the final healing

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Revelation 22:1-7

Healing and salvation in Scripture are essentially one and the same. Yes, salvation involves a number of things, but in the New Testament the word σῴζω, translated “save” is also translated “heal.” That seems suggestive to me that salvation and healing go hand in hand. What I don’t mean is that everyone physically healed by Jesus was also forgiven of their sins, though we do find that pairing in the gospel, Jesus-healing accounts, as well as in James. What I do mean is that healing is a kind of salvation and salvation is a kind of healing. If when one is physically healed they experience a saving work, certainly healing in a total final sense is saving, and salvation in a total final sense is healing.

Who of us doesn’t need healing of one kind or another? While healing in Scripture primarily refers to physical healing, and that should never be belittled, it certainly refers to the totality of all creation, of each person through and through, and to creation as a whole. The leaves of the tree of life in the passage above referring to when God brings God’s will entirely to pass are said to be for the healing of the nations. God is not only concerned about personal healing, but also about corporate healing, healing in relationships. Healing is about making whole, bringing together what has been broken. There are relationships in this life which either can’t be restored for this or that reason, or are limited in such restoration. I would like to think that the church is a place where ideally, people experience a substantial healing which enables them to continue on in relationship with one another.

Whether you are married, in family, in close relationships with friends, or in the church, we all fail along the way so that there needs to be ongoing repentance, forgiveness and healing. That’s a given. There has to be a commitment to the Lord and to each other to live in whole relationships with each other. Cracks and even some brokenness are inevitable in all such relationships, but in Christ these can and must always be tended to wisely, not in some prescribed way, but according to each situation considering the people involved. We’re all to accept responsibility in this.

To the world at large, healing is important as well. Old grievances from past evils are perpetuated in cycles of violence: tit for tat, back and forth. But what God brings in Christ and Christ’s rule is an end to that. I admire the hard work of Christians who have sought to help warring factions come to an end in their conflict, but not just ending violence, but working through the difficult terrain of arriving to a mutual healing and wholeness that ultimately is meant to bring such factions together. Such is the intent of the gospel of Christ in its reconciling work.

Total healing not only can, but indeed does seem illusory, and as death reminds us, is not possible in this life. But through Christ it can begin now with each other and in our own lives. The power of salvation for the healing of the most broken relationships. A part of the gospel’s work now, to be completed.

fellowship

what we have seen and heard we also declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:3

Central to and part of the core of the Christian faith is fellowship, or what some might prefer to call communion. Just as God in God’s triunity is in communion with God’s self, of course something we can’t parse out and understand, so we humans are created to live in such a relationship in harmony with God and each other. Fellowship or communion is at the heart of who God is, the nature of God. And so if God is a reality, or in Christian or Jewish terms maybe we could say the overriding reality, then any fellowship with God automatically takes us into this space with God and with each other.

Of course as the biblical story tells us, and as we see all too clearly in life, such harmony is rarely present, and indeed our fellowship and communion is indeed broken, or at least strained and cracked. This is not where we live or at least not what characterizes our existence. We are off on another quest, far removed from that so that we’re actually removed from life itself.

But Christ, what is called the cosmic Christ, but not divorced from the Jesus of the gospels, in fact united with that, is really the reality that gives humanity the hope which brings humanity together toward a harmonious whole. In this time and present existence there will always be the principalities and powers, both human and spiritual, which are ever resistant and downright opposed to this, infiltrating everywhere. We need to know that the answer is present in Christ, but that the struggle in the present will continue. Not that there can’t be progress, but it seems that this side of the end will always include opposition and struggle.

The fellowship here is not only a sense of blissful intercourse, but also a love which is concerned for all in the love for our neighbor as ourselves. It is a fellowship not at rest until what is true in Christ becomes something true of the world itself, of all things, certainly to be finished when Christ returns, but something we are to be committed to here and now. As we more and more live and experience with each other the reality in God and in Christ by the Spirit.

a Christ-centered faith

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

Colossians 1:15-20

…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…

2 Corinthians 5:19a

Yes, the Trinity and the Incarnation all enshrouded in mystery as God is. But what God has revealed is the point. And the center of that revelation is Christ himself. Apart from Christ there is ultimately no revelation from God, at least not in any saving way. And it is a salvation inclusive of all humankind, yet standing in judgment of all humankind as well. Judgment is needed before salvation, indeed shows the need for salvation. Collectively as well as individually we have failed to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. Thus the judgment rendered, and God’s salvation from that judgment in Christ.

