Not always clear

Beyond the text

Ever since I was a kid I was taught to read the Bible, the simple Bible stories that still stick with me. At night my mother taught me and then told me to pray ‘me bonnie words’, which was a simple prayer from the verse of a hymn. Level of understanding – minimal to start with. Then through the more adult phase of my life had only one approach to Scripture and it all (had to) fit together, perhaps with a few tensions but certainly no internal disagreements. (Confession always found a lot of the ‘Old Testament’ difficult; there was an early church leader, Marcion (85-160AD), who posited that there were two revelations of ‘god’. The God of the Gospel who sent Jesus was the true God, the one of the Old Testament not the true ‘God’ but a ‘demiurge’. I certainly don’t think he got it right, but he has my sympathies!)

Marcion was wrong, but we all have to find some kind of solution, unless the solution is that the revelation of God in Jesus was temporary, and we all await the day of (violent) vengeance when the God that Jesus hid from view is revealed! The post I wrote on Jesus (because) he was God emptying himself sought to show that Jesus was the express image of God; all Christophonies are Theophanies. There is not a non-Jesus like God.

Scripture makes us work. We cannot always just take every word as if they are the ‘words’ of God. The book, and above the book, the story that unfolds I have no trouble giving to it the title ‘word of God’, provided we understand that the ‘word of God’ (Scripture) is bearing witness to the ‘Word of God’ (Jesus).


(After I had written this post an excellent, and creatively written, post was put up by Brad Jersak ‘Reading from the End (with children)’):

https://peteenns.com/reading-from-the-end-with-children/


Disagreement, discussion, enter the dialogue

I think Scripture does not shrink back from disagreement, and invites us into the disagreement. It does not give the answer, but presents the issues, then as we submit to the wider story, and the revelation in Jesus, we will come out of it with our conclusion. And if it is a theoretical conclusion, particularly if we hold to a perspective but do not truly submit to it, we should rightly expect to remain confused. Scripture is useful. It is so far beyond theory.

Disagreements? Well try to put the three books of wisdom together – Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. One is so principled and is the one we love to quote, for there are no exceptions. With the second one, at least we get a look behind the scenes and can decide Job’s troubles (exceptions) were a manifestation of heavenly conflict. The third one… all is vanity? Better to be dead? Not words pulled out of the first book, Proverbs! But the three open up a window on our complex world and context. (Personal confession: I much prefer Proverbs… much easier to pray from that one!)

Disagreements? Well what about the anointing of a king? So much of the Old Testament, certainly what is written / edited after the rebellious northern kingdoms got their comeuppance through the Assyrians is solidly pro-kingship. Judges – ‘there was no king in the land’ – presents the problem to us, with the solution simply being that all we need is a decent king. Indeed someone even cheekily put a few words into Moses’ mouth, and really into God’s mouth, about the king, long before there was a king:

When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,” you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king—you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way (Deut. 17:14-16).

But, but, but the choice of a king was a rejection of God (1 Sam. 8).

God, the law and the death penalty

Then there is God, who really messes things up for us. The death penalty was prescribed for 38 crimes in the Old Testament, murder of course being one of them. So when we read of the first recorded murder (Cain) and that the murderer is confronted by God himself, we should expect a clear result! But… the result was that God covered the murderer with a protective sign. In reality God disobeyed his own law… or we presume that the law is not the law of God, not in an absolute sense, and it seems clear that Jesus came at it that way.

