the seeming uneven hand of God

There is no way you can live very long and thoughtfully, and not find the unevenness of life perplexing, even troubling. Why does life happen the way it does? In terms of circumstances, as well as in one’s lot. There are the crack cocaine babies, those born in places that have never heard the gospel, others having to flee their homes in war zones, not to mention atrocities from which people can never fully recover. That’s only the beginning of what we could say. I’m sure the list could go on and on.

Although we can’t say God caused these things—of course some would question whether God caused anything—the Hebrew Bible, First Testament attributes to God everything, since nothing can happen outside of his will. God could stop or prevent anything from happening. We could live in a different world. Everything would make sense to us in that world. No one would tell lies and mislead people. No one would harm people for their own self-interest, or who knows what for?

I have experienced plenty of blessing in my life, but like everyone else, I live under the curse (Genesis 3). The world is far from an agreeable place to live if one is going to take out the fairness, justice card. This is much more the case for some people other than myself, people whose progeny have suffered injustice over generations, and who still do to this day. And the syndrome that comes with that; there are some things most people never gets over at least in the way of shaping them, sometimes actually in good ways.

Turning to scripture can help us here. I think particularly of the story of Job. It is a great help in looking straight in the face the unevenness of the world, and the seeming unevenness of God. Life is messy at best, and traumatic or even catastrophic at worst.

This is where faith comes in. Do I believe in God, even in a good God in spite of the fallout of life? Do I hold on to that belief for dear life, in spite of my numbness, and even anger, in spite of unresolved questions and the reality which flies in the face of easy answers, and wooden empty platitudes? Yes, in the midst of it all, someone can say Romans 8:28 instead of simply being present with us and praying. A handy out for them, it would seem, even if they are completely sincere and only want to help.

But looking at life as it is, we do need to get back to the bedrock of our faith. We need to look both at the details of scripture, and to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. God’s ultimate answer is Jesus, and the cross. How everything shakes out in the end is with reference to that, and how God is at work in the present, as well. We do well to lay hold of the promises of God, like in Proverbs 3:5-6 with that in mind. And as Job would remind us, mystery is a major player, as well. Who can understand what only God can fully understand, if the God of the Bible exists?

Life is uneven now, but there is God in Jesus. We need to stop there, no matter what. That is where we need to take the broken, shattered pieces of our lives, our own brokenness, indeed, ourselves. And in prayer, others, as well.

We look toward an end when all will be grace, flourishing, shalom. When the end will make good sense, even if we never do understand fully what preceded that. All of this always in and through Jesus.

unanswered questions and where our confidence lies

The Bible is full of places where God’s people, even his servants question him, wondering about this or that, especially in terms of God’s justice and even goodness. Habakkuk is a good case in point, as we heard in the message (week one: “Honest to God”) yesterday. Another great example is Job, who in the end didn’t have all his questions answered, but it didn’t seem to matter. Actually in the case of Job, we might say he was intellectually satisfied, and probably more importantly, satisfied in his heart, because the essential answer which God gave him is that the God who created everything in all that wonder is beyond the scope of Job’s ability to comprehend and fully appreciate. God does give us what we need to carry on and do well in the faith which is in him in and through Jesus.

I too often, probably just occasionally have questions which while not necessarily large scale often have no quick and easy answers. Proverbs tells us that it is the glory of kings to search out a matter, so it doesn’t hurt at all for us to pray and investigate and find out what we can in trying to arrive to some satisfactory answer. But do all of our questions have to be answered? The really essential one for the Christian faith is the reality or not of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Our faith depends on the veracity of that as a historical and not just religious truth. It either happened, and therefore our faith is true, or it didn’t happen. And since our faith purports to be dependent on that, and not just some tradition or religion we do, we have nothing according to Paul if it’s not historical fact (1 Corinthians 15). The evidence from the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is quite compelling, and coupled with Luke’s account in Acts followed by the rest of the New/Final Testament and what follows in history afterward, we can say we have good reason intellectually to accept that as true. And we have found that confession of faith to be life changing, setting us on a completely new course in life (Romans 10:9-10). It’s other nagging questions along the way which subtly can eat away at our faith, at the practice of it.

