Christmas is passed, and what a blur! I pray you and yours were able to get some good relaxation in, as well as benefit from the preached Word about our Lord's incarnation for the sake of our salvation. Behind the scenes, I have been tremendously busy, especially in the work I am doing with PLM on launching the "Mainline Church Project", which I will discuss a bit more below. Part of this means that I am having to make tough decisions about how I use my time to serve you. As I wrote two weeks ago, one of the decisions I've made is to cut back on how much writing I am doing for the eNews. This doesn't mean I'm stopping. It just means the chunks are going to be a little smaller. Two weeks ago published nearly half a chapter, but even that proved to be quite a bite. This week I'm pairing it down to the next "section," or thematic unit. While on the one hand this means that the overall idea of a chaper may get spread out over a month or more, it will allow you to take the time to look at the many good Scripture passages included in the footnotes. I also plan to include "sectional" summaries for review, as well as a brief look ahead.
So far, in "Chapter 4: Goodness" We have explored the idea that the value of a human is not first and foremost in what he does, but in who he is. Learning from Jesus that God alone is good, we began to reassess what we mean by the word "goodness" in order to learn that there are two kinds of "goodness." What we do it one kind, and, while good, it cannot conquer death. We need the kind of goodness only God does. In the section "Of Earth and Heaven" we further explored the differences between these kinds of goodness, especially seeing how it is by pursuing our own "doing" goodness in place of God's "given" goodness that Adam and Eve first fell in the first place. We also saw how perfect our own "doing" goodness ought to be and faced the sad fact that our attempts at it are not "good" enough. On top of that, the goodness we need most, outside of Jesus, is terribly missing. Today, in "Cows and Arithmetic," we explore the purpose of the Ten Commandments as a blueprint for "doing goodness," and tackle the tough reality that what the commands demand they do not help us achieve. We also learn that humans respond two different ways to this realization about our limitations. One is to repent. The other is to reject even "doing" goodness altogether. The answers to these problems, I pray you know, are in Jesus. As the book progresses this will be come clearer and clearer, spelled out in no uncertain terms. For this week, we continue to explore the depths of our malady, trusting that the more we know about our sin, the better we will appreciate our Savior.
When Christians teach the Ten Commandments as revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, they do so because these commandments are the perfect demonstration of what human goodness should be.1 They are a blueprint for how creation is supposed to operate. They are an outline of love and peace.2 By defining what is good for others and what is evil to do to others, the commandments are a divine tool for fostering harmony in relationships with your neighbors and co-workers. They curb our intentions away from the evil we might otherwise end up achieving.
But at the same time, this Law is never quite able to bring about the goodness they prescribe.3 When it comes to living up to the perfect commandments about goodness, inscribed on stone tablets by the almighty finger of God, our own attempts at genuinely authentic goodness, more often than not, come up quite short.4 I may not kill, but I do hurt and I rarely help.5 I may not steal, but I do waste and I hardly protect the things that belong to others.6 I may not lie every time I speak, but I most definitely paint myself in the best light and hardly ever give others such leniency.7 Let's please not even contemplate the place of coveting!8
When this Law of God's comes upon us as an external Word, there are two ways that a person can respond. Sometimes we are honestly revealed to ourselves and we admit that, by God's standard, we aren't all that good after all.9 But far more easily than finding fault with ourselves is finding fault with the standard of the Law.10 When starting with the man in the mirror and asking him to change his ways doesn't actually change the face you see, replacing the mirror with a pretty picture makes a lot of sense.
So, while God has given us the perfect blueprint for harmony with the world and our neighbors, all of us are more naturally inclined to spend the vast portion of our lives searching for a more flexible standard.11 When pure goodness revealed by the holy God in fire and smoke and billowing glory turns out to be a little distasteful, we don't hesitate, nor spare any expense, in setting up something, anything, that is more in keeping with our self-esteem, (even if it means that we find ourselves dancing around a golden statue of a cow.)12
Our own spirituality and vision, in looking for the good works we'd rather do, tends to choose a host of works that have no real value at all.13 Classically called “mysticism,” such definitions of “good” vary as far and as wide as the individuals who pursue them: meditation, social action, introspection, extroversion, fasting, feasting, ritualism, anti-ritualism – once we start down the path of choosing our standards for goodness, the possibilities are not only endless, they are contradictory, fluid and (often) expensive.14 This is all to say nothing of the fact that, so far as the actual God is concerned, such ceremonies and anti-ceremonies can actually do nothing to make you a better person in terms of the kind of goodness that you hope to find.15
If the perfect Law of God cannot actually make us good, but instead only shows us how far short we fall, how much less will our own made up ideas bring us any lasting value? It is like a school that finds out its students are doing poorly at math and then decides that it will fix the problem by ceasing to give math tests. To be sure, there will be no more failed math tests. But when the children are grown there will also be no more math.
1. Exodus 20:1-17 “And God spoke all these words, saying...”
2. Romans 13:9 “For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' ”
3. Romans 7:10 “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.”
4. Romans 3:19 “Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
5. Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
6. Matthew 5:40, 42 “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. ...Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you”.
7. Matthew 7:3 “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Confer with Matthew 18:23-34
8. Romans 7:7-8 “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”
9. Romans 7:22-24 “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!”
10. 2 Corinthians 3:14 “Their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.” Confer with Exodus 7:13-14:8.
11. John 18:37-38 “Jesus answered, '...I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth....' Pilate said to him, 'What is truth?' ”
12. Exodus 32:1 “The people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, 'Up, make us gods who shall go before us.' ” Confer with Exodus 32:1-25
13. Colossians 2:12-23 “'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used) —according to human precepts and teachings...These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
14. Timothy 4:3-4 “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
15. Matthew 15:11 “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Posted by RevFisk
Friday, December 25, 2009
Posted by RevFisk
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
As I mentioned briefly last week, making it through a full chapter a week will sometimes be too challenging for me to pull off, what with the rather tidal tumult of other duties my vocation(s) require. Thus, this week you are treated to the first half of chapter 4. But it comes with a word of warning - the same warning I mentioned last week: this is part of a book, not a complete essay.
This is doubly true because the early chapters of the book are cycling in a Law/Gospel dynamic very much like much Lutheran preaching. The foundation of the faith is the movement between our maladies on this earth and the answer that God has given to those maladies in our Lord. This is not a stale repetition of formula, but a reality that is in, with and under all that we see and do. From our frustrations with our own vanity to our wrestling with decay, understanding the first creation and the promises of the new creation is at the epicenter of our faith.