The prodigal son prodigal father

The parable has been understood to be the prodigal son parable and that supposedly speaks deeply to us. If we make it the parable of the older brother it would probably speak to us even deeper, with our sin not being the issue but ‘our’ righteousness. That would be just a little painful to read it that way… though look at the context and see how it is set in the space between the ‘sinners’ and the ‘Pharisees and scribes’. However, there is a third character in the story…

Think about the father, and I don’t think there is much disagreement when we consider this to be a picture of the ‘heavenly Father’. First let’s establish the biblical requirement of a good law-abiding, righteous parent:

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. (Deut. 21:18-21)

The son in asking for the inheritance is (culturally) saying he wishes the father dead. The rebelliousness of the younger son is evident throughout the parable, and so the son qualifies to be given a good old beating by the elders while the father looks on with approval, indeed to be put to death. With this biblical backdrop we meet the father that Jesus presents as the real ‘prodigal’ character in the story. He runs? Never, would that happen. That would be a disgrace, what a loss of dignity, how undermining to the family, how ultimately destructive to the fabric of society. The shocking nature of the parable is hard for us to grasp, but would not have been missed by the hearers in their contextual culture.

And this is God!!!!

A simple textual approach gets us so far, and many times the revelation of God in Jesus will cause us to struggle with certain texts. We have to. I cannot reconcile many of them, but I am thankful that I was not encouraged to understand them but there is something overarching them all with the exhortation that I am to ‘try and find out what pleases the Lord’. That word ‘try’. Those are the kind of words that helps me to love what I read.

I said when I was a kid my level of understanding was minimal. In some ways that has not changed. I probably should pray ‘me bonnie words’ again:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild
Look upon this little child.
Pity my simplicity,
help me Lord to come to thee. 

Not a bad prayer! Don’t know too much, but in it all and through it all help me find you.

Elect

Yes please - count me in

Chosen by God… but this in its strong form has always troubled me, even the Arminian version of God knows who will respond has troubled me. At least Spurgeon had a good prayer to get round it (not very theological though): Save the elect and then save some more!

So what do I think? I never thought you would ask.

First election is to a purpose. Israel’s election is not to put a stamp on them to mark them as ‘the saved ones’ and by default on the others as ‘the damned ones’. Any election is for the whole.

Second there is ultimately on One elected person: Jesus. He is the Chosen one – not you, nor me, nor even a particular race – not when we view it from the position where it is placed. Eternity. Jesus has always been the Chosen one… and we are elect IN HIM.

If I make a comparison with Israel, an individual Jew could say ‘I was chosen in Abraham in 1750BC’ (bit arbitrary with the date but close enough).

  • The chosen one – Abraham.
  • When – some time ago.
  • Me – I am chosen because I am in him.

Now to Ephesians with a few words emboldened:

Just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 

  • The chosen one – Christ.
  • When – before the foundation of the world.
  • Me – I am chosen because I am in him.

OK there you get my simple approach. Everyone who is in Jesus is chosen, part of the elect. There is no election of some to salvation / others not. Jesus was elect, if and when I am in him I am chosen, and destined (predestination is destined set to be like him…).

So now that you have read these few posts from these past days should be the end of all arguments with regard to some of those speculative themes.

If not, God is still personal and adapts Godself to the likes of you and me, regardless of how much water our theology leaks (no theology being totally water-tight).

Knowing everything

This is always a big old nut to crack. Does God know the future? If so how and if not how can that be?

Calvinism answers it simply – all knowledge comes from what has been pre-determined. So there is no issue when we talk the ‘sovereignty of God’. Foreknowledge is absolute.

Arminianism kind of reverses the above approach. God predestines what he foreknows. The foreknowledge is many times likened to what we might term ‘future memory’. My memory gives me knowledge of what took place, but the memory does not determine the past event. So God has knowledge that acts like our memory does – he sees it all but that does not determine what will happen. Such texts as ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God’ then kick in strongly. He knows what I will do / if I respond to Jesus and so if I do I am elected / predestined according to that foreknowledge.

The above two views of course are helped along if we add the ‘God is outside of time’ element.

With almost all views (except mine) there are Scriptures that seem to fit in the box we have created, and a few that we can ignore that do not fit in.

