Who is God Really? Faith Hacking #1

Our faith bogs down when we don’t know who God really is.

Sometimes we think God is so distant that he can’t make a differences.  Or we think God is so vaguely everywhere that God is really nowhere at all.

But we need to hack these understandings of God, take what is good, get rid of what is not, and see that God is more and better than merely distant or vaguely everywhere.

A Distant Star?

A neighbor once asked me, “When you think about God, do you get a picture of an old man behind a desk running the universe?”

Have you ever thought that? Many of us have from time to time.

God is in charge.  God is in control.  God is important.  And in charge,  in control, important people tend to sit behind a desk.

And certainly the Bible tells us that God is sovereign over all things, that God is high and lifted up, that his ways are higher than our ways.

It’s like God is a distant star hanging in the heavens.  If we look up at God as we drift along the ocean of life then hopefully we can navigated by God’s distant light.

The Distant God

On the one hand we should affirm that God is in charge and in control.

But on the other hand, when the storms of life come, rocking our little boats back and forth, the “Distant God” provides little comfort in our terror.

This view of God can’t fill us with a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) if he is so far away. Our faith easily becomes resigned and withdrawn. Our hope becomes shallow and depressed when God is so distant.

The Enveloping Cloud

In response to the “Distant God” we can over-compensate and think that God is everywhere all the time. We image that God is in everything, working through anything.

God is not a distant star. God is an enveloping cloud. God is close enough to touch, taste, and feel at every moment in life.

Floating on the ocean of life we don’t need to look up to the heavens for a guiding star.  God is all around we, tell ourselves. God is everywhere.

God is nowhere

Again, it is true that God is everywhere.  “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Ps. 139:7-8).

But claiming to see God everywhere can obstruct our ability to distinguish the illuminating work of God from shadowy semblances.  This kind of thinking, when absolutized, fails to distinguish good from evil in the world.  It can become wishful thinking that just looks away from pain, hurt, or suffering.

The Gracious Gash in the Universe

Our faith needs to hack these two understandings of God. We need a better way of understanding who God really is.

God is not just distant.  And God is not just everywhere.

The truth is, God is coming to us. As Joshua Ryan Butler says, God is a pursuing God.


Let’s just look at the baptism of Jesus.

 

As Jesus was coming out of the water, he immediately sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Heavens Torn Apart

In the Bible, the tearing of the heavens meant God was coming down to save his people. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” cries Isaiah (Isaiah 64:1).

With the appearance of Jesus God is not distant. God is not an abstract entity off in space somewhere. God is coming down to us in Jesus, right now.

The Spirit Descended on Him

Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, now the Spirit hovers over the one emerging from the waters of the Jordan, the one who will confront chaos and darkness. 

Through Jesus God is beginning a new work of creation, tearing open a new possibility for a wandering and estranged world.

It is as if

God has ripped the heavens irrevocably apart at Jesus’ baptism, never to be shut again. Through this gracious gash in the universe, he has poured forth the Spirit into the earthly realm.”
(
Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8, Anchor Yale Bible, 165.)

Faith Hack: The God who comes to you

Can we hack our understanding of God to make room for the God who comes?

God is not merely distant. God is not merely everywhere.  God is coming to you.  And God is coming to rescue you where you are, to bring new creation right where you are.

God coming to us is not merely as aspect of who God is. It is the defining characteristic of God. God always longs to be present and intimate with his people, with you.

As John 3:16-17 says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

How would your life of faith be different if you believed God is coming to you right now? Can you hack your faith to make it work better?

 

Don’t miss the other 4 “faith hacks” coming out the next couple of days. Subscribe and receive a free gift about how God’s glory and holiness doesn’t mean God hates us.


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In All Things, For God’s Glory

Obviously my mind is stuck on the theme of God’s glory (see previous posts here and here).

Which way does God’s glory flow? Back to God? Or out from God?

This is today’s question.

The glory of God’s keeps bouncing around in my mind as I feel out objections to the view I’m often put forward.  Why do people so quickly connect God’s glory to other concepts like “honor” and “reputation” and “praise”?  Not that any of those are bad when talking about God. I’m just not sure God cares about them as much as some claim or that these concepts are directly connected to the idea of God’s glory.

But 1 Cor. 10:31 was sticking with me when I woke up.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for (or to) the glory of God.

This seems a straightforward proof text that our lives are for God’s glory, for giving God honor and praise. And the next short step is that God is seeking God’s glory at all times, and we are to join him in this work, the work of glorifying God.

Now it is that second step that really bothers me—that God is seeking God’s glory—, but that is another large issue. Let’s just return to this text.

In What Things?

What is the context here?

Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to “flee from idols” (v. 14). He then links this to the Lord’s Table (vv. 15-17). The cup and the bread is a “sharing” or “participation” in the blood and body of Christ. Surely, Paul says, we cannot partake of Christ and partake at the table of idols!