This is all to say that, if today's reading leaves you feeling a little incomplete, that's because it is largely in the diagnosis of a particular problem. This diagnosis is intending to build up our understanding of the "why" and the "how" God's answer to that problem in our Lord makes good, clean sense. Today, the chapter will just end before that prescription is made clear. I am certainly open to your feedback on this. Perhaps the majority would prefer to have the whole pill at once? I will only know this if you leave comments. XD So, without further adieu, the first half of chapter 4: Goodness.
The value of a human is not in what he does, but in what he is.
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus of Nazareth is approached by a young man who is both rich and had great influence. The young man is eager to speak with Jesus, and he asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus gives a strange response. First, he seems to rebuke the young man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” What did he mean?
The point made by Jesus to this young man who would walk away not having the answer he thought he was seeking, is one which is forgotten or ignored by many Bible teachers of the late-modern American age. If a person, like this young man, is looking for the right checklist, a ten-step process toward building the God-pleasing life, Jesus' answer is not merely disheartening. It is downright bizarre. No one can question the young man's intentions and zeal, just as no one can judge anyone else's passion or sincerity. But the simple reality which Jesus preached is that it doesn't matter what you do at all. No matter how sincere, authentic, real or well-intentioned a person's efforts to be good might be, no one is good except God alone.
This is not the way humans normally think. In fact, the most natural thing in the world for us is to base all of our hopes, desires and self-worth on what we do.1 Almost everything that we do, day in and day out, we do in order that we can look back on it and say, “See what I did,” and then add, “Aren't I swell fort this?” Encouragement and praise are things that every person craves. We resonate when we're around things or people that make us feel capable, competent and able to do something. We tend to prefer people who value our thoughts and our words, or who rely on our deeds. This is all because it is in human nature to find your value in what you do.
Strangely enough, the disappointing result of this kind of thinking is a life spent feeling like you have never quite done enough, like you always could have done something more, or done it better, or, in some cases, not done what you unfortunately did even though it wasn't what you now think you had wanted to do.2 No matter what you accomplish or do, no matter if you make a name for yourself that endures millennia, whether you are an Alexander or Caesar, a Shakespeare or a Ghandhi, the reincarnation of the Buddha, the highest paid athlete in the world or the poorest nun sacrificing your life to the needy in the slums of the third world – not matter what you do, nothing that you do is quite good enough. Nothing quite escapes your vanity. Nothing is powerful enough to stop the entropic curse. This is because all the good works that humans can do and have done are made up of the wrong kind of goodness.
There are lots of good people in the world.3 There are people who have worked for peace, who have aided orphans and widows, who have sought to lead nations into a better world. There are people who will give you the coats of their backs and the food from their tables, even though this might mean they would go without. These people are harder and harder to find in the United States, but there are and have been entire civilizations that esteem honor and justice more than life itself. And these good people are not limited to any one religion or philosophical system. There are good people in all kinds of spiritual disciplines. There are righteous pagans and compassionate atheists.
But according to that one man who rose from the dead, as good as all these people are – even that young man who meant well, and who never once disobeyed his parents, never killed, never lied, never stole – according to Jesus all the goodness that you do is the wrong kind of goodness for overcoming the vanity and decay which is sending our world to hell in a hand-basket. In this regard, in terms of the salvation this entire planet needs, no one is good except God alone.
There are two kinds of goodness. And the real goodness – the better goodness – does not consist in what you do, but in what God does.
Of Earth and Heaven
There is a goodness which is of this world.4 It is the goodness of honor, justice and vocation.5 To speak a little archaicly, it is the goodness of office. It is the goodness of doing the right thing in the right moment, of seeing what will help and pursuing it, of facing what needs to be done and seeing it through. This is the goodness that is found in relationships. It is a worldly goodness, easy to observe and to judge because such good works are good. There is right and there is wrong, and there is good and there is evil, and whether you have done one or the other is easy enough to see. They're conspicuous.6
The desire for this kind of goodness is common to all people. But this goodness is not the only kind of goodness that there is. More importantly, this goodness is not the best kind of goodness that there is. This kind of goodness is weak. It lives or dies in a moment, and as much as all mankind pursues it, we never seem to reach it. Too often, history shows us reaching the very opposite.
Yet there is another kind of goodness. This goodness is not of this world. We could call it holiness except that most religions (and many Christians) also think that holiness is what you do. But the other kind of goodness is something that no man does. In a sense, it is not even something that God does. First, it is who God is.7 After that, all that God does flows from it – from himself.8
If mankind will ever overcome death and decay, it will because we once again are restored to this kind of goodness – no a matter of what we do, but of who we. Do we have God's goodness flowing to, in and through us? This was how we were created in the garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were not called good because of what they did. First, they were created, and then God called them good because he had put his goodness in them. God's goodness was part of who they were.9 They were not only creatures crafted by God's own hand and breathing with his own life, but they were formed in the very identity of God's goodness, in his own good image.10
The problem is that, after our jump into vain entropy, this gift of good identity was broken. The holiness which flows from God, this better and more necessary goodness, was lost in our attempt to make a goodness that would exist without God.11 Adam and Eve took the fruit because they believed that what they did would make them better than they already were.12 The better goodness was traded in for a worse betterness! Ever since, like our parents before us, we run about as mad, busy ants, trying again and again to make our own goodness better. In our hiding from shame, we believe that the goodness that we do might one day become good enough to replace that better goodness we once had been freely given.
But it never happens. It is just not possible. Not even the most good man ever born of women came anywhere close to achieving this kind of goodness, in spite of all the good he did do.13 By nature, we are just not capable of producing God's goodness. On top of all that, it really begs the question whether even the goodness we are capable of is half so good as we'd like to pretend that it is.
