the unreal real world

“Get a life,” we sometimes think, in our own words perhaps, but when we view others who seem self-destructive, and on their path, destructive of others. Not to mention all the conflict and strife in the world, with cruel despots in power in too many places. It’s all quite real, the reality in which we live.

But it’s not at all the reality that God intended. In creation, God made everything “good” and in the end after he had created humanity it was all “very good” (Genesis 1). God’s blessing was on everything, with his full blessing contingent on whether or not humankind, that is Adam and Eve would be obedient to the only prohibition God made, that they should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whether or not this is symbolic or literal, the point is that Adam and Eve (humankind) had the choice of trusting God, in God’s goodness and word, or in ultimately being left to themselves, losing their so-called innocence, more like the wisdom and knowledge God was ready to pour on them. And instead knowing good and evil in their experience in a way God never intended. When Eve ate of the fruit of that forbidden tree, then Adam, their eyes were opened in a way God never intended. For the first time they felt shame and wanted to hide from each other as well as from God (Genesis 3).  And humankind has never recovered.

We live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, and that includes ourselves, who we are. Neither we nor the world has arrived, for sure. Instead, in biblical theological terms, we’re fallen and broken. It’s a mistake to think that somehow through the means of this present time, we can arrive to an idyllic world. It’s also equally an error to think that excuses humankind for not striving for a better world in which love for neighbor, for everyone is taken seriously. But evil has to be dealt with, sometimes in no uncertain terms.

We in Jesus have begun to live in the real world as God intended. Although it seems incremental, and sometimes all but lost in its already present / not yet completed state, nevertheless it’s as undeniable as the breath we breathe. Sometimes we’re left with just knowing intellectually, we know not why experientially, but based on faith in Christ and his historical resurrection from the dead. Other times, the experience of God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit makes life seem more than worthwhile as God’s righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17-18) becomes the place in which we live.

So we in Jesus live as those of another realm in this realm. As lights in a dark world, citizens of heaven, partakers of the new creation, longing for and looking forward to the redemption of all things. In and through Jesus.

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“the redemption of reason”

The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

Jeremiah 8:9

In a challenging, but interesting article, Dallas Willard speaks of a crisis of reason not only in the universities, but right in our Christian schools. Aptly called, “The Redemption of Reason,” because Willard is making the point that sin through bad philosophy has shipwrecked reason, so that it is now essentially meaningless. And what has gone down with it is any idea of moral knowledge. All lost because it has been separated from its source and ground, or place, from God who is spirit, and why creation exists in the first place (my words in part here; I would highly recommend a slow read of that article).

The Bible is essentially reasonable, even when we can’t track with all that is happening entirely. Taken as a whole, then considered in its parts, we can say without a doubt that there is plenty of sense in the story, whether or not it jives with all of our sensibilities. The problem nowadays is that our outlook has been shaped from centuries of what amounts to essentially bad philosophy in different forms, which end up denying truth because they’re untethered from the one source of truth, God. And so we go gallivanting, who knows where.

Religion is looked down on as something like old school. Of course the one revelation is fulfilled in Christ and the good news in him as unfolded from the pages of Scripture. Reason is very much apart of our faith, essentially Christ’s resurrection in history at the center of that, along with the reality of God mediated to us in Christ by the Spirit.

Where does that leave us? In a crisis even in our Christian circles, because we’ve by and large retreated from reason because of how it is understandably failing in the secular universities. We have done so by placing our study and appropriation of Scripture in a separate category probably without knowing it, because we have to make do in the real world. And Scripture seems different, anyhow. Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s from God, but it’s right down to earth where we live in our humanity. And that certainly includes reason.

Again what’s needed is nothing less than the redemption of reason, according to Willard. And Christians must lead the way, or show the way, because reason itself loses all significance apart from God, and won’t stand on its own, completely dependent on the meaning assigned to it. It’s not like we have to figure out the problem; it’s in the air, just assumed, grounded somehow in whatever human endeavor, good things like science, which essentially can’t be the basis of meaning since God is not in their equation.

So we shouldn’t flee from reason, or be apologetic about it. Instead we need to demonstrate through faith the reasonableness of it all, while at the same time holding on to mystery as part of the story, what’s up, and what God is doing in our lives and in the world. And see the gospel in Jesus as essential in all of this, leading us to God and the new life in him.

to know Christ’s love

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

I like traditional church liturgy, and even crucifixes (and I like the empty cross) because they remind me of the center of our faith: the good news in Jesus. It is through Jesus’s Incarnation, death and resurrection, and the ascension which follows with the pouring out of the Spirit, that we have forgiveness of sins and new life in him. Jesus’s death and resurrection at the heart of that. And in that we can come to know the love of God. A love that is beyond description, as the text says, surpassing knowledge. We shouldn’t neglect Jesus’s teaching and ministry during his earthly life, either, quite formative for us in this.