The last sentence is my rider to what do I know about this… However…

I lean very strongly toward the future is not determined (with predestination / election having nothing to do with who is chosen and who is not); I also think there are so many Scriptures where God changes his mind, or says he will get back to us when he has worked it out (a very loose paraphrase of a conversation he has with Moses), that it pushes us away from God having absolute foreknowledge of what will take place, that there is a very real element where people are free to make choices.

Wow… you’ve just limited God (see I can hear what you think even at a distance!).

I don’t think so. For me the God as described by the Calvinists and the Arminians is actually limited. The future will take place because of God’s omnipotence is the fallback with that. But I think the future will take place because of God’s love; a glorious future for people and planet (and whole kosmos) because of love that knows no limits (Openness Theology).

I am no great chess player. I remember playing for my school and within (I think) four moves lost the match. My excuse was I did not play chess, but fancied representing the school. A great chess player is anticipating the move(s) of the opponent, thinking 3,5,6 and a whole lot more ahead. Imagine being able to consider every possible choice by every possible human, every permutation and knock on effect, multiple billions of billions of possibilities… That’s not possible (see I can hear you again!).

Maybe rather than a limitation on God, it shows the infinite knowledge of God, not simply knowing what will happen, but every possible trillions of permutations. A BIG GOD.

I think it fits the biblical material better that other views. It again underlines a relational God who is never taken by surprise but will come to every situation afresh with eyes of love to be involved without overriding human choices to bring out of it something beautiful and ask for our co-operation in the process.

The invitations in Scripture are genuine – they are genuine invites. The warnings to get off the broad way that leads to destruction (as spoken by Jews in his context) was a genuine warning. Some got off that path, and came out the other side of the huge calamities that came a generation later. God changing his mind does not have to be read as some kind of ‘anthropomorphism’.

Of course I might be forcing some Scriptures but it is summertime. Whatever way you come to it. Our God is a relational God; not ‘one of us’ but totally ‘with’ us.

Outside of Time!!??

Really?

Its summertime, so just thought I would run off a few off-the-cuff posts about whatever takes my fancy. Today in response to the phrase that one hears so often:

Of course God is outside of time.

Now what on earth would that mean? And where does that come from?

Disclaimer: the opposite statement is not without its problems too, with a more ‘how old is God then?’, kind of problem!

Second disclaimer: there are people we are on the same page with regard to our thoughts, others are in the same book, if you consider I am in another library all-together, it is summertime so just put up with it!

This idea of God outside / above time seems to come from the Hellenisation (big word for the non-word Greekifying) that took place as the Jewishly-rooted Christian faith moved into the world where Greek philosophy ruled. Change was considered to be a measure of imperfection, hence immutability (not subject to change) was necessitated as being applied to God in every area. Time being involved in the nature of change, God was outside of time. The Jewish view has a God whose character does not change. The same today as always, a God who can be trusted. But there is no difficulty in attributing change of mind, experience of emotion, a before and an after with regard to God. Those descriptions demand a God who lives in time.

(There is also an element of the further east one travels that the thinking of time is less linear and more circular. This probably also affects the view of time.)

A God who lives in time: the incarnation is a good case in point. There was when (a time word) the Logos was not incarnate as the human Jesus. The cross and resurrection likewise. They are past events for us… and for God (with respect to God’s experience). The body is no longer in the tomb, there was a before and an after. The parousia has not occurred yet, not for us, nor for the hosts of heaven.

Time does not affect God as it does us. Death is not God’s future, nor even an endless celebrations of birthdays – there is no growing old for God! A day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day: does not mean time is not part of God’s experience, but that his relationship to time is not our relationship to it. It is the same with kids… ‘is it Christmas soon’ is the kids perspective (and it can start on Boxing Day and every day thereafter!); the parent ‘glad to get that behind us, at least we have a year to prepare for the next one.’ (I am sure not true for many families, but the illustration of time and our relationship to it still stands; ‘next week’ is a lifetime away for a kid; for a parent it comes all too soon.)

