By Linda Rex
In the day to day issues of relationships, it would be helpful if there was a referee in our personal lives whose only responsibility was to tell us who’s in and who’s out. When we just can’t get along with someone because they are a stinking awful jerk (in our mind and maybe our experience too), we’d love to have someone come along and say to them “You’re out!” and blip! they’d just disappear.
This would be really helpful in those relationships where we’re not sure if the person is really what or who they say they are. We wouldn’t have to risk the danger of being wounded, hurt or rejected by them because the referee would just call them in or out, and everything would be wonderful.
When we’re having a fight with our mate, we’d be able to know for sure that indeed we are right and our mate is wrong (which is generally the case, right?). We wouldn’t have to wrestle with the discomfort of repentance, confession, and admission of guilt, not to mention the hassle of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.
I think this whole paradigm of some being in and some being out comes from the dualistic framework in which western culture and religion are framed. This impacts our relationships with one another and with God, and causes us to live out our existence with the idea that good and evil are real opposites with equal power. This way of thinking and believing has its roots in Greek philosophy. I appreciate Dr. Bruce Wauchope wrestling with this in his series on “God, the Who and the Why” (see the link on the blog site, bottom right).
We make a lot of assumptions that in reality are not based on the teachings of Christ and the early church. For example, we assume that either a person is in God’s kingdom or out of God’s kingdom. Often in our view, there’s no other alternative.
But the scripture teaches us that God through Christ and in the Spirit created all things, and all things are upheld by his powerful Word. (1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-5) Nothing exists apart from God or outside of God. When Christ came to earth, taking on our human flesh, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God had come to earth in a real way in his very person and presence. God was present, and so his kingdom was being established in and through Jesus Christ.
And yet we talk about sin and evil and the evil one as though they exist in some place or existence apart from God. Dr. Wauchope points out that anything that exists in some place or existence apart from God is therefore self-existent, and therefore also a god. In other words, when we say that an evil person dies and goes to hell, separated from God forever, we are saying that person is capable of self-existent life apart from God and will sustain him or herself forever in an existence that is not dependent upon God in any way. But this is not the truth.
Nothing exists apart from God. All life is contingent upon God sustaining it and holding it. In order for anyone or anything to exist, God has to give it life. Even evil and the evil one, though not caused by God, are held within God’s very life and existence. They are permitted by God, but always servants of God. They must always bow the knee to God and God ever works to redeem and destroy the harm they do. They do not exist separately from or independently from God.
This is where alarm bells go off and people get offended. We believe that God cannot be in the presence of evil or sin, quoting Habakkuk 1:13. In reality the prophet was declaring that God cannot look on evil without doing something about it. And the way God did something about evil and sin was that he became sin for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) God came into our brokenness and healed it.
So we have to wrestle with this whole idea of who Jesus Christ is and what he did when he as God came into our human existence and reconciled all humanity, indeed even the creation, to God. If indeed in the very beginning God through the Word and by the Spirit breathed life into us to give us our very existence, and if indeed, God himself as the Word through the Spirit came into our very human existence and lived, died, and rose again, ascending while bearing our humanity with him, all of us as human beings exist within the kingdom God has established through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.
Now, existing in the kingdom of God and participating in the kingdom of God are, I believe, two very different things. Just because we exist in the presence of God (which we all do) doesn’t mean that we even acknowledge that God exists. We can live our entire lives believing there is no such thing as a God. The gracious Creator of all allows us the freedom to do that. But the consequences of believing and living according to that lie are disastrous.
Suppose a person lived their entire life opposed to the idea that God exists at all, and they certainly did not believe that there was any such thing as heaven or hell. What if they were so adamant that when we die that we just cease to exist and that there is no existence beyond this human life—and then they died?
If it is true that God holds all things in his hand and nothing exists apart from him, it would be quite distressing for such a person to suddenly find themselves in the presence of a loving, gracious God. If this person had spent their whole life running from God and resisting every effort God made to draw them to himself, they would be caught in a serious dilemma.
They would find they had spent their entire life acting as if they were a law unto themselves, that they were a self-sustaining, self-existent one, who could make up their own rules and run every relationship however they chose. But now they are face to face with the reality that God in Christ defines and sustains their very existence. And they’re part of an enormous extended family. It’s like they’ve lived in a darkened room with the shutters drawn, and God has just walked in and turned on the floodlights, showing the room is filled with millions of people.
