the upside to being down

Job is a book that is hard to figure out, unless one reads it superficially. You might just pass over it, shrug your shoulders, and go on, which I think to some extent I did for years. But that changed when we had an in depth group Bible study at a church some years back. I had a different view and understanding of it after that.

I take it as a wisdom story, which whether just a story told, or something which actually happened (and I don’t think the rest of the Bible, including Jesus’s words determine that) rings true in ways that mirror the complexity, indeed consternation of life. There are no two ways about it: Life often makes little or no sense to us so that in the end, we have to trust all into the Creator’s hands, while realizing that we aren’t capable of tracing God’s paths or fully understanding his ways.

I love the book of Job, because there’s a unique wisdom to be drawn from it, not readily apparent or received by us, which actually requires the work of a lifetime. Of course the other wisdom books have their unique contributions they bring as well: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and we can include Song of Songs, and even the Psalms.

Job was as down as a human can get, with the exception of our Lord in his partaking of the cup of suffering. I think those of us who are older can appreciate the aspect of the story that really when all is said and done, it can’t be happily ever after this side of heaven. Impossible. And that’s after Job’s suffering when a new family was given which really could not replace the family he had lost, but was still just as great a blessing as the first family.

Job certainly had a new appreciation of God, and of himself as well. It was a new humility in view of God’s revelation of his greatness in creation, so vast and quite beyond humans, so that Job realizes he is required to simply trust, both in God’s greatness, and as we see from the end of the story, in God’s goodness as well. And surely it speaks to the limits of this life, and the hope of the life to come.

Job probably reminds me of a favorite biblical book of mine, Ecclesiastes, since it is not an easy book to pin down, indeed its meaning to some extent can allude us. And that means that if we’re wise, we keep coming back for more.

One basic I think I understand now from Job is that there’s an upside to being down and out, to being at a complete loss. That is when we can find what we otherwise never would: a trust and hope in God which goes well beyond anything we can understand and comprehend in this life, and perhaps even in the next. We simply know in the end that all will be well. And that we’re to work at understanding what we can, and leave the rest to God. A part of what faith in God involves in an existence in which all of our questions might only expose our lack of understanding. The answer in which we by faith now begin to live, in and through Jesus.

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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.

romantic love

There is a kind of mystery to romantic love. It is definitely an important aspect of human life. See (and a good read for Valentine’s Day, or listen) Song of Songs, traditionally Song of Solomon.

Sadly, not everyone had a love which resulted in marriage in this life. But the tradition of allegorizing this song to mean something of God’s love and relationship to his people surely has some merit. The people of God, Israel, are said to be in a covenant with God which is likened to a marriage in the Old Testament. And we read in the New Testament that the church is the bride of Christ. All of us in Christ together.

There is no part of romantic love which isn’t good. Some might see the sexual part as somehow dirty, but it is a part of God’s good creation. It’s we who have cheapened it to mean something less than the place it has in a covenant relationship of love. But the sexual part is only one ingredient of romantic love. Closer to the heart of it is a sheer and really kind of mysterious mystique (to say the same thing in two words). How one can “fall in love” with someone else in a way which excludes all others. Hence the exclusive claim of God to be worshiped and against all idolatry. But also the importance of humans holding to the covenant with the one that was either chosen for them, or that they chose, in a special bond reserved only for each other. And making sure no one else takes that place.

For those who are single, and may have never been married, or perhaps have experienced the heartbreak and dishevel of divorce, or are a widow or widower, God’s promise extends to you to be for you what the missing partner would have been, and beyond that. Of course in a spiritual way, but in a way which can help you to be content in that love. And note the advantages to those who remain single in being devoted to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:25-40).

Today I celebrate my love with my wonderful wife, Deb, who is my true love and friend. We have been through much together. She has had to put up with me over the years, and we have seen rough patches in our relationship. But God has been so faithful. There is nothing I like as much as a good getaway with her, the longer the better. And I would like to be with her forever in the life to come.

But in Jesus we will all be one in the love of God. Not to say that old relationships will no longer matter, because I think they will, and will somehow be heightened and fulfilled in a way which is not possible in this life. But all in the love of God. The love extending to us to bind our hearts to him, to our beloved, and to each other in friendship. In and through Jesus.

God understands

We say in Christian theology that God knows all things, the end from the beginning, in every minute detail with the big picture in mind. Precisely what that means might deviate some. Like I might ask, “Can God know what isn’t already in existence?” Surely yes, in that he can create and control all of that, but maybe no if he chooses not to control it at every turn, I am thinking of human volition. All of existence is out of God’s doing. And God can force us to choose or do whatever, if God so chooses, but it seems on the surface at least, that there’s a real give and take in life between the individual, as well as people, and God. Maybe some of this we do best to chalk up to mystery, and leave alone. But it does seem that God invites us to grapple with all he has revealed, while the hidden things remain with him, indeed surely outside of our limitation to grasp.