This naturally shifts to a comparison of the sacrifice of Christ and the food sacrificed to idols (vv. 18-22). If we are partaking of the food of Christ then we can’t partake of the food offered to idols.

Paul ends by turning to God’s jealousy (v. 23). This is a common enough theme in the Old Testament.  Idol worship provokes God’s jealously because God is like a husband to Israel, but Israel takes the good gifts God has given his bride and offers them to others (to idols). She is cheating on God and God is jeolous (now this is not the time to discuss how God’s jealous and anger—even wrath—fit into all this…that’s also for another time).

So the context for the “do everything” statement is that of idolatry, but also the context of the Eucharist, and the implicit context of temples—God’s are worshipped in temple, but the church is now the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 2:21).

Glory of God

So what does the “glory of God” mean in this context, toward which, or for the purpose of which, we do all things?

Too often we see the flow of “glory” as returning to God, as something “for” God—as if God was in short supply.  When we look at glory this way (usually in reference to honor and reputation) then we think of “in all things” or “do everything” being all our work and actions oriented toward bringing or giving honor or esteem to God.

But what if we turned it around, and the flow of glory was outward?

God’s glory most often refers to the visible manifestation of splendor. God’s glory is God’s overwhelmingly majestic presence. God’s glory is something that goes out from God for the amazement and wonder of other, of all creation (and yes, it often is a threat to others, but after Christ—as Paul well knows—God’s glory is not a threat to those in Christ).

With this in mind, to do all things “for or to” God’s glory is to do them so that God’s splendor is manifest to others. When Paul talks about whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols (vv. 23-30) he ends with the concern that “they may be saved” (v. 33).

This is the goal of mission, and the purpose of God’s glory manifest in the world—that they might be saved.

Why we were made

So, if l may be so bold, the purpose of God’s glory—and our purpose for everything we do— is not upward but outward.

And this is what humanity was made for, to be God’s image in the world, the visible, tangible manifestation of God.  And when we properly image God (in Christ) then God’s glory is known through us.

Which, returning back to idols, is the main problem. It is not just that humanity is supposed to worship God that makes idolatry so odious. It’s that humanity IS God’s idol in the world. Humanity is the idol that God made to show forth God’s glory in the world.


(This post it is part of my “
20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Made for God’s Glory? another on the Nashville Statement

Is there a better way to understand the idea that God made us for his glory?
 
Yesterday we focus at this phrase from the Nashville Statement:
 
“Many deny that God created human beings for his glory.” ~ Preamble to Nashville Statement.
 
I ended my post asking this question. And, “Yes,” there is a better way.

Glory

In the Old Testament, the main understanding of “glory” when applied to God is God’s visible splendor, or God’s overwhelming presence.
Where God’s glory IS there is God’s presence.
 
We see this in God’s appearance at Sinai when God’s glory rests on the mountain.  We see this with the construction of the tabernacle—God’s glory rests on it. The same with the Temple.
 
In Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God roaming the desert the idea refers to God’s presence. And in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory leaving the Temple—this also refers to God’s presence.
 
Indeed, the psalms and prophets speak of God’s glory filling the earth and the heavens. This can only mean God’s presence—an overwhelming display of splendor when God is near.

Made for Glory

If we are to affirm that humanity is made for the glory of God, then this means we are made for the presence of God. We are made to dwell with God.
 
Now that is Good News.
 
And you know what else is good news?
 
That God’s main desire and main work in the world is to overcome whatever barrier keeps us from dwelling with God.
 
God is working to bridge the distance by coming to humanity, coming to us. From the call of Abraham, the raising up of Israel, the promises of David, to the send of the Son, to Jesus’s death and resurrection—God is coming to dwell with us.
 
This is the hope coming at the end of all things:
 
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (Rev. 21:3)

Glory and the Nashville Statement

What does all this have to do with the Nashville Statement?
 
If we have been made for God’s glory—meaning God’s presence—and if God is constantly seeking to to dwelling with us so we can dwell with him, then public statements like the Nashville Statement should be acts of hospitality and welcome.
 
If God longs for us to live with him then our theological statements should express this. Indeed, they should be expressions of God’s love with and for us and others.
 
Certainly we should not reduce God’s love and living with God to vacuous statements and platitudes. Living with God is rigorous work.  The Old and New Testaments are witness to this. And God’s presence demand standards of holiness and purity.  
But those proper concerns should not be elevated to a controlling theme in our theological systems.
Immanuel—God with us—should be our theme, our inspiration, or hope, and our joy. Nothing less. Nothing more.

 

(I know this is short, but it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here. I’m planing on expanding these two posts for Missio Alliance, so look for it there).