Christ might not always be invoked or explicit in our thinking. But if faith is according to the gospel, then Christ is always the light, life and power in creation to bring about the new creation, in this brokenness to bring about the needed reconciliation of all things.

This is the truth and reality on which we as Christ followers and Christ’s church stand. From which we live as witnesses.

the church and war

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!

Isaiah 2:1-5

It used to be that after Christians returned from war the church made them do penance. There was an understanding that there is something intrinsically wrong, sinful about the enterprise, and that no one could participate in it without somehow being sullied. Or at least the idea that in fulfilling such responsibilities, sin is inescapable. In the early centuries Christians rarely participated in the military not only because the Roman Empire was at least averse to Christians participating, but because the early church fathers were univocal in their opposition to Christian participation in killing and war.

All of that has been long lost. Nowadays participation in war and preparation for such is more or less celebrated in all churches except for “peace churches.” It is one thing to respect and honor those who have served, but it’s quite another to see war as a necessary evil. To some extent given the world in which we live there has to be a forceful stopping of violence at times. But I think Christ followers should advocate for the end of war even now, for a worldwide commitment to settling disputes in any number of ways, as well as for understanding and addressing the problems which underlie violence in our communities. In our world in which cycles of violence are very present and seem to be held back only by force, this may not make sense and may even be resisted by some in power, though I think most governments would welcome such efforts. A regular answer to this problem is that such an ideal will occur only when Christ returns. Granted there’s some important truth in that. But followers of Christ ought to be committed to and be known as advocates for a peace which takes justice seriously in the path toward reconciliation.

The world hasn’t gone mad, it has lived that way for century after century, although violence has abated in some places. It doesn’t help when a renowned Christian writer and theologian sees war as not only inevitable, but pictures Christians on opposite sides shooting each other and then meeting in an embrace in heaven. Christians killing other Christians and non-Christians makes no sense. But neither does letting violence go make any sense. Following Christ which means taking the way of the cross, and loving enemies is never going to make sense in the world. But if we’re to take the witness of the gospel in scripture seriously, especially the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the rest of the New Testament including a correct reading and interpretation of Revelation, then it seems to me that we’re left with no choice but to so follow and show the world the better way. At least that will be a true witness of Christ.

I honor veterans myself, remembering that my own father was in harm’s way in a tank in WWII. Many good Christians and good people have served honorably in the military. But what if we Christ-followers would honor conscientious objectors who served their country honorably? And we need to be advocates for peaceful means of ending conflicts. Mennonites have been among those at the forefront of helping groups work through conflict resolution in a way that addresses wrongdoing and works to end the cycle of violence.

Peacemaking in this world will always involve struggle. It is macro and micro. Our witness to peace through Christ means little if we don’t live at peace in our families and church communities. And that will involve working through disagreement and conflicts, learning to live together in peace. And learning to extend that peace to others whose hearts may be full of war. Always in the way of Christ, not physically resisting evildoers, but resisting the evil itself through love with acts to bring healing, and good works. In and through Jesus.

how does true shalom (שָׁלוֹם) come?

So then, remember that at one time you gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) ordinarily translated “peace” in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament is a great study in itself. It certainly is the absence of conflict and violence, but means so much more. It includes all that contributes to and is involved in human flourishing along with the flourishing of all creation.

There is what continues to be, the settled belief that peace comes through strength, meaning military might, and that might (somehow) makes right. That’s a given not just in ancient times, but in the present. The Roman empire is among those who imposed their will in that way. And that is just as alive and well today, with the idea that what the world power does can change reality supposedly for the good, though given the makeup of the world in all its many diverse expressions along with inevitable problems, that indeed is impossible and always backfires.

When all is said and done, true, lasting, forever peace which brings the salvation and healing needed comes only through Christ. Of all people in the world, those who name that name ought to know better than to think anything else. Somehow in the brush heap of history God does use nations and kingdoms in ways that are well beyond our understanding even if we might be able to note some of the possibilities and even good coming out of that, along with what is questionable and not good.

In Christ alone comes the peace and good that the world needs. Not in any nation state, not in one. Through his reconciling death which is meant to put an end to all conflict. Christ took the final blow of humanity to end the chain and stop the endless cycle of violence and to bring about the shalom which only God can bring. Meant to be seen today yes in a humble way, but totally real, in Christ through Christ’s body in the world.

the way of violence is never the way of Christ

Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:50b-54

People look at this passage and attribute the nonviolence of Christ solely to the truth that scripture had to be fulfilled, and therefore that Christ had to suffer and die. That is true. But any reading of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John will tip us off to this: The way of violence is never the way of Christ.

