did the Father pour out wrath on the Son at the cross, and did the Father abandon the Son there? No!

to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses…

2 Corinthians 5:19a; ASV

There is a common understanding, which I agree is a misunderstanding, that the Father poured out his wrath on the Son at the cross, and also abandoned him there. But no biblical text says that. Texts are patched together and misread to arrive to such a conclusion. But this is a common understanding, especially the belief that the Son was abandoned at the cross by the Father.

There are certain things even God can’t do. God can’t cease to be God. And that’s exactly what would have happened if the the Father separated himself from the Son. As Jesus taught in John 14 and 17 on the eve of his crucifixion, the Father is in him and he is in the Father. And the Spirit is in all of that. The Trinity is Three Persons, but not in the sense of three human beings. God is One through and through, but also Three. A mystery indeed. To separate the Trinity even for a moment would mean that God is no longer God or eternal.

And just as bad if not worse is the idea that the Father poured out wrath on the Son at the cross. Instead we learn who God is supremely I believe by looking at Jesus on the cross. This is a misreading of Hebrew Scripture which attributes all that happens to God, when it says in Isaiah that God struck him. The idea is that Jesus was made sin, that God can’t look on sin, and that God poured out his judgment on Christ at the cross. The Father is wrathful while the Son takes that wrath in love in this false picture. We’ve heard this in my circles for so long, we almost don’t even blink an eye or give it a second thought. It’s like the same reaction we have when we hear the unbiblical notion that God pours out his wrath on sinners forever in hell. All of this is dead wrong.

Instead of going on, I would much rather stop here, and share a helpful, if somewhat lengthy article with a full explanation. Did the Trinity break at the cross?

what is God like?

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

John 14:8-9

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being…

Hebrews 1:1-3a

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2

When we think of God, what comes to mind? Do we think of a God of judgment, ready to catch us in our latest misstep or sin? Do we think of God as an angry wrath-full God, with whom sinners should be on more than edge, even shuddering? Or maybe we think of God as something like a complacent Teddy Bear who doesn’t care and with whom everything is fine. Or maybe God is just something we haven’t given that much thought to. Perhaps we chalk it down to mystery, and just don’t know.

We find out that Jesus is not only the promised Messiah, but that he fulfills time and time again prophecies which are attributed to God as if he were God or God was in him. And we find out that indeed it’s all of the above.

Jesus spoke about the Father again and again, particularly so in John’s gospel account. So for Thomas to inquire about just who this Father really is in a way is not surprising. I can picture myself doing the same, and in my imagination see myself in Thomas at least to some extent. But Jesus seems surprised and makes it clear that when Thomas and the others, and all of us see him, they see the Father.

We might well say that Jesus is God’s final word. He is after all “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14).

That doesn’t mean we don’t take into account all of what Scripture says about God. But it also means that we interpret all of that in light of Christ, who comes both to fulfill it, and as its fulfillment. And how he did that was more than a surprise, not anticipated at all. They expected God to send the Deliverer to a faithful Israel who would overthrow the Romans, the pagans, the godless, and set up a kingdom which would rule with an iron rod over all the nations, all of this according to the Pharisees, and one of their own, Saul of Tarsus (later to become Paul) with resurrection power.* So it should be no surprise at all when Christ comes and does completely different than that, that people wondered. Yes, there was no way to ignore him and what followed, but it just didn’t add up with their understanding, their interpretation of Scripture.

And then at the end, Jesus is hung on a Roman cross, thus under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). So there was no doubt that something was amiss here.

Oddly enough though, I believe that’s where we understand at least the heart of God and I believe who God is by looking at the cross and Jesus hanging there. God shows God’s self by becoming one of us in the Incarnation, faithfully lives and teaches and acts to help us, and then suffers the worst death of that time, the death of the cross. Suffering physically in an excruciating way, emotionally and spiritually over the feeling of being rejected by humans and abandoned by God. And all out of love. And all who put their faith in him are forgiven and receive new life, because in Christ’s death and resurrection, we are taken into a new existence by the Spirit, into the new creation beginning even here and now in and among us in Christ. A life for us now which paradoxically in resurrection power means taking the way of the cross, becoming more and more like Jesus in his death, and therefore more like God was and is and forever will be (Philippians 3:10; Hebrews 13:8).