Eternal Submission? Thinking (all the way) Through the Issue

(originally posted on Missio Alliance)

Imagine this preposterous exchange. At a party, I enter a conversation when I hear that someone else is a Giants fan. “I love the Giants,” I say. “Yes, I love how the Giants hit,” comes the response. “And how they get after the ball,” he adds. “I really like their helmets,” I reply, knowing that sounds weird. “Well, I have a man-crush on the guy who throws the ball,” he admits.

Who knew we could find so much agreement!

Then he asks, “How did you become a Giants fan?” “Well, I grew up in the Bay Area so it was only natural to become a fan of the San Francisco Giants. I’ve loved baseball ever since.”

“WAIT!” comes the shocked response. “I thought we were talking about the New York GIANTS, the FOOTBALL TEAM!

The small facts seemed to line up (the team name was right, people hitting things, wearing helmets, and chasing a ball). But in the end we were talking a different team, a different sport.

The Trinity, or the Trinity?

When it comes to talking about the Trinity, we often have conversations like this.

Are we talking about how God is working for our salvation, or who God is from all eternity? Are we talking about Scripture or early church Creeds (or both)? And if we agree the Creeds are important, do we understand them in the same way?

When it comes to the recent online kerfuffle about the Trinity and the Eternal Subordination of the Son, it is easy to think either “What’s the big deal?” or “There is nothing more important!”

So, what is the big deal?

Some (Bruce WareWayne GrudemDenny BurkMark ThompsonMike Ovey, Owen Strachan) want to say that in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) there is an “Eternal Functional Subordination” of the Son (EFS), or an “Eternal Submission of the Son” (ESS), or that Father, Son, and Spirit consists of “Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission” (ERAS) (I stick with this last one). These believe they are being faithful to Scripture and adhering to the Creeds. Others (Michael Bird, Liam GoligherCarl TruemanDarren SumnerMark JonesScot McKnight) are concerned these views are not faithful to either Scripture or the Creeds (see this or this for a full summary).

“So, are you a fan of the Giants or the Giants?” is how this conversation has been proceeding.

For readers, these questions about the Trinity fall equally into the category of “There is nothing more important!” and “No big deal.”

Big Deal? Theologians teach a subordination in Trinity—Others say unfaithful to Bible and Creeds.CLICK TO TWEET

The Trinity: Nothing More Important & No Big Deal

In reality, there is nothing more important than the doctrine and experience of the Trinity. At the very bottom of it all, to the questions “Who is this God we love, worship, and serve?” the Trinity is the answers that says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And that is really important!

But equally, this dispute is no big deal because those who support a view of the “Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission” (ERAS) are not so much wrong in their claims about Scripture and God. Rather, they are incomplete. The ERAS view needs to think ALL THE WAY through this issue according to Scripture, taking into account more passages than they normally do.

Let us, then, think along with those who affirm an “Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission” (ERAS). But also, let us think through all of Scripture and see where this leads us.

So, as a thought experiment, we will agree that speaking of “authority” and “submission” is proper of the Trinity because it is found in Scripture. But let us see where Scripture takes us as we think through the issue to the end. (Now, thinking through all of Scripture is not easy. It ask of us a persistent attention to detail and a seriousness of mind. Let us not take the easy way out and only read the passages of Scripture that affirm what we already think. Rather, let us submit to the full council of God, wherever it might lead us and not accuse others of scholasticism merely because we seek to understand all of Scripture rather than just a portion).

“Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission” is not so much wrong, but incomplete.CLICK TO TWEET

The Father’s Commanding Authority

The idea of ERAS comes from experience and from Scripture. It is claimed by several that a human father naturally has authority and his son naturally submits to it. Likewise, it is claimed, God the Father has authority and the Son submits, from eternity. Texts of Scripture seem to support this view (John 5:19 where the Son does only what the Father does; John 6: 38 where Jesus submits to the will of the one who sent him; John 14:31 where the Son does what the Father commands; 1 Cor. 1:28 where the Son gives all things to and is subject to the Father; 1 Cor. 11:3 where the Father is the head of the Son).

These seem rather clear and compelling. But let us think through, according to Scripture, the idea that the Father has authority over the Son. To do this let us ask questions about this authority the Father has over the Son.

How is this authority known or expressed by the Father to the Son?

The Son must know the will of the Father because the Father communicates it in some way (speaks or commands in some form from all eternity). The Father must communicate so the Son can know, submit, and obey. Now the speech or word of the Father is affirmed by all to be the Son who is the Word, the Word which was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2), through whom God has spoken to us (Heb. 1:2). If the Son is the Word of the Father, as Scripture proclaims, and the Son submits to the authoritative Word of the Father, then the Son submits to himself, both as the authoritative Word of the Father and as the submissive Son. Now if the Son submits to himself then he is not submitting to another. And if the Son submits to himself it is best to say that he is free, or at least the he freely submits, making it fitting that Jesus is the leader and liberator of freedom, “for it is freedom that you have been set free” (John 8:36; Gal. 5:1).

