The Serpent was Cunning

Reading in Genesis chapter 3 yesterday I noticed a couple of things about Satan’s temptation of Eve.

Firstly, it is stated that the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. This implies that the manner in which the temptation occurred was no chance encounter but was most likely well considered and chosen to have maximal impact.

Secondly, the serpent chose to target the person furthest removed from the event he was trying to cast doubt upon. It is Adam who was directly told by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Presumably Eve knew of the prohibition because Adam told her (there is no indication in the text that God directly told her Himself).

To me these observations suggest that we Christians in the 21st century are likely to be targeted with similar doubts of the style, “Did God really say…?” We are far removed from eyewitness accounts of Jesus or the Apostles so are prime targets for this type of suggestion.

Examples that come to mind are:
“Is a God of love truly opposed to homosexual men loving each other?”
“Would a loving God actually condemn anyone to hell?”

I also suspect that each of us can think of even more personally relevant doubts which commonly come to mind regarding temptations we find especially powerful. In these situations it may help to remember how cunning that serpent is and that his aim is to separate us from God, not to maximise our pleasure.

Why Aussies Hate Church

The actual name of the infographic I’m discussing today is the ‘Australian Communities Report’, but I suspect I found it through a link with the more provocative title of Why Aussies Hate Church and I kind of like that.

I have no idea where I downloaded this infographic from, but it is available here at the McCrindle Research website, along with a bunch of other interesting infographic resources.

Why it is of interest

I’m quite interested in this because Australia is culturally similar to New Zealand and so social attitudes are likely to be comparable between the two nations and I’ve not stumbled across much demographic research into the religious beliefs of Kiwis.

Overview

I’m cautious of taking infographics at face value because the don’t indicate how the data were collected, what analyses were used and in this one there is nothing stating what error margins may underly the numbers presented. But all I want is a general indication of social values so none of that is particularly important.

This is a 4 page document and very busy so I will go through it section by section and see what we can discover.

Australians and religion

Half of Australians do not identify with any religion. This includes two main groups; those who have no religion at all, and those who say they are spiritual but have no main religion. ‘Spirituality’ is described as self awareness and a deeper connection, whereas ‘religion’ is summarised by attendance, tasks and obligation.

There are still a lot of people who said they do have a religion and 40% of Aussies identify with a form of Christianity, 18% are protestant or evangelical, and 22% are Catholic or Orthodox. Other religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and the catchall ‘other’ each represent less than 5% of Australians.

How actively involved are religious people?

Christians have a slight edge at actively practicing their faith, 23% of protestant of evangelical Christians regularly attend a place of worship in comparison to 13% of those claiming other religious beliefs. (I don’t know what happened to the Catholics, they have vanished from this section!)

There are a big chunk of people claiming a belief but not doing much with it, around 60%, whether Christian or other faiths.

Influences on religious views

Current ‘religious status’

The question asked here seems odd to me: “What best describes your current religious status?” My answer would have been, “huh?”

Anyway, they have divided the responses into:

  • Never been religious (24%)
  • Not now religious (29%)
  • Synthesizer (11%) [beliefs don’t fit any one religion]
  • Adopter (4%) [Non-religious prior to choosing current religion]
  • Converter (5%) [Switched from a different religion]
  • Continuer (27%) [Committed to religion raised in]

The heading for this section is ‘Outgrowing Religion’, I guess meaning the not now religious, adopters and converters (38% of people surveyed) have all moved on from the beliefs they were raised with.

Resistant to change

Despite the results immediately above, 51% of Australians are not open at all to changing their religious worldview. You could probably add the 31% who are slightly open to that number, meaning 82% of Australians would be very difficult to convert. However, the many of the people who are not open at all to changing could well be Christians so it’s hard to make a solid conclusion.

What influences views of Christianity

The question was: Who or what has most influenced your perceptions & opinions of Christians & Christianity? (Respondents could select multiple options)

Parents and family have the most influence by far, 67% selected this option. Mass media and social media, networks and relationships, other, and books and articles all had around 20 to 25% responses.

The results of this question are hard to interpret. It stands to reason that for most people their parents will have an influence on their views of Christians, but it is quite possible that people also selected other options and these may have had a significant impact on their views.