The interaction with creation demands God and time. The future is still longed for by God, the day when there can be a culmination of the ‘project’ and his dwelling place will be among us in fullness. That future is our future and also God’s future.

Not wishing to get into too deep water, I don’t think that clever-man Einstein’s theory of relativity comes into play either. It seems to state that an event is relative to one’s ‘position’, so can be past for one person, present for another, and future for yet another (and by position of course we mean within the galaxy!). It is relative to each ‘person’ because of their finite position. God has no finite position, being omnipresent, so it seems to me that Mr. E’s clever theory does not speak to God and time. (BTW ‘theory’ in mathematics / science is not the same as the popular use of the word theory, it has been subjected to many tests and come out the other side, unlike my theories! Evolution, for example, cannot be dismissed simply as ‘it is only a theory’.)

How old is creation? What was God doing before creation? If God is in time when did that take place? OK, got me now… yes God inside time is also not without its difficulties either, but before making a response, time seems to me to be primarily defined not by a clock or a calendar but by how a sequence of events are experienced. And that is necessary for a relationship, a real relationship. Listening, talking, thinking, considering, responding, feeling… all time words, all words related to personhood, words applied to God.

So how old is creation? No idea. I kind of think it might be eternal – past and future. Why not? God worked with some pre-matter (chaos) in the ‘beginning’. Maybe the big bang was one of many… If that is the case then it gets round what was a God who is a Creator doing before there was a Creation? The eternal God has been eternally the Creator God, and if what I suggest is OK it does not mean that creation is God!

Or maybe we somehow have to posit a ‘before creation’ a God-not-subject-to-time’ but in the creation act God creates time and space and enters into time. (I wasn’t present… and all of it is a little beyond me, so I press that concept no further).

God inside of time does not solve every issue, but it seems to make a lot more sense to me. I relate to someone who begins the day with me. What are we going to do together; what real conversations will we have; what plans will be hatched? How can we work toward the same future?

Did I mention future in that last sentence? What do we know about the future? What does God know?

The location of righteousness

Reconciliation... the manifestation of righteousness

Following on from yesterday’s post where God and Jesus are one, they are kenotic, self-emptying; Jesus never acts in a way that is ‘although’ he was God but because he was God, I am coming today with a quick look at the cross and one of the central passages that suggests that righteousness is ‘imputed’ to us (so central to Reformed theology).

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Lest one think I understand all this, let me return that I had feedback that the chapter on the cross in Humanising the Divine was the ‘most disappointing chapter’. Ah well!! So with that as background you now will have to take what I write seriously, pressing on…

  • Two locations: Jesus at the Cross, and ‘we’ in Jesus.
  • Two contrasts: ‘sin’ and ‘righteousness’.

I will try and hold those two in the forefront.

The wider passage is about the ministry of reconciliation given to Paul / the apostles / and I think by implication to the body of Christ. The message of reconciliation is based on God’s act in Christ – he was ‘in Christ’ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). There is no sense that at the cross God turned away from Jesus, forsook him, could not look on ‘sin’. He was present there, the cross is not about the separation of the Trinity but about an incredible expression of the unity of the Trinity. (And to push it home Jesus was not reconciling God to the world!)

I think to gain some understanding of what takes place at the cross it is helpful to quote the same writer (Paul) in one of his other letters, Romans 8:3,

by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.

Sin is condemned, has its final judgement at the cross. It is not that Jesus became ‘a sinner’, or that something was imputed to him (Reformation theology) and then on the other side something is imputed to us. Jesus is not condemned, sin is condemned.

