Nah ist und schwer zu fassen, der Gott Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God –German poet Friedrich Holderlin
You could dedicate your whole life to finding, knowing, loving, and sharing God with others, yet deep down inside still have days or years when He seems awfully absent. You know in your head that God is near, but it doesn’t feel like He is, and it doesn’t seem like He is. Author and professor Lauren Winner has dedicated her entire life to serving and knowing God, teaching religion at Duke University and serving as priest at a local church. And yet she says,
“I have never, not once, felt anything at the Eucharist. Not a thing. I have never felt stirred, or joyful, or peaceful, or sad. I have never felt closeness.”
A long time ago in a land far away there were people who believed in God and people who didn’t. The people who didn’t believe in God heard stories about a god in Zion, and they became interested in the activities of this god inside one community’s life, and so they traveled to Israel by choice. Missionaries did not come to them. The people of God were emitting a certain kind of light, an attractive kind of life, and it drew people from darkness.
Missionary activity existed, but it was the life of the community as it embodied the powerful working of a curious Spirit that validated the missionaries’ words.
What does this attractive life look like today? It has to be winsome, curious, seeking, and creative, among other things.
“What happens when it all becomes about some other life is we end up being very fractured, broken people. I began to discover that you could be a Christian in a nice Christian church and be saved and be singing all the right songs and actually be miserable. And to have anger and rage and people you haven’t forgiven. I discovered it’s possible to be a super-Christian and yet salvation hadn’t even begun to (be) a part of your life. It’s possible to lead a church and to be like a shell of a person. I want to be the kind of person who’s pursuing wholeness and allowing every single area of my life to let the light get shone in, and let God make peace where there wasn’t (peace) before.” –Rob Bell
“Though today some Christians believe that Jesus came to enable us to escape this creation and live eternally in an otherworldly and heavenly dwelling, such an understanding of salvation would have been entirely foreign to Old Testament prophets, to first-century Jews — and to Jesus himself. Salvation is not an escape from creational life into “spiritual” existence: it is the restoration of God’s rule over all of creation and all of human life. Neither is salvation merely the restoration of a personal relationship with God, important as that is. Salvation goes further: it is the restoration of the whole life of humankind and ultimately of the nonhuman creation as well. This is the scope of biblical salvation.” —The Drama of Scripture
In 2002 at my Christian college I remember James MacDonald giving a sermon in which he quoted an Isaiah passage about how God seeks his own glory. In 2003 I read John Piper‘s book Desiring God and was convinced of it.
In 2008 I read Tim Keller‘s The Reason For God in which he talks about God being a trinity and the endless giving that takes place within this relationship. Keller then said something that shocked me:
“That is why God is infinitely happy, because there is an ‘other-orientation’ at the heart of his being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others.”
–Tim Keller, The Reason For God pg.218
Tim Keller & John Piper are on the same page about almost everything; this seems like a pretty big thing, though.
Piper quotes some Bible verses to back up his opinion here.
“I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves.”
Does God seeks his own glory or does he seek the glory of others?
“The strongest impression on my mind has always been the person and teachings of Jesus Christ… I’ve never moved away from the basic project of “knowing Him and making Him known.” This is not a particularly religious project; it’s a human need. It is out of love of my neighbor, as well as love of God that I feel the imperative to do this.
And I believe the way to do it is not by being especially religious in the sense that people would normally understand that, but by just being an honest, open, thoughtful human being living among other human beings, depending on the grace of God.”
— Dallas Willard (source)
“The Bible is not first of all a book of moral truth. I would call it instead a book of truth about the way life is. Those strange old scriptures present life as having been ordered in a certain way, with certain laws as inextricably built into it as the law of gravity is built into the physical universe. When Jesus says that whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it, surely he is not making a statement about how, morally speaking, life ought to be. Rather, he is making a statement about how life is.” –Frederick Buechner
I’ve been thinking through the big picture of the bible and wrote down some stuff from books that I’ve been reading, and also from Adam Ellis’ summary on these blogs. Ellis’ words are in bold.
WHO ARE WE?
We are the people of God, created in his image. That image is distorted by the Fall but is still there.
“God created people in his own image.” 1
“You made us only a little lower than God.” 2
“They will be masters over all of life.” 3
“God made human beings precisely in order to care for the earth. We were made to serve this purpose. It is built into our very being; it is our very design.” 4
“Humans were made to reflect God’s creative stewardship into the world.” 5
“To image God, then, human beings are charged not only with care for earth and animals (‘subduing’ what’s already there) but also with developing certain cultural possibilities (‘filling’ out what is only potentially there). 6
WHERE ARE WE?
We live in God’s world which he created and loves. God loves creation simply because it exists. We believe that this world was created “good” (in the “loaded with potential” sense) and not perfect (in the “complete” sense). We believe that God created us and this world to live in harmony with each other and with him.
“The first act in the world’s drama is God’s act of creating and sustaining ‘all things visible and invisible’ out of a generous desire to enlarge the realm of being, to bestow life and goodness on others, and to assist others to flourish in the realm created for them.” 7
“God leads a very interesting life and is full of joy. Undoubtably he is the most joyous being in the universe…We pay a lot of money to get a tank with a few tropical fish in it…but God has seas full of them, which he constantly enjoys.” 8
“God loves creation. God celebrates creation. God even plays with his creation.” 9
“It was good…it was good…it was good…it was good.” 10
WHAT IS WRONG?
Human beings make an extremely destructive choice very early on in the narrative. That choice has far reaching consequences and knocks the entire creation project off course. The shalom, or harmony that is supposed to exist between God, people and creation is shattered. The world is not what God dreams for it to be, and all creation seems bent on moving in the opposite direction.
“The glory of God’s good creation has not been obliterated by the tragedy of the fall, but it has been deeply shadowed by it. The history of our race is, in large part, the interplay of this light and shadow.” 11
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
God does not give up on his dream for creation. He enacts a plan to bring about the “restoration of all things.” This plan involves covenanting with a cummunity of people to operate as agents of shalom in the midst of a broken world. God becomes a human being whose life, death and resurrection open the door for a renewed creation of shalom between a) God and human beings; b) human beings and other human beings; and c) human beings and creation. God calls a group of people to live in his reality now in the midst of a broken world. He calls us to partner with Him to make it more and more the place he always intended it to be. He promises that one day Jesus will return and that heaven and earth will be renewed. He insists that we will be resurrected so that we may enjoy the fulfillment of his promise and his dream for all creation.
“The Christian life is a quest to recover our humanity.” 12
“You have stripped away the old self, with its ways, and have put on the new self, which is continually being renewed in fuller and fuller knowledge, closer and closer to the image of its Creator.” 13
“The principalities and powers that kept us in exile have been defeated; they need reminding of this, and we need reminding of it too, but it is a fact – if it isn’t, the cross was a failure.” 14
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
“Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” 15
“The story of Scripture is the story of ‘Emmanuel’, for it describes how God progressively comes to live with us on our planet, at each appearance staying longer and in more permanent form.” 16
“Our destiny is an earthly one: a new earth, an earth redeemed and transfigured. An earth reunited with heaven, but an earth, nevertheless.” 17
“Scripture appears to teach not only that there shall be a new heaven and earth, but also that it shall be this earth, renewed. In Revelation 21 the city of God descends to us. We do not go to heaven; heaven comes to us.” 18