Conversations about faith

Do you ever talk about spirituality or religion when you gather with friends? For a lot of people (47%) the answer was “no”. A further 46% ‘occasionally’ talk about religion with their friends. Overall, Australians don’t typically talk about religion or faith. I’d imagine the same applies to New Zealanders, it certainly does in my experience and generally when they do talk about religion it is not positive.

Attitude towards Christianity

The heading for this question is: “Significant ‘warmth’ towards Christianity”. The numbers don’t back this up. A small proportion of respondents (4%) were passionately opposed to Christianity, 37% have some or strong reservations, and 25% had a more positive view. The other 33% considered themselves Christian. So if those who are already Christians are excluded, the general viewpoint is pretty negative towards our faith.

Belief blockers

The next page of the infographic is about aspects of Christianity that repel people from Christianity.

The top 10 issues are:

  1. Church abuse
  2. Hypocrisy
  3. Judging others
  4. Religious views
  5. Suffering
  6. Money
  7. Outdated
  8. Hell & condemnation
  9. Homosexuality
  10. Exclusivity

It seems that the perception of Christians as being blinkered old fashioned hypocrites who like to judge people and think everyone except Christians are going to hell is pretty normal. We also have outdated views on homosexuality and sanction institutional sexual abuse by covering it up. And we wonder why nobody wants to join our happy club!

Beliefs about Jesus

Most non-Christians (69%) either think that Jesus did not really exist or that he was just an ordinary bloke. Though a surprising 35% do think he had divine powers and was actually the Son of God. So despite an overwhelmingly negative view of His followers, there is a significant proportion of people who respect Jesus.

Miracles

Yet when it comes to miracle attributed to Jesus thing get murky. A healthy 53% accept that Jesus died on a cross, but only 31% think he rose from the dead. A skeptical 47% say, “no way” to that idea. The virgin birth yields similar numbers, 50% reckon that is bollocks. Walking on water is obviously even more preposterous, 53% ‘do not at all believe’ in this.

Summary

I’m not surprised by the statistics shown in this infographic, and I do think that they would closely reflect how Kiwi’s view religion, Christianity, Christians and Jesus. Rationally I know plenty of people who have strongly negative opinions about the church and Christians, but I am still  bit gobsmacked at how strongly negative the perception of Christians is. We really have an appalling public image and while the popular media do play up stories about negative happenings in the church, all of those stories have some spark that started the fires.

Are all these people completely misinformed, or are we completely missing the mark in our ‘following Jesus’?

Bible Reading Times

How long does it take to read each book of the Bible? I found the graphic which prompted this post on the blog of Jeff Medders. There are also some fancier versions with the same numbers, an Old Testament one, and a New Testament version. As I was digging around the web researching this post I discovered that the source of the reading times appears to be the Desiring God article Three Tips for Better Bible Reading.

I also found another list with slightly different numbers here (if you click the link it will download the document).

What I have done is to combine the numbers to give a range of time to read each book, which I think is more realistic because we don’t all read at the same speed. Also, I suspect the Desiring God numbers may be a bit optimistic. For some books such as 1 & 2 Samuel, Desiring God only have one number for reading both books so I had to do a bit of an estimate to get the range. In these cases the time for reading both books as claimed by Desiring God is also listed.

I also found a list of the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Grade Level (lower is easier to read) for each book in the ESV (Crossway). The grade level is effectively equivalent to the expected reading level after that many years of school. This is more about how easy or difficult it is to parse each sentence rather than whether the passage is easy to understand. Also note that the algorithm chokes on poetry because it is weighted to assume short sentences are easier to read (hence the book of Job is rated as easy to read!)