Sin (singular – as a power, a dominating ruling force) is condemned at the cross, it is dealt with. As a result we can be released from that power (release being the root of forgiveness, and I do not think we should project from us to God our understanding of forgiveness… that he holds something against us until… another discussion). It is for this reason I think the ‘made to be sin’ is using the word ‘sin’ in the (not uncommon way) to mean ‘sin-offering’, a way the word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. I appreciate there is a lot of discussion around this, so this is not convincing to all. However…

Add in the second part of the verse, the part where we have the result of the cross, the contrast of ‘righteousness’ and ‘sin’. It does not say that we will understand righteousness, we will receive righteousness or that we will be declared righteous, with it being imputed to us, or something of that order. It says so that we might become (in him) the righteousness of God.

  • The location: ‘in him’.
  • The people: ‘we’.
  • The manifestation (not the status): righteousness.

The cross brought an end to the rule of sin, so that a new people could be formed. And here is the challenge. A new people where the righteousness of God could be made visible. God is righteous? How do we know that? Look here at these people! That is somewhat beyond imputation. And a most provocative challenge indeed. Talk of a high calling!

In contrast to this we declare that sin has been judged. How do we know? Look at the cross. The one who knew no sin, who was not ever under its power, became the location where it was judged.

  • He became the place where it was judged / the sin-offering.
  • So that there might be a place where righteousness is manifest.

What does that righteousness look like? Well at the heart of this passage is reconciliation, bringing together what has been divided. If righteousness is revealed then reconciliation will be there fruit. How can there be a people who carry out this work, that proclaim this message, that embody this message? There has to be a people who know that an old system (the domination of sin) has gone and that they know / see that there is a new creation, that something has appeared before their eyes that has totally changed the labels, indeed the labels have gone:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

Is Jesus really like God?

Jesus is loving, God (and by this we normally mean, the ‘first’ Person of the Trinity, and so the one who is really God(!!)) we just are no sure about. It can also be underlined by such passages as the hymn of Philippians 2 – the ‘humbled himself’ lines.

Here are a few translations. First my favourite translation the New Revised Standard Version:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited (NRSV).
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (NIV).
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what (The Message).
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (ESV).
You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped (The NET Translation).

In all the above the NIV does the best! I have emboldened a word that really snuck in with some of the translations – the word ‘though’. That word subtly gives the impression that he acts somewhat different to the divine nature. A bit like ‘Although I am a law-abiding citizen, I chose to break the law…’ An ‘in spite of’ phraseology. So let’s dig just a little:

ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ – literally BEING IN THE FORM OF GOD, not though but if one were to add a word of emphasis it would be the word BECAUSE he was in the form of God. His act of self-humbling is because he was God not in spite of being God. This early hymn is so deeply significant; God was ‘re-defined’ forever through the incarnation of Jesus. The high and lofty one is the humble one, always has been and always will be.

Another similar passage is in 2 Cor. 8:9

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Here again the word ‘though’ creeps in. John Barclay has argued that if we add a word here to bring out the meaning it really should be the word ‘because’. There is no ‘though’, we simply have ‘being rich’ (πλούσιος ὤν), hence Barclay’s argument – and as these clever people can be, rather a large argument on the grammar construction – is for the sense of BECAUSE.

Jesus does not act ‘in spite of’, there is no ‘though’. His action is the action of God. Never is there a divided Trinity. Jesus is the way he is, because God is that way. God is the kenotic God.

Mistakes… learning… perfect

The making mistakes gift

‘In the image of God’… perfect? No, but good. Humanity was never ‘created’ perfect (aside: nor ‘given’ an immortal soul). Such ideas are not formed from the earthy theology of the Bible, but the ‘ideal’ world of the Greeks. The theology that looks for a way out; God is always searching for a way in.

The incarnation. Jesus is sinless, but not ‘perfect’. Or, at least, he is not intrinsically perfect in the sense the word is used of humans in Scripture, the sense of ‘mature’. To arrive at maturity is a process. And it was a process also for Jesus.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Heb. 2:10).

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb. 4:8,9).

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour (Luke 2:52).