Humans are full of curses for every little thing that goes awry, whether its a world war or spilled milk.14 We claim to want justice for every minor offense, but dodge and parry any accusation that we might have fallen short or be in error.15 Our eyes wonder in lust.16 The more promises we make, the more untrustworthy we actually are.17 And this is to say nothing of the significant American problems of divorce, abortion, teen-sex, the rise in suicides and drug-abuse, and the rampant, deadly narcissism which is sweeping our culture like a plague. It just isn't in you to turn the other cheek, to give unconditionally and without limit, and to love especially and consistently the people who are most rude and abusive to you.18
Even the worldly goodness which God created for this world to do is pure perfection.19 We flatter ourselves when we whisper sweet nothings in the mirror about how both God and history will overlook our endless failures on account of our sincere belief that tomorrow we'll do a little better.20 The slight immoralities, the white lies, the simple jealousies – all of this is not merely a reason for an angry God to cast sinners into hell. This is the reason that this life is already a hell of a place to live.21
The sad fact is that the more we follow our own ways and seek to make some value out of ourselves, the more worthless we end up being.22 It's not that there is no good in this world, or that you or I or anyone should stop trying to do the right thing when it is before us. It's that we must stop believing that our worldly goodness can be the final answer to our heavenly needs. There are two different kinds of goodness, and the one we need the most is the one we can never do. Nations, religions and cultures all alike set up rules and systems for bringing heaven down from above by our actions, but the result is always that we have yanked more hell up from below.23
Our very world-wide refusal to believe in the limitations of our goodness proves the problem doubly so.24 The height of our wickedness is that we cannot see how we are wicked.25 In the end, trying to redeem ourselves by what little goodness we manage to do, we are forced to lie to ourselves and those around us in order to hide the fact that the real goodness – the heavenly goodness – is still terribly, terribly missing.26
The final image of a woman weeping against the wailing wall in Jerusalem, where God's holiness once dwelt but has departed, points us forward to next week's conclusion of Chapter 4: Goodness.
1. Psalm 135:15 “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.”
2. Ecclesiastes 12:12 “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
3. Proverbs 9:9 “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Genesis 6:9 “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.”
4. Ecclesiastes 7:15 “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.”
5. Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land.” Confer with Titus 2:1-10, and Colossians 3:18-4:1
6. 1 Timothy 510 “So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.”
7. Isaiah 45:21 “And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.”
8. Psalm 71:19 “Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”
9. Genesis 1:27-31 “God created man....And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, ti was very good.”
10. Genesis 1:26-27 “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”
11. Genesis 3:5 “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”
12. Genesis 3:6 “The woman saw...that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.”
13. Ecclesiastes 7:20 “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” Luke 7:28 “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
14. Matthew 5:22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Romans 3:14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15. Isaiah 59:7-8 “For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies.”
16. Matthew 5:28 “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
17. Matthew 5:37 “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
18. Matthew 5:39-47 “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
19. Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
20. Psalm 36:2 “The wicked flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.”
21. Galatians 3:10 “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written,'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'”
22. Psalm 53:3 “They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
23. Romans 10:6 “The righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' ” Proverbs 30:4 “Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!”
24. Proverbs 12:15 “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.”
25. Revelation 3:17 “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
26. Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Posted by RevFisk
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Christians are aliens.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't mean that Christians are extra-terrestrial life forms. Christians aren't that kind of aliens. But no matter where they live or what culture they come from, Christians don't belong. The entire world is a kingdom which, as we have seen, we are all born into – including the curses of this kingdom: vanity, decay and despair for anyone with eyes enough to see it. While Christians still live in this kingdom our entire lives on earth, we are resident aliens, sojourners in a foreign land. Christians don't belong.1
All of this starts with the work of Jesus Christ when, on the cross, he purchased you from the punishment of God upon this world. This world was your home, but now it no longer is.2 The great saving of the universe which happened in Jesus death and resurrection is already in the process of regenerating everything that exists. But he's not starting with the trees and the seas.3 He's starting with you.4
Life, of course, is not about you. But that doesn't man that God doesn't have a plan for you. That plan which gravitates in, with and under who Jesus is, what he did, and what he's coming again to do – that plan means that you and all who believe in him are no longer children of this earth.5 This doesn't give you super-powers any more than it gives you tentacles. There is only one root difference between a Christian and every other person on this planet, and that is faith.
Not the blind trust “faith” that is paraded around pop-culture, faith in yourself or some other person. Christians have faith in Jesus, which means they have faith in the Word of God. We'll be coming back to this idea full throttle. But first it is important to know that this Word, this faith, will make you weird. It will make you an alien. The more that the Holy Spirit of God reveals to you who Christ is, and what he did, and what he is coming again to do, the more your believing these things becomes your new “super”-nature, the more it will become clear to you as you lift up your eyes to the hills and the cities of this world that this place is just no longer where you really belong.6
The body and blood of Jesus were real real flesh and real blood infused with the true Supernature of the Son of God. In piercing, scourging and crucifying, he spilled that real blood in order to use it to make citizens of a new Kingdom, a better Kingdom, a Kingdom not of this entropic7 world.8 The kingdom of this earth, though it has much good, is nevertheless filled with despair, envy and hate.9 It is flush full of vanity that is as old as the idea that there is nothing new under the sun.10 All of this God has overcome and saved you from, but he has not taken you out of it.11 There is a war going on for the life of this world.12 When Jesus died for you and called you through that news, he drafted you into his military, and left you behind the enemy lines.13
This is a glorious calling.14 You are a soldier, away from your home for a time, thrust into the middle of a great and heated battle.15 And the first step in this battle is for you to believe that there is a war going on, all around you, every day, and this war has already been won for the purpose of taking you and every other person you see home. In this war, there is still the curse, the pain, the temptations to evil, and the weapon specifically aimed at Christians: doubt.16 But the good fight of faith is the Truth that Christ in his cross has utterly overcome and slaughtered this pitiable state.17
The great weapon of this faith is a holy peace in the midst of the ransacking of the warfare, a peace which the world of vanity and entropy cannot know, an alien peace.18 No matter what befalls you in the fight, whether it be the death of children or spouse, the loss of home and income, or if you are one of the few called to die a martyr's death for the simple cause of confessing what the Word of God has said, you are always all the more the greater victor because the life of the world to come in Jesus can never, ever be taken away. 19
The Kingdom of God is the reign of Jesus. Jesus reigns now through the Spirit-filled Words which he sent preached into the nations, and now into your own heart, all of which is pressed down and distilled into phenomenal and precious promises that are coming to full fulfillment now for the sake of their utter fulfillment in eternity.20 There is a powerful mystery at work in these promises, the mystery of a Kingdom that is both now and not yet. Christianity is a religion of having it all in the midst of having nothing. It is a spirituality of being freed from all obligation in order to be the slave of all.21 It is the cross of receiving the fullness of what is foretold while ever waiting for its immanent completion.22 It is a life as an heir to a Kingdom, living in a foreign land while waiting for the coronation.23 It is all now complete in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Words about him. It is not yet what we see, but it will be. Soon.24
Now is the reign of the Kingdom and Now is the day of salvation.25 Not yet is all creation renewed to see and Not yet do we have the crown of bodies that never perish.26 Now is a life of waiting in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit-filled Word for the Not yet life of immortal being which is coming.27 Now is a life of looking forward to the promises to be fulfilled. Not yet is the the fulfillment of the promises you are waiting for.
