An Eye for an Eye

“An eye for an eye for an eye for an eye… ends in making everybody blind”, so said Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian leader. He was commenting on the Old Testament law which states: “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” (Exodus 21:23,24).

This one gets thrown up from time to time as an objection to the Bible, to Christianity, and to a gracious God. It seems to some as a cruel and barbaric punishment—akin to hands being cut off in Islamic states for theft.

Others see it as a contradiction to Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. At first glance it seems like it—do you poke them in the eye or turn the other cheek, which is it? Does it depend on your mood? Or on which verse comes to mind first?

As always with these questions context is the key. You can prove anything with any book just by ripping things out of their original context.

When you read it in its context you find something different. Yes, in the case of murder, the life of the murderer was to be taken in exchange for life, where the evidence was certain. But in the case of injury this law was not intended to be taken literally.

How do I know? In the very next verses we read an example: “If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.” (v26,27)

Clearly that isn’t a literal eye for eye punishment! Rather it is compensation for bodily harm.

The whole point is that the punishment should fit the crime, and be proportional to it. We know how necessary such a limitation is. On any given weekend in Letterkenny you will find ‘punishment’ far exceeding the initial offence. Someone says something offensive, they get punched in response; they in turn wait outside with a bottle to glass their attacker. If left to the individual, justice is never proportional.

This law of an eye for an eye is part of the law given to the nation state of Israel for how they are to govern disputes. It wasn’t a personal rule of revenge, but a civil guideline for justice. And it would seem that compensation tables existed for such injuries.

In a radical new step for the ancient world, in Israel these laws applied equally to rich and poor alike, to the powerful and the weak. Other law codes were disproportionately severe and favoured the rich. In them servants could be beaten and killed with impunity, but not in Israel; if damage was done compensation was required.

Rather than a bloodthirsty obligation, an ‘eye for an eye’ was a non-literal compensation guideline for the law courts.

What of Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek”? If ‘eye for an eye’ belongs to the law courts, ‘turning the other cheek’ belongs to our daily interactions. Rather than think instantly of revenge or rights, it’s a call to respond with grace, gentleness and generosity. It is a call to surprise those who offend us by not sinking into the patterns of the revenge that dominate the world around us, but by doing them good.

Mark Loughridge is the minister of Milford Reformed Presbyterian Church.

No to Austerity?

(by Stephen Steele)

“Vote no to Austerity”. Or so the posters said, as the economy continues to dominate thoughts. In fact, ‘Austerity’ was American dictionary-maker Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in 2010. Yet can we be in danger of losing perspective?

If our annual income is €8,000 or more, we’re richer than 84% of the world’s population. If it’s €40,000, then we’re richer than 99% of the world’s population. More than a third of the world’s population lives on just over a dollar a day.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ younger brother James writes a letter where he addresses the rich. Of course, none of us tend to assume that he’s talking to us. Unless you’re Carlos Slim – the world’s richest man with a fortune of $74bn – then there’s always going to be someone richer.

But perhaps rather than comparing ourselves to those with more than us, we should compare ourselves to those with less? As I’ve studied the passage from James’ letter in order to speak on it this Sunday, I’ve been struck with the thought—what would James the carpenter’s son would think if he walked into one of our houses? Or even the average person from world history for that matter? If he saw that we had more than two rooms? If he saw all our non-essential “stuff”? If he opened our fridges or wardrobes? Perhaps we wouldn’t be able to dodge the ‘rich’ label as easily.

Yet at the same time we all have to face the cost of living in the society we’re part of. Many people are genuinely struggling. Many are being exploited by those trying to cut corners to protect their own pockets. And in fact, those were the very sort of people who James was writing to. Although he addressed the rich, the main reason he was writing was to encourage struggling Christian believers. In his letter he reminds them that riches others are hoarding up for themselves won’t last. That in 100 years’ time they’ll be no use to them whatever.

Don’t envy them, James says. Instead remember that Jesus said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.” Above all this isn’t a call to pious do-good-ism—but a call to accept now the greatest treasure that Heaven offers. Ultimately this isn’t everlasting life or freedom from suffering—but Jesus himself.

Whether you’re top of the rich list or bottom—what will define you 1000 years from now isn’t how much stuff you accumulated—but what you thought of Jesus.

To hear more from James, join us in Letterkenny or Milford or listen online: www.milfordrpc.org

What sort of belief do you have?

(June’s Verse)

“Oh, I believe alright” someone says. “You have your belief, I have mine” says another. The word ‘Believe’ has been plastered over billboards by Guinness in their advertising campaigns, and punned on by U2 in their concerts with the middle letters emphasised—beLIEve—raising the query, “Are you believing a lie?” Reality TV contestants and athletes inform us earnestly, “Just believe in yourself, you can do anything if you just believe”.

We need to know what this word ‘believe’ means—for at the very least, in the Bible great promises hang on it. The verse on the calendar for this month says, “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).

That’s a staggering promise—a clear record in the presence of a holy God, a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict in the court of Heaven, a judgment-free future. And note the tense—not a hopeful ‘will receive’, nor even a speculative ‘might receive’—but a definite present experience ‘receives’.

Who wouldn’t want to know this side of Judgment Day that they are forgiven, and that they have nothing to fear? It’s like hearing the judge tell you before trial that he will find you not guilty!

The big money question then is: How do we get this forgiveness? According to the verse you have to believe. Since so much hangs on such a small word we need to get it right.