A growth in wisdom, a path toward maturity. True humanity, that which Jesus exhibited, is not ‘perfection’ as suggested to us from our infected-by-Hellenistic-philosophy theology, but it is one that embraces mistakes, of holding to a position that has to be later abandoned, and moved on from it. We are all influenced by our culture, the wider cultures and the closer culture of the faith we have embraced.

Jesus learned.

Perfection is not the measure of true humanness, but learning, adapting, changing is the measure.

We know the classic example of Jesus learning from the Syro-Phoenician woman’s response; or when we consider the ‘who knew better?’ question related to Jesus or his mother in John 2! Or maybe the washing of feet of the disciples (John 13) was provoked by the washing of his feet by Mary of Bethany earlier (John 12).

Did Jesus learn in those situations? I reply with a resounding ‘for sure’. For sure, not simply because I wish to affirm his humanity, but because I wish to affirm his (sinless) true humanness.

This post might only be for me… To learn to embrace mistakes, not to see them as ‘sin’, as ‘failure’ but as the door provided to enable me to mature.

One of God’s good gifts to humanity is the ability to make mistakes.

God is God, and sadly we project on to God our humanity. ‘Anger’, ‘slow to forgive without proper repayment and forgiveness’; we tend to make God in our image, or the ‘idealised’ image of humanity (with all our imperfections). The two above examples are classic: wrath, but never are the anger of humans and the anger of God compared… and forgiveness… hence we end up with a transactional cross and a divided Trinity. Then we tend to make Jesus, as human, into ‘our’ God as human, so true humanness becomes something that provokes us to become even less human than we are! As if!!!

In the Garden we were tempted to become ‘as God’… the problem has always been a desire to become like the ‘God’ we perceive! Hence the purification we go through to act with power. The theology that sanctifies getting to the ‘top’.

It is all cut down when God becomes like us, the incarnation. Here is the image of God; here indeed is God.

(And the get to the top ideology is somewhat mocked in the tower of Babel story. The tower will reach heaven… God in heaven has to come ‘down’ to see it. Not so high after all. Hence, all the centres of power are not what they seem, they will all be unfinished, they will not reach the heights they proclaim. The small stone is always more effective than the great image that is created.)

The incarnation. And God in human form learns.

Long live mistakes. (Again written for me.) I guess it is not likely I hit the bulls eye today.

Shame… follow up

When I posted the interview with Michele I forgot to put a link to her writings at ‘Reflections from the unpaved road’.

(https://dmperry.com/2021/07/14/closets/).

Her regular blog will connect not just for those interested in the ‘shame’ area, but beyond. Michele, Gayle and I count as a friend, and particularly because of her honesty, transparency and hard-worked out wisdom. Check out her posts.

Re-populating Earth

Heaven's vision

In writing an email this morning in response to a question I mentioned that the work of the demonic is to dehumanise people. It is part of a bigger framework of seeing that the heart of sin is to act in a not-truly human way (to fall short of the glory of God); then I wrote that Jesus (truly human) and his redemptive work is to re-populate the earth with those who are truly human. It provoked to come up with the phrase that I have put in the title:

Re-populating the earth.
I think it has mileage (kilometrage?).

Future…

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3:2,3).

I guess the more we see the true Jesus (not simply ‘my’ Jesus that I construct) the more we become truly human – like him, changed from glory to glory (failing short of the glory of God being ‘sin’; glory revealed in and through the human Jesus). So there is a future element that awaits the parousia – the one that will happen or maybe even one of our speculative ones!!! At that time God will be with humanity – in line with all the movement in Scripture being heaven to earth, the other direction being temporary, until.

But we cannot simply push everything away to the future. There is a present element… Acts being a record of what Jesus is continuing to do and to teach (Acts 1:1,2); ekklesia being the representative company of those on earth to be the means by which heaven is to come to earth; the apostolic life that fills up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24); etc. Jesus is present now.

