Fire also is a reality check. It uncovers the extent of the progress we have made towards loving and helping our neighbour or it displays the lack of trust among people who live cheek by jowl.
It is deeper than that of course. Why does an all loving God permit such destructive events like the Great Fire to happen, if we really cannot stomach the idea that He dooms the relatively innocent to illustrate a point about the over indulgent. It seems that God is either not loving or falls short of being all powerful.
Here the role of fire in visions of the end-time can help us. Such was the chaos of the obstinately metaphysical 17th century that sensible people recoiled from speculation about the end time. Enthusiasm in religion became suspect. At the end of the 17th century Archbishop Tillotson who had been a City Rector said “Stirring up men’s passions is like the muddying of the waters you see nothing clearly afterwards.” He had a point but the anaesthetising of the Christian community was only too successful. Christians became largely satisfied with the way things were. They gave up looking for a denouement, for what the New Testament calls – The Kingdom.
Ultimately this raised questions about what the Church was for and whether God himself was just a piece of antique cultural baggage. I was in conversation last night with a group of spiritual searchers called Moot, serious and imaginative young people who find the church stale and oppressive. One of them said very reasonably, has the Anglican Church got a vision?
This is the beginnings of the answer which is being given by many Christians in London today. One of the Biblical truths which has been brought to light by the scientific discoveries of the past century is that we live in an unfinished universe. The universe is full of pain and travail as Paul says in his letter to the Romans. It groans in all its parts. It is sufficiently distinct from God both to have the potential of being suffused with love for the Creator but also the potential for disaster, for the fire which destroys but also reveals. We cannot see the future of the human race and the climax of the creation of which we are a part. They are out of our sight with God at the Omega point to which we are travelling.
What we know however as people of faith as we look back over the story so far is that there is disaster but also rescue. There is tragedy but always promise and hope. God as we see him in Jesus Christ, the human face of God, is not a nanny who keeps a tight grip on us lest anything untoward happen. He gives us freedom and has himself accepted the suffering that such freedom entails. God was in Christ full of promise loving the world into loving.
The Christian community is composed of those who have consciously made themselves a part of this story. They are building on the vision of human life that we are given in the life death and resurrection of Jesus. They are called to become his body on earth. They know that happiness and fulfilment does not come by having but by loving. They know that human life flowers not when it looks after number one but when it takes risks for the sake of my neighbour. They know with the ancient writers that we fall alone but we are saved together.
1. john scholasticus wrote:
Terrible piece. He doesn’t say what as a Christian he absolutely has to say - that innocent victims of calamities like the Great Fire have eternal life - and he seems to believe that St Peter wrote The Second Letter of Peter.
June 25, 4:12 pm | [comment link]
2. libraryjim wrote:
What innocent victims? “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (St. Paul). If you mean unbaptized babies, then I have no opinion on that myself. That is up to God to decide (especially now that limbo has been declared non-existent).
As to St. Peter writing 2nd Peter, why not? Opinion was split in the early church, he’s as likely to have written it as not. Until conclusively proven one way or the other, I will accept St.Peter as the author.
June 25, 4:34 pm | [comment link]
3. john scholasticus wrote:
You think ordinary run-of-the-mill sinners deserve incineration in the Great Fire (or the Tsunami or whatever)? You think God ‘caused’ either?
Why not? Very few NT scholars hold this view - I’ve looked around. There are many reasons but the most basic is that they think that the Greek is far too swanky for a Galilean fisherman. Not to deny that Peter probably had some Greek - it’s the literary level which is disturbing. You can’t get ‘conclusive proof’ in most of these disputes: what you can get is a very strong balance of probability. I find it very hard to respect senior Church figures like Chartres who don’t try to educate their flocks - or themselves - in these matters.
June 25, 4:42 pm | [comment link]
4. Enda wrote:
Now, we need your respect, don’t we, JS.
June 25, 4:44 pm | [comment link]
5. john scholasticus wrote:
‘Fraid I believe in education, Edna, you don’t? We’re talking here technical New Testament scholarship, not theology.
June 25, 4:49 pm | [comment link]
6. Philip Snyder wrote:
John Scholasticus - I agree that the innocents who died in the great fire went to “heaven.” However, I would say that the vast marjority of those that died in the great fire were not innocent.
Did they deserve to die in fire and agony? No more or less than we do. Were (or will depending on your view of time/eternity) the authorities held accountable for the conditions that allowed and excaserbated the great fire? Probably.
Finally, I like the way you ignore the Bishop’s point by nit picking on his scholarship during a sermon - hardly a time for the discussion of the authorship of 2nd Peter (unless the sermon is on biblical authorship). Peter may well be the “Author” (e.g. the authority) behind 2nd Peter without being the person who actually penned it. He may have dictated it in Greek and a scribe/secretary cleaned up the language. We won’t know this side of our own judgement. I hope that God is more merciful with you than you are with Bishop Chartres.
June 25, 5:01 pm | [comment link]
7. Andrew717 wrote:
#6, I agree. The concept of Peter writing the letter, then going over it with a more educated convert for wordsmithing isn’t terribly hard to believe. Heck, I do the same for my dad all the time.
June 25, 5:08 pm | [comment link]
8. libraryjim wrote:
We know St. Paul did this from his comments at the ends of some of his letters (“See here, I’m writing this in my own hand to send you my personal greetings”—paraphrase). So if he dictated some of his letters, why not St. Peter? Does it stretch credibility so far to presume this? I think not.