I believe it’s a misreading of scripture to believe that violence is in God’s plan, that somehow God can express God’s love only through inflicting violence on something or someone. And for too many the heart of the gospel is something like this: God pours out God’s wrath on the Son at the cross, and therefore no longer has to pour out wrath on sinners, but can now forgive them, as long as they repent and believe. That is to some degree an understandable misreading and misunderstanding of scripture, but tragic, nonetheless.

Instead on the cross God is in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self, not counting people’s sins against them. And how did God do that? Through breaking the cycle of violence on the cross. Instead of God retaliating against the violence inflicted on God’s self on the cross in the person of Christ, God simply forgives all through that act, and takes all of creation into the baptism of death and through that into the resurrection of new life in the new creation in Christ.

This way of Christ is not only about salvation, but about all of life. We follow Christ by loving all, including our enemies. We never resist physically, never. But we do resist evil in a different way, in the way of the gospel, by good works, by proclaiming Christ’s victory to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, releasing captives (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18), setting ourselves in the way of Christ out of love for God and for our neighbor which includes everyone, even our enemies.

revolutions/revolutionary change comes over time

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:1-2, 10

I’m not advocating for war of any kind and in fact am against that. To think through all of that as a committed Christ follower who because of that is committed to the way of nonviolence and peacemaking when considering the world at large is not easy. Surely apart from Christ followers, if there has to be violence of any kind, it ought to be only a last resort, and then as minimal as possible, and with the goal not of retributive, but restorative justice.

One can see in the foments of history that revolutions (American Revolutionary War) and revolutionary change doesn’t occur overnight. Although because of the fallout of all the harm done often measures have been put in place out of necessity, such as universal healthcare in Europe after the ravages of World War II, a needed sudden revolutionary change. But one more thing on violence: The only real needed revolution in any such scenario is that of ending it just as Christ did at the cross, God forgiving all the violence against Christ so that all violence would come to an end. Otherwise there will be cycles of violence (“Violence breeds violence.”), one group sore and seeking revenge years or even generations later because of the violence suffered at the hands of another group. When will the world at large quit justifying war and bloodshed? Surely the insanity of using weapons of mass destruction ought to awaken the world to the need of settling differences in a nonviolent way, the truly needed revolution. But alas! A mixed record.

But away from that overextended analogy, in our own lives, maybe say within our communities of faith during certain times, we may well become aware of the need for change, a revolution in becoming someone or something totally different than what we are. That is not going to occur overnight, though it actually will happen if we take the necessary steps and keep going through God’s grace and help.

But to get there we need to not sweep under the rug in some way by rationalizations or whatever, what wrong or deficiency has come to light. We need to cringe, confess it to God either ourselves if it’s personal, or together if it’s a sin or shortcoming within our community. The first turn around may seem small and inconsequential, but if we continue on the change over time, it will indeed become revolutionary.

In a penitent (“penance” so to speak), committed way, we continue on, come what may, through trials, temptations, set backs, yes even when we slip and fall in the same way as individuals or as community. We get up, brush ourselves off, acknowledge our wrong, and continue on the new path. Never seeing ourselves as anything less than sinners only in the sense that we are in the process of recovery from that. But committed to the new in what amounts to no less than the new creation in community and within ourselves, in formation in and through Jesus.

putting on the whole armor of God: lacing sandals in preparation for good news of peace

and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace.

Ephesians 6:15

Whether this means being ready to spread the word of the good news of peace (Common English Bible) or being established by that peace to have a firm footing in life (New Living Translation), the peace promised as good news is included as part of the spiritual armor which the believer along with the church is to put on. Surely both are important for us. We share with others what is helpful for ourselves.

Peace in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament is the word transliterated shalom which means not only the absence of conflict, but all that life is intended to be, which is a mouthful. It speaks of flourishing and all being well. Where that is most to be found today will be among and in the community of Jesus’s disciples. Jesus told his disciples that he gives them his peace, and pronounced the blessing of peace on them, telling them not to let their hearts be troubled, nor afraid.

God has made peace in and through Christ who by his life and death brings the final reconciliation of all things, enemies becoming friends, beginning now. This happens through the good news of peace, good news also named with the technical term, gospel, the gospel of peace. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible points out, it’s good to see what this letter, Ephesians says about peace.

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both* into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 2:14-18

We share this good news of peace, a goodness that ultimately even if only in part now, is meant to bring reconciliation and healing into relationships, a peace to move us toward wellness in relationship with others. In which we can be confident through Christ that since all will end well, we can be rest assured in the midst of that being incomplete now.