They’re in, but they’re wishing desperately to be out. God’s adopted them and given them life in the Spirit, but they’re wishing there’s some other family out there who’d take them in. So they run off screaming, hoping to find the door and leave, but they can’t leave. They’re on the inside—there is no outside.
Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very nice way to spend eternity, does it?
Especially since we really can’t take anything with us but the relationships we have built during our lives and the character God has formed within us through Christ and in the Spirit. This poor person has no relationship with God (at least from their point of view) and many, if not all, of their relationships with others were based on selfish, self-centered motives which no longer apply in this new existence. And the One they thought was the referee (since apparently he does exist after all) has called them in, not out! What do they do now? Good question!
Holy Father, thank you for including each one of us in your life and love through your Son and in the Holy Spirit. Remove the blinders from our eyes so we can see the truth about who you are and who we are in you. Grant us the grace to fully embrace and participate in the adoption you have given us, allowing your Spirit to lead us and to transform us into Christlikeness. Through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, …” Romans 8:15–16 NASB
by Linda Rex
Seriously, God? audio by Linda Rex
Recently I’ve been reminded of the importance of taking each day as it comes. Last week I had made plans to take some time off to catch up on some things at home. When I’m busy doing ministry, sometimes other important things get left until later when I can get to them.
So having made these plans, I took my mom to her doctor appointment. From there, we ended up in the hospital for several days. It seems that it was a good thing that I took time off, but God had something else he wanted me to do during that time. It was more important that I be with my mother than it was to get those other things done.
I’ve never thought that much before about how arrogant it is for us to assume that we know what we are going to do with each moment of each day before it ever happens. Really, when I think about it, I can’t help but realize that I have no control of what’s going to happen to me or to those whom I have made plans with or for. I can sketch out a pretty good to-do list, but what gets done is another story all together.
I don’t know whether you have had the experience of having your day all planned out and then having it go a different direction entirely. Like the time I made a simple trip to find food during my lunch hour, and ended up in conversation with a police officer about the lady who had backed her car into mine but insisted that I was at fault. That day was a complete disaster in many ways, but in the end, it all worked out.
When we come to see that all of life is holy and caught up in the life and love of God himself, we find that the everyday things are full of encounters with the divine. Life isn’t just something we do on our own, under our own power, but is a relationship we share with Father, Jesus and the Spirit. We walk, moment by moment, in a way that takes into account the reality that we are not alone, but are participating in Christ’s life in this world.
We can act as if we are all on our own, without anyone having any say in our decisions or in our activities or relationships. Or we can act as if all of life involves a sharing with God. In other words, we quit going through life as though we are alone. It’s not just I now. It’s we—our divine Dad, our divine Brother, our living Breath—all share life with us, in us and for us. We’re never alone.
Acting as if we are in a real relationship with God means being in an ongoing conversation with him. It means that no matter what we do, we do it in companionship with God.
We may think that is a little awkward, especially when there are parts of life we would prefer to keep to ourselves. But as the psalmist says, there is no place where we can hide from God—he’s everywhere at all times. (Psalm 139) Perhaps that is why humans often prefer to believe there is no God at all, because if there really is a God, and he is really God, then he knows all our secrets and not only that, he has the right to tell us how to live our lives.
This is why it is offensive to some when we say that Jesus Christ has taken on our humanity, and has made us truly human, the way we were really meant to be. Because that means that Jesus Christ defines humanity. That means God gets to tell us what it means to be human.
To live in opposition to what God designed a human being to be is to live in opposition to ourselves and everyone else. Living in a way we were never meant to live means that we are living a lie. And we reap the consequences of living in that way.
We are all living in God’s presence moment by moment. We can enjoy that encounter with the living Lord, and take pleasure in sharing life with him. Or we can expend a lot of effort attempting to live life under our own power and even in opposition to him. He’s allowed us to do that—but he never meant for us to do that. He doesn’t want us to suffer the consequences of living that way.
So I think from now on, my to-do list needs to have an “If the Lord wills” clause in it. Since I’m on mission with Jesus in the world to share with everyone the love of God in Christ through the Spirit, I think I need to reevaluate my priorities as I make my daily lists. It’s a challenge to remember this, but here’s to taking some small steps in living life in companionship with God this day and from now on.