And that leads me to the main question for this post: Where does our confidence ultimately lie, in God himself, or in having all of our questions answered? And the easy answer is that our confidence is in God alone, apart from whatever questions which might remain unanswered. But the more complex, true to life answer is that we can continue to wrestle with God (the meaning of the word Israel, by the way is one who wrestles with God) and ask whatever hard questions we have, big or small. We can struggle and wonder and simply not know. But ultimately we can be at rest even with that tension, because our confidence is in God. So that by and large that tension is relieved without having all of our questions answered. Even as we continue to ask and search for answers to our questions. In and through Jesus.

what keeps us going

There are many ways to become discouraged, and to essentially quit. Fear paralyzes and debilitates. Feeling overwhelmed over difficult challenges in life in which there is some inevitable stumbling. Or not measuring up to some self-imposed standard which one may have imbibed through their upbringing, experiences, ideas floating around, or a combination of a number of factors.

What keeps me going is the faith and hope and love in Jesus. To boil it down, for me, the written word and the Word himself, Jesus. I accept something of the Real Presence in Holy Communion, but I believe something of that is given to us in scripture, as well. So whether I feel like it or not, and I might say especially when I don’t feel like it, I keep going back to scripture, and seek to read it all in the light of Jesus who brings us into the life of God.

For me this isn’t a nice thing I do, or something I find enjoyable so that I do it, though there’s some truth in both. For me it’s a matter of life and death. I have to do this, but I want to want to do it as well. My want is good enough for a number of reasons, but essentially so because of God’s grace, that I just keep on doing it. When I wane in doing so, it’s not long until I feel and see the consequences.

In this is a matter of not just surviving, but in Jesus experiencing a sense of thriving. It seems like faith is always on that edge, the precipice of on the one hand falling into the abyss, though for us in Jesus, underneath are the everlasting arms. And on the other hand, finding ourselves in a kind of paradise right in the midst of a broken down world. That is known even in what can be the aloneness of life. I remember when Paul said that everyone had abandoned him, but that the Lord stood with him so that the proclamation of the gospel would go forward. God’s presence should be even more palpable, or perhaps better put, steadily manifest and tangible amongst God’s people, those in Jesus in his body, the church.

So for me, I carry on for a number of reasons I’m sure, all through God’s grace and working in Jesus. But essentially due to the written word which leads us to the Word, Jesus, Jesus actually somehow mediating that word to us through his fulfillment of it, all of this in and through the Spirit. That last sentence is breaking boundaries I ordinarily don’t believe in crossing. I am moving into what is too high for me, too much to understand. Mystery. Yet we know that it’s both the word then the Word, and the Word then the word. All of this, of course, in and through Jesus.

finding home

Like a bird that flees its nest
    is anyone who flees from home.

Proverbs 27:8

From an old song comes the well worn saying: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” We feel at home at home, for sure. It’s an escape, and more than that, it’s our abode. It’s where we’re acclimated into hopefully a place where we can rest. Of course to both build and maintain a home requires work. But home ought to be above all a place we can leisurely enjoy.

God made us for home. In a sense, humans were made to be at home in fellowship with God, in Jesus taken into the communion of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But God made humans also to be earthly dwellers in communion with each other. And even to have a relationship with animals, I’m thinking of pets. This is why the biblical promise of heaven coming down to earth and becoming one with it when Jesus returns is so appropriate. God will come to earth to dwell with his people. In the meantime, God lives with us in Jesus as Emmanuel (God-with-us).

So our true home is right where we live on earth, renewed in Jesus, and in God in and through Jesus. Both.

So we are at a loss, and lost when we stray from either. Especially basic for us is to find our home in God, but we are earthlings, made from the dust of the earth, so that this wonderful world in the end renewed in the new creation at the resurrection in and through Jesus is also our home. We can’t get too much of either, as we now live in the world to be renewed when God makes all things new through Jesus.

“This world is not my home,” refers to the world system, which like Babel of old (Genesis 11) is estranged from, and in opposition to God. So that this life is not our final home. We are strangers here, pilgrims on a journey, looking for a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11).

We pray for those who have strayed from their true home, that they would find it in God. And we long to be more and more at rest in that, as well. While we fulfill our calling to work and be stewards of this good earth God has entrusted to us. Knowing that our work someday won’t end, though the toilsome labor due to the curse imposed on it will. At Jesus’s return.

Home.

 

when one could quit

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

There are times when for a number of reasons life seems so discouraging. Not that there isn’t some good if you look for it. And indeed, as scripture tells us (Psalm 103, etc.), in the words of the hymn, we’re to count our many blessings. But so much can seem wrong, and at times against us. If you include with that the propensity for some of us to, if not expect the worst, try to be prepared for that, we can more or less be pushed over the edge into the precipice of losing heart, and hardly caring. Not because we want to be that way, but there are times which try a person’s soul, as the saying goes. Sometimes on a nagging, smaller scale, and at other times in a major way when one could wish that life would come to a screeching halt.

Enter Jesus, instructing his disciples about how they should always pray and never give up (NLT).

