Thursday, 30 June 2011

Hezekiah's silence

Why did King Hezekiah remain silent when Rabshakeh, the Assyrian field commander, taunted Hezekiah and insulted the LORD?

Isaiah 36 and 2 Kings 18 record how Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacked Judah and conquered all the way to Jerusalem. Sennacherib memorialised his conquest of Lachish, Judah's second most important city, in sculpted reliefs in his palace at Ninevah. Those reliefs, and a rock prism boasting of his Judean campaign, can now be seen in the British Museum. I saw them myself last week, when I visited the museum during my UK holiday.

Having conquered Lachish, the Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem. Isaiah and 2 Kings both record the Assyrian field commander taunting Hezekiah and the LORD. "Don't let Hezekiah deceive you," he says to the people of Jerusalem, "the LORD can't save you. None of the gods of the other nations were able to resist us. Come over to us Assyrians - we'll look after you."

In the face of these taunts, Hezekiah's response was: silence. Isaiah 36:21:
But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”
Why did Hezekiah command silence?

Fear or cowardice?
He could have responded with Godly confidence. That’s what his ancestor David did in a similar situation: he responded to Goliath's taunts with Godly defiance - see 1 Samuel 17:41-47. If Hezekiah had that option, then his silence was fear, or even cowardice.

Pearls before swine / do not answer a fool?
Or it could have been Hezekiah's wisdom in not responding to foolish arguments. Proverbs instructs us not to answer a fool according to his folly; Jesus told us not to cast our peals before pigs; and Paul tells us not to be involved in foolish and stupid arguments. If this is the case, then Hezekiah's response was wisdom. Matthew Henry takes this line, as do a couple of current online commentators (David Guzik and Donald F. Ritsman).

Or his silence could be a Godly humility. Like the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Hezekiah could have been resolved to patiently bear the taunts and mockery of unbelievers. In this case, Hezekiah would be a prototype of Jesus, and an example to us.

* * * * *

I don't know which of the three options to go for. They're all plausible. Might there be a way to combine them into something more wholistic?

Thoughts, please.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Some thoughts on returning from holidays

I'm back from a three-week holiday in the UK. First week in London, with day trips to Oxford & Cambridge; second week in Glasgow, with day trips to Mallaig (Harry Potter country!),Edinburgh & St Andrews (Presbyterian country!); third week in the Cumbria Lakes District, with day trips all over the place.

Some reflections:
  • Australia sure is a long way away from the UK (*yawn*) (*jet-lag*);
  • The UK is full of history. Things built in the 1800s are new - like the "new" palace of Westminster and the "New Wing" at Magdalene College, Oxford (where C. S. Lewis had his rooms);
  • I love the museums. I saw artefacts relevant to Biblical times in the British Museum in London and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Highly recommend the Imperial War Museum;
  • Most of the museums & galleries in the UK are free & have cheap audio tours which provide an excellent commentary;
  • Scotland has, given its small size & population, made a disproportionate impact on world history through its heavy engineering - Glasgow, in the mid 19th century, constructed more than half Britain's shipping and a quarter of all locomotives in the world - and in heavy intellectuals - notably the philosopher David Hume, but also poets like Robert Burns, and scientists like James Watt, whose improvement of the steam engine enabled the industrial revolution; Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone; Lord Kelvin, who created the Kelvin scale down to absolute zero; and Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin;
  • The major church denominations (Church of England; Church of Scotland) are stuffed. Widespread lack of confidence in the Bible has gutted their ability to proclaim Christ, with the result that more & more church buildings are turning into pizza parlours;
  • But within the denominations, there's plenty of Evangelical churches valiantly holding the line and preaching Christ. The flagships are St Helen's Bishopsgate in London and St George's Tron in Glasgow - but they're not alone;
  • The quality of the speeches in parliament at Westminster were far, far above anything I've heard from Canberra;
  • The Global Financial Crisis has hit the UK and Europe much harder than they have Aust. The whole of Europe is reeling from unemployment and financial and corporate collapses. When I was there, the UK govt was debating a financial bailout for Greece - as in Europe financially assisting the whole country of Greece. This economic hardship might be behind the recent flare-up of sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland;
  • UK is dog-friendly. Or maybe I should say dog-indulgent. Everyone seems to own a dog. Or two. Or six. Shops put up signs saying "dogs welcome." People work as professional dog walkers - as in taking dogs for walks. The trade-off is a 1,000-pound on-the-spot fine for not cleaning up after your dog;
  • Sydney winter weather is more pleasant than UK summer weather (*wet*) (*cold*) (*grumble*);
  • But the benefit of all that rain is that UK fields really are green. I love the rolling hills with ancient stone walls with lambs gambolling and cattle grazing. Aust really is a wide brown land;
  • Speaking of a wide brown land: I still call Australia home.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Sex as a relational act

In my previous post, I showed how naturalistic science depersonalises sexuality, turning it into a mere manipulation of bodily functions.