If we think of the “Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission”, and indeed mean “eternal”, without beginning or end, or before or after, then within this freedom of the Son both to have “authority” and to offer “submission”, the ideas of authority and submission now cancel themselves out. To say the Son both eternally submit to and eternally has authority from the Father is to lose grip on the meaning of those words as they cancel themselves out.

In this way, by thinking through the issue, thinking all the way through according to Scripture, there is no controversy or innovation about the Trinity. Both authority and submission are cancelled out and all that remains is the eternal relation between Father and Son. And this is the case logically and ontologically, and biblically.

The Father’s Glorious Authority

Perhaps it will be said that the Father does not communicate authority by words or commands, but rather the Father perfectly and immediately manifests His authority before which the Son submits. Indeed, is this not just what the “glory” of the Lord is, the manifestation of God’s overwhelming presence, before which none can stand? Israel quaked at the presence of God in the think cloud and devouring fire when the glory of the Lord rest on Sinai (Ex. 24:16-17). And Moses could not enter the tabernacle because the glory of the Lord filled the place (Ex. 40:34-38). Likewise if we permit ourselves to speak this way, the Father’s glorious authority must compels the Son to bow in submission.

And certainly this is biblical. We see that the “God of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the “Father of Glory” (Eph. 1:17), who by his glory raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 6:4). And the Son seeks to glorify the Father by obediently finishing the work given to him, as is stated in John 17:4, when the Son says, praying to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” This indicates that the Father has glory and the Son both seeks to add to it and submit to it.

But let us again think through this according to Scripture. In John 17: 4 we hear Jesus glorifying the Father an obeying him, but in the very next verse we hear the eternal Son say, “Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).

What conclusion is to be drawn from this? When one says that the Son eternally gives glory obediently to the Father, we must immediately add that the Father gives glory to the Son. This is a reciprocal actions (two-direction; two-way), not a unilateral action (one-direction; one-way). And we must ask, “From where is the glory that is given from the Father to the Son?” (see John 17: 22,24) If this “glory” is a gift from the Father given to the Son, giving to the Son something he didn’t already have, then this would not be “from all eternity” or “before the world existed” (according to Scripture). If at one time the Son did not have this glory, and then latter did, then it is not eternal. It is for this reason the text plainly teaches that the Son already had this glory “before the world existed.”  So, even if the Father glorifies the Son, it is not that the Father is giving something that he didn’t already have. This is why John says “with the glory that I had” indicating the Son was not only given glory, but already had it. It is this glory which John speaks of when the Word became flesh when he says, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father” (John 1:14: ESV).

By thinking through Scripture we see that as the Father has glory, so too does the Son have glory. The Son both radiates glory and submits to glory. If this is the case, as Scripture indicates, the Father, in giving the Son glory, necessarily gives the Son an eternal share in the Father’s authority (even though the Son always already had this glory and therefore his own authority, if we assume that glory grants authority). Therefore, ontologically, logically, and biblically, the Father and Son give mutually glory to each other, such that speaking of the “authority” and “submission” of one to the other neither adds nor subtracts (except that we have added many lines of dialogue, argument, and proof) to what is already the common orthodoxy of all.

Is God Love?

At the end of the day, those who advocate for ERAS are not necessarily wrong in their views. Rather, they have not completed their thoughts concerning the Trinity. We have found that whenever “authority” and “submission” are filled out according to Scripture they become completely reciprocal (which is not in the nature of those terms). And if there is reciprocity in the application of the terms, but not in the terms themselves, then it is best to focus on different terms to discuss the eternal life of the Trinity.

Indeed, much of church doctrine has done just this, focusing on terms like love and light. Arriving at “God is Love” from the non-reciprocal and hierarchical terms like authority and submission is not impossible, but perhaps not worth the work involved or the possible misunderstandings.

Showing Your Work

But this discussion is important for two reasons (that will be explored in future posts).

  1. It highlights the many paradoxical statements in the Scripture need to be understood somehow together, requiring that theologians and biblical scholars “show their work” rather than just repeating the Creeds (which it seems every adheres to and therefore help little).
  2. It prompts us to attempt, as we read Scripture, to affirm both the unity of God and preserver the diversity of persons when considering the actions of God in salvation. This again is to “show the work” so critics don’t think you are just cheating.

The first leads us to the topic of interpreting statement about the Son according to his two natures (human and divine).

The second leads to the topic of “inseparable operations” of God and the “appropriation” of actions to particular persons of the Trinity (I know, “What is he talking about” is what you’re thinking).