And the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is the climax of all of this. Jesus is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, thus “lion” once in that book, and how? By being a lamb (28 or 29 times) right up to the end, on the throne with God. Coming with his robe dipped in his own blood with his faithful, the victory through his own death and the sword coming out of his mouth, in other words the word of his mouth, what he says. That’s how he unexpectedly fulfills God’s promises (Revelation 19:11-16).**

How do we understand God? Who is God? I believe we see it in a man hanging on a Roman cross some 2,000 years ago. And all else must be interpreted and seen in that light. Otherwise just like the Jews of old, we’ll indeed miss it, as I believe many are today.

In and through Jesus.

*See Tim Gombis’s most helpful book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry.     

**See Michael J. Gorman’s most helpful book, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.

they will be what they are (except for God’s grace)

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

Revelation 22:11

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

2 Corinthians 11:14b

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

I think it’s most helpful in differentiating between God and Satan along with the demonic, just to realize who we’re considering. God is God. And to begin to try to get a handle on that, we need to go to Scripture, though God makes God’s Self known in other ways as well. Scripture reveals that God dwells in darkness, that God’s light is too much for us humans to comprehend, even to contemplate. But God is revealed in Jesus, God’s Son. So that to understand what God is like, we have to look at God’s supreme revelation of God’s Self, who is himself all that God is, as well as being human: Jesus.

God is great, whose greatness has no bounds. God is good, whose goodness has no bounds. God is for us as shown in Jesus (Romans 8). God does not condemn us, but loves us, and wants to lift us up and help us. On the other hand, the spiritual enemy wants to make us think that it is right and that we can never measure up. That we ought to do this, that, something else, and always so much more. And that gives what the enemy sends us an appearance of goodness, even godliness. But that entire scenario is not God-like at all. In the end it only results in our condemnation, since we can never measure up. But after all, that’s what our spiritual enemy, the enemy of humankind does. And what God does is completely opposite. God loves, redeems, reconciles, befriends, etc.

The same is true of us humans. Why are we the way we are? Except for the grace of God, I would be just as lost as the next person. And actually, truthfully, I feel a sense of lostness right along. But that helps me to continue to look to God, be open to continual correction and direction along the way. This also helps us understand others, including our sisters and brothers in Christ who might be influenced in a bad way. So that we can find the good, but discern what is not. But first we need to look at ourselves. We have to be sure to take the log out of own eye before we can ever begin to really see the splinter in anyone else’s eye.

Just to know who we’re dealing with makes all the difference. Yes, I know I’m going to be harassed by Satan, rather his minion on a regular basis, because that’s what it does. But I’m going to be loved, understood in all my limitations, and helped by God. That God gives and sends all the help we need as we continue on, as wobbly as we might be, looking to God in faith.

In and through Jesus.

slow down

therefore thus says the Lord God,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”

Isaiah 28:16

According to the NET Bible, the Hebrew is “‘will not hurry,’ i.e., act in panic.” If there’s one simple word I have to keep reminding myself again and again of perhaps more than any other, maybe it’s this: Slow down.

Our culture is caught up in hurry and worry tags close behind. When we’re in a hurry, most of the time we’re mostly taking matters in our own hands as if all depends on us. God is distant, for all practical purposes as far as we’re concerned out of the mix. My work demands some degree of haste. And all too easily one can develop that attitude the entire time.

But I find that God usually seems distant when I’m doing that, and especially after I’ve been in that mode for a while. And when I tell myself to slow down, it’s usually just a matter of time and not long at that, that some sense of God returns. 

