Tag Archives: Humanity

A Lesson from the Leviathans

Today when we observe the whale, we see an affable, albeit mysterious fellow.  The sort of chap who is widely traveled and deeply learned, yet feels no need to share the full extent of his experiences.  (Whales seldom have Twitter accounts, much less write their own tweets.)  My point is that, should you encounter a whale, you will most likely be met with mild curiosity if you are deemed worthy of attention at all.  This isn’t noteworthy unless you consider that there are few other species against which we have waged such a bloody and far reaching campaign (excluding our fellow humans, of course).  Yet despite the previous hostilities, the whale’s primary concern remains, even around us, doing those things which whales do.  Herein, I think, lies the cardinal virtue of the whale: despite the challenges he faces and despite his grandiose size and power, he remains faithful to his divinely appointed business as a whale.  Sometimes, the issue we run up against is that, in the midst of our daily lives, we forget our divinely appointed business as humans.  Therefore, perhaps we can learn a thing or two by considering the whale.

Now as I hold up the whale for our reflection, it is not my aim or intent to try and outdo King Solomon who held up the ant for us in a similar fashion.  Rather, I wish only to follow his example (and that of our Lord Jesus Christ, for that matter) in pointing us to nature as a way to better direct our hearts and minds to God.

The first objection that may be raised against the whale’s example of living with and for God is that it is a brute beast who doesn’t possess the same level of intelligence or consciousness as we do.  This is undeniable.  However, what we can take away from this point is that while a whale is relieved of our level of intelligence, he is also relieved of much of the mental humbug that comes with that intelligence.  That is, there is an undeniable simplicity of thought which guides his actions: the whale’s pattern of thought always begins with God’s blueprint.  On the other hand, because we have the ability to engage in lofty thoughts, we are able to deviate from God’s blueprint for our minds.  This habit of straying from the straight and narrow is what we often call our sinful nature.  The cue that we can take from our cetacean planet-mates is to remember that our relationship with God has a, fundamentally, simple basis:  to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  This is what we aim to start from and allow to guide all of our thoughts and actions.

Another objection that may be raised is that the whale has the luxury of being able to focus on following God’s leading only because he is so large and is the master of his domain.  To the first point, about his size, I don’t think we can ascribe his calmness and clarity of thought to his size.  After all, in my reckoning, it is when we think of ourselves as big that we are most likely to be upset by trivial things.  To the second point, about being master of his domain, I think we have more in common with the whale’s situation than we may realize.  Recall, if you will, that the whale is a mammal who breathes through lungs living in a world of water.  It is only when he ascends to the surface that he is able to fill his lungs with life-sustaining air.  One might say that the whale is in the ocean but not of the ocean.  Similarly, as Christians, we are in the world but not of the world. This is why, like the whale, we must periodically ascend to the surface of the worldly ocean, spouting our prayers and breathing in God.

The whale, like all of nature’s denizens, helps us learn how to better live with God.  As more complicated members of creation, it is good for us to be reminded from time to time of the basics of life, that we should seek God first and foremost.  The whale also demonstrates for us the necessity of sticking our heads out of the sometimes turbulent and cloudy waters of life in order to be filled and refreshed by God.  So may we all endeavor to spout often and spout fully so that we may thrive in the sea that is life on earth, always looking above for our true fulfillment.  Thus concludes this little meditation on the mighty whale.

Chibi Whales

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Remembering the Last Things – Part 1

There are many things that we can think and meditate upon for the profit of our souls. One that is often recommended to us by the Christians of antiquity is our inevitable death and judgment before God. Granted, in a time in which we have seen and continue to see such topics handled with all the finesse and discretion of rusty cleaver, contemplating death and judgment is less than appealing and seems to be the purview of a rabid and thoughtless theology. However, what I would like to ask of you is to set those impressions aside as best you can and approach this idea on its own, for what it is.

Let’s start with a Scriptural precedent for such contemplations, for they do not have their origins in the desire of one person to control another. Rather, they spring from the desire that a person should control him/herself. (While I won’t touch on it directly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the entirety of the book of Revelation here.)

Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

-2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul calls the church’s attention to the final judgment in order to give them perspective on their current condition; a perspective that includes eternity.

Peter also urges us to remain mindful of the Day of Judgment in light of the evils we encounter in life:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

-1 Peter 4:17-19

In both of these instances from Scripture, the final judgment is not presented to invoke mindless fear, but as occasion for thoughtful reflection and, in particular, introspection. It is such recollection that helps to keep us anchored to God as we navigate the seas of life.

Yet another instance in Scripture in which are urged to be mindful of the last things comes from Christ Himself. Throughout Matthew 24:45-25:46, Jesus provides us with four parables that we might meditate upon the final judgment; namely, the parable of the faithful servant and the evil servant (24:45-51), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), the parable of the talents (25:14-30), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). To whom is Christ telling these parables? His disciples. The meditation of judgment is presented to those following Christ that we should be careful to be prepared; that we should search our hearts and see to it that, insofar as it has been given to us, we live our lives in response to the grace we receive from God. Sometimes we may fall into overlooking our daily struggle with sin and become self-conceited. It is from such pride, I think, that a great many errors of churches spring. It leads us to veer from our calling to follow God and to instead serve ourselves and act as though we were self-sufficient, having no need of God other than as a mascot of our organization.

Now it bears mentioning where the idea of assurance of salvation/“perseverance of the saints” fits into this topic we’ve been discussing. If we trust in God to bring us safely to the port of heaven, what practical gain is there for us in contemplating His judgment? There is much that could be said of this concept, but here I will only provide a brief and pragmatically oriented response. First, when Scripture speaks to us of election, assurance of salvation, and so forth, a large portion of what is being communicated to us is that our trust in God in never misplaced. Second, concerning the intersection of our trust in God’s grace and our consideration of the fires of hell, I offer 2 Peter 1:10 where the apostle writes the following after a brief call to continued spiritual growth, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

So we can see that Scripture encourages us to pause and remember that God will judge all people at the appointed time. Such practice is good for our soul because it reminds us not to become complacent or careless in our Christian walk. Paul sums up well the purpose of the reminders of fearsome judgment and precious hope we see in Scripture when he writes the following concerning the instances seen in the Old Testament:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:11-13


Into the Deep

It is a humbling thing to look upon the ocean, to see the water meet the sky at the horizon and realize its immensity.  Likewise, looking down into the waters, there is something unsettling about not being able to see the bottom.  The ocean is so vast and unsearchable that it can hide entire pods of whales in the folds of its cloak.  Although this vastness disturbs us, it also lends a certain thrill to the encounter as well.  Into this great unknown numerous mariners have launched themselves.  One may well say that this traversing of the ocean is a common thread that binds all of them together.  Whether they enter the sea as soldiers, merchants, explorers, etc. they all share this relationship with the depths.  It may be said that Christians are like mariners.  Instead of being defined by a relationship to a vast and unsearchable sea, we are defined by a relationship to a vast and unsearchable God.

Mariners are made so by their launching out onto the sea.  We cannot accurately call “mariner” anyone who does not travel upon the sea.  Although a person may be a very learned expert on the sea and able to deliver many erudite lectures upon the subtleties of navigating it, they are not a mariner.  If a person spends a great deal of time observing the sea from the shore and even venturing upon the coastal waters on a regular basis, they still do not have that relationship with the sea that comes only from setting out into its vast expanse.  The same is true of Christians.  There is a profound difference in relationship between knowing about God and knowing God.  It is very possible to live our lives around God without ever living them in God.  To live our lives in God, committing ourselves entirely to Him and holding nothing back from Him, is what makes a Christian a Christian.  It is a lot like setting out into the unknown of the depths.  We do not and cannot know exactly what awaits us.  However, we do know that God is a guide, a shepherd, and our Father when we enter into this spiritual voyage.