And just in case I lost you all, we must in the end return to the topic of “God is love” and understanding the Trinity from this angle.

Bi-vocationalism as guerrilla warfare: 5 thoughts

Ok, yes, it might sound extreme.  But let’s be sober-minded.  As Todd Hiestand (and the comments) notes in his great post, “10 Suggestions/Thoughts on Bi-vocational Ministry”, being a missional bi-vocational pastor is hard, it takes commitment, it takes faith.  But in this post-Christian context (or at least outside of the ever shrinking Christendom pockets), the option to be a bi-vocational is not an option at all, it is a missional necessity. I want to frame the discussion here with this image of guerrilla warfare exactly because I don’t want bi-vocational ministry to sound merely like a life-style choice, good for some, but not for others, or some kind of fashion accessory for missional pastors.

But I want to clear up one thing.  I’m not taking about guerrilla warfare against the more established church, or mega-churches or anything like that.  To think narrowly that way is just not helpful.  I’m thinking that our battle is within post-Christian, post-modern, consumer-theraputic-individualistic culture.  The warfare is in the terrain of our neighborhoods and families, our calendars and wallets.

So, to start this off, here are five thoughts.

Bi-vocational ministry is necessary:

1) not because missional churches are poor, but because they are rich. Some of the literature on bi-vocational ministry point to it being an option when churches are little, too poor for a full-time pastor.  In this scenario church finances are the determining factor.  Well, I know many missional churches that are small, and probably too poor for a full-time salary plus health insurance.  But the missional church is rich in resources, resources that are flowing outward into the neighborhoods and communities.  They are rich in leadership and talents that would go untapped if there was only one person (a man usually) who did everything and got paid for it.  My own community is actually big enough to support a full-time pastor, but we choose not to do that because we believe it would make us poorer as a community.  Bi-vocationalism, then, is to use what the culture sees as a weakness (money, resources) as a strength, and therefore is a necessary attribute of missional guerrilla warfare.

2) not because missional churches have little work, but too much work. Sometimes you hear the complain from a bi-vocational pastor that there is so much work and too little time (oh, wait that was me!).   But we all know what the truth is.  There is always too much work.  No matter what.  But instead of allowing ourselves to believe (which doesn’t really happen), or worse, allowing our congregations to believe (which almost always happens) that one or several “full-time” people can basically cover the work of the kingdom, missional churches know that there is always way too much work for one (or even some), but that all are engaged in the mission of God’s kingdom.  Bi-vocationalism is an automatic safe-guard against thinking the work is manageable when really it is totally unmanageable outside of all entering the fields to bring in the harvest.  Therefore, missional churches use another perceived weakness (lack of impact or results by a visible few) as a strength because the mustard seed is growing.

3) not because we battle outside, but within ourselves. This one gets tricky, but follows from #2.  Too often people, organizations, nations, and yes, churches, come to think that the battle is outside, that all those in must conform to a certain image or idea, and then move outward and attack (this happens even for laudable causes).  Many churches have implicitly or explicitly adopted this organization/operational structure, and even for those churches that haven’t it is a constant temptation perpetuated by full-time ministry.  But we must always remember that the battle is within our churches, and within ever leader (I referred to it before as a power addiction).  I’m reminded of the lyrics from U2’s “peace on earth”: “And you become a monster / So the monster will not break you.”  Ministerial bi-vocationalism is the necessary spiritual discipline to ward off this temptation toward consolidation, and not just spiritual discipline, but relational, financial, and temporal discipline befitting those on the front lines (which are never front but always shifting) of the missional battle. In this sense you don’t fight fire with fire.  We must creatively resist.

4) because the culture is already fighting a guerrilla style war against us. Advertising, opinion polls, new television shows, iPhone apps, American Apparel, and on and on it goes.  The culture is an ever evolving parasite on others beliefs and practices, always moving toward how to make a dollar off you, or spin something as propoganda.  So it is necessary for missional churches to be just as nimble and creative, culturally creative even.  In this way it is necessary to fight fire with fire, guerrilla warfare again guerrilla warfare.

5) not because the missional church is against formal leadership, but because we seek to form proper leadership. I will not spend as much time on this because de-centralized leadership has been a common enough theme, especially in regard to actual guerrilla warfare, cell groups, and house churches.

So, those are five reasons off the top of my head that missional bi-vocational ministry is not a cute lifestyle decision, or something that we try for a little while but then abandon, or a missional accessory that so like an others don’t.   But I truly believe that if the kingdom is to fruitfully gain ground in this post-Christian context that we must adopted strategies for the long run.  Anything less will perpetuate the stagnation of the American church.

(p.s. I know I could qualify this a little and mention all those in larger churches who are legitimately following God’s call in a full-time ministry and such [many whom I know and love]…but I prefer to just let this start out more black and white without fading everything to gray too quickly).