But where do we begin so that we can hopefully know this love in the way this text says? It began with Paul’s prayer or we could say by extension the prayers of those who follow Paul’s example, a prayer for the church. Evidently Paul had come to know this love for himself, and he was here praying that the church would know it as well.

It’s a prayer to the Father, that out of his glorious riches he would strengthen his people with power through his Spirit in their inner being, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. It seems to indicate that one’s main impulse for life is no longer themselves, but Christ (Galatians 2:20). We are still ourselves, but ourselves as God meant us to be. Of course this is not something we arrive to overnight, or fully in this life. It’s a transformation beginning now and continuing as a process in growth in Christ-likeness.

Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith is the result of the Spirit’s work in us. From that we’re rooted and established in love. By the way, in passing I want to point out that this seems by the text to be a communal matter, one might say, even endeavor. Church is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians, we could say the universal church played out in local churches. Which is why I prefer smaller churches. But if one is part of a mega church like my wife and I are now, then you need to plug into a small group. Too often in the United States, and I would think western culture at large, especially European in its roots, we’re more than content to remain in isolation as individuals. But the spiritual life isn’t lived that way: it’s in union with Christ and therefore in the Triune communion, and therefore in union with all who are “in Christ.”

But back to the point: We’re to be rooted and established in love. We live in God’s love in Christ. That is to impact and animate us. We love, because God first loved us. That is where we begin and remain. But through that we’re to experience so much more. Or maybe better put, know so much more. We make much of experience, impacted by the romantic era in ways that are not altogether healthy. Know includes experience, but in a sense goes beyond that so that it transcends or is not dependent on our experience. Through thick and thin we’re to “know” this love of Christ which paradoxically is beyond human knowledge, a gift to us from God by the Spirit.

And the result? To know together as God’s people the fullness of Christ’s love. And Paul is descriptive (or whoever wrote the letter under Paul’s direction): it’s width, length, height, and depth. With the result that we’re filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

And then the great promise that God is able to do this beyond what we can ask or imagine. And through it he would receive glory through the church and through Jesus Christ through all ages. Good to know the context of this great promise. It is about knowing Christ’s love. The heart of our existence, and ultimately the heart of all things. Through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Something we need to be aware of and aspire to, in and through Jesus.

what is important, what to be remembered for

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness…

2 Peter 1:5a

In the world in which we live, knowledge seems to be considered the end all, everything. And it’s assumed that if you know enough, you’ll do the right thing, or that this is true of society in general. What’s need is just more education. Ethics are considered quite secondary in education nowadays. If you start talking about ethics, then you’re pushing something beyond what is scientific or pure knowledge. The modern world has little regard for anything beyond what can be measured and verified scientifically. And so knowledge is on the throne, the kind that humans can gather especially in scientific ways, through ongoing hypothesis, testing, and observation. And a popular differentiation between knowledge and wisdom is all but ignored, at least too much of the time.

Actually in Scripture knowledge and wisdom are essentially synonymous. Both are revelatory, received from God for life. Knowledge might be somewhat for knowledge’s sake from God, but is never separated from who we are, who God is, and apart from the world in which we live. It is given for appreciation for and navigation through this world. And the proper term for this might be understanding. Knowledge and wisdom are given to us from God for our understanding of life both in reference to the world at large, and how we should live in it.

In the list from 2 Peter, we see that goodness precedes knowledge (click the above link). We’re to add to our faith, not first knowledge, but goodness, then knowledge. I know some Bible scholars say the order of the list is not important and beside the point, that they’re all to be added to our faith. I think that’s a fair point, but I also think their order is suggestive. Goodness carries the idea of what is helpful and fitting to be and do in love for others. God alone is good, but imparts goodness to his creation, particularly to those made in his image: humankind.

What the world needs, indeed what the church needs first of all is not more intelligence, but more goodness. Intelligence in and of itself does not automatically result or even tend toward goodness. But goodness does result in the kind of intelligence which is helpful to all. What is appreciated in God’s eyes, and truly godly, and what is really needed in the world is a high dose of goodness, then the intelligence that follows will be helpful. As God gives that to us in and through Jesus.

goodness after 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.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:1-11

Knowledge is the watchword not only nowadays, but for some time now. Our universities value knowledge above all else. It is popular to assume that it can solve all our problems, or we can solve our problems, and come to live a flourishing life through knowledge. And indeed knowledge is important in its place. And right at our fingertips nowadays, we can answer any question in less than a minute, then find out much more. That’s a blessing.