  • Genesis: 3 hrs 30 min – 4 hrs 35 min.
    (50 chapters, 32,046 words) Reading level 6.3
  • Exodus: 3 hours – 3 hrs 37 min.
    (40 chapters, 25,957 words) Reading level 7.3
  • Leviticus: 2 hours – 2 hrs 35 min.
    (27 chapters, 18,852 words) Reading level 8.7
  • Numbers: 3 hours – 3 hrs 35 min.
    (36 chapters, 25,048 words) Reading level 8.5
  • Deuteronomy: 2 hrs 30 min – 3 hrs 8 min.
    (34 chapters, 23,008 words) Reading level 8.7
  • Joshua: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 8 min.
    (24 chapters, 15,671 words) Reading level 9.4
  • Judges: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 5 min.
    (21 chapters, 15,385 words) Reading level 7.4
  • Ruth: 15 – 20 minutes.
    (4 chapters, 2,039 words) Reading level 6.3
  • 1 Samuel: 2 hrs 15 min – 2 hrs 45 min.
    (31 chapters, 20,837 words) Reading level 6.4
  • 2 Samuel: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 18 min.
    (24 chapters, 17,170 words) Reading level 6.7
  • 1 & 2 Samuel: 4 hours
  • 1 Kings: 2 hrs 8 min – 2 hrs 47 min.
    (22 chapters, 20,361 words) Reading level 7.8
  • 2 Kings: 2 hrs 8 min – 2 hrs 40 min.
    (25 chapters, 18,784 words) Reading level 7.8
  • 1 & 2 Kings: 4.25 hours
  • 1 Chronicles: 2 hrs 15 min – 2 hrs 56 min
    (29 chapters, 16,664 words) Reading level 8.7
  • 2 Chronicles: 2 hrs 15 min – 3 hrs 2 min
    (36 chapters, 21,349 words) Reading level 9.3
  • 1 & 2 Chronicles: 4.5 hours
  • Ezra: 40 – 58 minutes
    (10 chapters, 5,605 words) Reading level 9.8
  • Nehemiah: 1 hour – 1 hr 20 min
    (13 chapters, 8,507 words) Reading level 8.9
  • Esther: 30 – 40 minutes
    (10 chapters, 4,932 words) Reading level 9.8
  • Job: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 49 min
    (42 chapters, 12,674 words) Reading level 4.2
  • Psalms: 5 hours – 7 hrs 38 min
    (150 chapters, 30,147 words) Reading level 3.9
  • Proverbs: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 45 min
    (31 chapters, 9,921 words) Reading level 5.3
  • Ecclesiastes: 30 – 48 minutes
    (12 chapters, 4,537 words) Reading level 6.0
  • Song of Songs: 20 – 32 minutes
    (8 chapters, 2,020 words) Reading level 4.9
  • Isaiah: 3 hrs 45 min – 5 hrs 47 min
    (66 chapters, 25,608 words) Reading level 5.5
  • Jeremiah: 4 hours – 5 hrs 36 min
    (52 chapters, 33,002 words) Reading level 7.5
  • Lamentations: 20 – 36 minutes
    (5 chapters, 2,324 words) Reading level 4.0
  • Ezekiel: 3 hrs 45 min – 4 hrs 25 min
    (48 chapters, 29,918 words) Reading level 7.1
  • Daniel: 1 hr 15 min – 1 hr 20 min
    (12 chapters, 9,001 words) Reading level 8.5
  • Hosea: 30 – 51 minutes
    (14 chapters, 3,615 words) Reading level 4.9
  • Joel: 12 – 22 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,447 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Amos: 25 – 43 minutes
    (9 chapters, 3,027 words) Reading level 5.3
  • Obadiah: 4 – 7 minutes
    (1 chapter, 440 words) Reading level 6.1
  • Jonah: 8 – 11 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1082 words) Reading level 6.2
  • Micah: 20 – 33 minutes
    (7 chapters, 2,118 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Nahum: 8 – 14 minutes
    (3 chapters, 855 words) Reading level 3.8
  • Habakkuk: 9 – 16 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,011 words) Reading level 4.3
  • Zephaniah: 10 –17 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,141 words) Reading level 5.2
  • Haggai: 7 – 9 minutes
    (2 chapters, 926 words) Reading level 5.9
  • Zechariah: 40 – 47 minutes
    (14 chapters, 4,855 words) Reading level 6.9
  • Malachi: 11 – 15 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,320 words) Reading level 6.3
  • Matthew: 2 hrs 30 min – 2 hrs 55 min
    (28 chapters, 18,346 words) Reading level 6.6
  • Mark: 1 hr 30 min – 1 hr 55 min
    (16 chapters, 11,304 words) Reading level 6.1
  • Luke: 2 hrs 30 min – 3 hrs 10 min
    (24 chapters, 19,482 words) Reading level 6.5
  • John: 2 hours – 2 hrs 20 min
    (21 chapters, 15,635 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Acts: 2 hrs 15 min – 2 hrs 55 min
    (28 chapters, 18,450 words) Reading level 8.3
  • Romans: 1 hour – 1 hr 18 min
    (16 chapters, 7,111 words) Reading level 7.1
  • 1 Corinthians: 1 hour – 1 hr 10 min
    (16 chapters, 6,830 words) Reading level 6.3
  • 2 Corinthians: 38 – 40 minutes
    (13 chapters, 4,477 words) Reading level 7.6
  • Galatians: 20 – 25 minutes
    (6 chapters, 2.230 words) Reading level 7.8
  • Ephesians: 20 – 25 minutes
    (6 chapters, 2,422 words) Reading level 11.7
  • Philippians: 14 – 18 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,629 words) Reading level 9.0
  • Colossians: 13 – 18 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,582 words) Reading level 9.0
  • 1 Thessalonians: 12 – 15 minutes
    (5 chapters, 1,481 words) Reading level 8.5
  • 2 Thessalonians: 7 – 10 minutes
    (3 chapters, 823 words) Reading level 8.8
  • 1 Timothy: 16 – 20 minutes
    (6 chapters, 1,591 words) Reading level 9.7
  • 2 Timothy: 11 – 15 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,238 words) Reading level 9.1
  • Titus: 7 – 10 minutes
    (3 chapters, 659 words) Reading level 9.7
  • Philemon: 3 – 5 minutes
    (1 chapter, 335 words) Reading level 8.8
  • Hebrews: 45 – 60 minutes
    (13 chapters, 4,95 words) Reading level 9.5
  • James: 16 – 20 minutes
    (5 chapters, 1,742 words) Reading level 6.4
  • 1 Peter: 16 – 22 minutes
    (5 chapters, 1,684 words) Reading level 8.8
  • 2 Peter: 10 – 12 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,099 words) Reading level 10.2
  • 1 John: 16 – 20 minutes
    (5 chapters, 2,141 words) Reading level 6.1
  • 2 John: 2 – 3 minutes
    (1 chapter, 245 words) Reading level 7.2
  • 3 John: 2 – 3 minutes
    (1 chapter, 219 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Jude: 4 – 6 minutes
    (1 chapter, 461 words) Reading level 8.5
  • Revelation: 1 hr 15 min – 1 hr 40 min
    (22 chapters, 9,851 words) Reading level 8.4

