a good picture of the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus

Psalm 106 is a good picture of the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus. Glenn Paauw’s book, Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well helps us see the importance of reading scripture and considering its entire historical narrative before we start claiming its promises. That might be a bit overstated, but I think the point he makes in the book is an excellent one, and sorely needed.

I ran across the sentence perhaps in that very book, which makes the point that God’s wrath in judgment is directed against human machinations, and even against humans themselves, whose actions make not only a mess of things in this world, but bring much harm to others. Of course God is the God of mercy as well. And not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (1 Peter). Not desiring the death of the wicked, but that they might repent and live (Ezekiel). That’s the God of the Bible who comes to us in Jesus. The God who is to be feared, who is holy, righteous, just and good, essentially love, that love not cancelling out the rest, all else actually being an expression of that.

God is not the God so many seem to want to see as the soft, cuddly teddy bear who simply affirms all we do, the point a Christian brother (who happens to be Eastern Orthodox) was making yesterday. God is a God to be feared, as he would say, and yet all of what God is in all its awe and wonder is encapsulated in love. God is love. That comes across to us in Jesus, but beware of watering down what the Bible makes plain, even in the account of Jesus, including Jesus’s own words.

Psalm 106 in its entirety is an account of the picture scripture gives us of the God who comes to us in Jesus.

Praise the LORD.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD
or fully declare his praise?
Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.

Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.
When our ancestors were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;
he led them through the depths as through a desert.
He saved them from the hand of the foe;
from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them survived.
Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise.

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wilderness they put God to the test.
So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease among them.

In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.
The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.
Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.
At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.
So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;
they aroused the LORD’s anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.
This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.
By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;
for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips.

They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,
but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.
He gave them into the hands of the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.
Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.
Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented.
He caused all who held them captive
to show them mercy.

Save us, LORD our God,
and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.

Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.

Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the LORD.

love’s priority over knowledge

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

learning humility

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

There are all sorts of ways God seeks to teach us humility. Scripture over and over notes that God will seek to help people become humble through adversity. That if God’s kindness doesn’t lead people to repentance, then hopefully the hard places and even consequences of their sin will. And we find in scripture, as well as in real life that people do respond to that, and they don’t.

But the deepest and truest way to learn humility, and eventually the way God would have everyone learn it is through Jesus. Yes, through his example in his incarnation, life and death (Philippians 2:1-11). And that’s important to keep in mind. And through the Spirit, Jesus’s own humility rubbing off on us, and in that dynamic, on each other. A humility that is of Jesus, no less. One that loves and lives and if need be dies for another.

In the entire scheme of things, that is what we need to learn, right from Jesus as he himself said in his invitation to the people of his day, and through scripture to us. The humility that will last, and grow on and in us to make us more like Jesus. By which we can see the emptiness of everything else, yet respond in love, knowing that the only final answer is in Jesus.

hidden Christianity

I remember an interview Johnny Cash had on Fresh Air, as well as another interview about him on that program. There was one thing for sure about Johnny, along with his musical gift. His faith was just a natural part of who he was, so that if you wanted to get to know Johnny or interview him, you would know that his faith in God, and the grace of God in Jesus would be at the forefront, and would be a big part of what you heard. I hear that Hollywood or media outlets want to screen that out. But in order to understand us at all, who name the name of Christ, and seek to follow him, they’ll have to include that.

In some places people either keep their faith to themselves, or suffer the consequences. Martin Scorsese’s film Silence is a powerful reminder of that, but the same problem exists in not a few places today where it is actually against the law to be a Christian.

There are so many things that Christians and nonChristians have in common. It’s not like we can’t enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other, and be friends for life. It’s only that the most important thing about us as followers of Christ will not be so with them. But we can share in each other’s humanity, which in itself is quite good enough. Of course we want to share much more, being of the belief that humanity is being fully restored in and through Jesus in the one people of God.

We don’t do well to live in fear, nor do we proceed without much thought and prayer. But for us who name the name of Christ, it needs to be clear to all that it is Christ who is our life, what life is all about to us (Philippians). Of course we don’t share our faith in a way that will only ailienate others. But our faith is something to be lived, defining us, who we are, through and through. God’s grace in Jesus being the difference for the faith, hope and love we have. Something we want to share with others, as we hope that they see Jesus in us.

the Bible is from the real world for the real world

I’m reading this book (Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, by Glenn R. Paauw) and ran across the thought that the Bible comes from the real world, reflecting it, for the real world. Like Jesus came into the real world, sharing in its brokenness, apart from sin, of course. And that this strikes against the gnosticism which rears its head in a good number of ways, yes even in the church. A gnostic approach is to somehow avoid the real world with something from heaven that cancels out the earth. But the biblical message is about heaven becoming one with earth, the real earth, the real world, right where you and I and everyone else lives. A messy, broken, and sometimes ugly world. Transformative, to be sure, in and through Jesus, but touching all of life right where we live.

That helps me, because although I’d like to check out and not go through the mess (maybe like on a long vacation somewhere in Paradise), life doesn’t allow that. In the Bible, people are taken through the valleys, not out of them. We do look forward to the great Transformation to come when the troubles of this life will be over, and a new real world will be born. But until then, we are engaged in this good, yet broken real world, and through Jesus somehow that engagement will impact the new real world to come (1 Corinthians 15).

And so I don’t want to shun what might be unpleasant and even ugly. But to address everything through Jesus and God’s good news in him. We live out a gospel for the real world that is for the real world, all of it. It not only impacts it, but it gives an entirely different answer other than what the world gives, in and through Jesus.

That is what I live in and for with others. The only hope I have for myself, for others, and for the world. In and through Jesus.

God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.