Oxford Brookes University Mission – Day 5

Well I wasn’t expecting that. Three people said they wanted to follow Christ after the suffering talk on Thursday. Isn’t that amazing? And wonderful? And a whole load of others have signed up for the Christianity Explored course being run at a local church after the formal dinner in the evening.

After some late night alteration, I was pleased with the apologetic talk this time round. I’d managed to work out how the cross significantly helps us to understand God’s purpose in suffering. I’m pretty sure that Henri Blocher says something very similar in his book ‘Evil and the Cross’. But if I’ve read it (which I doubt) then I’d forgotten all the useful stuff he says. But the impact of the cross on suffering meant that I could spend some time legitimately explaining what was going on in Jesus’ death, which is not only more familiar territory for me, it’s also what people most need to hear!

I explained that three wrong answers are usually given to explain the existence of suffering in the world. There’s the ‘get rid of God’ approach so that suffering just is. There’s the ‘get rid of God’s power’ approach so that he’s well-meaning but impotent. And there’s the ‘get rid of his compassion’ approach so that he’s mighty but merciless. None of those tallies with the presentation of God in the Bible. The God of the Bible exists, for starters. So that’s a problem for solution one.  And the Bible records his mighty acts of power. So that’s a problem for solution two. And he is love, which rules out solution three. And so I suggested the Bible gives us another option. It’s that this God is not only almighty, all loving but also all wise. And in his wisdom he has good reasons for allowing suffering in his world. To establish that this is the answer we looked at the cross.

As you might expect, given the subject, there was a tangible sense of engagement with the issue. And there were a number of quality conversations afterwards.

Friday’s talk was entitled, ‘Exclusive: Is Jesus the only way?’ This was the talk I was most anxious about. It has the potential to make people disproportionately worked up. I’d also left the preparation of the talk till the last minute. It was the first issue that I’d thought about during half term. And it all made sense back then. I’d even sketched out the rough outline of a talk. But I hadn’t looked at it in over a week. So it was far from fresh in my mind. And by the end of the mission my brain was nearly cooked. In the end I was greatly indebted to Paul Williams’ book ‘If You Could Ask God One Question’. He has a terrrific chapter in there on the issue of sincerity. He looks at Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus tells this moral, sincere, devout devotee to another faith that he needs to be born again if he’s ever to see the Kingdom of God. And so Jesus answers the question of who will be accepted by God for us. The talk I gave wasn’t quite plagiarism. But it would be fair to say that Paul would recognise much of the better material in the talk!

And so the week came to an end. When I get some time. And after some sleep, I’ll share my impressions of the week.

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