The only problem is that knowledge in itself rarely if at all changes us. Something else must come before that if indeed we are to change. There has to be a “goodness” which takes in a number of other virtues, not the least of which is humility, before knowledge can arguably help us at all. There is no end to how humans can misuse knowledge.

This all began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate from the one tree forbidden, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In doing so, theology says they lost their innocence. And key in it was the serpent’s suggestion to Eve by insinuation that God is not really good since God would withhold something good from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). We could say that knowledge, in this case an experiential knowledge replaced faith.

It’s not like the two are mutually exclusive. But for human flourishing, one has to precede the other. Faith comes first. By faith we can properly understand. And at the heart of such understanding is a commitment to goodness. But even that must begin by realizing that God is good and that God’s goodness precedes our own, evident even from the passage of Peter quoted above. We must hold on to faith in God, and in God’s goodness.

Because of God’s greatness and goodness given to us in his promises and our actual participation in God’s nature, we’re to make every effort to add to our faith, goodness, etc. Although exegetes say the order doesn’t matter, and I wouldn’t argue against that. They are all important, and need to be taken together. Yet in the actual reading, goodness is after faith, and after goodness, knowledge. I can’t help but think the sequence of wording has some meaning to it. All that we’re to add to faith must be taken together. We don’t add just one of them at a time, but all of it together in a lump sum; they all go together. Without goodness, knowledge is bereft. And without knowledge, goodness is frustrated and potentially even somewhat limited, we might say.

This all begins with God’s goodness, along with his greatness. From that God gifts us with yes, that very same goodness. A goodness meant for us humans made in God’s image. Essentially basic to our basic humanity in creation, and in becoming fully human in the new creation in and through Jesus.

the world: tailor made for worriers

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

The more you know, the more you wish you didn’t know. That’s a truism which too often is an explanation on why we can so easily be on edge. I used to live that way, just waiting for the next trouble that would bring me down into the abyss of worry. I’ve learned to accept the reality that this world is filled with problems galore, that there won’t be any end to them, and that we will make all kinds of mistakes along the way, and that to some extent, whatever decision we make is more or less a guess. We can’t know everything, though we work for as assured an outcome as possible.

While the world is tailor made for worriers, and I would categorize myself as one of them, it is also an opportunity for trusting in God regardless of what we run up against and the challenges which come our way, as well as when the bottom actually does fall out sometimes. We can learn to trust God in the midst of all of that: before, during, and after the mess. That God is great and God is good. And therefore will take care of everything. So that although we need to be present and somehow engaged, if only by waiting, we can be assured that God is at work for what ultimately is to be a good outcome.

There is evil in the world, and tragedy. We see it around us at times, and especially are aware of it through the news media. It is inevitable in this life, and often brings with it tragic devastation which touches the lives of people, including children. We decry such, but we are often just so wrapped up in our own world and troubles. It would be good for us to expand, and have to pray to God about tragedies in such places as Yemen and elsewhere.

One of our problems is we struggle with living in the kind of world and existence in which we live. Instead, we need to accept the matter of fact reality of it all. But along with that, the strong loving care of our Father. God will take care of everything, including the smallest details of our lives, if we just commit them all in faith to him. That certainly takes effort on our part. Bottom line: We need to grow in our certainty of the personal love of our good and great God. That God is our Father in and through Jesus. And has a good outcome in mind for everything in the end. And so we look to him in prayer, trying to grow so that our own propensity for worry becomes less and less, and our trust in him, more and more. In and through Jesus.

their hearts right, their heads wrong

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me,  for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:31-35

Peter’s heart was entirely right, but his head was entirely wrong. And the other disciples with him. Jesus had already made them clean through the word (John 13), I take it meaning regeneration, new birth. But little did they know or understand either Jesus’s words, or what was happening before them right at that time, the momentous event, and the shaking and sifting, along with the tragedy.

Earlier we remember that Peter had roundly rebuked the Lord for saying that he would have to die on a cross, that such a thing would never happen to the Messiah. The Lord summarily dismissed that, and made it plain that not only would he be taking that route, but that all who really follow him would as well.

Peter still had it in his head that there was a place for the sword. He is the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus ends up healing that ear, and makes it plain that all who draw the sword will die by it. And that he had come for this, that the prophecies of scripture were being fulfilled (big in Matthew).

This can be so much like us. Yes, the Spirit in Pentecostal fullness had yet to come. That would make a big difference. But everything had to unfold before them, Jesus’s resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances, and his ascension. Yes, we have the benefit of this now, both in hindsight, and the Spirit’s ministry to us today. But we too can easily not begin to understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into. As Jesus told Peter, along with James and John at the Garden of Gethsemane, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

So our hearts can be right. But are we being changed by the renewing of our minds, so as to know God’s will, and not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2)? That’s the question.