Slowing down is similar to keeping in step with God, in the words of Scripture: walking with God, being guided by the Spirit. We want to be involved in God’s life, in God’s work, not merely our own. When we slow down, God overtakes us so that we can begin to live and move and realize that we have our being in God. In and through Jesus.

the focus is not on, nor is it about *us*

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1

This from David E. Fitch reminded me of this post I intended to do soon:

IF YOU CANNOT LIVE INTO THIS DAILY, PLEASE DON’T CONSIDER BEING A PASTOR 🙂
“You are at your pastoral best when you are not noticed. To keep this vocation healthy requires constant self-negation, getting out of the way. A certain blessed anonymity is inherent in pastoral work. For pastors, being noticed easily develops into *wanting* to be noticed. Many years earlier a pastor friend told me that the pastoral ego ‘has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
– Eugene Peterson, ‘The Pastor’
This week upon getting out of my car for work, the thought dawned on me how I tend to see myself as the center, and how if someone asks how I’m doing, and we have a kind of conversational relationship, I’m always ready to share something about myself, what I’m processing, or how I’m struggling. It occurred to me just then that such a mindset, or just natural sense for us isn’t necessarily healthy. Of course we don’t live outside of ourselves so to speak. And there’s a time and place to share our thoughts and burdens with others. But God is actually the center, and God wants us to turn our attention to others, pray for them, not seeing ourselves as central in what God is doing or trying to do, but at least including others, and stepping aside myself.
So I lifted up a prayer for the good ministry I am privileged to work at and for, Our Daily Bread Ministries, for the leadership there (I don’t write, but work in the factory part). And want to ask others how they’re doing, with ears open and mouth shut.
A good thought for me. In and through Jesus.

what if we’re not meant to tie up all the loose ends?

And the Lord said to Job:

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.”

Then Job answered the Lord:

“See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.”

Job 40:1-5; NRSV

I have been a part of a tradition for decades which has a tendency to either try to answer every question, or comes across as if it answers all the questions which matter.* I believe that God does give us what we need. But we may wonder why God doesn’t give us what we think we need, as if we’re somehow equals with God. In fact we know from Scripture and from experience that it does seem to me anyhow that we are left hanging when it comes to lots of things.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29; NIV

What if we’re meant to live in wonderment? What if mystery is just as basic to our faith as what is actually revealed? When you think about it, even in theology this is as plain as day. We have reasoned from Scripture and discerned that God as Trinity is clearly taught. But we also realize that it can’t be explained, that we can’t understand that any more fully than we can understand God. In the world we find that science itself opens up doors which really elude human understanding as far as really being able to pin it down such as is the case in quantum physics.

This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t make known to us what we need to understand to live well. It just means that part of that is to begin to understand that we’re often left with questions unanswered. After all, God answered Job on God’s terms, not on Job’s. It seems that an important part of our knowing is to realize that we simply don’t know. But that God gives us all we need to live in the goodness along with the challenge of God’s will in this life. We don’t like to feel like our feet are off the ground. We would like everything to be settled. But like in the story of Job, what is just beyond or clearly beyond us may be an important part of our present life, and surely to some extent of the life to come. In and through Jesus.

Note this service and message from Gerald Mast: “Unclean Lips and Heavenly Things” from First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio.

*That’s probably an overstatement, but just speaks of a tendency within that tradition. And I think that tradition gravitates toward that. I am speaking of the evangelical tradition if anyone might wonder. I do so uncomfortably, but believing this is the case, with surely many who would at least want to be exceptions to this rule. But there are exceptions to this rule, though I just don’t see any emphasis on what we don’t know within that tradition. Hence the change in the post with the added word “tendency.”

focus on God

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me.

John 14:1

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

I’ve been enjoying the new hymnbook entitled Voices Together. Reading through new hymns and new songs (to me), as well as familiar hymns. And readings in the back, including morning, evening, and night liturgy, with prayers. Other than a Bible, this is the book I have in hand now every day.

What I’ve found is that it helps me get my focus on God, the same way Scripture does. Well, it’s meant to do that, as we raise our voice in songs, hymns and spiritual songs. With helpful readings and prayers in the back. The present day liturgy of the denominations Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus was telling his disciples some quite heavy things, not only more than they could wrap their heads around, but more than their hearts could bear. But he told them to believe in God, to believe in him. And to realize that in the midst of their troubles, he had overcome the world.

