There was a time when I was convinced that the creation stories recorded in the Book of Genesis were ‘fairy stories’ and hopelessly out of touch with reality. But that only goes to show how arrogant we can be. To my shame I now realise that I had absorbed the arguments of a patronising, secular culture without ever questioning them, and as a result, but for my conversion, I would have missed out the profound truths they contain.
Take the dignity of women for example. The original Hebrew text shows that the author clearly understood that women are not inferior creatures but people who enjoy an equal dignity and standing before God. Emil Brunner appreciated this which is why he summed up the author’s position in this very helpful sentence: ‘God created man in His own image and created him as man and woman’.
Now I don’t know if that makes me something of a ‘male feminist’ (if there is such a thing) but it certainly explains why Jesus treated women in the revolutionary way that he did.
As someone has helpfully pointed out ‘The total inclusion of women in Jesus’ ministry stands in stark contrast to their exclusion in most cultures’.
Sadly, much to our shame however, some things never change.
The author hit the nail on the head when he explained why God had created ‘Adam’ as male and female too. He puts it like this: ‘It is not good that man should be alone’. In other words, God created us with an instinctive need for loving relationships.
One former Archbishop of Canterbury gave a striking illustration of this truth when he told the story of how the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II had a group of children brought up with the minimum of care and in complete silence. It seems that he wanted to know what language a child would use if it grew up without being taught its mother tongue! He soon discovered that they spoke no language at all. The infants died within the first year!
I couldn’t help thinking of this bizarre experiment when I learned that a top US health official has issued a warning that his country is facing an ‘epidemic’ of loneliness, something he believes is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As he sees it social isolation should be treated as seriously as obesity or drug abuse.
Now that’s a pretty sobering thought and it prompted me to do some reflecting on the benefits of the ‘Warm Spaces’ initiative. Bishop Paul Butler has summed up their impact in these words ‘When asked how often they felt lonely before coming to their local Warm Space, 38 per cent of people said ‘always’ or ‘often’.
That number dropped to just six per cent since coming. And when asked about feeling purposeful, respondents that always or often felt they led meaningful lives increased from a third to over half’.
Now I have no idea how many people you know or who are living around you feel lonely. Quite a few it would seem according to recent research conducted by Ipsos, in partnership with Sky News. It shows that more than one in three Britons feel lonely, including almost six in 10 aged 18 to 24. Figures like that could very easily tempt us to despair, which is why Mother Theresa’s advice is so helpful: “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
♦ Rob James is a Baptist pastor, writer, and broadcaster