Robinson’s Reflection’s Part V

The fifth in a series of theological reflections drawn from Robinson Crusoe written by Daniel Dafoe and first published in 1719.priest

If God exists, how would a person gain access to him, her or it? How would divine knowledge or relationship be revealed or mediated? At one point in the narrative of Robinson Crusoe, Friday explains that he has never met God because this is left to the old men of his tribe who pass on divine messages to the rest of the people. Crusoe observes:

…there is priestcraft even among the most blinded, ignorant pagans in the world; and the policy of making a secret of religion, in order to preserve the veneration of the people to the clergy, is not only to be found in the Roman, but perhaps among all religions in the world…

The Bible both critiques and affirms the notion of priestly mediation.

In terms of criticism, Jesus saves his harshest words (see Matthew 23) for the religious hierarchy of his day who delighted in outward religious ceremony but were ignorant of God and sought personal power rather than truth or love. Christians are not ignorant of the fact that religion can be used to manipulate and coerce. Jesus, Martin Luther and many observers, both religious and otherwise, condemn such ‘priestcraft’ for the sham that it is.

Indeed, priestly power is so often and so terribly abused that it is enough to make a person suspicious and cynical of all such claims. However, the Bible ultimately upholds and affirms the notion of priesthood by pointing to the person of Jesus:

There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

Here is a priest who claims to be able to speak on behalf of God because he is God come in the flesh. Here is a priest who claims to provide a way to God, not by good deeds, ritual or payment but through confession of sin and faith in his own sacrificial death. Here is a priest whose big claims are backed up with behaviour and teaching marked by power, truth and selfless love rather than impotence, secrecy and selfishness. Here is a priest worth considering.

Robinson’s Reflections – Part IV

The fourth in a series of theological reflections drawn from Robinson Crusoe written by discontentDaniel Dafoe and first published in 1719.

Happiness is big business. A seemingly endless number of advertising campaigns, books, courses and gurus (even supposedly Christian ones) advocate particular gadgets, apps, hobbies, exercise routines, diets, medicines or other practices aimed at quenching our thirst for well-being. But like the green light across the way from Gatsby it remains out of reach.

As he reflects on his circumstances and the simple provisions available to him, Robinson Crusoe pauses to consider the nature of contentment. He notes that discontented people:

‘…cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them, because they see and covet something that he has not given them. All our discontents about what we want, appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.’

Here is a diagnosis of discontentment that points inwardly to the greedy human heart rather than outwardly to circumstances. Here is a call to contentment based on a thankful recognition of the gifts that have already been received from the Heavenly Giver. Why are you unhappy? Isn’t it because your eyes are on the possessions you desire, the relationship you don’t have, the job you aspire to rather than the things you already have? This recent video was a good reminder of just how much we have:

 

For the Christian contentment is not just about a kind of pythonesque positive thinking that always tries to “look on the bright side of life”. It is found in a recognition that God is a Father who provides many of the important things like rain and sunshine that we all take for granted (Matt 5:45). More than that, it is grounded in the message that He entered into the world as the ultimate gift through his Son, Jesus Christ. In John’s gospel Jesus claims to give everlasting water that quenches our deepest thirst (4:14) and to be the true bread that satisfies our deepest hunger (6:48). He describes himself as the light (8:12), the resurrection (11:25), the way, the truth, the life (14:6), and the vine (15:1). In John 10 he claims to be both the gate to good pasture (v. 9) and the good shepherd who gives abundant life (v.11).

Here is everything we ever truly wanted and needed: peace, relationship, guidance, hope, protection and provision. These are realities secured by the death and resurrection of Christ and accessible by the faith given through the Holy Spirit. When our hope and focus is on Him we are freed from the world of gnawing ambition and materialism and into a life of contentment and generosity both in good times and bad.

Robinson’s Reflections – Part III

The third in a series of theological reflections drawn from Robinson Crusoe written by islandDaniel Dafoe and first published in 1719.

What affliction are you currently grappling with? Perhaps it is an illness of some kind, a dysfunctional relationship or a problem at work. For Robinson Crusoe it was sickness, starvation and loneliness after a violent shipwreck that left him marooned on an island. In the midst of his suffering his thoughts turn to spiritual matters and the hope that God may be able to deliver him from the island which serves as his prison.

As he struggles to eke out an existence in the early days on the island, Robinson Crusoe begins to read the Christian Scriptures. As he reads from the New Testament he is struck with the realisation that his greatest affliction, his heaviest burden and his real prison is not found in the external circumstances of the island but within the brokenness and guilt of his own soul.

‘…the island was certainly a prison to me, and that in the worst sense in the world. But now I learned to take it in another sense: now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my solitary life, it was nothing; I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it, or think of it; it was all of no consideration, in comparison with this. And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction.’

The call of Christianity is exactly this: to recognise that no matter how bad our circumstances, they are nothing compared with the destructive power of sin at work within each of us that leaves us alienated from God, each other and ourselves. The great promise of Christianity is not that Jesus will magically give you a life of comfort but that he has met your greatest need by lovingly bearing your guilt, shame and penalty on the cross so that you can be delivered into a life of freedom and joy.