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18

Jesus told a parable to make that point. He compared God to an unjust judge, who after a widow’s relentless pleading for justice, reluctantly gives in, granting her request. And that God who is just and merciful, as Jesus taught, found amply in scripture, will respond to his people’s prayers for justice.

People ask me how I am, and some don’t seem to leave room for an answer other than “good,” having in it the possible hint that I’m not doing so well, maybe on a personal level for whatever reason, or because of a concern for the problems of others. It seems at certain times that things are out of control, that some outlook is grim at best.

Such times, and the discouragement which can accompany them should be a heads up for us, as Jesus taught his disciples, and by extension teaches us, to pray, and not give up. That order might suggest that we won’t give up if we pray. One could also aptly say, that when we are tempted to give up, instead we should pray.

God will help us in his own time and way. Praying at times for ourselves, for others, and for the world. As we look for the final justice and mercy to come in and through Jesus.

submitting to the church

the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

1 Timothy 3

As Protestants we refer to sola-scriptura meaning that we derive our teaching from scripture. I may have personal wishes or even leanings about this or that, which I may believe scripture is not completely clear on. I actually would be considered quite traditional and conservative by most Christians, and certainly by the world. Not that it matters at all what I think as far as Christian teaching is concerned. It does not matter, period.

What does matter is how the Spirit has led the church. And concerning the gospel, even though there are ins and outs of various differences among Christian traditions, in essence it’s the same: the gospel is Jesus and all that surrounds him in his coming, life, death and resurrection, ascension, with the promise of his return.

Together we have to keep returning to scripture to understand afresh this gospel and its application to our present lives and world. Scripture mirrors the depth of life, and while simple enough so that we’re to have a child-like faith in believing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” it is also hard in some places, and has depths in many others, so that as we return to it again and again, new light will come to us.

But we must ever submit both to the authority of God in scripture, and in the church itself. I submit all of my own thoughts and opinions to that. And will teach only what scripture and the church of which I am a part, teaches. To that we in Jesus are called in our faith, lives and witness.

does God do a good job being God? (does our understanding of God measure up?)

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

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

John 3

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11

It’s common nowadays to question the God of the Bible in more ways than one. And as N. T. Wright points out, when people use the word God, they don’t at all mean the same being as much as they once did. For a good many people God just seems to fall short both in the Bible, and in life. Anyone who reads the entire Bible will understand that the Bible itself is about real life with most of its characters flawed, and even in the case of one remarkably unflawed character, Daniel, he includes himself in his confession to God of Israel’s sins.

But what about God in these pages? We find a God who again in the words of N. T. Wright is both passionate and compassionate. A God who takes seriously human decisions, and lets the weight of them (even if not fully), good or bad fall into place with the consequences. And yet we also see the God who created all things work to restore all things in a redemption and salvation which brings in nothing short of a new creation. And God does that through humans, specifically through choosing Israel to be his light to the world, coming to culmination and complete fulfillment in Jesus.

There is no question that at times in both the Bible and in life we can’t begin to make sense of at least parts of it, sometimes very large parts which can impact individuals and nations. Of course one would have to see the entire story and really get inside the story to really understand and appreciate what is going on. We often don’t have that vantage point. With scripture, we can read from cover to cover, from Genesis through Revelation and get the gist at least of the story in it, in all its complexity and beauty. If we want an easy read, and easy answer, it’s not there. But such is life. Yet with the faith of a little child, we can enter in, and begin to understand the account of a loving Father in and through Jesus.

As the doxology in the Romans passage quoted above suggests, we can’t follow God completely, it’s not like we can retrace God’s steps or fully comprehend what God is up to especially in the affairs of the world as the sovereign ruler. But the point in that passage is God’s dealings with his covenant people Israel in terms of the gospel and the change that brought. Romans 9 through 11 talk about that, and it’s an important read. And we can understand quite a bit, and at least what is essential for us to understand from that reading. But we do best in the end to echo the doxology which follows it, acknowledging that God is God and his working is beyond us. Yet at the same time we need to keep looking to God’s final word (Hebrews 2) Jesus, who himself is the essence of God, even as a human, of course one with the Father in the Triunity of God.

No, we don’t understand God all that well, except for what God has revealed to us, and actually it is quite a lot in scripture. But we need the Spirit of God to help us really begin to understand God beyond concepts, even if those concepts contain truth and avoid error. We need what begins as an acquaintance into a full relationship with God in and through Jesus. The God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the God who is love (1 John). We need to learn to not only accept the revelation of God in Jesus, but to learn by faith to rest in that God who comes to us in Jesus.