Re-populating earth! That is a mission that we can be concerned about. We are never going to be the ones that can decide eternal destinies… we can though, and are instructed to, live in a way that represents heaven, that opens ‘channels’ from that dimension to this one.

In virtually all of Paul’s letters we have theology in the first part and then ethics in the latter part. This is what has been done, this is what has taken place in your life, now here is the path. And I do not think the ethics are tied to rights and wrongs, but to a relational and eschatological pathway. Relational – ‘do good to all (especially to the household of faith)’ for we are ‘members of one another’ etc. How we relate to the others of faith is important, for they are family and this family is called (as per the family of Abraham, and of course we are the family of Abraham) for the sake of the world. When we meet those that we share faith with (the root of the word koinonia, fellowship) we have a strong obligation to be there for them, not simply to pat them on the back and sing a song together, but to provoke them to live out their part of the story related to this re-population process. When we meet those that do not share that same faith, but with whom we are family by creation, we have an obligation to reveal as far as possible how heaven has touched us, how they are valued, loved etc. And to encourage them on the path also of re-population… Not sure on some things (I hear you say ‘most’ but I quickly deny that) but it is clear Paul had friends who had not experienced that personal shift to faith in Jesus; the New Jerusalem’s gates are always open with people outside of the gates(!) – that being imagery apparently related to post ‘new heavens and new earth’ – so prior to that the open gate imagery has to kick in also, maybe in a greater way! (There are more wonderful ‘grey’ lines – Jesus the Saviour of all, especially those who believe… Especially, does not exclude, but does not obliterate a distinction.)

Eschatological, because the time has changed now. The future has arrived, there are two time-zones running concurrently. In the new time-zone the light is different, sight as a result is different.

Anyway enough for now. Is my space being repopulated… which is the overriding time zone that manifests here?

Let’s continue to speculate

Create the road as we travel

This is a bit of a follow up to the post on ‘pure speculation’. Not a post full of answers – go elsewhere for that – to people who are smarter than I am… and maybe to some who are not as smart as I am, though they know much more than I do. A few headlines first why I do not consider the Bible lays out ‘the future’.

  1. Understanding ‘predictions’ are not easy. We generally say that the Jews of Jesus time did not expect a Messiah who looked like Jesus. If they ‘missed it’ we are probably likely to also have expectations that will prove to have been wrongly shaped when we read and project forward.
  2. Predictions in the Old Testament did not always come to pass, and that ‘not come to pass’ is not limited to ‘they repented’ (Nineveh) and so God relented.
  3. Predictions and promise are not in the same category. Promise allows for ‘predictions’ to fall away, be expanded, to be incorporated in a new way.
  4. The reading of the predictions that we have (‘not one stone will remain upon another’; ‘man of lawlessness’ etc.) can be seen to be fulfilled in the AD66-70 era of the Jewish Wars / the year of the four emperors (AD69). For this reason I see no need (indeed, I am compelled not to) project into our future scenarios that we pick up from such predictions in Scripture.
  5. There has always been a ‘love God… live in line with the narrative (Scripture)…’ and work it out as you go aspect that was planted in our faith from the beginning. Witness the instructions concerning the kingdom of God that Jesus gave post-resurrection to the disciples. Clearly there were whole aspects that he did not cover, the big one being the inclusion of the Gentiles. They had to work it out when they faced that scenario, and did not have a notebook filled with a set of Jesus’instructed points as to what to do.
  6. The history of interpretation that sees the world (as perceived) and then reads Scripture and sees that world being described there does not have a good history! I suggest that the same method is employed by those who read Nostradamus as a foretelling prophet. Even in the short period of time since ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ (1970) to ‘Countdown to Armageddon’ (1980) to… How it all changes. Here is a summary of Countdown to Armageddon:
    The premise of this book is based upon Hal Lindsey’s prophecies that the anti-Christ is already here on earth and will come forth during the 1980s. In a nutshell, the author predicts that Russia will attack Iran in order to gain control of the world’s oil resources. Then China is going to jump into the fray and spread the war around the world, during which every major city is levelled and more than 1/2 of the world’s population dies. This scenario concludes with the re-emergence of the Roman Empire, consisting of a 10-nation confederacy. At that juncture, a world political leader (an uber-persuasive brain-child who resolves of all of the world’s problems, such as hunger and oil for everyone), will rise to power within this new world government. No one can resist this guy, who ultimately reveals that he is the Anti-Christ and, along with Satan, leads humanity to utter destruction.
    Makes for good reading (though not sure about that) but does not make for a good guide to the future!
    Anyway my point is that this method of interpretation does not have a good history – not in recent decades, nor in the previous centuries.
  7. The imagery of Revelation is imagery. Apocalyptic imagery that made sense in the first Century. I might try some:
    I saw a huge crowd that no-one could number waving white flags with crosses on it; they came as an irrepressible army, never diverting to the left nor the right; they came singing but in the day of battle the heavens closed in, the earth shook and in disarray they left the battlefield weeping.
    (OK pretty weak there but Italy won the Euros – well done Italy, just a better team all round!)
    Someone coming to my little weak attempt in the far distant future seeking to interpret the ‘vision’ in their context would be likely to be so far off the mark that we would be shocked by what they might come up with.
  8. The hope of Revelation is alive today (after all it is the hope of Scripture) that the day will come, even as a thief in the night, and that which has raised its tower to the heavens will be exposed as both empty and oppressive, will collapse. The kingdoms of this world, the kingdoms that are gathered under Babylon’s directive, will give way and another kingdom will be revealed.
  9. The hope is of the parousia, the appearance, the (literal) presence / arrival of Jesus. Given point (1) above what will that look like? He will come in the same way as he went… is that a literal descent from heaven that is being referred to, or is there something deeper being referred to?