We are called to embark on a voyage that will change us and bring us ever closer to God.  This requires us, however, to leave the shoreline of our securities and sins.  We might go to church and Bible studies each week, but unless we have set out onto the spiritual depths, it is no different than frequenting the same inns and as mariners and claiming their title for ourselves.  To leave behind our self-justification and self-worship is frightening at first because we are left in unfamiliar territory.  We find, though, that we have actually found the freedom to truly live.  The unknowable reaches of God and His unsearchable depths are then seen, not as walls and barriers, but as the dawns of renewed hope and joy in the Lord.


Heroes and Villains – Relius Clover

“Yes… that dark, inorganic mass.  I’m sure you saw it during the course of repairing Ada.  That object… THAT is a person’s true form.  Strip away the veneer… and people are nothing more than things.”

-Relius to his son

Relius1

At first glance, Relius Clover may remind you of the phantom of the opera.  However, what lies hidden behind his mask is far more dreadful than the phantom’s disfigurements.  Relius is considered to be one of the most brilliant minds in the world of the Blazblue videogames.  During a catastrophic lab accident, he was thrown into another dimension which spat him out 80 years in the future.  During that transport, he saw what he believed to be a person’s true form:  a ball of bluish light.  Since then, the mind behind his mask regards people as mere things, impersonal objects that are either of use or a hindrance to his research and goal of creating the perfect human being.  While pursuing this research, he has conducted experiments that have turned his wife, Ignis, and daughter, Ada, into weaponized puppets.  When his son, Carl, demands an explanation why he would do such a thing to his own daughter, Relius responds, “I was searching for something.  Ada was of use to me during the process, that’s all, like any other tool.”  Relius’ ruthless ambition and ghastly creations have earned him the moniker:  “The Mad Puppeteer”.

Relius’ villainy brings to light our own tendency to dehumanize others and reduce them to various means to our ends.  Judas Iscariot’s response to Mary (the sister of Martha) anointing Jesus serves to illustrate one way in which we do this:  “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:4-6)  On the surface, Judas’ concern seems practical, perhaps even admirable.  Would it not be better to sell the oil and donate the proceeds to the poor rather than “wasting” it?  John, however, writes of Judas’ true motives:  to get more money into the money box which he plans to take for himself.  Judas is concerned about himself uses the poor as a means.  Many times we pull a similar maneuver when we may engage in service with a wrong heart.  We are doing it so that we can help ourselves to the honor we ought to give fully to God.  Like Judas, we are using the people we claim to serve as a means to an end.

In contrast to the impersonal and dehumanizing view embodied by Relius, God has demonstrated time and time again that He is a deeply personal God.  We read that God spoke with Moses in the tabernacle of meeting “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)  This isn’t to say that Moses literally saw God’s face because that is not something that anyone can do in this world (see later in that chapter:  Exodus 33:18-23).  However, the language conveys the intimacy of the conversation between God and Moses.  God wasn’t speaking to Moses in a removed or distant way, but as a “man speaks to his friend.”  Later, in the book of 1 Kings, when Elijah is in the depths of despair, God speaks to him in a cave in the wilderness with instruction and encouragement. (1 Kings 19:1-18)

God even went so far as to be incarnated as a human in the person of Christ Jesus:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  “Inasmuch as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.  And release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)  Christ is God coming in flesh and blood to come alongside us in our sufferings and infirmities, identifying with our humanity.  Furthermore, when Christ ascends to prepare a place for us, He does not leave us alone:  “If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18)  Even now, God dwells within us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  God does not deal with us in a distant fashion, but closely as His beloved children.

If we are being conformed to Christ’s likeness, it means that we are learning to interact with people as just that:  people.  One of the most poignant instances where we see Christ’s heart for humanity comes from Matthew 9:35-38, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the His harvest.’”  Christ does not regard the weary, confused multitudes with disdain or detachment.  His heart is moved because they are each important to Him and He seeks each of them as a shepherd seeks a lost sheep.

It is tempting for us to become jaded and detached from others.  The news stream seems to show us nothing but the worst of humanity:  selfishness, corruption, murder, etc.  It often reaches the point that we come view such events as impersonal news stories when they are, in fact, human events which bring about human suffering.  In the midst of our increasingly busy schedules, we may come to view people as aids or obstacles to us.  We see them as being of use or hindrances to our goals, just as Relius does.