We can be at a place in which we’re challenged to know what to do. In small ways that happens a lot, and is usually fixable. In larger ways, sometimes that can be quite difficult, beyond our ability to navigate well, if at all. It is good during such times to be in prayer and in the word, looking to God to give us the understanding we need, and proceed from there. That is usually incremental, and one step at a time. God can be trusted to be present through all of it, but it seems to me like God leaves plenty of room for variation on our part, including even failure. God has the big picture in mind, but also wants to be present interactively with us through the small things, as well. That is lived largely in context of our day to day existence as individuals, but is best worked out in community with others in Jesus. Not to say that God might not use the broader human community as well, and another friend who does not yet know him.

I look to God for his wisdom, believing certain things are beyond me, really many things. Essentially what concerns God in us, I believe, is a character transformation rooted in God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It’s not like other things are unimportant, all within the old creation is included in the new creation in Jesus. Salvation extends to every part, but perhaps its outworking is strange to us. And the fact of the matter is that we may not be necessarily included, if we don’t look to the source which is found in Jesus. There might be some major bumps on the road, and brokenness on the way to that salvation.

God understands. And can be fully trusted. In and through Jesus.

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.

just because

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4

We depend on reason, yet we often really are not all that reasonable as in logical and consistent in our reasoning. When it’s all said and done, Christianity is the most reasonable of all faiths because of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (see review of a chapter written by N. T. Wright, entitled, “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?”). I don’t want to fall into a John Locke Enlightenment scheme, in which our faith is in lock step with rationalism. But the faith is not irrational, even if it is definitely suprarational, transcending it as well.

The problem for us with our rationality is in large part the confidence we tend to want to put in it. So that certainty (certitude) can become more or less an idol to us. If we can just be certain about this or that, then we can find rest, and all can be good in our world. Where is God in that equation? And if there is a God, and specifically, the God of the Bible, who knows anything in comparison with God? (See the book of Job.) God alone knows everything, and we know nothing at all like God knows it. It is easy to understand how people fall into rationalism and become inherent skeptics (see the book of Ecclesiastes) apart from faith in God. But for us who have faith in God, such a stance is ironically irrational indeed.

Scripture calls us to a faith in God, no less. Not in reason, not even in our own God-given reason, although in this call, scripture appeals to reason. The only rational choice for us who have faith is to trust the One who knows the end from the beginning, and the depths of everything in between, and knows exactly what is going on, and why, and God’s purposes in it all.

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.

Proverbs 3

“Just because.” We trust in God because we know that God alone knows it all, that God in and through Jesus, has our backs (and our fronts and sides), and above all, because “God is love.” Being love, God wants us to live in that love, as well as in the faith, all of this in and through Jesus.

And so that is where I land today, and hopefully everyday in whatever time I have left. Thankful that it doesn’t depend on me, and on me getting it, but in the God who is love. In and through Jesus. And somehow, “just because.”

the beauty of poetry

Sometime back one of the best writers I’ve ever known or read tried to get me to begin to write poetry. I think I tried a bit, and I have written some, but that soon went by the wayside, as I continued on in the simple prose which marks my writing.

Now for some time I’ve been reading the psalms daily, which are poetry. I think we are probably adversely influenced by the overemphasis on reason from the Modernist Enlightenment. Contrast the so-called “Dark Ages,” referring to the Medieval Era, which to the Modernist is dark, but was actually full of light that the darkness of Modernism seeks to shut out.

Poetry is something one can’t completely pin down and explain. While it is open to some explanation, its appeal is not just to the intellect, but to the whole person, and to life as it is, in all its beauty and mystery. Sometimes even in its gloom and utter darkness. I think of the book of Lamentations.

Poetry can be like a good Impressionist painting in that it can help one enter into the experience, or more likely, find a correlation to one’s own experience, and that of which the poet was writing. It probably has plenty of room for imagination. And if read literally, as if it was some kind of completely rational document, it is open to all kinds of misinterpretation, since it is then read, not in the way it was written. I think of the catastrophic way the book of the Revelation is read, a book which while not completely poetry, has a strong poetic element to it. In fact we might do well to call it a poem in prose (though it has poetry, as well).

Maybe I’ll be trying my hand again at poetry in coming days. I would do so, not simply to write poetry myself, but to help myself and perhaps others, see something that prose can’t communicate. And to help any reader into something of the same language and beauty. Something similar to a good song.

In fact when we think of poetry, what might help us is to think of it in terms of good songs. One of my favorite song writers is Michael Card, whose lyrics and music help one think of life in biblical terms. And he has been writing helpful books, for example on the gospels, as well.

Probably the first and foremost reason that Anglicanism has such a strong appeal to me is because of the Book of Common Prayer, which so wonderfully and beautifully can say alot in a few words, and in a poetic way, which while theologically accurate, defies our own rationalistic and therefore limited thought. Something actually like what the Bible itself does, a book which scholars have come to understand is full of much more poetry than was known, say in the era of the King James Version of the Bible, the beauty of which to some extent at least, would seem to make up for that.

Poetry has its limits. We do need direct and clear counsel which cannot be misunderstood, clear teaching to inform our lives, our living. Words which hopefully are not easily given to misunderstanding.

I can’t help but think of our Lord’s parables, which are full of light, but only understood by those whose hearts are open to the Light. So that in them is a strong element of the poetic.

But the poem helps us begin to see something of the Mystery which is God, and God’s will in Jesus, which accompanies that. To help us by faith enter in, and begin to live and breathe in that air, and beauty, in a world that wants to, but can’t shut it out.