

Look, you should read it.  It's important.  I think the conclusions to which Vicky Beeching has been driven are incorrect.  I think there are better ways of reading the Bible, and better ways for all of us to face up to our sexuality in the light of the gospel.  But here is the challenge of a revisionist reading wearing a real human face, the face of someone you instinctively want to like.  Read it, because other people will.  Read it, because painful as it is, it will do you good to think and pray this stuff through properly.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Samson is a bad man

One thing has particularly struck me reading through the story of Samson recently in Judges 13-16: Samson is awful.  He is a horrible, horrible human being in almost every way.  He treats women like chattels.  He disrespects his parents.  He is unfaithful to God's covenant with Israel (as demonstrated by his marriage choices).  He is extraordinarily gifted by God, but shows no gratitude whatsoever.  He makes no effort to maintain the ritual purity expected of a normal Israelite, let alone a set-apart Nazirite.  He is short-tempered and proud.  He brutally murders people because he is angry and he needs thirty garments because of a stupid bet.  He is vengeful.  He lacks faith, and repeats the grumbling of his forebears when he finds himself in the wilderness without water.  He frequents prostitutes.  He is careless and self-confident to the point of extreme arrogance.

Samson is a bad man.

But - such a promising beginning!  A veritable annunciation in Judges 13, and "the young man grew and Yahweh blessed him.  And the Spirit of Yahweh began to stir him..."  Chosen from the womb by God to be the leader of his people.  Did God choose poorly?

The story actually gets more disturbing in some ways.  This morning the lectionary took us through the tawdry story of Samson's wedding.  His parents tried to persuade him to marry an Israelite, but Samson was having none of it: he would marry a Philistine, apparently just because he thought she was hot - he doesn't have a conversation with her until later.  Samson is marrying into the people who are currently oppressing Israel; not a great look for a deliverer, and on the pattern of the book of Judges that is what we are expecting him to be.  The marriage, of course, goes wrong, and Samson goes off in a rage and murders people and loses his wife (which will have further repercussions, by which I mean more murders, tomorrow).

But none of that is the disturbing bit.  There are two verses in this chapter which are genuinely alarming.  Verse 4:"His father and mother did not know that it was from Yahweh, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines."  And verse 19: "And the Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men..."

Samson is awful, but it is God who is looking for an opportunity to strike the Philistines - Samson's desire for an unwise and probably illegitimate marriage is "from Yahweh"!  What do we do with that?  Is God as awful as Samson?  If Samson is a bad man, is God a bad God?

Here is where we have to take a careful and nuanced view of God's sovereignty.  There is no doubt that the author of Judges wants us to know that Samson is a bad dude.  It is part of the downward spiral in post-conquest Israelite society that the deliverers who are raised up get progressively less heroic and godly (compare the way the Gideon and Jepthah stories are told, for example, and note the parallels around the treatment of Ephraim, seeking of rulership, etc. etc.)  So the perspective of the text is that Samson is not a role-model.  But the perspective of the text is also that Yahweh God is holy and righteous.  It is certainly not the intention of the author to endorse Samson, but neither is it his intention to implicate God in Samson's awfulness.

So how do we read it?  Samson acted sinfully, but God acted righteously through sinful Samson.  Samson murdered Philistines in petty rage, but God righteously judged the Philistines through petty Samson.  Note that God does not, according to the text, just opportunistically use Samson's crimes for good ends.  In fact, that Samson is chosen from the womb and gets such a big annunciation story serves to underline that God has actively ordained that this wicked man will play a role in his righteous schemes - and yet without himself being tainted in any way by Samson's evil.  Our view of God needs to be enlarged - he is above and beyond, operating on a different plane from us.  But our view of God also needs to be disciplined by revelation - this God is not afraid to mix it up on our plane.

In the end it is impossible for us to disentangle the evil that people intend and the good that God purposes.  We can only pray and work against the former and trust for the latter.  God will sort it all out in the end.

Friday, June 08, 2018

He will come to judge the world

My guess is that nothing serves as a better barometer of the spiritual climate than the sorts of thoughts we entertain about God's judgement.  I've been struck particularly over the last week or so by the way in which many people, even Christians who are committed to their Bibles, are uncomfortable with the thought of God as judge.  In particular, we struggle to square our commitment to the idea that God is love - and the NT certainly does say that, in so many words, and means it too - and the idea that God will come with fire and a winnowing fork.

And yet the Psalms paint a different picture.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
A joy that fills all creation, and all because God is coming to judge!  And sometimes this is directly linked to God's love.

So what makes the difference in perspective?  My guess is a couple of things.

