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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

[8.2] WHOSE ASS IS BEING WHIPPED?

Anne Richards writes:

'In MTAG recently, we have had some fascinating discussion about how we share faith and how faith sharing through personal witness relates (if at all) to the historic faith of the Church and its traditional teaching.

'Here are two examples.

'We thought about the story of Balaam's ass (Number 22) and what it has to say about telling our story in contemporary society. The context is the request to a diviner to change contemporary events by speaking negatively (a curse) rather than positively (a blessing). We can see this positive/negative speech all around us, from the larger political scene (Lord Hutton's enquiry,; media spin; manifesto promises; denigration of opposing parties and agencies) to the fortune telling of popular culture (horoscopes; psychics; mediums, etc). Manipulation of some 'truth' or other is often the name of the game. Where is God's truth in all this?

'As for Balaam, so for us. The angel of the Lord stands squarely before Balaam in the middle of the road and he just doesn't see what is so plainly before his eyes. Prepossessed by his journey and his mission, he doesn't know why his donkey is acting up until the creature starts talking. The unexpected speech of the dumb animal shocks Balaam into remembering what his gift and purpose is all about. It is God's truth that we are called to proclaim, not some lovely story that we have manufactured for ourselves. It is a tough truth, and many will not like it. But Balaam's words are instructive to us now:

' "I have come to you now, but do I have power to say just anything? The word God puts in my mouth, that is what I must say" (v38).

'MTAG is currently investigating the relevance and use of Christian apologetic in our contemporary culture, awash with different spiritualities and different kinds of truth. We too are on missionary journeys within this culture, but can we 'say just anything'?

'In producing our resources to help people share their faith, we have come across an interesting phenomenon - people can be encouraged and helped to share what their faith means to them, but when it comes down to explaining to others outside the Church what the Church teaches about various issues, people default to their own meaningful story, personal view or sense of moral values.

'So, for example, in talking about the forgiveness that God offers to those who truly repent, some Christians will have their own list of the irredeemable: the Hitlers and the Harold Shipmans and the Ian Huntleys. God, our God, is not for them.

'There is a challenge here which says that Christian teaching, lied out in Christian discipleship, has its own demons and dodgy narratives, filled with blessing and cursing. So are we watching out for the angel of the Lord? Whose ass is being whipped? Whose ass is talking?'

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