The Freedom Diaries

This book was recommended to me by someone I respect so when I got the opportunity to read it I did. Even now I’ve finished it I’m still unsure what to think of it. I actively chose to suspend disbelief while reading it and take what I read at face value without over-analysing it (something I’m prone to doing). So I’ve read with as much of an open mind as I can, and also with and open bible because that is the bedrock of my faith.

The basic premise of The Freedom Diaries is that we can have a conversation with God as we would with any other person. The method recommended is to write down a question to God and then start writing the beginning of an answer from God with the expectation that you can just keep writing and God will supply the words. (There is some information on this at The Freedom Assignment.) So the book is laid out as a series of ‘conversations with God’, fifty of them in fact, plus six ‘conversations’ in which God interviews the author!

Because what I’m reading is filtered through the human author as an intermediary, it carries his phrasing and grammar. I also notice that the book is independently published so the editing process may not have picked up some of the grammatical hiccups and oddities that caused me to baulk.

There are themes in this book which cause me concern, in numerous places God is portrayed as saying that sin is not an issue because it has already been taken care of on the cross. Another common thread is that God views church gatherings and small groups as acts of empty religion, in contrast to the strong New Testament emphasis on gathering together as the body of Christ. Both of these themes (and some other dodgy ones) run through the book, causing me to think that these are more likely to be the author’s biases showing through rather than being ideas revealed by God.

The inherent weakness of the prescribed method of conversing with God is that even if God is speaking back to the mind of the questioner, it is all within the mind and body of that person so is very open to interference by the human will, subconscious mind and even conscious biases of the person holding the pen.

Overall, I’m sceptical. I do want to pursue the topic of hearing from God further because it has huge implications for my faith. I don’t want to completely write off The Freedom Diaries as a hoax because god must have spoken clearly to people in order for us to have the Bible, but I cannot embrace what this book claims to say about God, I will stick with the Bible for now thanks.

Relevant Links:

 

Devotional Reading in the Digital Age

I was sent a link to this article: Devotional Reading in the Digital Age today by my friend Chris.

I could anticipate the likely conclusion of the author before I began reading, but was pleased to see a subtitle ‘Let’s not be luddites‘ towards the end of the piece. Overall, the argument is that a smartphone is designed for communication and makes this so easy to do that remaining undistracted while using one to read a digital bible is quite difficult when compared to reading a paper version.