This tension of the now and the not yet, lived out in the midst of the epic, raging war against principalities and powers of all darkness for the very everlasting life of the world – finding the wisdom of this foolishness revealed in the person of Jesus Christ – is what the Christian life is all about.28 And believing it makes you weird. It means you are an immortal resident alien living in a dying world.
The Word of God uses many different images to explore this now but not yet tour of duty. One dramatic image which is rooted in the real-life experiences of some of the earliest Christians living the ancient near-east is the image of tents and buildings.29 Abraham, the patriarch of Christianity, faced an amazing and impossible calling out just as you have. Except where you are being called into a Spiritual experience, Abraham's experience of the same happened in very clear flesh and blood ways.
Abraham was told to leave the city and land of his birth, Ur of the Chaldeas, and to go out into a desert in order to wait for God to give him a real Nation, one that would never perish or be threatened. He was told to be still and know that his God was God – and in the meantime he had to wait in a tent.30 In order to have a true homeland and a real home, he was put into the school of faith in the promises of God, a school which taught him that unless the Lord built the city, those who built it labored in vanity.31
What Abraham learned in tenting, you will learn in the same way. Only now, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, you can see this picture more clearly than Abraham did. What Abraham longed see and understand, we have now.32 The tents and cities are only a metaphor. The reality takes place not in our possessions, but in our own human bodies.33 Like tents, our bodies are frail, easily destroyed, and never able to endure very long. But the great host which surrounds us, the cultures and peoples in which we live, spend their lives trying to pretend that these tents are actually cities with foundations that can be made firm. This is the great deception. There is no city here.34 There are only shanty-towns.
But God promised something more than this in the Messiah who would come from Abraham's own children. Even the temples which God had Abraham's children build with their human hands would be unable to endure in the same way as the real temple-city which God had in mind.35 Jesus Christ, who was torn down for our sins and razed for our transgressions, is that city – that new body.36 His resurrection from the dead is the ultimate proof of his power to be the forerunner of a new humanity, one that no longer dwells in tents which pass away, but a people who dwell in a city whose foundations are the knit with the essence of God himself.37
Abraham's faith has much to teach us. He died never having seen all the promises fulfilled – he died waiting.38 He was often tempted to doubt, to sin and to meddling with the plan, as if he could somehow use his vanity to preserve it from the threats of decay which he saw. And there was always the opportunity to return to Ur, to cease believing in the Word and go back to the shanty-town to at least enjoy himself for a while before he died. But he did not return.39
Better than that, he could not return. God's Word was too powerful. He was utterly compelled by the school of faith which took the shape of a cross, to the point where by the end of his journey there was no Word from God that he did not take on face value as the most necessary Truth in the universe.40 The promises were ever-brewing up in him. He lived as an exile, but he knew God had something planned that was much, much better. And since the God of Abraham was actually God, Abraham, though a stranger in a strange land, knew with firm conviction that sooner or later God was going to give him a home.
But “heaven” is not that home. One of the most common myths of American spirituality is that after death people go to heaven and then that's it. In this picture, heaven is the goal, where things are better than they are here, where maybe you get a halo and a pair of wings from a guy at the door who has a long beard and a checklist. It's actually a pretty tame idea, but its also completely made up.
The warfare into which you've been drafted into is for a Kingdom that is going to be a lot more enjoyable than sitting on cloud and strumming a harp for the rest of forever. In order to understand just how much better, it helps to remember exactly what it is we lose when we die, even as Christians. When you die trusting in the cross of Jesus and go to be at rest with him, as Scripture teaches, you will still be leaving behind a very important part of yourself, a part of yourself which Jesus has, in fact, saved, a part of you that you can't really be you without: your body.
Part of being human is having a body.41 This is why death is such a terrible thing. Death is a spectacular disaster because it rips you apart, tearing your spirit from your flesh in a way that you just weren't created for. While countless pagan religions try to make this bodiless ending sound like some great super-spiritual evolutionary step, Jesus didn't seem to think it was a very good idea. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus didn't just get rid of the tents, he replaced the tent with a Temple. Death was God's punishment against man.42 The resurrection is his gift.
When you die and leave this vale of decay and tears, you will go to be with Jesus. The Bible says you will be “asleep”43 and at “rest.”44 It will be a pit-stop version of paradise.45 But God has something even better than heaven in store for us. He is bringing a new heavens and a new earth.46 He is making all things new altogether.47 This is why we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come as the one great hope of the Christian life.48 This is why even the souls who are in heaven right now are praying “How much longer?”49
How long until God brings the last Day, ends this warfare and judges the earth? How long until the final trumpet sounds and Kingdom comes? How long until the dead in Christ rise to receive physical immortality? That we do not know. We can't really even begin to imagine how great that reality will be. But we do know this: as surely as Jesus is risen from the dead, it will happen, and it will happen soon.50 And when the dead in Christ rise first, it's going to make even spending eternity in heaven look like a pretty lame idea.
Seeds and Flowers
Right now is the sojourn. Right now is the exile. Right now you are a resident alien. With all Christians you wait for the city which is coming to replace your tent. Then you will bet he you that you were always supposed to be. Heart, mind, body and soul, you will be purified, regenerated and made whole. And not only you, but all those who are in Christ, together.