I probably could go on. I am actually quite ‘conservative’ about my hope of the parousia (minus some elements that some might consider ‘conservative’) but my points above are simply to say that my last post might be a little speculative, but a) provided we live within the narrative of Scripture and b) that we are sowing now for the future we hope for and believe in; if we adhere to that I suggest our speculation might be healthier than being guided by some of the books we can read that have it all sown up!

Preparing to go to heaven and leaving behind a planet destined to be destroyed certainly seems to me far less biblical than living now in a way that will create a better possibility for heaven to come to earth (our prayer?) and for it to be a place where the arrival / presence of Jesus might be a good fit seems to me to be the better option. Certainly seems that this was the driving mission of Paul as he criss-crossed the oikomene that was the home to the one world government of his day, the very thing that Jesus refused to inherit. He was not interested in a ‘one world Christian-government’. Hence our ideas of your ‘kingdom’ coming cannot be shaped by that which we know of ‘kingdom’ where ‘every knee bowed’ and acknowledged that ‘Caesar was lord’.

Shaped by what we know. Or shaped by experiencing the devastating love of the Triune God. I am not sure if we should say ‘S/he has a plan for this world’ (which I believe is true), or ‘S/he has a great burning passion for this world’ and that together (humanity and God together) ‘We have plans together for this world’. Come let us work for a future…. might be an appropriate new Scripture!!?? (it might be a new text but I think is not too far from being a summary of Scripture as a whole.) The future is open (real or perceived) – now what vision do we carry? That vision will involve speculation, we might not get it right, but we will travel together, sometimes with strange travelling companions, we will make a path as we go… why create a path toward multiple ‘armageddons’ as if that is inevitable, when there are wonderful alternatives.

Change is constant, but change does not take place a constant rate. At a time of accelerated change (renaissance – reformation – enlightenment, for example… and the end of the 1990s through the first decades of the 21st Century, our context) input into the time of accelerated change has more effect on the future than at other times. There are very real historic before and afters. So I do not intend to make the path to ‘armageddon’ but to…

Perspectives