Phil, thank you for stating this: Did they deserve to die in fire and agony? No more or less than we do. Our time to die will come to all of us, and probably not in the manner of our choosing. That’s why we must be prepared at all times, and why we must do our best to help the Church fulfill the great commission—so as many as possible will be won for the kingdom when their time comes around. Something I’m rather lacking in doing, I’m ashamed to confess.
June 25, 6:25 pm | [comment link]
9. Jimmy DuPre wrote:
“I really cannot believe in a God who plans to indict the excessive consumption of city folk by orchestrating a fire to break out in Pudding Lane.”
I did not get much out of the post as a whole. This sentence, however, jumped out at me. So, even if it were true, he could not believe it? Does that even make sense?
Another way to comment would be to say something like; ” Describing God as acting to indict the excessive consumption of city folk by orchestrating a fire to break out in Pudding Lane is not scripturally warranted given Matthew 5:44-46; “44But I tell you: Love your enemies[a] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
June 25, 6:45 pm | [comment link]
Where do we get the idea that what we want to think about God changes who God is? If this were so; wouldn’t we be God’s God?
10. Rob Eaton+ wrote:
Good English humor at start of sermon.
Occasion of sermon: Magnus, Fire, purpose of fire
Historical illustration well-known in London circles: The Great Fire, and the immediate pronouncements of the Fire as God’s judgment.
(synonymous: Tsunami, Hurricane, Plague, TECusa, ACoC, etc.)
Biblical theological comments:
1) Can God be in “the fire” for judgement? Yes.
2) Can God be in “fire” for the purpose of refining? Yes.
3) Is it always and immediately obvious? No.
Natural law (“science”) comments:
Do tragic things happen as happenstance? Yes.
Do tragic things happen due to human error and sinfulness? Yes
What to do, what to do?!
“What we know however as people of faith as we look back over the story so far is that there is disaster but also rescue.”
As Jesus saves us, so we should risk ourselves in saving others, literally, both here in this world and for the next.
When bad things, tragic things happen, the first role of the Christian is not to pronounce judgment as out-of-hand, but to immerse one’s self - and in the greater picture, to risk OURselves as the Community of Christ - in the ministry of rescue. Do not run away, either, from suffering in Jesus’ Name.
Basic sermon of Good News made applicable. Couple of things here and there grammatically to sharpen a thought, and tighten. Spoken with that congregation in mind, and to their needs. Appropriate for our current Anglican situation.
June 25, 7:27 pm | [comment link]
11. Words Matter wrote:
</i>especially now that limbo has been declared non-existent</i>
Not to sidetrack the discussion, but I don’t think that’s accurate. From the relevant document:
INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION: THE HOPE OF SALVATION FOR INFANTS WHO DIE WITHOUT BEING BAPTISED*
It [limbo}remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis. However, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the theory of limbo is not mentioned. Rather, the Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children. The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism (cf. CCC, 1261), and therefore also to the theological desire to find a coherent and logical connection between the diverse affirmations of the Catholic faith: the universal salvific will of God; the unicity of the mediation of Christ; the necessity of baptism for salvation; the universal action of grace in relation to the sacraments; the link between original sin and the deprivation of the beatific vision; the creation of man “in Christ”.
The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation.
June 25, 8:17 pm | [comment link]
12. Br. Michael wrote:
JS, you write “and he seems to believe that St Peter wrote The Second Letter of Peter.” Are you making a technical point about authorship, or do you also mean to imply that Peter is of doubtful cannonicity? You make similar comments about some of Paul’s letters. What is the ultimate point that you are trying to make? That they are of lessor cannonical authority?
June 25, 9:55 pm | [comment link]
13. john scholasticus wrote:
The former. I’m not concerned with whether they are ‘canonical’. I think educated church people as RC either is or should be should avoid making statements which either are or are likely to be untenable. This no big deal. He doesn’t have to say: I DO NOT BELIEVE ST PETER WROTE 2 PETER. All he has to do is quietly avoid making statements which either are or are likely to be untenable.
On the larger point, I think it is absolutely disgraceful that he doesn’t make the Christian claim that victims of such disasters have eternal life. That is a claim with which (as you know) I have some difficulty, but if it isn’t made Christianity rings very hollow, and one might expect - and hope - that such an orthodox guy would make it. Instead, he delivers this very flabby piece.
June 26, 6:52 pm | [comment link]
14. libraryjim wrote:
Why whould he make such a claim? Where in the Scriptures do you find the basis for that theology? if they were committed to Jesus, and had made Him Lord of their lives, then they would be with Him. Otherwise, based on Christian theology derived from the Bible and 2000 years of Church teaching, dying in a calamity, whether natural or man-caused, is not a “free ride” to heaven.
June 26, 10:24 pm | [comment link]
15. Andrew717 wrote:
I have to ask, JS, where is the theological support that dying with a bunch of other people gets one into heaven, while simply being murdered for your wallet alone in an alley would not? And why would Christianity ring hollow for not counting mass deaths more highly than single deaths? I honestly think I’m missing something
June 27, 11:51 am | [comment link]
16. libraryjim wrote:
JS, we are waiting.
June 28, 2:35 pm | [comment link]