St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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Summer - 2011


There is an old aphorism which goes something like this: "The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart". St Paul in his letter to the Romans puts it like this: "What I want to do, I do not do; but instead I do what I hate to do." (Rom 7:15). This is "the problem" that moral philosophers have wrestled with since the beginning - we know in our heads what we should do but find we follow instead the contrary desires of our hearts. The Hebrew Bible seeks to explain "the problem", starting with the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 3. In this story, to start with everything in the Garden is rosy; there was plenty of food available simply for the picking, and work was creative and satisfying. But then Adam (that is, mankind) is given a law by God, and immediately goes and breaks it, not out of contrariness but because it seems an attractive proposition. Bad things follow as a consequence - pain in childbirth and wearisome toil in the fields are specifically mentioned. But more than that, the world itself is now not such a nice place to live in as was the Garden of Eden where everything was perfect. Storm and tempest, fire and flood, earthquake and tsunami kill people and destroy habitation. This original sin of disobedience to God is perpetuated throughout the Hebrew Bible in the history of the Israelites. They are given the Ten Commandments by God, which include both religious and civil instructions, but they break these laws and bad things happen, particularly the Exile in Babylon, and the final destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans.

Today, scientists would seek to explain this "original sin" by saying that self interest on the part of humans nearly always trumps altruistic behaviour. This is "hard wired" into our being through evolution, even though we know that altruism - looking out for others - is the surer path to individual survival. All animal societies have found that the survival of the individual depends to a large extent on the survival of the tribe that they live in. Each tribe has its own (probably very similar to others) code of behaviour dealing with relations within the tribe and relations with other tribes. For example we tend to be restrained by law not to kill our fellow tribesmen, but yet find it acceptable to kill and plunder other tribes.

But the Israelites always had hope for better times to come; and better times did come - through the Messiah, Jesus. The Israelites for centuries had offered animal sacrifices to placate God so that he would forgive them their sins. But this didn't work for they kept on sinning. Indeed the sin of "Adam" is so enormous that the only way God could deal with it was to offer himself, in the person of the new Adam, Jesus, as a sin offering. In this act of self giving by the perfectly obedient man, all sin was condemned, and all humanity had a way to obtain forgiveness of their sins. And through the resurrection of Christ, they have  the promise of resurrected life in a new creation. As St Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15: 20-22,


Christ has been raised from the dead:

the firstfruits of those who sleep.

For as by man came death,

by man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die,

even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

The antidote to the "problem of the heart" is this; "If you confess with your mouth , 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10: 9). Do this and you will be "in Christ"!


19 July 2011


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