Jesus himself has already experienced this resurrection, so that he is the proof and the firstfruits of this new Kingdom. What that means and how great it will be is enough to make yoru head spin. We are creatures who have never known anything beyond this cursed planet. How can we even begin to imagine what it will be like to have bodies which are prefect, not to mention hearts and minds which are full of joy, generosity and love all the time?51
One of the other images the Bible gives us is the picture of seeds and flowers. Seeds and flowers are technically the same thing, at least genetically. The only difference is the time and the place where they exist. Conveniently for the metaphor, all that it takes for a seed to become a flower is for it to get buried and rise again out of the earth. But just picture the difference for a moment. Seeds are small, hard, often dry. They are rarely if ever pretty, and they have no ability to bear fruit. Flowers, on the other hand, are vastly superior at first glance. They are full of color, blessed with smell, and lead to much fruit and value for all sorts of other creatures.
That picture, that difference, is the difference between the human that you are now and the human that you will be when Jesus transforms your lowly body to be like his resurrected body. Whether you are buried in the ground and sent to rest with him first, or whether he comes again and changes you in the twinkling of an eye, the change which is promised and already accomplished by Jesus will be as phenomenal ash the blossoming of flowers in the spring from the single, dull brown seed you planted in the fall.52
It is like the difference between the light of the moon and the light of the sun. It is like the difference between the earth and the starts.53 Now you are perishing. Then you will be imperishable. Now your heart is clothed in shame and guilt. Then you will be clothed in honor and innocence. Now your a merely dust, then you will be supernatural.54
All of this is the hope that was given to Abraham in the promise of a city. All of this is the reason God keeps in heaven those who are waiting for a homeland, but who die before Jesus return. All of this is what it means that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead as a new and better first man and father of the human race. In him, not only is death swallowed up, but so in the sin of the heart which took us into death in the first place. Not only will you be fixed inside and out, but all creation with you will be fluid with righteousness. Wolves and lambs will lay down beside each other on the grass. Lions will eat straw like cattle while never once being any less lion than they are now. Even getting up and going to work every day will bring you great contentment and joy.55 How beyond us is this promise! How great is this hope!
The Bible goes on. There will be no lies or injustice.56 All tears will be wiped away. Words like “hunger” and “thirst” will no longer have any meaning,57 In the person of Jesus, God himself will dwell with us, as our King and as our brother.58 You'd almost wish it would hurry up and get here. In fact, you ought to pray for just that very thing.
Christians have always lived as Abraham lived, full of a deep yearning and conviction that they no longer belong in this world. You are waiting for a homeland. You are a resident alien. At one point this great longing came to be expressed in the powerful cry, “Maranatha!” It means “Come!” Knowing that this life was dying, they lived and died praying for the resurrection to get itself going already. They were asking Jesus to come back.
This was not to say that there are no good blessings in this present life. But once the fullness of the resurrection in Jesus was revealed, even the best this world has to offer can only ever be a shadow of the paradise which is coming.59 Creation itself groans with longing for the Kingdom of God to break forth in more than not yet and make itself now revealed.60 As good as things can sometimes be, there will always remain a lot of curse left in your day to day life, not to mention a lot of sin stored up and spilling out of your own heart. But laid to the root of this fearful reality is the very ax of God's promise in Jesus.
The foolishness revealed in Jesus' cross is a resurrection wisdom that takes the real sting right out of death.61 You will be forced to mourn so long as this life continues to be what it is, but in Christ you are even mourning the death of those closest to you can never overcome the hope we find in the empty tomb of Christ. There is a way out of the valley of the shadow of death.62 There is a light coming over its hills, and that light is the second coming of Jesus. There is a Kingdom, not yet having fixed your body, but already now having begun to fix your soul by giving you a real and tangible Word from God, a Word vindicated by a real man, with a real body which shall never pass away.
Day after day, this Word is enough to pick you up and send you back into the fray with a confidence that the chaos will not quite triumph after all. This Word is the certainty that even the your own vanity shall never be the end of you.63 Your spirit and the Spirit who comes upon the wings of who Jesus is and what he has done will continue to re-birth you into a living hope which is bound up in a living God. He is a God who is God.64 And even if you do die before Christ's return, it will only be to stand before him in heaven, clothed in a white robe, and told to pray for the reunification of all things.65
Knowing this, seeing this, feeling this, alien as it may seem, the irony is that the best thing that could possibly happen to tomorrow would actually be the end of the world.
Amen. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
The Foolishness: The best thing that could happen tomorrow is the end of the world.
Verse: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3
Prayer: Father in heaven, you give a peace which the world cannot give through the great and precious promises that your Son Jesus Christ has risen from the grave for the sake of raising us all to a new life in paradise together. Make this faith our ever-present hope, so that we may truly live as sojourners in this world, undeterred and not distracted by its many pretensions, but instead with our eyes fixed on the better homeland, the city which you have founded in Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of us all. Maranatha. Amen.
1 Psalm 69:8-9 “I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother's sons. For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”
2 Hebrews 11:13 “These all died in faith, ... having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
3 Revelation 21:5 “He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
4 James 1:18 “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
5 John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world...”
6 1 Thessalonians 5:8 “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do....For those who sleep, sleep at night....We belong to the day....”
7 Ephesians 2:19, “You are no longer strangers and aliens [of God], but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
8 Titus 3:3 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
9 Ephesians 5:16 “...the days are evil.” Ecclesiastes 2:11 “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
10 John 17:15 “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
11 Psalm 2:1-2 “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.”
12 Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
13 Hebrews 3:1 “Holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.”
14 1 Peter 2:11 “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
15 Romans 14:23 “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
16 1 Corinthians 5:19 “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
17 John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
18 2 Peter 3:13 “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
19 Philippians 1:6 “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
20 Mark 10:44 “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
21 Luke 9:23 “He said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'”
22 Titus 3:7 “Being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
23 Hebrew 2:8-9 “We do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him.”
24 Luke 11:20 “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” 2 Corinthians 6:1 “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. ”
25 2 Timothy 4:8 “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day.”
26 2 Timothy 1:10 “The appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus...abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
27 Galatians 6:14 “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
28 Hebrews 11:13-16 “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
29 Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
30 Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”
31 John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
32 2 Corinthians 5:1, “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 5:4 “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
33 Revelation 18:1ff “He called out with a mighty voice, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!...Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!”
34 Mark 13:1-2 “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher!' And Jesus said to him, 'There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.'”
35 John 2:19 “Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'”
36 Hebrews 11:10 “He was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
37 Hebrews 11:13 “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
38 Hebrews 11:15-16 “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
39 Genesis 22:2 “He said, 'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go...and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains....'”
