do we have a diminished view of Jesus and God?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

A friend who is a scholar as well, wrote to me recently, an important aside in our conversation:

…the Lord Jesus Christ…perfect humanity…undiminished deity…united in one Person forever…

Seeing the end of the film, Paul, Apostle of Christ gets me to thinking on this as well. In the important recognition that God became flesh, that God is with us in Jesus, that Christ is indeed fully human, I think what can easily get lost in the shuffle is that God is other than us, and that Jesus is not only human through and through, but God through and through.

We who have been raised in the church, my churches always within the evangelical sphere, we have been taught from little on up, and we take such truth for granted, even when we don’t (and can’t) understand it. Yes, God is one God in Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yes, Christ is one person with two natures, humanity and deity, the God-Man, or I would prefer, the God-Human.

What I’m trying to get at for myself, as much as for any other reader in thinking along these lines, is that I think we tend to diminish God and Christ into simply one of us by failing to really grapple with the fact and reality, that he is not. Yes, through the Incarnation Christ is just as human as we are, so that God is united with us in our humanity forever. But Christ is also still God, and God is other than us, period.

When it comes right down to it, some of our problems with God, life, faith, what we read in scripture might be boiled down to our futile attempts to domesticate God. We want a god we can fully be at home with, be comfortable with, fully understand, and even identify with. And in Christ we are indeed taken up into communion with the Trinity, even given the very life of the Triune God.  But in the end, in Revelation, we can only bow down and worship the Mystery revealed to us in the image of the Throne, the Lion of Judah being a Lamb looking like it had been slain (Revelation 5:5-6). And God is revealed to us in Christ supremely on the cross. But the cross carries with it both salvation, and severe judgment for those who do not receive it.

Yes, God is with us, having become one of us in Christ. God understands us in an experiential, firsthand way. And God is love through and through. God is also God and we are not. God is holy, other than we are, and that certainly includes Christ.

Something I think needs to become a deeper part of my faith, and reflection on it. In and through Jesus.

God accepts us where we are

I know it’s hard to believe this given our own view of life and how we view God. And how we (mis)read of him in the Bible. We see God as someone like ourselves, but a better, even perfect version of that. But while we’re made in God’s image, God is still God. And I believe God is revealed and known preeminently in Jesus at the cross. The heart of God for all humanity, and for each and everyone of us is revealed there.

God loves and accepts each and everyone of us where we are. But –and I know that will bring a shaking of the head somewhere, but hold on. God loves us too much to leave us where we’re at. For our good, and yes, for God’s glory, God in love is going to work on us to help us to the true humanity in Jesus, what we were created to be. As to that creation, we are broken, each and everyone of us. But God wants to, and for all who have faith- is restoring what we were meant to be in the new creation in and through Jesus.

Since God accepts us where we are, we need to first of all see God for who God is, and accept that. In essence, God is love. Yes, God is holy, too, God is utter and complete perfection. But God is also merciful, full of mercy and grace. God loves, and God’s love is always present for us. God has already provided complete reconciliation to him for us through the cross, and calls us to accept that (2 Corinthians 5, 6). And the cross is where God showed his love to us in this mess, taking the brunt of our sin and evil on himself in his Son. Jesus and the Father are one heart.

So God accepts us where we are. Let’s rest in that thought, and find what it is that God wants next for us. Let’s keep moving in God’s direction in and through Jesus. Knowing God has not moved away from us, but that we drift and move away from him. But that he is always present to us in and through Jesus. And loves us too much to give up on us, or ever turn his back on us.

Let’s respond to that with thanksgiving and with a true repentant heart of faith, believing that we’re embarking on the path given to us from a God who is complete love and is for us and for everyone in and through Jesus.

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.

drawing near to God

“Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me— for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ declares the Lord.”

“Their prince shall be one of their own, their ruler shall come from their midst; I will bring him near, and he shall approach me, for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the Lord.”

The first translation of Jeremiah 30 : 21 from the NIV is more literal (see older translations), but the second, the NRSV rendering followed by English translations I checked probably brings out the sense better as an NET footnote suggests. The idea from scripture is that God makes a way in this case for a ruler over his people to approach him, even to draw near into his presence. In and through Jesus we know that God has opened the way into the Most Holy by no less than the blood of Christ (book of Hebrews).

