glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

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.

when discouragement sets in (Ecclesiastes)

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

The end of a fascinating book helps us keep straight what we have to keep our eyes on as we live life “under the sun.” Tremper Longman is helpful here:

The second wise man commends Qohelet as an example of honest thinking about life “under the sun.” In essence he’s saying, “Son, Qohelet is 100 percent correct. Under the sun, life is difficult and then you die.”

However, the second wise man goes on to encourage his son toward what we might call an “above the sun” perspective: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of humanity. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).

I’m not qualified to offer my opinion on Longman’s overall interpretation of Ecclesiastes (see his commentary), along with other interpretations, or to offer my own. I think his quote above certainly rings true.

What is helpful to me is the plain point that when all is said and done we’re to simply fear God and keep his commandments, keeping in mind our accountability to God, how we will have to answer to him.

I don’t at all write off the rest of the book as having no value for us. We run up against its truth all the time in the difficulties we face and see everywhere. And I think interspersed throughout Qohelet’s (“the Teacher’s”) words are glimmers of light that see beyond the perspective of “life under the sun.”

That is the perspective we need if we’re to carry on well in God’s eyes. We have to get past the inevitable discouragement which faces here, all the problems, not to mention tragedy, and realize that even in the best scenario of “life under the sun,” there is a sense of not arriving, of futility, even a sense of meaninglessness.

What we need in this world is to see beyond that to the God who gives meaning in the midst of the madness. Who keeps us in his way, as we see him for who he is, and seek to walk in line with his will. In and through Jesus.

 

a God-ordered undertaking

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.

Psalm 18:1-3

I ran across a lecture by one of the best Old Testament evangelical scholars, Tremper Longman III, entitled, “God is a Warrior: Coming to Terms with Divine Violence in the OT.” If you have any interest in this subject at all, it’s well worth your time. And it grapples with something of the heart of the same issue which Greg Boyd works on in his The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and the concise version of that, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence.

A major point I took away from it, was that the violence undertaken in the Old Testament was limited in scale and quite purposeful in intent, ordinarily God’s judgment. The main point for me being that those of Israel engaged in such, had to prepare themselves according to what God prescribed, so that in a certain sense they were set apart by God to participate in something of God’s work (my own way of expressing it).

Of course in this age the only warfare Christians can be involved in, as Tremper Longman III made clear is spiritual, against forces and entities not human, opposed to God, to the gospel, and to humankind.  Although Longman sees an argument for Christians serving in the police force and the military. And how when Christ returns, something of that ban will be lifted, when Christ subdues all the enemies of God and humanity, perhaps even with just the breath of his mouth.

The main takeaway, or direct application for me here is this: We are in a spiritual battle and undertaking, for sure. And we need to go about it according to what God prescribes for us in scripture, for us in Jesus, in the New Testament. But how we need all of scripture, the Old Testament as well, maybe in ways we can’t understand at times, but like here, in ways which can help us understand what God’s people should do, what we’re to do. And it encouraged me to see the Old Testament, and specifically passages which we may not easily track with as “a message to be understood,” rather than “a problem to be solved.”

Psalm 18 therefore is not to be relegated to some lesser status, even if supposedly inspired scripture, according to Boyd. While it was of a different era, it has direct bearing on us today. In and through Jesus.

answer the questions we know, not the many things we don’t know

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

Over the course of one’s life, much seems to be shrouded in mystery. And I’m thinking not so much in looking back, though that’s true, but in living through it. And then there’s the nebulous in between stuff, which we had enough understanding to work through, and either did well, or well enough, or not.

It is critical in one’s life to take a radical stance in acting on what we do know, which includes a whole host of things. I can’t emphasize this enough to help others avoid my errors, but also for me in the present. The only way I can avoid self-deception along with satanic deception is to stay on the straight and narrow course of obedience to God’s word. And what that involves is both very gospel and church oriented. And again, it’s rooted in the word, but the goal of that being an interactive relationship with God in communion with the church. And of course our lives in all of this are to be a witness to the world.