Thank you, Lord, that all of life is lived in your presence through your grace and love. I thank you that Jesus is all that we were meant to be as human beings, and that you have empowered each of us by your Spirit to live in relationship with you through him. Remind us each day to walk with you in joyful companionship and reverent love. For Christ’s sake, amen.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” James 4:13–15 NASB
by Linda Rex
Recently I was loaned a DVD set which contains the TV series “Firefly”. From what I have seen so far, this space western contains all the necessary attributes of a western drama—knockdown drag out fights, shootouts, ambushes, a train robbery and much more.
It tells the human story in a post-modern way, so there is much to be gathered from the human interactions. But it is a much more graphic style of storytelling than I prefer, and I think some may even find it offensive. (It’s definitely not kid-friendly, so I’m not recommending it.)
The creepiest and most horrific part, I thought, is the role that was given to the Reavers. These are humans who are so twisted and depraved that they torture, abuse and cannibalize any humans they come near. They haunt the outer reaches of the galaxy where people are settling new planets and there is very little law and order.
In the piece “Bushwhacked”, the crew of the spaceship “Serenity” come upon a spaceship whose travelers have been ambushed and savagely brutalized and killed by the Reavers. As they try to decide what to do in the situation, they begin to argue over whether or not the Reavers were even human. Could people who did the things they did to other humans even be considered human beings?
Indeed, I wondered as I watched this, at what point do human beings cease to be human beings? And what would it take for a person to cease being the human being he or she was meant to be? Is there a description that we can go by to decide who is and who isn’t truly human?
If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we all have times and places where we are less than what we were meant to be. We are inhumane to one another, and sometimes even to ourselves.
The early church wrestled with the question of who God is, and who Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in relationship with God. Why were these important questions?
These were important questions because who God is, and Christ and the Holy Spirit are, determines who we are. Because we are created in God’s image. God, who is three Persons in one Being and who lives in an eternal relationship of mutual love and respect, defines our personhood. He is the God we were created to reflect.
This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so essential to our humanity. God, who is Father, Son and Spirit, is one Being, but with three distinctive ways of being. We cannot separate the Father from the Son or from the Spirit, yet they are inseparable. The Son is not the Father, is not the Spirit, and yet they are one. Unity, uniqueness, and equality—this describes the Trinity. This transcendent mystery is the basis for our humanity.
When we fail to acknowledge or submit to the reality that God defines us and our humanity, and how we are to live in relationship with others—in equality, oneness, mutual love and respect–that is when we cease to be truly human. When we try to live out of sync with who we were created to be, then we begin being inhumane—not human—not who or what we were meant to be. And so we end up creating misery for ourselves and others.
The problem is—this is the human condition. We’re just that way. Somehow, from the beginning, we have chosen to define ourselves by our own rules, deciding for ourselves what is good and what is bad, and eliminating as much as is possible any memory of there being a God who defines us. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a tree we eat of on an almost daily basis—we, in our arrogance, have sought to redefine what it means to be a human being.
What we need is some genuine humility in the presence of the One who made us and gives us each day all we need for life and godliness. It is in acknowledging our inhumanity, our pride and arrogance, that we will begin to truly find ourselves.
God has already resolved the issue with our broken humanity—he came into our human existence, took on our human flesh and in Jesus Christ, lived out a truly human existence—one that he has given to each of us through the Holy Spirit if we will welcome him.
Will there always be those who refuse to live out the new, transformed humanity given us in Jesus Christ? For now, at least until the day God draws a line and affirms their choice to refuse and to live apart from the grace God has offered them in his Son, and allows them to live in the darkness of their consequences forever.
Meanwhile, it would be worth our while to begin practicing some humility and grace in our relationships with God and one another. It would be a good thing for us to express some genuine love and respect toward each and every person in our life, even though they may behaving in some very not human ways. We would find our lives would be much different if we began living out of the divine definition of who we are, rather than the one we have picked out for ourselves.
Holy God, forgive us our arrogance in trying to define you and ourselves according to our limited and often misguided human reason and wisdom. Forgive us for the inhumane ways with which we treat one another and you. Thank you, that ultimately, you are the One who defines us, and who has restored our true humanity in Jesus Christ. Thank you for warmly welcoming us into a personal relationship with you in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. In his name we pray, amen.
“Then David the king went in and sat before the LORD, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” 2 Sa 7:18 NASB