This is in large part what good liturgy reflecting scripture helps worshippers do. God in scripture is holy, *other* than humans, so that he is unapproachable. That may be in terms of our own inability, not to mention unwillingness to do so. There is also no doubt in scripture that God himself is a God of judgment who even displays wrath against sin and wickedness. But who also in love makes a way to come near to him, sinners though we are, through the blood of Christ, through Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross for sin.

I probably would prefer something more like the NRSV rendering here, but perhaps bringing out something of both renderings. This is to be what we in Jesus are practicing in our worship gatherings and from day to day. A priority of life for us in and through Jesus.

(Admittedly confined, but for now, completely from a relatively small mobile tablet. )

the God of the Bible

I am a Biblicist I suppose, for better or for worse (sorry, Christian Smith). I do care what the church thinks and has taught, what scholars teach, and I gather from all of that as well. But the touchstone for me to determine the truth of what anyone is saying is scripture itself. And I hope within that I am gospel centered. The “I” here though is tethered, I hope, to community. In other words it’s not just about what I think, but what the community of God in Jesus thinks by the help of the Spirit. And therefore I probably end up being closer to Christian Smith’s thought, than I might think.

In recent controversies among Christians as well as those past, the differences seem to boil down to hermeneutics: the interpretation of scripture, just what scripture is and does, and the result of that: one’s view of God. One’s view of God is important, since it is both objective in that there is a God who reveals himself and subjective in that we are the ones who receive that revelation. And as our Pastor Sharon has reminded us, God reveals himself in ways that we can understand.

I am uneasy with the image of God many seem to hold to and want to promote. A God who is never angry, always loves, always forgives, whose heart is pure love, nothing more, nothing less. Who affirms us as we are. Of course there is some truth in much of that. God’s anger is so different than our usual human anger. It is slow to arise and completely controlled when it does, even though that doesn’t mean it can’t be devastating.  God loves and forgives, no doubt. According to scripture it is in terms of sacrifice, sacrificial death, to be precise. Jesus’ death puts an end to the need for any more of that. What humans in evil did to Jesus ends up being God’s way of saying this is meant to put a stop to that, that is all the violence in the world, and that someday it indeed will. And yet Jesus’ death is also seen in terms of a sacrifice in the same sense sacrifices were offered under the old, Mosaic covenant. Yes, by his sacrifice the need for any more of that is done away with. But also because in some way his once for all sacrifice was a fulfillment of what was done in the sacrifices of animals in the old covenant.

I fail to see, especially after again reading the book of the Revelation the God some insist is the God of the Bible. God is so much more difficult to grasp, even from the pages of scripture. Another strong witness of that is the book of Job. Well, just keep reading the Bible, actually read it from cover to cover (and keep doing so). Yes, we see God in the face of Jesus. As Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Study the words of Jesus. And read about him from the pages of the New Testament.

In the end I don’t think anyone will be so sure about their take on God. For me in the end, God is a God first and foremost of love. “God is love.” This is a love which is holy, something other than we are and completely pure, righteous and just. And God is a merciful, gracious God. But we have to be careful not to press God into our own image, whatever that might be, ending up not with God, but with an idol of our own making (even though we humans are made in, and in Christ are being restored to God’s image). God is God, and that won’t change, no matter what we think should be, or is. And so let’s get back into scripture, read what the church has taught and teaches, along with good scholars, and keep going back to the Book. And above all, we need to keep seeking God and his will in and through Jesus.

God is love

Once I heard (or read) a well known musician, who is now with the Lord say something like, “We don’t love very well.” I like the fact that we do love with the very love of God himself, by the Spirit through Jesus. But I would agree with that brother in Jesus. We often, and all too often don’t love that well. In the first place do we really love God with all our being and doing, and our neighbors as ourselves (or as one who is like us)? And do we love our brothers and sisters in Jesus as Jesus loved and loves his disciples?

The apostle John tells us that God is love and whoever loves lives in God and God in them. I know there is a created love, and people partake of that love. But all love comes from God, and we humans are meant to be moored in that very love. That is where we’re to live which is possible for us in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

I wish I knew that love so much more than what I do. There are times when it is evident and seems easy to live in. There are other times when God’s love seems distant, more a thought than a reality. We see something of that struggle in scripture, which mirrors quite well the reality of life.