In answering the questions we know, I am getting at plain old fashioned obedience to scripture, nonetheless. To take a lot more of it literally, than not. And that involves good reading, meditation, and study. Of course we read scripture as both a human and divine book. So that we don’t do fanciful things with it in working at getting at the plain sense of its meaning. And we consider it in its entirety, and learn from biblical scholars who do the same. We stay the course not only of scripture, but within the latitude and accepted parameters of the church’s interpretation and understanding.

Let me say again that this is crucial. Life is going to throw us some serious issues along the way, at least in our minds, but also in reality. Some of it in my own life has definitely been a matter of the mind. But others definitely real, as well as difficult. We need scripture and the church, and to be honest to God, and honest to others, particularly those in leadership, as well as a trusted, wise friend.

So let’s concentrate on doing well in what we know, and trust God to help us be faithful in that, as well as through the more difficult matters, along with what we don’t understand at all. And to learn to keep doing this, and growing in it, in and through Jesus.

a turning point for me

I may have the inclination, but that’s where it ends, to be able to weigh in on controversial matters such as Greg Boyd’s recent work. From now on I want to stick with the simplicity of what I do, with the Bible’s normal reading by the church, as my guide. I’ll let the scholars and theologians grapple with the other stuff, and try to learn from them. And if I make any judgment, I’ll hopefully qualify it sufficiently, so that the reader or listener will put weight on the biblical text and the church’s interpretation, and not on my own interpretation of it.

What I mean is that I am going to do what I think I’m gifted at doing, and what I’ve come to do, given everything, and leave those kinds of matters more to scholars, theologians, and those inclined to take them on. And if I wade into anything controversial, I will try to do so with a kind of disclaimer, which I think I haven’t adequately, if at all at times done in the past. I simply don’t have the breadth of study needed to make such judgments. But I will listen and weigh what others say. I know to say anything at all puts one on a theological fault line. Strictly speaking, there is no one just normal way of reading scripture by the church. But I would say the normal way of reading scripture as the church has, allows for diversity reflecting the richness of the text, as well as some variance in understanding.

We do need those especially gifted in a kind of prophetic way, and others in the wisdom way to be sure. And the church has to develop discernment in weighing everything. And we need some steady feet, not wandering all over the place. But theology does push us sometimes to places we might rather not go. But it must be somehow in submission to and in step with the church. The biblical text will cause the needed affront to us all with the help of the Spirit, as the word of God, and point us to the good news in Jesus. I state what I think is the obvious, which is what I try to do.

And we are all indebted much to gifted scholars and theologians, but the older I get, the more I just want to get back to the text of scripture, what it actually says, and go from there, which I’m sure is question begging/logical fallacy for some. I may be either under or over thinking here, or somehow both. But still reading from scholars and theologians. That’s where I’ll settle, myself. Psalm 131.

scripture and God

“What does scripture say?” is an important question not just for Bible readers, but for anyone who wants to know God and what God says. If one wants to find the intersect of God and life, then one needs to turn to the pages of scripture. In a rather mysterious way, if one perseveres, they will indeed find that, with the challenge and possible blessing which follows.

Scriptural or Biblical interpretation, called hermeneutics, is certainly important in all of this. We exegete in the sense of letting the text speak for itself, taking pains to not read into the text our own biases, or what we want to get out of it ourselves. Instead we determine to “listen”, and we try to both learn and proceed from that.

Scripture by which I mean the Bible ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him. That is at the heart of both its point and fulfillment of creation in the new creation. It is essential to simply read it as is, but also to read it in light of its trajectory or goal. It ultimately points us to Christ and to God’s fulfillment of his promises in him. It really is not meant to be used as a guidebook for this and that, like how one handles their finances, or eats. Even if one will find some wisdom in those areas, like be generous and save, and don’t be a glutton.

And so we need to give ourselves anew and afresh to scripture, so that we can find the God who speaks to us in and through its pages. In and through Jesus.

understanding scripture’s story

One of my favorite biblical scholars and theologians, N. T. Wright has explained scripture in terms of a five part story:

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Israel
  • Jesus
  • Church

I would like to add a sixth part which would would have to do with Jesus’s return, sometimes called the Second Coming, and maybe a seventh part could be added (to make it seven parts in all?) which would have to do with the final outcome, the eternal state.