Scripture is replete with this theme. Trouble real and imagined. There is no end to that. But God wants us to lift our eyes up, off our troubles and onto God and God’s promises. We’re to be transfixed there. We can be either looking at our problems, or at God, one of the two, not both. I am speaking of focus here. It’s not like we’re oblivious to reality. But that’s not where we’re to live. We’re instead to live in God.

God will take care of it. Christ has won. What that means for us is that God wants us to learn to live above circumstances, so to speak. Still owning proper responsibility, but doing so in a way which puts God front and center. A matter of both perspective and expectation. Seeing everything more as God does, and finding God’s priority as well as God’s help. Learning to live in that. In and through Jesus.

God’s shalom on us

At that time, this song
will be sung in the country of Judah:
We have a strong city, Salvation City,
built and fortified with salvation.
Throw wide the gates
so good and true people can enter.
People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.
Those who lived high and mighty
he knocked off their high horse.
He used the city built on the hill
as fill for the marshes.
All the exploited and outcast peoples
build their lives on the reclaimed land.

Isaiah 26:1-6; MSG

This especially caught my eye yesterday:

People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don’t quit.

And this follows:

Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.

I am leery, basically suspicious of big breakthroughs, though I do believe they happen, especially over time. But I prefer the preponderance of building slowly over time, day after day, so that real and lasting change occurs. Not something fly by night, a great experience here today and gone tomorrow.

In this rendering in The Message, I sense the pastor coming out of Eugene Peterson. He is encouraging us to “keep at it” rather than look for some great experience in which we live, I mean the “perfect peace” as in the NIV, etc. The idea of “completely whole” probably better captures the meaning behind shalom.

What really hits home for me is the encouragement to “keep at it.” To not give up, to not give in to disparaging thoughts which come our way. But to set our minds on God and depend on God. God honors that. For the down and out, for the broken, for those who have no hope of fixing themselves. God makes a way, and gives them all they need.

We may or may not see ourselves in that category. But we need to take care of ourselves. And how we best do that is to put ourselves under God’s care. We look to God and keep doing that. Trusting in God to see us through, that all will be well. In and through Jesus.

where do we want to be?

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Psalm 84:10

I find it all too easily to be in places where really I would rather not be. Or is that really the case? If it were so, wouldn’t I leave and go there and stay? 

If you check out Psalm 84, you’ll find that God’s courts at least for us is likely metaphorical for where our heart is through all of life, whatever we’re going through. But that also includes regular special times to be with God, even as Jesus used to break away from his disciples at odd hours, usually early morning, to be in prayer to the Father. And really seeking to remain there best we can throughout the day.

It’s all too easy to remain too long in what is actually relative junk. The kind of thing which even in itself might be good and a blessing from God, but overindulged in becomes just the opposite. The good thing about that though is that, like the psalmist here, we’ll then experience a longing for God’s Presence- for God.

Where do I want to be? Yes, where Jesus would be in the hardest, most difficult places. But even in that, where God is. In and through Jesus. 

more of what John, “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say from 1 John 1:1-4 to us today

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

1 John 1:1-4; MSG

I’m not qualified to even guess what John the elder and beloved apostle would say to us if he were alive today. But I try to draw from others, as well as what little I understand myself. I’m imagining him as an old man when 1 John was written (along with 2 and 3 John letters).

I think John might emphasize to us the fellowship we’re to be a part of as well as what that means about all other fellowships. This fellowship doesn’t necessarily exclude other fellowships, but it holds preeminence and priority over all the others. Other groups or associations might have their place, but never at the expense of this bond we have together in God the Father and in Jesus our Lord by the Spirit. And the communion in which we live in Christ is not some private religious escape or whatnot which has nothing to do with the rest of life. It enters into everything, and determines our own lives, even at every step. What that means will unfold as we go on through this letter.

And our deepest abiding joy, indeed our true meaning for living is found only in this fellowship in Christ, nowhere else and never in addition to anything else. It stands alone. No other entity can demand the same allegiance or devotion. This means  that people can even be at variance in competing lesser fellowships, yet their unity with each other in the one fellowship in God the Father and in Jesus Christ remains intact, undiminished. And if that’s not the case, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong, that something that’s supposed to be representative of God and of what comes from God in Christ, indeed is not.