40 Psalm 139:13 “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.”
41 Psalm 89:48 “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”
42 Luke 8:52 “He said, iDo not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.'” John 11:11, 1 Corinthians 15:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:14
43 Revelation 14:13 “'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!'”
44 Luke 23:43 “He said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'”
45 Revelation 21:2 “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
46 Isaiah 65:17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”
47 Hebrews 10:25 “[Do not neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
48 Revelation 6:10 “They cried out with a loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'”
49 Revelation 22:20 “He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
50 1 John 3:2 “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
51 1 Corinthians 15:52 “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet... the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
52 1 Corinthians 15:41 “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.”
53 1 Corinthians 15:43-47 “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. ... Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. ... The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”
54 Isaiah 65:22-23 “They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.”
55 Zephaniah 3:13 “Those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”
56 Revelation 17:16 “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.”
57 Revelation 22:3 “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”
58 Colossians 2:17 “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Hebrews 8:5, 10:1
59 Romans 8:22-23 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.”
60 1 Corinthians 15:55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
61 Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”
62 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
63 1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
64 Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”
Posted by RevFisk
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
After a two week hiatus for Thanksgiving, attached to this week's eNews is the in-some-places anticipated second chapter of “the book.” To my surprise, I've actually received a modest reaction from internet readers expressing delight and interest in the first chapter. I truly hope the work continues to pay off.
This week's chapter was quite difficult to work on, especially because when dealing with areas that are not ones own expertise (like the small amount of physics which introduces the chapter) one always must be careful to get the facts straight. Here's hoping! Also, there are footnotes. I'd like to put them "on each page" but you can't really do that online, so you'll have to scroll to the end if you want to read them. Most are Biblical references, and I've included that quoted text right there.
The problem is decay. Along with the rest of us, you are caught up in a life-long epic struggle to make life about you, and this has everything to do with the kind of world we live in. When God created humans, he made us to live in an environment surrounded by strong feelings of well-being and personal assurance. As revelation tells the story, God did not create you to live in the middle of a spinning, uncontrollable chaos. He made you fine-tuned to live in a safe environment, a place where you would always have full certainty that all your needs would always be met.1 You were made with a built in need for security.
The problem is that the world we live in is not very secure. The whole planet rolls out of the wrong side of the bed every morning into a dangerous uncertainty, full of constant change and chance which bring with them inevitable friction. Even though all of human history represents one grand attempt to force some kind of stability onto our environment, a lingering shadow hangs over even the best golden ages and epochs, not to mention the best days of your own life. This is the shadow of decay.
When physicists were plying their trade during the rise of the modern era, one of the chief scientific problems confronting them was explaining the problem of “waste heat” and energy losses which the newly made engines and mechanical devices plainly displayed. What they found was what later came to be called a Law of Thermodynamics, that nothing ever runs with 100% efficiency. As engines convert energy to work, some of that energy is lost. This energy loss effects the environment around it giving the entire observable universe a bizarre tendency towards disorder. Nature almost perfectly is tuned to degenerate into a state of greater and greater disorder – greater and greater entropy.2
Now all of this is less a lesson in physics and more a fancy way of saying what grumpy old men have been saying on front porches since time immemorial: the world is falling apart. Entropy, the tendency of our world towards disorder, presents a phenomenal problem to a bunch of creatures who, by nature, cannot stand to live in uncertainty. The entire effort of civilization arises precisely to combat this great inconsistency. Each of us lives floating between the delusion that there aren't any problems at all and a full-throttle personal attack on the disorganization of the world in the hope that by some herculean effort we might succeed in creating a source of security which won't fail us.
It's as simple as weeding the garden in order to feel better and as complex as the efforts of Caesar Augustus to stem the bleeding of the old Roman Republic. History is the story of men and women who are caught up, one by one, in a war against the decay of the world. Mankind fights both together and alone to impose order on the disorder. He builds walls against the hostility, erecting safeguards, pillars, fortresses and even religions. All of these are his efforts to convince himself that somehow this life is worth living after all. The problem is that all of this hasn't fixed the problem. Not one bit.
Stuck In the Middle of It All
Rome fell and the weeds came back. The problem with both civilizations and people like you and me trying to establish a source of security is that whatever we use is part of this same system which is plagued by the “energy loss” we want to escape.
It goes like this. You need something to feel secure, so you find something to cling to, anything, from a caramel latte to a million dollar home. Let's call it a security blanket. But that security blanket is still a thing in this insecure, decaying world. Before long the security blanket is no longer doing its job of securing. Rather, it has become your ever-vigilant job to keep your security blanket safe. It is the only thing that matters. It dominates your thoughts and actions. You can't live without making certain that nothing has happened to it. If your security blanket were lost, so would be all your security. Your security blanket is, in fact, incredibly insecure, and it is then up to you to sacrifice whatever it takes to secure it. You must secure your source of security.
But the entropy is everywhere. Nations are decaying and religions are failing and fortresses blow away like a house of cards under the winds of time. All the things we lean on turn out to be unreliable. Worse than that, we find them leaning on us. The idols of ancient paganism are the prime example. Statues of wood and stone erected to protect the people from all manner of evil must be cared for, cleaned, and defended. So our quest for security leads us into an endless war waged in protecting those things that were supposed to protect us. The more sources of security you create in order to protect your security, the less secure you actually become as you are forced to fight all the harder in order to juggle their countless needs. The richer you get, the more money you need to keep it all safe. The more powerful you are, the more power you need to protect yourself from those who want your power. The more you scrap and scrape to establish a safe life, the more you increase the risk, pain, strife and worry that must inevitably come to bear when that safety is lost.
You've got a bucket with a hole in it. You've got an engine losing heat. You've got a planet where entropy is one of the laws built into nature. And there you sit, relentlessly pursuing a life about you because who else is going to get you the security you can't live with out? But the more you tie it down, the faster it unravels. Over a lifetime of the things wearing thin, you start to wear thing. The battle has chipped away at your very ability to breath, until at last you, just like the rest of us, are thrust into the finish line of that insecurity we're all trying to avoid. The cold darkness of a tomb in the earth ends your world with the knowledge that the world is going to keep spinning out of control long after you're gone, and there is nothing you can do about it at all. There is no escaping it. Things are falling apart. Entropy is a weak metaphor at that. You walk in the valley of the shadow of death. The days are evil. And that's just the way it is.
