He was hanged by the Nazis
I’m really intrigued by Bonhoeffer, the brilliant German theologian who was hanged by the Nazis. I’m reading a book about him and his thoughts on Christianity. He attacked the Liberal theologians of his day who viewed religion from a human point of view. The initiative is always with God – the infinite – to reveal himself. In his essay ‘The Christian Idea of God’ where he talks of the Gospel revelation, he says: ‘That is the foolishness of the revelation of God and its paradoxical nature – that just there, where the power of man has lapsed entirely, where man knows his own weakness, sinfulness, and consequently the judgement of God upon him, that just there God is already working in grace, that just and exactly there and only there is forgiveness, justification, restoration. There, where man no longer sees, God sees, and God alone works, in judgement and grace. There, at the very limits of man, stands God, and when man can do nothing more, then God does all.’

Would Bonhoeffer have been in the ‘Wee Frees’?

This sounds very much like the Free Church of Scotland, of which I’m a member. Perhaps if Bonhoeffer had been a Skyeman, he would be a Free Kirker! What a joke. In the same essay he said, ‘No religion, no ethics, no metaphysical knowledge may serve man to approach God … they are the works of man.’ I suppose Bonhoeffer would have been appalled that there are 4 Presbyterian churches in a district of approximately 600 souls. As if we weren’t all sinners. And we have to be divided on esoteric points of principle. The real Church is Christo-centric and invisible, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Why should we split up the body of Christ?

Why is the Free Church called ‘Wee’?

The original Free Church of Scotland of the ‘Disruption’ of 1843 was called ‘free’ because it cut off its connection with the state. It was free of state control. The present Free Church of Scotland emerged in 1900, when they were the non-union minority. The 1900 union was between the majority of the then Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church (1700 ministers). The non-union minority kept the name the Free Church of Scotland and were thus called ‘Wee Frees’. Of course, detractors, secularists and unprincipled journalists seized on the ‘wee’ part and have used it ever since as a smear and a useful way to scoff. The church is construed as narrow and small-minded. This is simplistic, to say the least. Far from being narrow, I find many people in the church highly intelligent and willing to discuss their beliefs. I hope my blog shows that faith – although by the grace of God – is also something that can be openly discussed.

DIARY: Friday 13th July 2012

The Anglican priest

I went for a walk in the morning with the students. One of them was an Anglican priest from Birmingham. I invited him to our home for lunch. I wanted him to meet Margaret. We had a nice chat together and after lunch he prayed for her. I was very pleased I had invited him for his prayer seemed to help Margaret and gave her peace.

We stayed in in the evening, hoping to here word from the surgeon after their meeting in Inverness, but no word. It will be Monday now before we find anything out.

The prompting of the Spirit or spirit

It’s strange, I waken up in the mornings with thoughts of what I should write. But if I don’t write immediately what has come to me, I forget. It’s like when I was younger and the line of a poem or the idea for a poem would come to me. But if I didn’t sit down and write the poem there and then, it was gone forever. This diary writing is a similar thing. The Spirit prompts me to write, but if don’t do it right away, it’s gone. So strange. Thinking, the work of the Spirit, or perhaps spirit. At least the interior side, a secret working. But to make it external you have to use the externals, the hands, the computer, the pen, the paper. For others to see, you have to choose to act. Is that how the Spirit of God acts in the world?

Is soul-work real work?

Some people don’t see writing as work and don’t see art as work. Why don’t you get a real job, they will say. Meaning, a job that will contribute to the economy. Some real physical labour. That’s it! Well, actually, the work of the spirit can be really hard work. It involves recollection and hard thinking and trying to make sense of reality. Soul-work involves knowing your own soul. There is no harder work in the world. Working from the experiences you’ve had and trying to make sense of them. All the things you have done and read and heard and weighing them in the scales of the spirit. Now, that is hard work. And telling other people the interior workings. Yes, that is hard work. Experience, thought, the weighing of all in the soul, the action of telling. Now, that is work, and work worth doing.

The interior voice

I have spoken of the intersection of the world of natural events and the world of spirit. This relates to what I said about the four worlds: the God-created natural world, the humanly created, the record of the humanly created and the living world of the now. The latter is also the world of the spirit, the soul interior world of the individual where choices are made and translated into action in the external world. Our duty in the world is to listen to the interior voice and to obey it. For the Christian, this is the Spirit of the Lord speaking to them. In acting at the promptings of this voice we make the Spirit actual. It is the action of Christ in the world.

The natural and spiritual worlds

I wrote a Gaelic poem long before I met Margaret the second time called “The Indifference of Death.” I’m not sure that people understood it, or its implications. Here’s a translation: I will praise you death, / for this, / and for this alone: / your indifferent justice / which lays the tyrant low / and does not allow people / like Sellar and Ceausescu / to live forever. Sellar was a factor for the Sutherland estates at the time of the Scottish Highland clearances. Ceausescu was, of course, the Romanian communist tyrant. At the time I didn’t really understand the significance of the spiritual realm and how it impinges on the natural.

I did have a conviction regarding the laws of nature that they were totally indifferent. My world-view was naturalistic. The good person and the tyrant were both equally laid low by death. There was no sympathy for either. At the same time, it was fortunate that there was such a thing as death. Otherwise tyrants and bad people would live forever. If this life were all that is, that would be the state of things. Now, I see things totally differently.

I see the two worlds, the natural and the spiritual operating side by side. In the fourth world, the spiritual, humans by their choices and actions create the second (the humanly-created world). The second (and fourth) is recorded as the third (history), or all the human action that has been.

Ryle or Julian of Norwich

In university for 1st year philosophy we were given The Ghost in the Machine (1949) by Gilbert Ryle to read. It denies the existence of a mind distinct from the body. This is despite the conviction of probably most human beings that they have an interior world, often more real than the so-called material one. The priest who visited us today mentioned taking a friend of his to the shrine of the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich. I would, nowadays, rather believe her words:

“God is nearer to us than our own soul. For He is the Ground in whom the Soul stands; and He is the Mean which keeps the substance and sense-nature together, so that they shall never part. For our soul sits in God in very rest; and our soul stands in God in sure strength; and our soul is kindly rooted in God in endless love. And therefore, if we want to have knowledge of our soul, and communion and loving with it, we need to seek into our God, in whom it is enclosed.”