The World Snooker Championships coming around again on TV is one of those events I find to signify the passing of twelve months. I always enjoying tuning in for this mesmerising masterclass in sporting talent and skill, and hopefully we can look forward to a great final this year between Mark Selby and John Higgins that will continue a good way into Bank Holiday Monday evening.
I can vividly recall that this time last year I was catching a good amount of the snooker, but was also preparing for a slightly unusual Skype call the next day. The call was with two academics in Edinburgh to assess my level of New Testament Greek. Armed with my granddad’s (mother’s side) Nestle-Aland 16th edition of the Greek text (published in 1936; I had learned a few days before the call that they were now up to the 28th edition – although the differences in the actual text are minimal), I talked them through a translation of some of 1 Corinthians 15 and didn’t make a total hash of an “unseen” translation of some of John 6. My level of Greek was deemed good enough and an offer to study was extended a few days later, somewhat to my surprise.
A year on, quite a lot of things have changed. I have moved to Edinburgh for the year, learned a lot about the Bible and the languages in which it was composed, met some amazing people at the divinity school, church, university running club and elsewhere. I am working this summer on a dissertation on Paul’s use of rhetoric in Romans 1-3 with one of those academics who interviewed me, about which I hope to share some more thoughts on here soon.
There have been many blessings and things to be grateful for: a lovely family to lodge with, some financial provision, people I’ve connected with easily here. Some harder things, as well: chiefly, the passing of my granddad (father’s side) last month after a long battle with Parkinson’s; and it’s never easy starting in a new place. I know God has been here every step of the way, even if I haven’t always felt it.
Some things remain the same: I’m still not totally convinced I know where I am going longer term. When people ask me how the course is going and where it’s taking me, I normally say something along the lines of: there are days where I love what I’m studying and feel I could devote the rest of my life to it; and days where it feels dry and I sort of regret not opting for a more career stable path. Time will tell.
A lot can change in a year. I know of people who have had far more eventful years than me: people who have got married; had or are expecting children; moved across continents. We never quite know what is coming, but we can trust God’s goodness and timing in all things.
The apostle Paul underwent a gigantic change in his life: from someone who persecuted the church of God to someone who became an apostle, sent by God to share the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to Gentiles in the empire, who had not heard about it. The short passage for my Skype call I had prepared was 1 Corinthians 15:9-10. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul emphatically declares: “by the grace of God I am what I am”. I sometimes wonder why he didn’t write: “by the grace of God I am who I am”. My current thinking lies in the fact that he is providing a humble defence of his status as an apostle – more a question of what than who. Yet, “what” and “who” are evidently connected. What we are is determined by who we are, that is our identity. Paul finds his identity rooted in God’s grace; he would not be who he is or indeed what he is without it.
We, too, can find our identity in God through what he offered in himself in the life of Jesus Christ. On a snooker table, there are fifteen red balls but only one black ball. I believe that without Christ, we were or are in the red, in debt. We might have tried or try to live good and meaningful lives, but we very often get it wrong, ultimately looking to our own desires first, and hurting God and those around us, forgetting that we were lovingly made by God for a purpose: to live for him and to find our identity in him. We are among the many red balls that are in debt. There is, however, one black ball. This is the most valuable ball on the table, which can even decide a match or tournament as in the famous 1985 final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor. There is a sense in which Christ represents this black ball. He is the one who brings us out of the debt of the red into the gain or profit of the black. His death for our sake on the cross and ability to overcome that death by rising to life again enables us to go with him from the red to the black. No analogy for Christ’s atonement is ever perfect; this one is certainly rather facile and needs development to tie all these strands together; but maybe as we watch the final of the snooker this weekend, we might think about the many red balls and the one black ball, and remember that it is by grace of God that we are what we are, however much life has changed for us in the last twelve months.
 The Greek definitely says “what” (ὃ – neuter relative pronoun) rather than “who” (which would be ὃς – cf. 1 Cor 15:9).
 Problems I can see include: the fact that the black can be potted many times in a given game; the black rarely decides the game as in the 1985 final; the red balls still have a seventh of the value of the black ball; the presence of other balls (yellow, green, brown, blue, pink) on the table between red and black. I would love to hear any thoughts on how this analogy could be improved to capture more of the atonement and of grace! Is there anything in the perfection of the 147 break compared to the perfection of Christ?!