Being the Temple for the World #3b

god-resting-on-7th-day-granger

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

(SNARK: I’m hoping to answer, “Everything you didn’t know you didn’t know about it about God resting.”)

Yesterday the post was getting long so I cut it off and will pick it up now (see this for the beginning of the series).

Yesterday we talked about “The Cosmic Temple of Creation: A Dwelling…”, in that heaven and earth were made to be a dwelling place for God to rest.  But what exactly does this means.

The Cosmic Temple of Creation: …For Resting (which is Productive)

If a temple is a place for a god’s dwelling and ruling, then this is what we need to understand by a god resting in a temple.  “Rest” is not a cessation of work, but a sitting down from all the preparatory work to engage in the real work of ruling.  Let me explain.

Rest from enemies

“Rest” in many texts indicate God giving Israel deliverance from their enemies.  When they come into the land they will have “rest” when their enemies have been defeated, and they no long have to worry about them. The “enemies” were making the kingdom disorder and unproductive

Joshua 21:44 (also Josh. 23:1)

And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.

Deut. 12:10-11:  

When you cross over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is allotting to you, and when he gives you rest from your enemies all around so that you live in safety, then you shall bring everything that I command you to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and your donations, and all your choice votive gifts that you vow to the Lord.

This second one is notable because after “rest” is achieved then they are to go to the place “God will choose as a dwelling” and worship there.  So we have “rest from enemies” linked with God’s “dwelling” in the land. Interesting.

Also, let us turn to a key passage in 2 Samuel 7:1-17.  There we hear that after God had given David “rest” from all his enemies, and David was settles in his house (a palace), David thought about building God a house (a temple).    This is important because it shows us what “rest” from enemies means.  In David’s “rest” (in his house) he didn’t do NOTHING. Rather he was active in the “rest” of his kingdom in a productive manner (desiring to build God a house).  Now that David’s kingdom was secure from external threats he was able to move toward more productive activities.  In a sense, David was now ruling his kingdom rather than just securing it.

God’s Resting Place

What does this mean, then, for Genesis 2:1-2 where it talks about God resting? We usually think this means God finished his work.  But is this the case?  Could it be that God was not read to start his work, the work of ruling the cosmos?

Before we get to this let’s look at Psalm 132: 7-8, 13-14.

7 “Let us go to his dwelling place,
let us worship at his footstool, saying,
8 ‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.

13 For the Lord has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
14 “This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.

John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One, 73) breaks it down this way:

“Here the ‘dwelling place’ of God translates a term that describes the tabernacle and temple, and this is where his footstool (the ark) is located.  This also shows that the text is referring to his dwelling place as this throne roon and the place of his rule (because of the footstool).  I verse 8 the “footstool” is paralleled by the ark, and the temple (“dwelling place”) is paralleled with “resting place” (menuha). This demonstrates that the tmple is the place where he rests.  In verse 13 the text again refers to his dwelling in Zion, thus referring to the temple.  Then verse 14 uses “resting place” (menuha) again identifying it as the place where he is enthroned.  Thus, this Psalm pulls together the ideas of diving rest, temple and enthronement.  God’s “ceasing” (sabat) on the seventh day in Genesis 2:2 leads to his “rest” (nuha), associated with the seventh day in Exodus 20:11.  His “rest” is located in his “resting place” (menuha) in Psalm 132, which also identifies it as the temple from which he rules.  After creation, God takes up his rest and rules from his residence.”

There you have it.  God takes up his rest (the rest from a disorganized and unproductive state of the world in Gen. 1:2) inside the cosmic temple of creation so that God can now rule in his residence (which, again, is the temple—cosmos).

As Walton notes, “This is not new theology for the ancient world—this is what all peoples understood about their gods and their temples.”

Results

So, to sum up.

1) Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is best thought of as God’s cosmic-temple in which God dwells and rules. In this temple heaven and earth are united because God’s presence is there.

2) “Resting” on the seventh day is not so much the ceasing of work but rather the ability to productively rule and reign.

So, God rested on the seventh day of creation not because he was tired, or ran out of things to do, nor as an example for us overworked people, but because he had finished organizing and giving purpose to a disorganized and unproductive world (in a sense he defeated the enemy).  And when God rested from this work it was so that God would enter into the productive work of ruling (enjoying) his creation. 

Our Rest?

So, to close this off, what does this mean for our own understanding of Sabbath Rest?  How does this change your ideas of what “rest” is?  How can your life be ordered for “rest” and what enemies to you need defeated so you can enter your “rest”?

Add your thoughts in the comments.


Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

BEING THE TEMPLE FOR THE WORLD #3a

 

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

So I’m getting a little behind on writing up my class notes for “God With Us: Being the Temple for the World” at Life on the Vine.  Today I’ll be summarizing what we talked about two weeks ago.  Hopefully on Friday I’ll post what we did this week.

The overall goal of our class on Sundays (and these posts) asks, “If Jesus told us to pray ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’ are there other examples of heaven coming to earth? The answers will be definitely, YES.

Last time we talked about a different way to think about God creating in Genesis One by looking at the functions of created things rather than their materials.  We ended with the questions, “If creation has a function, then what is its overall purpose?”  I hinted that “Day Seven” held the key to this in regard to Divine Rest.

The Cosmic Temple of Creation: A Dwelling…

But before we come to God resting on the Seventh Day we have to ask about where God dwells, where God lives.

In the ancient Near East if you asked, “Where is your god?” they would point to a temple.  In one sense everyone knew the god does not actually lives in the temple like a material being, but in another sense, the god was especially available in the temple.  And not just this, but the god ruled its kingdom from the temple.  So the temple is a place of dwelling and ruling.

The question for us is this: Is creation itself thought of as God’s temple?

Creation: God’s Temple

Well before we turn to Genesis we hear God saying in Isaiah 66:1-2: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?  2 Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” Heaven being a throne and earth being a footstool indicate the royal aspect of God’s dwelling place.  The allusion to a “house” always refers to a temple when in connection with God (we aren’t talking about a vacation home or anything).

And in Is. 6:3 we hear that the whole earth is full of God’s glory (the same glory that filled the tabernacle [Ex. 40:34] and temple [1 Kg 8:11]).  Given these and other passages it seems clear that heaven and earth, and therefore all of creation, is in some sense God’s temple where he dwells.

In the Garden of Eden we also see indications and allusions that God has created a temple.  Gregory Beale has summarized the material of his massive The Temple and the Church’s Mission in an article called “Eden, the Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation” (Download).  There Beale outlines how God walking in the Garden, the lights of the heavens, the flowing rivers, the vegetation, the eastward facing entrance, and many other examples are all aspects mirrored linguistically and structurally in the Jerusalem Temple and other temple visions.  This indicates that readers of Genesis 1 and 2 would have thought of creation/Eden as a temple-like place, full of God’s presence.

Creation: God’s Rest?

Lastly, when ancient readers see that God rested on the seventh day they would have immediately thought that everything preceding was a description of a temple-like structure because gods always rest in a temple.

That gods always rested in a temple is not something we would normally think of because in our post-industrial world we are so busy that when we think of rest we just thing of the ceasing of activity, so we can recharge and get ready for another burst of work.

But ancient readers would have known immediately that for God to rest means that he had taken up resident in his temple, and therefore the preceding 6 days refer to the creation, or more likely, the inauguration of his temple.  The number seven is especially associated with temple construction: Solomon took seven years to build it. Gathered the people on the seventh month to inaugurate it.  The celebrated it for seven days, and then seven more.

But to say that creation is temple-like still doesn’t exactly answer what this temple if for, and what the resting of God has to do with us.
That will be for the next post tomorrow.


Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

The Human Side of Prayer (along with Tim Keller)

I came across this on twitter and it caught my eye and made me think.

What do you think?

As a Reformed pastor and theologian I know Keller is seeking God’s Glory in all things, and rooting out humanity’s pride and arrogance in all things. I agree with this framework, to a point, in that in the Garden Adam and Eve fell because they wanted to be like God.

But this is only half the story.

Isn’t it also correct to say that Adam and Eve fell because they didn’t want to be who they were made to be?  They were trying to be other-than themselves, other-than created beings made in the image of God, designed for fellowship and communion with God. It is not just that they weren’t treating “God as God” but they weren’t treating “themselves as themselves” (I know that is an awkward phrase, but you get the point).

Returning back to prayer, I think it better to say not just that if we fail to pray we aren’t treating “God as God” but that in failing to pray we aren’t treating “ourselves as ourselves.”  When we don’t pray are not doing what we need to do to be truly human.  When we don’t pray we are becoming more and more sub-human (as it were).  It is not “weak” humanity that needs to pray, but rather it is “true” humanity that needs to pray.

This doesn’t make prayer all about humanity, but rather that true humanity is always a prayerful dependence on God, a prayerful seeking of God’s ways in the world.  True humanity always knows itself to be coming from and returning to God.

I worry that often times Reformed theology creates an “us” versus “God” dynamic (in this case it is prayer) rather than fostering an “us” with “God” perspective.

Why did Jesus Pray?

Let’s do a thought experiment and ask “Why did Jesus pray?”

Did he pray because he wanted to “treat God as God”?  Well, that seems funny because he already was/is God and so in that sens there would be no need for prayer.