Does it simply mean that we need to know a few facts about someone called Jesus? As in, I believe in Jesus, but not in Santa? Is it enough to know that he existed, died, etc? In a classic answer Jesus’ brother James says, “Even the demons believe there is one God and shudder!” Mere possession of the facts is not enough.

Does it mean that we need to believe a few things that aren’t as obvious—his virgin birth, his claim to be God, his miracles, his resurrection? Is that what marks us out as genuine believers? We need to believe these things, but once again even the Devil believe these statements—and he isn’t forgiven!

When the Bible talks about ‘believe in Jesus’ often the phrase can be literally translated ‘believe into, or onto Jesus.’ The idea here is that of resting and relying on Jesus, in the same way that a rock climber believes a rope can hold him when he hangs his full weight on it, or a skydiver entrusts himself to his parachute and harness.

To believe in Jesus includes believing the facts, no matter how miraculous, but it is so much more. It means to rest your hope of forgiveness and acceptance fully on him and what he did at the cross. Or to entrust your forgiveness and future destiny to him alone. Too often people say they believe in Jesus, but hang their forgiveness on their own efforts—I believe in Jesus and I’m doing my best.

So ask yourself—In what way is my belief in Jesus different from the Devil’s? And, Is my belief totally on him, or partially on me? If it’s not totally on him, then you don’t believe on him, no matter what else you believe.

So many good things hang on getting the answers right—“Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins”—that we need to make sure we have it right.

Mark Loughridge is the minister of Milford Reformed Presbyterian Church. He can be contacted on 074 9123961 or mark@milfordrpc.org. You can read more or listen online at www.milfordrpc.org


The Avenger

(By Stephen Steele)

A month after its release, Avenger’s Assemble remains by far the highest grossing film at the Irish Box Office, having taken in around €3.5 million so far. In its first three days in U.S. cinemas, the film took in a record breaking $200.3 million. In it, four superheroes—Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and the Iron Man— unite in “The Avengers Initiative”, a collaborative of the world's greatest powers, called together when cosmic evil threatens the planet.

Perhaps what makes the movie so popular is that it appeals to our natural sense of justice. We like the idea of a team of superheroes called to form a response team to suppress evil. Yet as we walk out of the cinema real life justice doesn’t seem any closer. Perhaps we are left with a list of questions: Why don’t we see God destroying evil with sword and hammer and fists? Why can rampant child abuse go on for so long? Why do high-powered bankers get rewarded for their greed with huge bonuses while ordinary people struggle to make ends meet? Why so much bloodshed in Syria?

If there is a God, surely he would come into this world and do something? Surely he would spectacularly enter human history? Surely he would end it all? The song of God’s people for millennia has been: “O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!” (Psalm 94v1). Has he ignored their plea?

Yet the message of the Bible is that God
has entered human history. But on comic-book superhero level it was rather unspectacular. He didn’t come to avenge—not yet. If he had, then that would have been it—for all of us. We may not have committed horrific crimes, but none of us have loved God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, which, according to Jesus, is the greatest commandment there is. It’s because we fail in this vertical dimension that so much horizontal strife ensues. Even in our best moments, even in our religious acts, our motives are never completely God-centred.

But rather than coming to avenge, Jesus came to take on himself the sin of those who would trust in him—in all its vileness and horror—and to face the full wrath of his Father against it. He didn’t come as an avenger, but as a sacrificial lamb.

Jesus satisfied the justice of God for his people. But the sin of those who don’t trust in Jesus can’t just be ignored. In the penultimate verse of the Bible, Jesus says he will come again. All whose lives have been lived without reference to his first coming will then face vengeance. There will be no more delay. “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations…He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19v15).

The avenger is coming. He takes no pleasure in his task (see Ezekiel 33). But it’s not too late to run to experience the love of the Lamb and so escape the justice of the Avenger.

Stephen Steele is working with Milford Reformed Presbyterian Church. You can contact the minister (Rev Mark Loughridge) on 074 9123961 or mark@milfordrpc.org. You can read more or listen online at www.milfordrpc.org

A Stable Stability Treaty

More Euro-zone crises. France gets an anti-austerity President. Greece can’t get a government. G8 leaders meet to thrash out economic strategies. Ireland votes on the Stability Treaty. People wonder what is going on, what way to vote, what difference it will make in the long run. I can’t give you the definitive answer, but at the very least I think this is part of it. It’s from Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Two scenes overlap here: one of chaos and instability, one of peace and tranquillity. Where the people once looked for stability—the earth and the mountains—falters, shakes and collapses. Chaos and confusion reign. But there is a place where there is peace.

This is where stability in an unstable world is found. It’s not found in government polices, although they may help. Nor in economic ones. When we put our faith in anything other than God, we risk him shaking the foundations to jolt us from our delusions.

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

If we think that austerity, or saying no to austerity will sort the problems we’re in danger of missing the message, and run the risk of further shaking. No matter what way the Treaty vote goes, ultimate stability is found only in one place. The Stability Treaty is simply putting a Band-Aid on cancer. It doesn’t deal with the real problem. The ancient song continues, this time with God himself speaking:

“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Like a father to a flustered panicking child God says, “Settle, and listen to me.” Our problem is that we run around like headless chickens looking for solutions in all the wrong places. God says to us, “Put me first, and you will find peace—as individuals, as communities and as a nation.”

We need to seek refuge in God; to humble ourselves and repent of our materialism and our self-sufficiency. And when we do we will find peace and stability in a fluctuating world.