Most fundamental, I suppose, we - or at least many of us - have become far too accustomed to living in the world, such that we no longer notice its corruption, the evil all around us.  We're okay with the world carrying on as it is, pretty much indefinitely.  Or we've bought into the secular idea that things aren't that bad, and it just needs a little human effort to bring in the future utopian bliss.  This is probably only something that happens when Christians are comfortable, both in terms of an absence of persecution and a good provision of worldly goods.  My guess is that the best way to counteract this is to think about others a bit more.  For myself, remembering that in our peaceful and prosperous society the unborn can be freely disposed of brings it home that this world needs judgement.

I think as well that the standard image we're given of God's judgement in much contemporary teaching, in which we believers stand on the right side of judgement and everyone else goes down, makes us quite uncomfortable.  As well it should.  If we know anything at all, we know we're at least as bad as those around us.  It smacks a bit of that most contemporary sin, privilege, to claim that we'll make it through the judgement and everyone else won't.

There is a strand to the biblical picture of God's judgement which looks like this: God rescuing his people by judging the world.  But there is something more fundamental, I think.  When God comes to judge the world, he comes to make things right.  That is why all creation rejoices.  Can we just think a little more about the sin of abortion?  Who is promoting abortion rights in our society?  It's not the baddies.  It's the decent, progressive, nice people.  The people with whom we could stand shoulder to shoulder to protest the abuse of the poor, or the dehumanising of immigrants.  And yet these same people believe strongly in their right to expose infants (for that is what it is).  What do we do with that?  Who can unravel these strands or right and wrong, see to the heart of it, make sure everyone gets justice?  Only God, surely.

That's why creation rejoices at the coming judgement of God.  His judgement is the final dividing of light from dark, order from chaos, good from evil.  In the Genesis story, a provisional and primary division is made as the good creation is brought out from the darkened chaos.  In Revelation, that division is extended to the moral and personal realm and made final.  And this is good!  Just as the morning stars sang together at the first dawn, so all the trees and mountains and rivers will rejoice at that final definitive dawn.

And what a depth it adds to this picture when we understand that this judgement has been entrusted to our Lord Jesus!  But that is a whole different post.

Monday, June 04, 2018

On returning from a camping holiday

I love to camp.  I confess, I don't quite trust people who don't enjoy life under canvas.  Sorry if that's you.  I'm sure you have many other admirable qualities.

Two reflections on camping.  The first one is that camping really brings it home to you that creation is there.  I mean, I know we live in God's creation all the time; I'm aware that the city as well as the countryside belongs to God.  But there is something about sitting out in the countryside for a week that highlights the solidity, the given-ness, the sheer there-ness, of creation.  When I'm in the city, the built environment, I easily forget that the world is not something of our construction.  It doesn't belong to us, and we don't control it.  Even in the neatly and nicely tamed countryside of south Devon, how could anybody forget that we human beings didn't and couldn't shape the hills, didn't and couldn't bring forth the trees, didn't and couldn't set the rocky cliffs above the surging sea?  Waking up at night, one need only pop one's head outside to see stars - innumerable stars, more stars than you would imagine possible from within the artificially lit city.

Here's the paradox: what is a streetlamp compared to the countless stars of God?  And yet a streetlamp will cut off the view of the stars completely.  The city shrinks the world, makes it manageable.  I am not confronted by the heights and depths of God's wonderful creation, but only by the altogether manageable mediocrities of human construction.  It is good to be reminded that creation is there, because it reminds me that God is there.  Just as creation is only really hidden behind the pavements and houses, so God is only hidden behind the frenetic human activity of life.  Behind it all, he is there.

Second reflection: tent living is precarious.  It feels precarious, when the wind is up, but it's more than that.  Out there is the vast given-ness of God's world, and here I am, in a scrap of canvas, clinging to the earth of the creator's moulding.  The city, with all its concrete and control, makes me feel secure, in a way.  But I am not secure.  Maybe I did say in my prosperity "I shall never be moved" - but it was only God's favour that made it so.  One is reminded of that, in a tent.  Weather-dependent, in a way which you're not in the city, the conclusion that we are dependent, contingent - that is, or should be, impossible to avoid.  How fragile we are, and how fragile is everything that we construct and value.  All living really is tent living, although we cover it from ourselves with bricks and mortar.

And a reflection on coming home: one of the worst consequences of sin is that we are constantly seeking to be what we are not, to deny creational realities.  I think Adam before the fall could have built without ever forgetting that the work of his hands was really the work of God's hands.  I think he would have known and understood his contingency and fragility without being threatened by it - for what is contingency other than to be in the hands of the loving Father God?

But we are a fallen people, and always we are seeking to build our way out of creation, out of the need to acknowledge God, out of the fear of contingency.  Whether it is literal bricks and mortar, or the ideological bricks and mortar of godless philosophy, that is what we do.

I think a camping holiday might do us all good.