While this “security loss” is a real problem, the root problem behind this vicious cycle is our belief that we can somehow stop the entropy. In spite of everything history has to teach us, we play the part of medieval alchemists, trying to transmute led into gold. It would be easier to turn off the solar system's gravity. But we need security so desperately that we would rather live in delusional hope and feigned progress than admit the bleak reality, which is that, despite what it seems from time to time, we don't actually have control over anything at all. In spite of the age of reason and the greatest technological revolutionary age in the history of our species, the planet is as flush to capacity with calamity, disease, pain and death now as it ever has been. Maybe more so. It is chaotic, uncontrollable and a constant threat to the livelihood of everyone who lives on it. It's right before our eyes for all of us to see. We just can't stand to see it, so we close our eyes hard and pretend it isn't so.
But if we can't stand to believe the way things actually are, even more disgusting to us is the reason why. As much as we don't want to admit that our universe is obviously ruined, even less can we believe that this is because our universe is actually cursed.3 As impossible as it is to accept that you don't really have control over all the terrible things that keep happening in the world, it is infinitely worse to face that fact that God is in control of everything, and, therefore, is the reason it is happening. From the spilling of a glass of milk to the horrors of modern warfare, everything about this life which we call evil and spend our lives trying to put a stop to – if God is actually God – then everything and all these things are, in some strange and alien way, God's work.
Of course, it is easier to refuse the idea that God is the source of all your insecurity. Rather than believe that God is God, its easier to believe in a god – one who would create a world more to your liking, who would never tear down the barns you build or bring the rain when you pray for sun. But if God is God, if God is the God of the Bible, then he most certainly is the reason why things are the way they are.4 The reason why you are forced to toil and sweat day in and day out for your food is because he ordained the world to fight against you.5 The reason why you struggle in relationships, especially in those closest relationships of family, is because God has set families against each other.6 The reason people are dying every day from war and famine and disasters is because God is killing them.7
Of course, believing what the Bible says about God is even less popular today than it was in the middle ages. But think about it his way: if God is the one who has cast this planet (which he created for good and for security) into chaos, then before we run around denying it, we might first ask if the God who is God might not have a good reason why. And suddenly, a lot of other things start to become more clear. After all, if God is the source of your insecurity, is it any wonder that all of your attempts to force some security into your life never seem to get off the ground? If every time you try to fix the world, you are actually rebelling against what God is trying to do, is it any wonder you keep losing the war? If all of your many security blankets keep getting stolen and soddened and threadbare, maybe it's because God doesn't intend for you to grow up and head off to kindergarten with your thumb in your mouth, dragging a soiled rag along behind you.
The Bible is clear. The God who created heaven and earth is also the one who set the decay and chaos into motion. The one who made us with a built-in need for security as also made it his current policy never to let us find it. The God who made you is treating you like an enemy. And this is because you are his enemy.
If we take the Bible seriously, one of the first things it teaches is that God created you to be his servant.8 He formed you perfectly for the task of being a steward, a caretaker, a guardian, given the task of tenderly watching over whatever small plot of earth he placed you on.9 But the Bible also teaches that you never got the chance to experience this amazing opportunity. Long before you were born, one of your most ancient relatives took a good long look at this offer and said, “No thanks.”
In recent years, the media picked upon on scientists who were claiming a surprising discovery. They had found that all humans come from the womb of the same ancestral mother. “Mitochondrial Eve,” they called her, named both for the small cellular mitochondria which led them to this discovery, and for the Hebrew name of the woman God first created. Eve was married to Adam, and being made by God, they were given the wonderful gift of a life of perfect servanthood. They had security. They had stability. They had safety. But, not knowing any other way, they decided to say, “No thanks.”
Adam decided to make himself God's enemy. He believe that he could actually do a better job at being God than God, and when he saw a chance to try, he took it. Sometimes this epic fail decision is called “The Fall,” but that's really not accurate. This wasn't some slip on a banana peel It wasn't any accident. Adam walked up to the ledge, took a good long look, girded his loins, and jumped. He thought that he could be his own source of security. He thought that he could take on the perfect world and make it better. It probably seemed like a very grand and noble idea at the time. But the old proverb holds true: “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” The Jump is what happened when man tried to fix the world the first time. The chaos of history is all our attempts to fix it ever since.
Because of Adam and Eve, life on earth is not the test that many people want to think it is. Life on earth is the failing grade. Neither you nor I can remember that temptation which destroyed the world, but what you or I remember is of little importance compared to what is. What matters is the blood that is now flowing in our veins. What matters is that our bloodline, from our one mother, carries with it the curse of corruption, from generation to generation.10 That bad blood is keeping you alive, but it is as cursed as the ground you walk on. Every other person you meet got off the same boat.11 The more we try to deny that we are our parents' children, the more we end up resembling their rebellion. The very fact that the first thing we manage to do (if we are able to believe that Adam and Eve were real people who jumped) is to go and point the finger of blame at them is the classic proof that we are nothing but chips off the old block.12
You are the face of your worst enemy because you are the child of the enemy of God.13 As much as you'd rather blame your father, you're the one who still can't accept things they way they are and stop your ceaseless trying to fix it. You are the one who can't dream of praising God for all the worst, cursed parts of the life you live. You are the one who keeps making your own epic fail decisions, chasing your lust for security and worshiping whatever promises a moment's reprieve. You are the one who's own inner meaninglessness threatens to shorten your already short life. You are the cause of all your problems. And every grasping attempt you make to fix them only causes you to fail, blunder and jump further into the chains which you have forged.
Yes. It really is that bad. Life on this planet is hopeless. By yourself, along with the rest of us, you live, move and have your being beneath an irremovable Word of damnation. All these problems and frictions and toils and deaths are the wrath of God. If God is God and God is good, then the only reason you can possibly be experiencing all this is because you deserve it. God's hand is upon your back and he is pressing you down, crushing you like an imperfect clay vessel until the endless heat loss returns you to the dust from which you came.14 You are cursed, and nothing you can do will remove this supernatural hex.15 You cannot hide from this wrath.16 The only one in all the universe who can do anything about this hand of God on your back is God himself.17
The Good News is not only that he wants to. He already has.