We should not deceive ourselves, thinking that we are so different from Relius.  Although we may not undergo the same trans-dimensional experience he did, each time we choose to treat others as means rather than as people, each time we choose to view others as less than human, we are teaching ourselves to think like him.  We are practicing viewing the world through Relius’ mask rather than through the eyes of Christ.

Food for Thought:

  1. Under what circumstances do I tend to treat people as things rather than human beings?
  2. How is Christ calling me to view others as He does?
  3. Consider the love which God has for us that, though He is Creator and we are created, He treats us as His beloved children.

WTH 4 – The End

Over the last couple of weeks, we have considered what hell really is, how it fits with God’s holiness, and how we fit into the mix.  Now we return to our original question of how God, who is love, could also be the same, unchanging God who created hell.

God’s love for us is perfect, therefore, by definition, it is not half-hearted and He also desires for us to know and love Him to the fullest extent possible.  As long as there is sin in and around us, we will never be able to know and love God to our fullest potential.  Sin (unlike the sinner) is irredeemable and breeds only death.  This is where hell comes into play:  it is the result of God’s righteous anger and disgust towards sin with respect to His holiness.  But God’s holiness gives rise to love and mercy in addition to righteous indignation.  It is in holy love that Christ came to earth and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world that we may be credited with His righteousness and spared the wrath of God laid up against us.  It is also holy love that motivates God to give us the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and walks alongside us; quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) revealing the things of God to us and interceding for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.”

If we were to hazard a short answer the question we began with, it would be that God is holy.  In all things He is holy.  He is holy in love and in wrath, in mercy and in judgment.  Hell is the outworking of His holy wrath and judgment while the cross is the outworking of His holy love and mercy.  Everything about God is holy, which is why it is such a remarkable thing that He chooses to create and associate with us.

Many times, God’s holiness is something that we view as cold and alienating.  It is true that His being holy puts some distance between us and Him.  However, we must not forget that it is this same holiness that He is drawing us closer to as we grow and develop and Christians.  His holiness is not something that we ought to view negatively, as if it were some lifeless barrier.  Perhaps a better way to view it would be as the perfection of being that burns so hot and so bright that we cannot draw too close to it right now, for it burns up all that is unclean with unquenchable fire.  However, we nonetheless move towards it along the trail blazed for us by Christ, the firstborn from the dead, guided carefully and lovingly by the Holy Spirit.  This is, at least in part, why Christian growth is not a fast-moving affair.  It is like coming out of a dark room into the sunlight.  It takes time for our eyes to adjust to the brightness.  Likewise, our hearts and souls, after being warped by sin, must have time to be shaped and sanctified according to the righteousness we are credited with in Christ.

Why can God create a place as terrifying as hell and also perform the greatest act of love the world has and will ever know?   It is because He is “holy, holy, holy”.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And present you faultless

Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

To God our Savior,

Who alone is wise,

Be glory and majesty,

Dominion and power,

Both now and forever.

Amen.

-Jude 24-25

Practical questions:

  1. Have you ever thought of God’s holiness including His love or mercy?  Why or why not?
  2. How can putting God’s holiness at center-stage change our perceptions of the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together as a unified whole?

A challenge:

Set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that block of time reading, re-reading, thinking, and meditating on the passage from Jude above.  Let this reading and thinking lead you into prayer about whatever you are led to say to God.


WTH 3 – Divine Intervention

Last week’s topic was God’s holiness and why sin cannot exist with that holiness.  God deals with sin by disposing of it in hell.  Thus, we cannot take our sin to be with God.  The question we are left with is how we fit into the picture.  However, before we get to us, it is worth talking about angels.  The fallen angels were cast out of heaven when they rebelled against God and became sinful.  The ringleader of this detestable lot was none other than our adversary and accuser, Satan.  Now, when Satan and his ilk were cast out, it wasn’t merely being kicked to the curb.  Jesus states that He, “…saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)  Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem, The Inferno, paints a humorous picture of the result of this bolt-like descent.  He places Satan at the very bottom of hell, where, after having performed the mother of all face-plants, he is buried up to his waist in ice, heels to the heavens.