Did he prayer in order to be a good example to his disciples about how to “treat God as God”?  Well, maybe, but again that would seem particularly disingenuous and inauthentic to fake prayers as an example (I suppose this would be something like a dad letting his kids win at a game).

Rather I would say we must not forget about Jesus’ humanity and this in his humanity (or better, as the “true” human) Jesus prayed because this is what he needed and had to do.  As the image of the true humanity living in faithful obedience to God, Jesus prayed to God for all that he needed (and even argued and pleaded with God, at least once in the Garden of Gethsemane).

Balance

So let us keep our understanding of prayer (and other practices) as balanced as our Christology (divine and human), taking into account both the human and divine directions of these practices (we could easily talk about evangelism, preaching, sanctification, etc).

For other thoughts about Tim Keller on prayer see Scot McKnight’s recent post on Keller’s Rules for Prayer.

(If you would like to stay connected about what I’m reading and writing, please subscribe to my blog at the top of the righhand column.  That way you’ll never miss a post)

Deeper than We Thought (1): Our Society’s Sin

The Journey of Redemption 0e1140859_blog-racial-reconciliation

I’ve found in my journey of redemption that I don’t necessary sin egregiously in every category. Rather I’ve found I often keep struggling with the same two or three sins that seem to go all the way down to my core.

Every time I think I’m done with that sin God will gently tear off the Band-Aid and reveal just how bad the infection is. Over and over again this process goes on.

On a different level, this is true of our American society when it comes to race.

The Reality of Race

It seems that majority (white) people are often tired of talking about race (just like we are tired of dealing with that pesky sin of ours).  This is especially true of white evangelicals, where 69% think that the best way to improve race relations is to stop talking about race! It is as if we as a society think that because we acknowledge racism that we can now move on to our other sins.

But I would say this is probably one of the two core sins of our American society, and there is not easy movement beyond it.

And are we really working on it anyway? Or just managing it, like we manage having a short temper or indulging in too much dessert?

Aren’t we just managing “racism” when every so often we acknowledge the need for a “national debate”, or that those “real racists” need to be punished, or that perhaps the police are a little harsh on minorities, but never diving in to see how deep the sin goes?

These questions and concerns have directed me toward a book by Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

This book rips off the Band-Aid and shows how and why the problem of racism persists in a post-Civil Rights era of colorblindness.

The Questions

As any good pastor would, this books asks deeper and different questions about our sin, overlooking the “obvious” as it searches for the true causes.

For instance,

  • Why did the “War on Drugs” begin in 1982 (by Reagan) when drug use was on the decline, not considered a national problem, and a good 2-3 years before crack cocaine became broadly available in major US cities?

(Anybody remember this add?)

 

incarceration_1-800x510

 

And more specifically,

  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Notice the drift of these questions?

This is about our criminal justice system, not the proclivity of racial stereotyping by people or racial slurs spoken in the parlors.

Alexander’s questions seek to reveal the links between a new form of racism and our criminal justice institutions, forged through what has become known as the War on Drugs (all that is for the next post).

The Plan

So I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks reading through Michelle Alexander’s book and posting about it (mostly for myself but also in the hopes it will provoke some conversation among those who have and haven’t read it yet…acknowledging I’m a late comer to the party as the book came out four years ago).

In the next post we’ll look at her what she means when she says,

“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

Abundance and Access: Eternal Life in John

Abundance – by Henri Le Fauconnier (1910)

I’m working on my sermon on John 3:1-21, which covers the ‘born-again’ conversation with Nicodemus to the famous “for God so loved the world” verse.

But neither of these themes should be disconnected from the two episodes covered in John 2.  There Jesus first turns water into wine, and then goes on to clear the temple of all the money-changes and market booths.  What is the significance of these actions?

 1) Abundance

When Jesus turns water into wine (an absurd amount of exceedingly good wine) he is revealing, as the first sign of his glory (2:11), that God’s abundance has arrived.  Jesus comes to reveal the gratuitous grace of God, the prodigally lavish abundance of God.  With Jesus comes abundance.  Do you normally think of God’s abundance working in your life, or that God is stingy?

2) Access

When Jesus overturn to everything in the temple he is first and foremost claiming that He is the true temple and that all should have access to God.  There is no longer a barrier between God and humanity, there are no more sacrifices that need to be made, and certainly no longer any oppressive system manipulated for the benefit of those rich and in charge. 

Abundance from God and Access to God is what Jesus is offering. 

And in chapter 3, when we get to the necessity of being born-again and believing in the Son sent by God, we have to think of “eternal life” as the life of abundance from and access to God.  This is eternal life: to receive the abundance of God through constant access to God.  There is no other life.

This is not solely “eternal life” in heaven after we die, but abundance and access at all times from and to God, in all places, whether in life or in death. 

God, in love, gave his Son so that this kind of life would be possible.