I remember a dear professor at the first college I attended. He was a pastor as well as professor, and I remember him as someone like the Apostle John of old. It was said that as an old man John told the Christians to love one another. This professor was beaming with love, and I remember him wrapping his arm around the shoulder of another professor as they walked along. Love came out from him, from his words. He was gifted, but he too was just like us. This is a love we’re to live in through God, and from that to live out to others.

There is no doubt that God is holy, as in pure and other (than us, or anyone or thing else). Some will debate whether God is more holy or more love. While I will say God is holy love rather than lovingly holy, there is no doubt that essential to God’s nature as Trinity is this love. A love that is relational, communal, just, redemptive, self-sacrificial, endless, and yes, holy.

We shouldn’t underestimate the love of God in the world, in our lives, and in the lives of others. God is relentless in that love, even if we don’t see that. His love has found a way we could say, and finds a way in and through Jesus.

And we in Jesus are in that love, for each other and for the world.

 

God’s holiness: God is other

In Isaiah we read of worship from angelic seraphim who proclaim God as “holy, holy, holy.” This is the only time God is described with a term echoed twice, said three times. In The Bible Experience, the one voicing it says, “Holy, Holy. Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” Not sure if that is the intent of the Hebrew, but it is interesting. God’s holiness is indeed emphasized there.

Today God’s holiness is seen essentially in terms of otherness. God is other than his creation. He alone deserves full worship, glory and praise. His ways and his judgments are beyond us. We can’t merely look at God from an enlarged human perspective, as humankind has looked at gods, such as the Greek view of their gods. Simply larger versions of themselves. No. God is something not only more, but other than that, other than us.

And yet through Jesus God calls humanity into a salvation which lifts humanity into no less than becoming like God in becoming like the God-Human, Jesus. Humanity alone is said to be created in God’s image, God putting his “Amen” on that by the Incarnation of Christ, God becoming flesh, or completely human in Jesus. And God works in his children of this new birth that they might share in his holiness. In other words such begin to take on the likeness of Jesus, indeed a family likeness from the Father shared by all who are in Jesus. Holiness, that something other we in Jesus are beginning to partake of. So that we are becoming something different, to be completed someday at Jesus’ appearing when we see him as he is.

Yet God will forever remain holy, holy, holy, in a sense that will forever set him apart. In Jesus we are becoming what God created us to become, utterly and completely human and set apart in that humanity into a unity and community of Trinitarian love (from what I’ve read, the thrice holy ascription to God is not hinting at the Triunity of God, but again, an emphasis on God’s holiness). We end up becoming no less than like Jesus. Yet Jesus remains distinct from us as both fully divine and fully human. Jesus leads us into the fullness of God. And yet there is no plumbing the depths of that fullness. God remains God, partaker in his creation in becoming human in Jesus, sharing himself (God’s Self) with humanity, and yet remaining forever distinctly God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Of course there are other meanings for us from scripture with reference to God’s holiness, and what holiness means to us as humans. Being cleansed and made pure, set apart- through the atoning work of Jesus. These are fundamental, indeed foundational aspects of holiness as well, which we understand from scripture. But the otherness aspect of God was all but neglected in my theological upbringing, or at least in my theological understanding over the years. With some guys at our church, I watched a video last week in which the teacher was emphasizing this point in understanding holiness.

I think this view of holiness helps us realize that there is something more to God, and therefore to all of God’s work, to the life God gives us, than what meets the eye. It helps inculcate a reverence for God, and for all of God’s works in creation and new creation through Jesus. And while we call God no less than Father in intimate family terms of love through Jesus, we remember at the same time that our Father is God, and as such is removed from us as well as with us through Jesus. Being with us means that this God interfaces, and indeed has entered into our lives through Jesus. That we can trust him, but that we dare not think we can understand his ways, as in plumbing the depths of his working in our lives.

God is loving holy, or my preference: holy love. We know that we can entrust our lives entirely over to him through Jesus. Not on our terms or according to our understanding, but letting God be God according to his terms, wisdom, and will. Good, and yet with a goodness that is more than, indeed something other than goodness as we can understand and take it in. We entrust ourselves to this mysterious God who is not only holy, but love. That we might indeed in Jesus be those who reflect that holiness to the world, so that God’s Name may be hallowed and reverenced in the world.