In 2 Peter 2:4, we are reminded that God, “did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment”.  We often think of hell as a kingdom ruled by Satan.  However, this is simply not the case.  The Bible never speaks of Satan holding any kind of power or authority in hell.  Satan is sometimes described has being the ruler of this world, but not hell.  He may perhaps be the most notorious inmate, but he is certainly not the warden.  In the words of a preacher I once heard, “He’s down there soaking up the heat like everyone else!”

Thus is the state of the fallen angels and ours would be no different.  We, too, are marred by sin and it is not something that we can separate ourselves from.  We are incapable of living sinless lives.  Because of the sin we’re attached to, we find ourselves staring down the maw of hell.  Simply put, God is set apart from all unclean things, including us.  This however, is not the end of the story; it is at this point that God intervenes:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Romans 5:6-8

In His death on the cross, Christ took upon Himself everything in us that is hellbound.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Additionally, He received the wrath of God laid up for us on account of our sin.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

-Isaiah 53:4-5

In doing this, our bounds to sin where severed and we are free to lay down our burden.

Christ’s work on the cross and continuing ministry as our great High Priest separates us from our sin so that we may be counted among the holy.  (This isn’t to say that we don’t still stumble into sin, hence His continuing ministry.)  Additionally, God makes His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and carry out the sanctification and conversion of our hearts.

God looks upon our state, our inability to stand before His holiness on our own, and is filled with compassion.  He gave His only begotten Son so that we may be reconciled to Him and stand before His holiness, not by our own strength, but by His.  It is God who casts into hell, but it is also God who saves from hell.  To get a more complete handle on the love that God has shown us in Christ, consider this:  “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18)  Christ did not die for Satan who is described with the powerful images of a dragon and a roaring lion, or for the other fallen angels described as stars.  Rather He died for us, who have frames that are weak like dust.  With this in view, we can truly say with the Psalmist:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?  For you made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Practical Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we are led to think of Satan as a ruler and king over hell?
  2. What dimensions does the idea of defilement and uncleanness add to our view of sin?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He takes action to bridge the gap we are unable to?

The Big Deal about the Big Picture

As we go through our weeks, going back and forth from church and Bible study, we get snippets of Scripture which give us glimpses of God.  The question is:  what do we do with those snippets?  Do we stitch them together into a sort of patchwork image?  Do we leave church and never think about them again?  Perhaps we should ask a different question and consider what Scripture is instead of what we do with it.  Scripture is the Word of God, delivered to us to the end that we come to know God.  If we step back and look at the Bible as a whole, we see the story of God’s relationship with humanity; a story in which God reveals Himself.

The Bible chronicles the revelation of God to humanity as well as His redemptive work.  God reveals Himself to Abraham in the land of Ur, to Moses through the burning bush, through David’s prayers of joy and anguish, through the struggles of prophets like Elisha, all ultimately leading to Jesus Christ:  the revelation of God in flesh, the incarnate Word of God; in whom “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”.  The revelation does not end there as God sends His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Who continues to work and speak through the letters which make up the rest of the New Testament.  The Spirit continues His work beyond what is recorded in the pages of the Bible.  We are as much a part of the story of God as Elijah or Peter.

However, we cannot fully participate if we only know bits and pieces of the story.  We cannot know God if we do not listen to Him and pay attention to what He’s already told us about Himself.

Consider a machine as an analogy when we examine a particular selection of Scripture:  it is as if we have removed a part from the machine in order to examine it more closely.  While we understand the particular part better, we will not be able understand it as much as if we know how it fits into and functions in the machine.  We must be careful not to read only certain parts of certain sections of the Bible.  If we do that, we will be similar the blind men as they examine an elephant; with a limited and inaccurate picture of God as He has revealed Himself to us.  Without the bigger picture to fit the smaller glimpses into, we run the risk of customizing God to fit into our lives.  On the contrary, God is calling us to become part of His story.  We begin to step into that story by reading it instead of carving and dissecting it.  That is why it is important that we read the Bible from cover to cover:  so that we can participate in God’s story of revelation and redemption instead of merely watching the highlights.