This often seems like a pipe dream now, and there are after all limitations in this life. Those abused should not expect to see full reconciliation with their abusers. Often that’s not possible, and to try to force that, or expect more than possible is unhealthy and not wise. But insofar as it depends on us, we live at peace with everyone (Romans 12).

And we trust through prayer and thanksgiving that God’s peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4). As we seek to stand firm in this spiritual battle on the footing of this peace, proclaimed and present in and through Jesus.

*Jews and gentiles.

seeing each other as equals

Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Romans 12:16

There is nothing more evident in the world than someone who is condescending toward you. Some of that comes out overtly, but it is mostly undercover, but the smell, should I say the stench of it is evident.

Really all of us as humans are equals. I want to say that again and underscore it: All of us as human beings, and I include every human being who has ever lived, are equals. That doesn’t at all mean for a moment that some of us didn’t needed serious help and intervention at certain points, or that perhaps all of us haven’t experienced something of arrested development. Nor does it mean that anything and everything a person does should be accepted as okay. Of course not. But underlying everything, we need the firm, core conviction that we are all equals, period.

There is no doubt that in Christ we humans are taken into the sphere of the new creation, something God is doing through the redemption and reconciliation of all things to God’s self through Christ. We especially together, but individually as well, in Christ are a new creation. The fact that this is so of each of us in Christ should in our imaginations at least take our breath away. But let’s not forget for a moment that everyone, yes every single human being is made in God’s image, and has an imprint of the divine, and is a special subject of God’s favor because of that, God’s children in creation, just as we in Christ are God’s new children in the new creation.

That said, let’s work at accepting each other fully: warts and all, just as we are. That’s two sided of course. Just as others will have to accept me, which is more than alright, as long as I continue to make the needed adjustments along the way, we must accept others fully where they’re at and without qualification.

Yes, as they say, we’re all equals at the foot of the cross. None of us has a leg up on another. We’re all sinners in need of God’s grace. But we need to learn not to look down on anyone, including those of other religions and traditions who again like us, bear the image of God, even though for all of us that image carries with it a brokenness. We may learn something helpful through them, even as hopefully they see Christ in us. Because of the cross (Christ’s death and resurrection), Christ receives all who will come to him with open arms. And Christ reaches out his arms to all, regardless. And in the end, God will get God’s way. Yes, through much judgment even with mercy, but the full salvation for all, following.

Let’s see every human being as an equal whom we take seriously, from whom we might receive help, as we love them as well. Something I need from others, and something I must always give, even when there are challenging points in that process. In and through Jesus.

Paul’s citizenship and ours as Christ-followers

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20

My explanation as to why I don’t pledge allegiance at the few meetings I go that require it is that the first time I was born I became an American citizen because my mother was an American, but then in 1971 I was born again and I am now a Kingdom of God citizen. Please think of me as a foreigner, or resident alien.

Lynn Miller

Paul though a Jew was a citizen of Rome and used his Roman citizenship to procure whatever rights had been violated to fulfill his calling as an apostle to the gentiles through the gospel of Christ. He was also an Israelite through and through as is attested at the beginning of the passage above (click link).

Most everyone and every professing Christian and follower of Christ has some kind of earthly citizenship or tribal belonging. Paul makes it clear here that followers of Christ strictly speaking have only one citizenship, that of “heaven.” And that Jesus’s followers await his return, the time when all the promises of God and blessings that come with that will be fully realized.

There are perhaps Christ-followers attached to a Christendom which ties church and state together so that part of their faith is more or less tied to a national entity such as the United States, or whatever other nation. But is that the faith or gospel that Jesus brought, or Paul or others taught? Would Paul have fought for Rome or advised gentile Roman citizen Christ-followers to do so? From what we read in his letters and in Acts along with church history, the answer from the first three centuries is plain. No!

Christ-followers should always hope and pray, advocate and work for the good of whatever nation-state they live in (see Jeremiah 29). But their allegiance is to one Lord only, and their hope for themselves and for the world is in one Savior only. But in a salvation active in the world now by the Spirit of God in Christ’s body, the church. The life to come present now through this body shown in good works for the true good of all with an emphasis on justice for the poor and oppressed, the bereaved and the marginalized. Works very much down to earth like serving on a public-school board perhaps in the inner city and advocating for needed systemic change such as addressing underlying causes of poverty and the problems that come with it.

The source of all of that from where true life lies: the reconciling love of God present in Jesus. A life to restore our full humanity and all of creation in the new creation in Jesus, beginning even now. As we Christ followers in our works together anticipate and await Christ’s return which will bring God’s good final judgment and universal salvation. In and through Jesus.