trying to fully understand (much less, explain) God

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job 42:1-6

I am both heartened and a bit disheartened reading of attempts today to portray God in a way that resonates with humans, particularly emphasizing God’s love, but all too often at the expense of not considering all of Scripture, which doesn’t cast doubt on God’s love, but reminds us that God can’t be put into a box, or made plain by any systematic theology, or any explanation for that matter.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we don’t have any understanding of God. God has given that to us through the revelation of Scripture, and in Jesus as given to us in Scripture.

The book of Job is a conundrum for modern sensibilities, and in the end, God denies Job what Job might wish, since God is actually way to big for Job to take in, even by revelation. I take it that for all the redeemed, the knowledge of God will unfold forever throughout eternity, yet never end.

What we do have revealed about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and as seen in the face of Christ within the context of Scripture, we must hold on to. Not letting go of any of that, and realizing we’ll never comprehend it all. But being satisfied just to know that God knows us and that we know God, and that God is love through and through. In and through Jesus.

it take a church

Nowadays there seems to have been a backlash against what was used by a political candidate here in the US some years back: “It takes a village.” Actually that has plenty of truth in it, just as does the idea that we can’t depend on others to do for us what only we can do. They can’t live our lives for us. Nor should we expect others to do for us what we can do ourselves. True. But the prevailing emphasis on individual rights and freedom nowadays perhaps is the idea that we can get along just fine on our own, that we need no one else.

God’s word and its fulfillment in Jesus tells us something entirely different. Humans are made for community. Yes, some of us like our space, and need more separation than others. But none of us were made for isolation, for solitary confinement. As God says in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make one corresponding him,  as complements to each other” (Genesis 2; my paraphrase).

Sin divides us from God and each other. At its core sin is a violation of love for God, and for neighbor, which really ends up being all humanity, especially in the world in which we live today, a shrinking globe due to our ability to traverse so well. God’s saving work in Christ is at heart a reconciliation to God and to each other. That reconciliation is front and center in the church. Through the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s table being central in enacting and displaying it.

“It takes a church” we might say. Yes, made up of imperfect, broken, yet being put together people like you and I. Just ordinary people, and often struggling to one degree or another. But our lives are meant to be lived not in isolation, but with others. If we’re “in Christ” by faith, then we’re in Christ’s body, the church. Our identity then, is not only in Christ, but in his body, the church.

That seems often minimized in evangelical Christian circles, with an emphasis on people’s individual response to the gospel and God’s word. But it is not minimized in the very Scripture we evangelicals hold as central to our faith. We need to acclimate ourselves to something different. The life of God we find in Jesus is especially made known in the church. And imbibed and then lived out yes even in the church through what we might call the sacraments, and our lives lived together in communion with each other. And from that sent out on mission. In and through Jesus.

a newer venture: finding rest and strength in Jesus through his invitation

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:25-30

I was intrigued recently to see a connection in the gospel according to John between our following Jesus, and Jesus following the Father. Seems that what Jesus practiced (I would even say, learned) from the Father was kind of a way of discipleship, that the Father led him in the same way that Jesus leads us. So that our discipleship in following Jesus is rooted in Jesus’s discipleship in following the Father (John 15:9-10; 17:18-19). Jesus was entirely devoted to God, and worshiped God as a human. Yet never ceased being God himself, so that Jesus’s devotion to the Father was nothing new within the eternal Triunity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we see from John’s gospel account that devotion was indeed reciprocated. But that in no way lessens the significance of Jesus’s complete learning from the Father as a human here on earth in this present life. Jesus’s invitation needs to be seen in that backdrop.

But again, for me this is a recent revolutionary development after decades of being a Christian. Not to say I haven’t entered into this many times along with all other believers. But with the possibility that we might be enabled by God’s grace and the Spirit to actually learn to live in this from day to day. Jesus’s invitation seems similar to that which he gave his disciples. It wasn’t meant to be just a one time event, but day after day after day. Of course they were with him nearly three years daily, but what he was promising them here was something even closer and more intimate, we might say, his presence with them and more by the Spirit after his ascension.

Who of us does not become weary and burdened by what often seems to be the relentless and crushing responsibilities of life? There’s so much we can’t control, not the least of which what other people might do. With that the mistakes we make along the way, and it goes on and on. But our Lord’s invitation remains: We’re simply to come to him as those weary and burdened with the promise that he will give us rest. We’re to take his yoke on us and learn from him as those beside him. He is gentle and humble in heart, and we will find rest for our souls. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. We will gain strength to do what we’re called to do in and through him, even through his direct tutelage and walk in his presence with us by the Spirit.

