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.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

do we really believe?

In liturgical churches every Sunday, worshipers recite usually the Nicene Creed, which begins with:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.

I like that practice, though it’s seldom used in churches we’ve been a part of. It is suggestive of the reality that our faith is not just an indiviudal faith, but communal. Like Paul said, we can be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. And it is about what we believe in terms of what God has revealed in what theologians call general and special revelation. Fulfilled in Jesus and the good news in him.

The intellectual belief shouldn’t be underplayed; it is important. But if we really believe that, it means we’re taking God at his word, and therefore trusting him. It is a personal, experiential faith which concerns all of life. We believe in and trust the God who created everything, and promises to make all things new in the new creation in Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, our faith is pretty well worthless if it doesn’t involve the nuts and bolts of where we live, and if it doesn’t get beyond just our concerns to concerns for others, to God’s concerns, the interests of Jesus. Faith isn’t some mere religious belief which is nice for Sunday at church, but is hardly an afterthought in real life. It is about nothing less than all of life, or it is nothing at all since it’s not living up to what it is said to be.

We believe because of God’s testimony to us in Jesus, in the gospel, and because of God’s grace through that testimony. We have the witness in ourselves by the Holy Spirit, that even as the gospel accounts compellingly make clear, Jesus indeed rose from the dead, a bodily resurrection. And God’s promise in him won’t stop until all evil is judged, and all things are made new. And that hope begins in this life, with the faith and love which accompany it.

What we truly believe because of God’s grace in and through Jesus.

goodness precedes knowledge in Christianity/ in the faith

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

2 Peter 1

Most Bible scholars/ commentators insist that the order in 2 Peter is unimportant, that what the writer says we’re to add to is beside the point, that we’re simply to have all of those things. I beg to differ, but even if they’re correct, the Bible not only supports but comports (makes sense) in the truth that goodness precedes knowledge.

Of course in our society, even our liberal democracy, for all the good in that, this is turned around. They insist that knowledge is the key to goodness. Yes, there is much one can learn to help one do good, and do better. But I would argue that knowledge alone insures nothing. And that even in “real life,” as some people might want to put it, goodness can make the difference needed, so that the knowledge which follows will be put to good use.

In the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve in the garden, we know the fall occurred when Eve took of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and ate from it in defiance of God’s command. In that case, the serpent suggested that knowledge had priority:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3

Eve was deceived, as she acknowledges in this narrative. She wasn’t careful to take God at his word, and it is evident that she doubted God’s goodness. God had not told her she couldn’t touch the forbidden tree; maybe she had added that to keep her from the danger of eating it. And the serpent seems to clearly suggest that God is withholding what is good, and is thus less than good himself, in forbidding what the serpent seems to argue would be good. Deception, for sure.

The ultimate good scripture points to is of course in God and the good news in Jesus for a broken world. The good we bring on our own ends up harming us, because all good comes from God. Our insistence that we can handle it puts us in the place of God, something we’re incapable of fulfilling either pre or post-fall (Genesis 1-2, or 3 and after). We are made in God’s image, but God alone is God. And what goodness we have is all a gift from him in both creation and new creation.

The Peter text quoted above suggests that goodness comes from faith, that is, it’s a gift from God. And after goodness comes knowledge. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 8 that knowledge puffs up, brings conceit, whereas love builds others up, for their true good. And he suggests that no one knows as they ought to know apart from such love, such goodness.

The goodness we need is found in Jesus and the gospel, and we’re also helped to that goodness by the Spirit ironically through God’s word, meant to be spoken or read out loud, so that faith is formed and awakened. All is a gift. If we think we can go to scripture, and simply by knowing it, arrive, we are only kidding ourselves. We need faith to receive the gift from believing God’s word, which puts us on the track of goodness in and through Jesus, and through which we can begin to understand and live in God’s good will for us in him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

a Thanksgiving meditation

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3

Some days ought to be different. In a way we want every day to be the same, even as we want to be the same ourselves in and through Jesus, and God’s grace in him. But it’s good to have certain days set as days of special celebration or reflection. We see this in the feast days of Israel of old (called the Feast Days of God) in the First/Old Testament. And in days even here in America in which we either honor or celebrate what is important to the nation. And on the Christian calendar, there are periods of time, and special days, not meant to enslave anyone, but to help us. Thanksgiving Day is kind of a combination of both a religious and national day here in the United States. It is a day set apart to enjoy the blessings of God, and give thanks for those blessings.

The passage above (Colossians 3), insofar as it’s lived out among Christians today, is a good reminder of what we should be remembering and celebrating. As well as where our minds and tongues probably shouldn’t be, unless it’s in simple prayer to God.