The Good News
This is the wisdom of foolishness, and everything the Bible teaches centers right here. From the very moment when god spoke his damning Word upon all the universe and your life with it, he also spoke another Word. Along with the bondage to decay that he cursed his creation with, he also spoke a promise that disorder and insecurity would not last forever.18
It has now been two thousand years since a single, chosen, lonely man walked a lonely road facing the same question Adam faced, only this time accompanied by the weight of a heavy cross upon his scourged back. His name was Jesus of Nazareth, and the primary teaching of the entire Bible is that he is the Christ of God. He is the Answer. The Security. The Seed born of woman to crush the chaos, the Word sent by God to speak forgiveness upon his enemies among the children of men.
Jesus of Nazareth walked that lonely road to the hill where he would be nailed to the cross he carried because Jesus was being punished. He himself had never lied, never cheated, never stolen, never lusted – never once had he so much as rebelled for a moment against the curse of God in which he had lived for thirty years. He built no earthly kingdoms, sought no place to securely rest his head, and knew that life was about much more than food and clothing.19 He faced all the temptations of insecurity flawlessly.20 And because of this life of pure goodness, obedience, love and mercy, God wanted to kill him more than anyone else in all of human history.21 God ordained Roman soldiers to drive the whips and the spear which pierced him.22 God sent the crowds to scoff and mock him.23 God made Jesus the fullness of his curse, electing even that the sun would cease shining on him that day because when God looked at Jesus on that cross, he didn't see his beloved Son. He saw you. Killing Jesus, Jesus died in your place.24
Amazing as this is by itself, doubly powerful is the fact that Jesus Christ didn't only die. Because he is the Christ of God, death could not contain him. After three days of being in the grave, even as the prophets had foretold, Jesus the Christ was raised from the dead by the same hand of the Father who had slain him. He rose and he revealed himself to be the one we'd all been waiting for, the Son of Man, the seed of Eve, the one who in having his heel bruised by the curse, would crush the curse once and for all.
All this Jesus did because he knew that once he had risen from the dead, then, when God looked at you, he wouldn't see the enemy and rebel who needed to be cursed and damned. Instead, he would see his only beloved Son. Jesus rose from the dead and defeated the curse in your place.25
This is the foolishness of wisdom,26 and everything else we can learn about the lives God is planning to give us gravitate around this one place where the heat loss of the universe was reversed. Here the decay worked backwards. Here insecurity birthed a foundation which will never fade. The only thing in the history of the universe that matters is this man and what he did. Life is not about you. It's about him, and being connected to him is the only thing that matters.
When you see a locked door, it's only normal to look for a key to unlock it. But when it comes to the very real, cursed problem of our universe, there is no key. There is not even a keyhole. There is a locked door which is infinitely impenetrable to all your attempts to open it.27 This door might as be a wall because it stands in the way of all your hopes for security in this life. This door is a veil which keeps you from even being able to believe in or worship the true God.28 Such knowledge would be too wonderful for you.29 You don't have the blood for it.30 Not by yourself. “Who then can be saved?” the disciples asked Jesus when they learned his hard truth of our world. “With man it is impossible,” he answered. “But you are dealing now with God.”31
Jesus is not a key that you can take up to this door and open it in order to fix this world. Jesus is a different doorway to a different reality altogether.32 He is not a way to remove the curse. He is the curse removed. He is not the way to stop energy loss. He is the source of all energy. He is not a foolishness that will teach you how to find wisdom. He is a foolishness which is wisdom. The rest of this book and the rest of your life are meant to be a discipleship which helps you discover how in this one, simple truth, which won't fix a single bit of the entropy you face every day of your life, you nevertheless have more moment by moment certainty for staring down every and all situations in the kind of faithful courage that none of your security blankets ever let you dare to dream was possible.
You've found Jesus. The truth is, he was never lost. You were. So keep reading, because Jesus has found you. Welcome to the Kingdom of God.
The Foolishness: The answer to the problem of decay is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Verse: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
Prayer: Jesus, Seed born to end the curse, you have stood in my place in the death I deserved on the cross. You have won me back from the insecurity of the grave by rising from my death for me. I could never have done this. I could never have made you do this. I can never repay you. Oh Lord, give me faith to believe this Good News, scorning all other temptations. Complete your security within me, strengthening me against my doubts and my chasing after lesser gods which cannot keep me safe. Give me the confidence of grace and a clear conscience, that your Holy Spirit would lead me to believe all Truth as you have written it in your Holy Word. Ever bring me back to your great work, that I always remember the goodness and mercy in which I may follow you all the days of my life. Amen.
Remember, God is with you, as always, in your baptism,
This account of our history as a species is detailed clearly in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I highly encourage you to take some time and read or reread those first chapters of the Bible.
“Nature should inexorably degenerate toward as state of greater disorder, greater entropy.” Strogatz, Steven, The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, 2003.
Genesis 3:23-24 “Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Job 38-42, while too long to quote in this footnote, is the classic text on this point.
Genesis 3:17 “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”
Genesis 3:16 “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Genesis 3:19 “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Revelation 6:8 “I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”
Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, 'Let us make man.... And let them have dominion over...all the earth ....'”
Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
Exodus 20:5 “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.”
Genesis 8:15-16 “Then God said to Noah, 'Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you.'”
Genesis 3:12-13 “The man said, 'The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit....' The woman said, “The serpent deceived me....'”
James 4:4 “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Genesis 3:19 “You are dust...”
Micah 2:3 “Thus says the Lord:...I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks...”
Isaiah 59:6 “Their webs will not serve as clothing; men will not cover themselves with what they make.” Romans 3:20, Revelation 6:16.
Isaiah 41:13 “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “...I am the one who helps you.”
John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world.” Luke 9:58 “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 6:25 “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Hebrews 4:15 “[He] in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Isaiah 53:10 “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;” Colossians 1:19-20 “In [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Jonah 1:17 “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Ephesians 1:5, 7 “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will... through his blood.”
Exodus 4:11 “Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
Hebrews 10:12 “Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.”
1 Peter 3:18 “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Romans 6:5 “We have been united with him in a death like his... we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly.”
Isaiah 14:13-15 “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; ...I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.” Proverbs 15:25 “The Lord tears down the house of the proud.” James 4:16 “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
Exodus 33:20 “He said, 'you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.'”
Psalm 139:6 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” 8:21 “The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.” Romans 3:12 “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Matthew 19:25-26 “The disciples...were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
John 10:7-9 “So Jesus again said to them, “I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves.... I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Posted by RevFisk