Personally, I do find this to be the case for myself. Sometimes I purposely leave my phone in a different room to avoid the temptation to fart around on social media instead of reading the bible. However, I disagree that meditating on the word of God is better with a paper bible. What I actually find is that I meditate on God’s word when I have no bible in my hand – this is when I think about what I have read or remembered and try to understand it. I may refer back to a bible, but that is often on my phone while I am walking, so a case can be made that having the bible on a digital device that’s always with you enhances meditation.

Anyway, it is a good article and a topic worth being mindful of. There are also some interesting looking links at the bottom of the article that I will get around to reading some time.

Carried, sustained, rescued

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

This statement from God was initially directed at the nation of Israel who were falling into idolatry and turning aside from their historical covenant with God. God created the nation from nothing and has carried the Israelites through their entire history and will continue to do so well into the future because He transcends history.

Through Jesus we also are included in the care God gives. He has carried me, He is carrying me and He will always carry me even into my old age. God promises to carry me as a father would carry his child, to sustain me and to rescue me from anything which might come against me.

This is not a naïve triumphalism, God is not saying He will magically whisk me out of trouble and into happy times. What He promises is to carry me through the nasty stuff. Because God is all-powerful and can see the end, He will take me through the trials of life knowing that despite me perhaps getting knocked around and injured, He can ensure I get to the destination intact.

Part of me would like to believe in a god who magically whisks me out of troubles, but it is better to know the living God who has unlimited power and deems it necessary for us to walk through lives of difficulties while trusting in Him. Israel was rescued by God in the end, but had to endure terrible suffering before that happened. What God promised was that Israel would survive, not that they would have an enjoyable journey.

So, God is carrying me. I also have His assurance that He will not permit Satan to completely overwhelm and destroy me even when I feel like that’s what is happening. This assurance is my lifeline in bad times.

Finding Faith in the Bible

I always get a thrill of joy when I read John 1:9-13, particularly verses 12 & 13.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [John 1:9-13, ESV]

To be given the right to become a child of God, born anew by the choice and approval of God!

Perhaps the thrill I find in this passage is the result of having been on both sides of the belief fence described here. Growing up I was agnostic, verging on atheistic in my attitudes towards Christianity in particular. Yet, when I did encounter Christian faith up close I found I envied my friends who could believe in God and Jesus. Even in my unbelief I saw the comfort that could come from having wholehearted faith in God, but I simply did not have even a hint of such faith.

It was about three years later that I crossed from being someone who didn’t know Jesus to believing in him and being given the right to become a child of God. And the faith which got me to that place was also a gift from God, coming through reading the gospel of John before I believed.

As I read John’s gospel I had an increasing sense that what I was reading was true. Jesus as portrayed in this gospel was alive and real, interacting with ordinary folks like me, quite different to how I had imagined God to be. The more I read the more convinced I became that what I was reading could be true. And if it was true, then I was in big trouble!

God let me stew on that for half a week before I was invited to church by a friend and somehow found myself praying to Jesus, asking him to forgive my sin and redeem my soul.

What stands out to me now almost thirty years later is that God birthed faith in me through my reading the Bible despite me barely understanding what I was reading.  Now I seek to rekindle the fire of my faith, remembering the way God started me on this path confirms that I should I seek Him again in His Word.

An Ordinary Christian

There are many, many days that I question why I blog. I read the blogs of some very talented people – great writers, who lead more interesting lives and seem to walk much closer to Jesus than I do. Many of these folks have suffered much, travelled, served Christ and overcome obstacles beyond my comprehension.

Whereas I am just plain old average. I was going to write ‘very average’ but that would be overstating the case and adding the idea of excelling at being average, I don’t, I’m just average. My academic record is average (all B’s and C’s, not many ‘pointy grades’), my income is average, even the size of my family is average! The main point of difference about me is my height (short). One of my struggles in life is finding anything interesting to write in my Twitter bio.

Point of difference

So what purpose does an ordinary person like me have in writing stuff for the whole world to see ? (If they chose to look – they don’t!)

Marketing gurus like to tell us that whatever we are trying to publish needs to have a ‘point of difference’ so that people will be interested. This makes good sense in a marketplace crowded with stuff and an internet congested with blogs.