Some of us may have had extra difficult lives, or may be going through a trial right now. But none of us can say that there isn’t much to  be thankful for, first to God, from whom all blessings flow, and through whom every good and perfect gift comes. As well as to others, thanking God for them, as well as thanking them for the good they do out of the love and grace that comes from God.

God is love, and in that love has poured out bountiful blessings on the earth, to be shared by all. Let us mark this day, and make it, by God’s grace, a day of giving thanks to him. And simply be with each other, especially practicing that giving of thanks for the little ones to see so that they can come to emulate that themselves.

And above all, may we see this day as a day to pause and reflect, as well as celebrate for ourselves, God’s goodness to us and to the world. In creation and in new creation, in and through Jesus.

thinking constructively and well

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Philippians 4:8; The Message

When I was still young in the faith, I had the honor of being friends with a pastor who was truly like a Barnabas risen from the dead. He was a man of God who spoke the word of God with power, one I remember fondly to this day and even want to pattern my life after. Perhaps above all, like Barnabas, which means, “the son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36-37), this pastor was a great encourager, in person in a way which was quite helpful and I would say apostolic. Except for one thing. He had been helped in younger days from what is considered a classic, The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale. And he wanted to give me a booklet by Peale which probably gave the same message in summary form. He knew me well enough to know that I needed to escape being overcome and taken under by a barrage of negative thoughts, simply what the experience of life brings with a worst case construction on anything possible.

Unfortunately for me that ended up being a breaking point, when really there was no reason other than that to break, and by and by I left that church for more of a fundamentalist kind of church and denomination for a time. Looking back on that now, I know I was mistaken, since the pastor himself did not at all teach the power of positive thinking as taught by Peale. That book had simply jogged him in a way which had helped him think not only realistically, but according to God’s promises in expectance of good from God.

The passage quoted above from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of scripture, helps us to hopefully find our way into a new way of thinking, to both enter into that and practice it. It certainly includes what is true, so that it is not unrealistic, head-in-the-sand thinking. But it looks reality square in the face through the lens of the possibilities in God’s good promises to us found in scripture and fulfilled in and through Christ. It is kind of like a reprogramming which we need, particularly which the likes of myself need.

Although the Lord has helped me to overcome such a barrage of negative thoughts mainly through his word, I really have not fundamentally changed over the years, so that my disposition and default position is to always expect the worst and try to be ready for the worst possible outcome. That can help here and there, for example on my job I’m always trying to guard against the beginning of trouble. But such a frame of mind means one is always on edge. In and through Jesus we have something much better.

So the break which needs to be made, some might call “possibility thinking” (coined by Robert H. Schuller, who like Peale has no appeal to me) might better be called “promise thinking” in terms of God’s promises found in scripture realized in and through Jesus. So that we can live with God’s promises in view, rather than our own naturally dour outlook:

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:20a; The Message

God is great and God is good. God works for our good in all things, certainly to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-29). So the good is not in terms of what the world sees as good. Yet it’s not antithetical to good in terms of blessing within creation as well as new creation in Jesus.

We need to pray and read scripture with this thought in view, with the goal of a new mindset by which we will look for the good from God that might come even out of what is not good, and always be open to that. And be able to rest more and more in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus.

 

something more needed than answers

Reason is an important part of our humanity, and is honored time and again in scripture. God reasons with us, even when in our sin we are unreasonable and irrational. But appeals are part of the mix in God’s “prevenient” (going before) work of grace, which is present to help us come to our senses and repent, and like the lost, prodigal son return to the father, whose heart and hands are always open.

Even if we were given answers that would suit us, it ends up being that we need more than that. We even need much correction in our thinking to begin with, though as a rule there is enough of God’s imprint through creation left on us for something of God’s work to go on in appealing to our minds.

In the last couple of years, a passage of scripture has been particularly impressed on my mind, and I hope on my heart and life, Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

It has been well said, I believe from Thomas Merton and surely from many others, something like: It’s more about accepting mystery than receiving answers. There surely are all kinds of reasons for that, one of the most basic of all: we simply can’t comprehend the wisdom and knowledge of God any more than we can take in all of God.

We must simply believe in the end that God is great in God’s goodness and good in God’s greatness. “God is great and God is good.” We must be like little children before the Father, trusting in the Father’s good will and love for us and for the world in and through Jesus. Growing and becoming more and more mature in that belief and appreciation, so that hopefully we’re changed.

In the end, about many things we’ll have to simply admit and freely acknowledge that we just don’t know. We are not capable of sorting out and fixing, or even understanding what needs to be fixed in the first place. We have to leave that in God’s good hands. Both in a faith that prays in commiting everything to God and waits for God’s grace and power in the already present and coming kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.