Necessary – for us

Last night I completed a Zoom on the final chapter in the book, The LifeLine, on the cross. Always an interesting discussion as the cross can and should be viewed from many perspectives (and is in Scripture… though no surprise here, not I think from that of penal substitution). I put forward a couple of aspects last night that are not in the chapter with ‘yes I am probably willing to stand in a corner and have stones thrown at me as a heretic for this…’

Given that we have to be agnostic about how much we have a grasp on ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’, my beliefs are ‘I lean toward’, and I lean strongly toward that of the future not being fixed, in fact I lean so strongly that way that I have probably fallen over. If the future is not fixed in what sense was the cross always planned? (‘Slain from the foundation of the world’ springs to mind here.)

Oh, what a roundabout way I am about to travel in this post…

Reading a few days ago in 1 Chronicles 11:15-19 (I have emboldened the text I am considering):

Three of the thirty chiefs went down to the rock to David at the cave of Adullam, while the army of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. David said longingly, “O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the Three broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and they brought it to David. But David would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, and said, “My God forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. The three warriors did these things.

Drinking blood – something that Jesus said both in terms of the Last Supper, and in John 6:53 that those who do not drink his blood will have no life in them. To drink blood is to metaphorically to receive the gift of the substance of a person (true love) at the cost or potential cost of their very life. It is not some pagan ritual, and this blood poured out is indeed the life poured out (life of the flesh is in the blood) not some appeasing act to the divine. Blood in the OT is for cleansing not for appeasement, life poured out cleanses, for life is stronger than all other opposing forces, even in the case of Jesus, that opposing force of death. To drink the blood of Jesus is to receive deeply his outpoured life that comes to us, not simply through him risking his life, but through losing his life. (And maybe I should add that as a human he has to take the risk that love is stronger than hate; life poured out stronger than death… he, as human, being faithful to live out God’s life. He dies in faith – into your hands I commit my spirit… God raises him on the third day.)

God’s life is revealed in the cross, there we understand that God is kenotic, self-pouring out, life-giving, not life-taking. As I have stated in previous posts Jesus did not humble himself in spite of being God, but because he was in the form of God he emptied himself and went all the way to the cross. God will go, God did go, to whatever depth was necessary for human and cosmic redemption.

The cross is not an aberration of God; it is not at the resurrection that Jesus defeats the powers but at the cross; the resurrection being the visible sign that Jesus has overcome all enemies to the fulfilment of cosmic destiny (and I mean cosmic, within which of course is included human destiny).

In Acts the consistent testimony is that ‘you killed Jesus.. the Author of life…’ If we do not read a theologically biased reading of ‘eternal foreknowledge’ into Acts 2:23,

this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

we can understand it as the cross fulfilling the plan of salvation, not in some predetermined way set before the foundation of the world, but in fulfilment of the life of God. (Foreknowledge is simply to know something beforehand, the ‘when’ of the knowledge is only determined to be eternal if there is a presupposition that is the case.)

God will self-give to whatever level is necessary, there is not a ‘thus far and no further’. The cross became necessary for us; the death within critical history (the fullness of times) in the place of strong captivity (Jerusalem, strong captivity because of the religious / political alignment)… You (religion) handed him over to those outside the law (the one world government of Empire). Handed over the life giver (human act) and death was swallowed up, it could no longer hold him, indeed Peter says it was impossible for death to hold him. It is not primarily that he dies our death (substitution and penal?), I would rather suggest he dies because of our death and he takes our death to a new place; our death is carried into his life poured out, and so he tastes death for everyone, and brings death to our death!

The subsequent invite is to find our identification with him – to die with him so that we will be raised with him. The Triune God gladly took our death to the place of death, for that death is swallowed up in the life poured out. If I then drink of his blood, I will receive the flow of that outpoured life, I will die… and rise with him. It is not guilt that is to be dealt with, so that my ledger is marked ‘innocent’ but cleansing that comes to heal the soul and to restore the familial relationship, the cross not seeking to deal with legal issues (leave that aspect to the Jewish aspect of the cross) but the estrangement issues. The ‘Prodigal Father’ will run to us, leaving the law weakened, running the risk that sin will indeed abound yet even more… but for those who receive the embrace, shame (and guilt) disappear, sin is condemned, death is conquered.

Slain before the foundation of the world? Indeed. How can it be otherwise? That is the eternal God, not simply the historical Jesus in the first century. Each time we take the bread and the wine we proclaim his death… till he comes.

The mighty promises of a deliverer, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah… but when we turn (repentance) and see (bear testimony to) it is not a Lion that fills our view, but the eternal nature of God, a Lamb slain… the One found worthy to open the book of destiny.

Yes I do believe there could have been other possibilities if we (the ‘Adam’ that we all are and participate in) had made different choices. What could never be changed is that the God of Creation is the Redeeming God who will go wherever s/he has to go in order to redeem. The cross is not necessary for God, it was necessary for us. It becomes inevitable for God because God is kenotic.

A couple of posts

A couple of articles – one a podcast that might be of interest. Thomas Jay Oord is one of the key writers on Open Theology. Here is an article on God and foreknowlege:

If you decide to read the article scroll down to the comments also – one or two interesting bits in there, related to God and ‘timelessness’ (a concept the Greeks might embrace but not one Hewbrews could swallow).

Andrew Perriman always writes material that will necessitate a measure of re-reading of Scripture. Here is a video cast he has just released on:

How does the New Testament predict the future… So essential to grasp that we do not have a book that is helping us see we are in the ‘last days’ because of this, that and the other!! We are, have been in the last days, with some hope that there will be a ‘last day’ yet to come.

And why not throw in Peter Enns. He helpfully does a number of podcasts where he ‘ruins something’! This one on ‘Peter ruins Isaiah’ makes for a good listen:

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.