Within contemporary New Zealand culture my point of difference is that I am a Christian. In our very secular society a person has to be pretty committed to be an active church goer with a deep faith in Jesus Christ. Still, there are plenty of other Christians in NZ, some of whom write blogs and most of those folks are more educated, opinionated and articulate than me.

So I suppose my ‘point of difference’ is that I’m just a very ordinary Christian living in a secular society and trying to figure out what it means to trust Jesus while working to pay the bills.

Ordinary folks welcome!

Given that I’m just an ordinary guy with no special training in theology or such like, I do not set out to teach deep theological truths on this blog or argue about fine points of doctrine. Theology and doctrine are important to me but I have learned over the years that God uses people with inadequate understanding about Him – He has to because nobody fully understands God.

All I’m really aiming to do is share the reality of striving to live for Christ in an ordinary life. Not the life of a missionary or pastor or scholar, just plain old making ends meet in the context of work and family.

What other writers have to say on this topic:

Do not be afraid

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

Do not fear or be in dread, the Lord your God goes with you. He will not leave or forsake you. For those of us who live in the ambiguity of faith and depression these are astonishing words.

An impossible command

Firstly, to be depressed and told not to fear or dread is an impossible thing. Fear, dread, anxiety are hallmark traits of this mental illness and those who are unwell cannot prevent these emotions and associated thoughts from occurring. Yet the Bible consistently commands us to do the impossible, for example:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (James 1:2 ESV)

Normal people do not consider it joy when things are going badly, they get upset, annoyed, grumpy and sad. Joy in such situations springs either from some sort of delusion or from a hope or goal which is unaffected by the current circumstances. The command to have joy or to rejoice is rife in the New Testament.

What is the point in commanding something that is humanly impossible to fulfill?

Moses, the prophets, the apostles and God Himself are well aware of our weaknesses and that while we might be willing in spirit to live a life of purity, holiness and discipleship, in the messiness of real life it is usually only a short time before we stumble and fail to live up to our high aspirations (see Mark 14:38). This is true for each of us as individuals and even on a national scale for historical Israel.

Failure in obedience to God to inevitable, but sometimes we are like Peter and cannot be told so have to experience it first hand. Then once we are faced with the shattering truth of our failure, inability and sin, we say to God, “don’t come near me, I am too sinful” (see Luke 5:8). At this point we are given the promise of God’s presence:

The LORD your God who goes with you.

The unshakeable promise

Like the kid facing a bully whose Dad says, “Don’t worry, I will come with you”, God promises to cross over the Jordan river into the land of Canaan with the Israelites to face their enemies.

Remember that this is the God who parted the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, who opened the earth to swallow those who challenged His authorised spokesman, and faithfully provided food for the horde of Isrealites for 40 years in a desert. God is powerful, well worth having beside you in a fight.

How about when the ‘enemy’ is from within? When my fear is fueled by my own heart and mind? Power and strength are great but I am anxious that could crush me.

In Jesus we see much more of who God is than unlimited power, Isaiah says this about Him:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;

(Isaiah 53:4)

In fact, to make it clear, Jesus also promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Whenever the same idea is repeated in the Bible it is to emphasise that it is important and can be trusted. Even in the depths of despair when it feels as if God has deserted me, I can trust that He determined long ago not to do so.

An unseeable promise

But I still do not see or sense God near me. This is not surprising when God is described in the Bible as “the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and “eternal, immortal, invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17) with Jesus telling us that, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18).

What then did Jesus mean when He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” yet about a month later the disciples saw with their own eyes as He ascended into heaven?

God is spirit, and Jesus had previously told His disciples, Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7 ASV). The Comforter, (also translated as ‘Helper’, ‘Counselor’, ‘Advocate’) is the Holy Spirit and this is the One who is promised to never leave us or forsake us.

As Spirit we cannot interact or sense God through our physical senses. However, we are not only physical beings, we have a spirit too and God gives life to our spirit through rebirth by faith in Jesus as the Son of God. This means that my spirit can commune with the Holy Spirit who is always present.

I may not be able to feel it through my senses, but I can worship God, pray to Him, cry out to Him and be heard and helped by Him all in the realm of the spiritual no matter what my physical, mental or emotional state. He will not leave, He will not abandon me, and He can strengthen me by His Spirit. Fear and despair may come, but they need not overwhelm me.