Robinson’s Reflections – Part II

The second in a series of theological reflections drawn from Robinson Crusoe written bymoney
Daniel Dafoe and first published in 1719.

Sometimes our greatest source of suffering is lack of resources. In other cases, it is a perverse response to abundance or an insatiable quest for more that leads to ruin. During a period of early success Robinson Crusoe observes:

But as abused prosperity is oftentimes made the very means of our greatest adversity, so it was with me.

The narrative that follows charts his growing desire for money, property and success. With his greed comes risk-taking, exploitation of others and downfall. It is a well known pattern that has been played out countless times in the lives of individuals, nations and empires.

In the Old Testament, Solomon stands tall as the example of the adversity wrought by abundance as he turns from a life of faithful service of God and others to one of immorality and idolatry. More generally it is the improper response of God’s people to the blessings and abundance of the Promised Land that lead to a society marked by laziness, inequality and corruption.

The call of Jesus is to be wary of the dangers of wealth and to give freely to those in need and the work of God’s kingdom rather than storing up treasures in this world (Matthew 6). The Apostle Paul echoes these teachings in 1 Timothy 6:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs…

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

This is not a call to embrace a dour and lifeless existence. Rather, it is a reminder that abused prosperity can be the very thing that robs us of life whereas a simple and generous life focused on God’s kingdom leads to joy, contentment and life that lasts beyond this world.

Robinson’s Reflections – Part I

The first in a series of theological reflections drawn from Robinson Crusoe written bytracks
Daniel Dafoe and first published in 1719.

It is comforting to think of ourselves as rational decision makers. People who weigh the options carefully and take the path we see fit. Always free to make other choices. It’s a nice idea but in reality we often find ourselves choosing what is wrong and pressing on despite appeals from our own conscience.

…my ill fate pushed me on with an obstinacy that nothing could resist; and though I had several times loud calls from my reason, and my more composed judgement, to go home, yet I had no power to do it.—I know not what to call this, nor will I urge that it is a secret, over-ruling decree, that hurries us on to be the instruments of our own destruction, even though it be before us, and that we rush upon it with our eyes open.

Indeed, even when it would be right to feel shame about our choices and make good sense to turn back we often experience the exact opposite.

…I have often since observed, how incongruous and irrational the common temper of mankind is, especially of youth, to that reason which ought to guide them in such cases, viz. that they are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; not ashamed of the action, for which they ought justly to be esteemed fools; but are ashamed of the returning, which only can make them be esteemed wise men.

The Bible diagnoses this ‘secret, over-ruling decree’ and ‘common temper of mankind’ as stemming from our broken relationship with God. In Romans chapter 1 the Apostle Paul describes humanity as suppressing and discarding the truth about God while claiming to be wise in themselves. The result is not freedom but slavery. Not rational choice but lives marked by nonsense, perversion, unrepentance and destruction.

Trivial Pursuit?

It’s terribly draining to be in the company of someone who takes themselves too seriously. Someone who is unable to see their own weaknesses, laugh at their own shortcomings and know when it’s time to relax and unwind.

Perhaps the answer to this kind of dry, joyless living is a recognition that life is not that serious. Life is short and trivial. It’s what you make of it.

Neither of these approaches is Christian. The attitude that revels in self-importance might be religious but it is far removed from the life and teaching of Jesus. The attitude that treats life simply as a pleasure cruise might be fun but it does not fit with the much richer and larger Christian view of life.

In the first instance the Christian regards life as the good gift of God. Rather than life being defined by what we make of it, life is defined by what God intended it to be. The opening chapters of the Bible present life as joyful and purposeful. The joy stems from right relationship with God, each other and the natural world. The purpose flows from the command to fill the earth and rule over it with care and wisdom. While this has been frustrated by sin, the Christian now looks to Christ as the giver of new and eternal life. Joy now stems from being reconciled to God and purpose is now found in building a kingdom that will last forever. There is no room for self-righteousness or gloom since we are creatures lovingly restored to our Creator by grace. There is no room for treating life as a play thing since it is given as a purposeful and costly gift.

Purpose implies accountability and the Christian view of life is also shaped by judgement and eternity. Contrary to popular caricatures Jesus spoke about judgement on a regular basis. In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus presents three stories to  illustrate that he will hold people to account for if and how they have waited for his return, whether they have used their gifts to serve God’s kingdom and how they have treated his people. When you know the auditor is on his way, you make sure your accounts are in order. When you believe your life will be scrutinised you take care to live it in order to please the judge. Beliefs and actions are not simply matters of lifestyle and comfort in the Christian worldview, they are things that matter deeply because they have eternal consequences. Life then is not about sitting in judgement, rather it is about preparing to be judged. Nor is life about short-term personal pleasure, rather it is about the glorious and eternal purposes of God.