In contrast, the Bible treats our sexuality as a good gift from a personal, Triune God, who is love (1 John 4:16) – who is constituted within himself by his relationships. The logic of the Bible is, unsurprisingly, the opposite to atheistic materialistic naturalism. Humans are fundamentally relational beings. God gave us our bodies – including the sexual nature of our bodies – to express these relationships. The way to care for our bodies is, generally, to attend to our relationships: if we are in healthy relationships, our bodies will flourish; if we are in toxic relationships, they will deteriorate. So, from a Biblical perspective, the way to rightly use our sexuality, which both acknowledges its status as a divine gift, and helps us lead healthy, happy sex lives, is to consider how we are using our sexuality to enhance our relationships.

This perspective is not unique to the Bible or Christianity. Creation itself, being the creation of the Biblical God, embodies within itself principles that are coherent with the Bible. Open-minded, responsible scientific investigation, which seeks to genuinely discern how the physical world operates, will therefore render results that are broadly compatible with the Bible. We therefore expect sexual research to demonstrate that healthy sexuality is intimately connected to healthy relationships.

Recent sexual research demonstrates that our neurological sexual responses show that we're wired for long-term intimacy. I reviewed this research in a paper I presented last year at the Religion In the Public Square conference of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. You can download the conference proceedings here, from Reformers books.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sexuality and scientific naturalism

In my previous post I argued that sexual research and therapy were good professions, blessed by God. To deserve such blessing, this research and therapy must be conducted in a manner that acknowledges our sexuality as a divine gift.

Naturalistic science presupposes radical materialism – the natural world of physical matter is ultimate reality. It presupposes that there is no creator God, who made the physical universe for us to enjoy. Instead, physical matter is all that really exists. As mere physical matter, it is in itself inert, passive, and lifeless. It operates according to rules that are complex but predictable. The role of science is to discover these physical rules of operation so that we can manipulate them, enhance the physical objects beyond their ‘natural’ state, and use them to ach achieve whatever we want. Naturalistic science dissects and reconstructs so as to control and dominate.

Applying this to sexual research and therapy: naturalistic science assumes that everything about sexuality can be ultimately boiled down to physics and chemistry, neurology and biology. Humans are, in the end, nothing more than complex biological machines. Love, loyalty, affection – all the personal emotions that accompany relationships, including sexual relationships – are not really real; they are merely outworkings of our biology and neurology.

Therefore, our physical bodies, and the internal operations of our will and emotions – our souls, our psyche – operates according to physical rules that are complex but predictable. Our bodies and souls are infinitely malleable according to the precision and detail of our scientific insight. The role of sexual research and therapy is therefore to dissect, reconstruct, control and dominate: to understand how our bodies and souls respond to sexual stimuli, so that we can manage and redesign our bodies and souls to do whatever we want.

The plastic surgeon and the counsellor represent the priesthood of sexual science. We think they can put us in touch with ultimate reality – the laws that our bodies and souls operate according to – so that we can manage that ultimate reality, and live healthy, happy, fulfilled lives. We end up living in a world of surgically enhanced genitalia and frequent trips to the therapist.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Creation, sexuality, and the good of sexual research and therapy

Sexuality is a good part of our created nature. God made humanity male and female, and commanded humans to "be fruitful and increase in number..." (Gen 1:27-28). Adam rejoiced over Eve as his own flesh and bone, and they were to be united as one flesh, naked with no shame (Genesis 2:23-25). Therefore, gender and sexuality is part of our humanity - it is part of what it means to be in God's image.

As part of good creation, our sexuality is open to scientific research and medical therapy. Any research and therapy that helps people discover who they truly are, as sexual beings in relationship with God and other people, is a good thing, and God will bless it. Any research and therapy that assists people to conduct their sexual lives in a responsible, healthy manner, before God, their sexual partner, and the world, is a good thing, blessed by God. Sex research and therapy – like any medical research and therapy – is a blessed profession, pleasing to God. All of this helps us recover, in part, God’s good intentions for our bodies and our sexuality, and thus helps us to be truly human.

Friday, 3 June 2011

World Congress for Sexual Health, Glasgow

I'm preparing to head off to Glasgow, Scotland, to participate in the 20th World Congress for Sexual Health of the World Association for Sexual Health ("WAS"). I'm delivering a 15-min paper on "Biblical Principles for Sexual Research and Therapy" at a Symposium on Religion & Sexual Health. It'll be on Thurs 16 June between 10:30-11:30 Glasgow time = Thursday 16 June 2011 7:30 - 8:30pm Sydney time. It's my first time delivering an academic paper at a secular conference. Prayers appreciated.

Of course I'm also going to have a holiday at the same time: London, Oxford, Cambridge, then Glasgow, Edinburgh, perhaps St Andrew's, then the Lakes District - then home. I'll be travelling with my parents - my mum, Dr. Pat, has various presentations at the conference also. I'm looking forward to visiting St George's Tron Church in Glasgow. So I'll be an Sri-Lankan - Australian Presbyterian in Scotland...

I'm finishing off the paper now. My post a few days ago on relationships, love, sex & marriage is part of an earlier draft. Shall pop up some further thoughts over the next few days. Let's see what happens.