There’s more I would like to share connected with my own story and endeavor to live in this reality. But I end it here, at least for now. Something offered to everyone in and through Jesus.

 

the sheep listen to and follow their shepherd

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

We should meditate on God’s word regularly, day and night (Psalm 1) which should lead us to meditate on our Lord, and as I’ve put it in the past, be in interactive relationship with him, in fellowship, communion, yes, person to person.

Christianity has been called a Book faith. And it is very much tied to scripture, to the Bible. But it doesn’t stop there. It is personal and interactive with the Three Person God, who in himself is personal. And a large part of what it means to be human seems to be relational, humans living together, and in the end, God living with humans (Revelation).

To be a Christian is to be a Christ one, “in Christ.” Christ in us, and we actually in him. God in Christ: the Father and the Spirit in the Son, and the Father and the Son in union by the Spirit. And us together in Christ, so that we exist in this holy communion together. And as we see in the passage above (click the link), Christ has other sheep, so that they are brought into this communion. And that would be part of our goal through prayer, to see others hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and join us.

For prayer, and even for all of life this seems essential. Here is a good website to help us get started and grow in this way, called Soul Shepherding. So let’s be in the Book, but from that, also in interactive fellowship with Jesus. In and through him.

we speak, act, and live from Jesus’s authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Mark 11:27-33

There is no question that Jesus acted, spoke, and lived with a sense of unusual authority. It was in marked contrast to the religious leaders of his day who lived strictly according to the tradition of the elders. Jesus’s authority was from God, specifically from the Father by the Spirit. It seems to have been derived due to his humanity, yet at the same time Jesus seems to have had authority in himself.

Trinitarian authority seems to be in the union the Persons of God have with each other. The Father may be the fountainhead so to speak, but in the Trinity itself, such authority is shared.

But when it comes to the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, Jesus lived in utter dependence on God. He prayed to God, even appealed to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This all seems to be related to the Incarnation, to the humanity God took on. Jesus said he could have called on the Father, and could have received a legion of angels, but that God’s will had to be fulfilled.

In Christ, we now live with the same sense of authority. This impacts our actions, words, and very lives. We do so in the weakness of this present state. Sometimes we can be quite bold, but often whatever boldness we might have is tempered by our weakness. But make no mistake, we act, speak, and live from the authority of God in and through Jesus.

This certainly doesn’t make us infallible by any means. Strictly speaking only God is right, and only God knows. And it’s not about us individually as much as it is about us together, the church, and what God gives the church. But this does extend out to us in our individual lives. We speak from God insofar as we’re actually doing so, and that speaking is tied to God’s word in Christ, the gospel, and for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus explicitly said that since all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, that we’re to make disciples (Matthew 28). I take it by extension from the apostles, that we’re included in that, at least the church at large.

And so we live in the authority of God in and through Christ.

worshiping God

…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24

Worship of God is a theme in Revelation (see here, for example). It got me to thinking. I wonder just how much we truly worship God.

Worship is ascribing worthship to something. In scripture and Christian tradition, only God is worthy of worship. Although sometimes that language has been used for lesser objects. In the Great Tradition, veneration is giving special honor, even reverence to objects not worthy of worship. I am among those who would not be comfortable joining other Christians in doing that. But we naturally do that to some extent to those we highly esteem. This is set in certain Christian traditions for “saints.” Of course God alone is worthy of full, complete worship. And really, that can come natural too, as we seek to give our full attention to God: who God is, and what God has done.

When we are talking about God, we are referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We worship the Father in and through the Son by the Holy Spirit. But we can worship all three Persons of the Trinity, since God is one, and the Father, with Jesus and the Spirit are, or we might say is God.

To worship God might come naturally so to speak, as we focus on God. Of course it is what we call supernatural, beyond nature, since we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do so. We can only begin to gather in our minds and hearts just who God is by the Spirit. Then we worship God in our hearts through song and ascriptions such as we find in Revelation, the Psalms, and elsewhere in scripture.

Worship includes offering ourselves to the One who is deserving of everything. By creation and redemption, as well as simply who God is, God is worthy. We join in this eternal singing and song, and giving of our lives, in and through Jesus.

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.