To understand any part of scripture, one needs to see it in context, its immediate context, certainly, but also in the context of the whole, the entire Bible and witness of scripture.

I am leery of simply writing off any scripture as completely irrelevant for us today, since the New Testament, including the letters written to the churches clearly suggest otherwise. At the same time, we obviously don’t read the story well when we read it in what has been called a flat way, as if all of it has precisely the same application as when it was written. For example the rules in Leviticus 14 about mold in homes certainly do no apply in the same way for us today.

The cross, Jesus’s death is certainly a “game changer”, but what leads up to it does impact what follows. For our application today, we may need to especially emphasize what follows, but to understand that well, we need to see what preceded it. There is so much here that Christians don’t quite see or apply in the same way. But it’s a grave mistake on the one hand to think for example that the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John don’t have profound meaning for our understanding of the faith today, and even how we understand the letters written to the churches. Jesus was speaking mainly to Israel, but he was pointing out to them just what kind of kingdom he was bringing, certainly clearly anticipating what was to follow. On the other hand, it’s also a grave mistake to think that the cross in Jesus’s death did not make a profound difference in what followed: no less than the beginning of the new covenant of course in Jesus’s blood.

We have to keep working at, which means taking it all seriously, but seeing it in the context of the whole. The fulfillment coming, of course, in and through Jesus and through his death, the resurrection following.

paying attention to life

God speaks. Primarily through the words of the Bible, and actually that is a word meant for everyone, pointing us to the Word himself, Jesus. God also speaks through life, if we will only listen.

Life itself needs interpretation, actually scripture does as well. We have to depend on God for both, sometimes directly, but most often through others, through the church. In the end it has to be mediated to us. We are recipients of it. Certainly scripture itself interprets life.

And so this is an ongoing project.

What are we learning, not only from the pages of scripture, but also in our every day lives? About ourselves, and others, and the world around us.

Stay in scripture, in God’s word, but also pay attention to what we can learn from others, from experience, and what God might be saying to us through it all. In and through Jesus.

 

continuing in the word in the Word: “in Christ” and “in Christ…crucified”

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

John 14

Regardless of what happens in the unexpected twists and turns of life, the Christian, or follower of Christ is grounded in the faith: dependent on Christ, but also calling one to faith. I would like to say, calling us to faith, since it’s a community endeavor. Being in the word in the Word is key.

Perhaps Greg Boyd is getting at some vital, even though I’m not sure I would end up agreeing with some of his conclusions (see his tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. I await the shorter version due, I read, in August). But I am confident that at least there’s something to be said for the idea of reading all of scripture through the lens of Christ, and Christ crucified. As Christians, we endeavor to read the text in its original context, and ultimately as something fulfilled by Christ, so that in a certain sense the text is in Christ, or to be read in the light of Christ. And at the heart of Christ and his coming is his crucifixion, his death on the cross, and the God who is love being revealed in that light.

While scripture doesn’t talk explicitly about being “in the Word,” “in Christ” is repeated over and over again in the New/Final Testament, especially in Paul’s letters. It is shorthand for what is most essential in understanding the faith for our faith. So that no matter what I’m facing, or what we are facing together, the reality of remaining “in Christ” remains intact. And an important aspect of that is to remain in scripture, in God’s word. I take it that we feed on Christ both through the word and through the sacrament, Holy Communion/the Eucharist. For those of us (and I live among them) who don’t accept the view of the church at large since early times that somehow Jesus is especially present in the bread and the wine (not in the way the Roman Catholics suggest, but perhaps more like the Eastern Orthodox, or better yet for me, the description of that given by John Calvin), we at least acknowledge that we can feed on Christ by being in the word, in scripture. As we read it in the light of Christ’s fulfillment, in our union in him.

All kinds of things change, we get older, new problems and sometimes grave difficulties face us. But one thing remains for us, whatever else happens in our world, and in the world: In the faith by faith we are “in Christ,” and in that union both as individuals, and together, dependent on God through his word. Each of us must do this, but part of that is to do so in communion with all the saints, in the fellowship of the church. In and through Jesus.