God’s Name is Surprise!

“Forgive me, but I’d like a catchphrase that captures both the responsibility I feel to do good and the freedom I have to get it wrong. Because when I’m feeling stuck, which is kind of a lot, it’s usually because I’m paralyzed by fear of doing the next wrong thing. I need someone to tell me, ‘Do the next most practical thing after careful exploration of the facts, so that even if it turns out to be the wrong thing, at least you can say you made a solid decision based on sound research, and if after a period of evaluation you find out it wasn’t the right thing, then you can try something else. God will handle the rest.”
–The Very Worst Missionary

Christianity is often hard for me, and by that I mean life is often hard for me, since being a Christian is supposedly and understandably a full-time thing. Even sleeping like a Christian is mandatory.

But fundamental to living a flourishing life, a whole, healthy life, is EXPLORING. Deep in a human’s DNA is a desire for a journey, a quest. Why do car commercials take place in the wild, in mountains? All we really need is a vehicle that 90% of the time will be used to get from home to work to home to soccer to Chipotle to home to work, but Ford and Jeep are appealing to (hu)man’s natural need to explore the wild.

It’s no different for worldview/religion. If you go to church regularly or have been passed down a belief system and it stops working for you, congratulations you’ve entered spiritual puberty. Ha. But seriously. If the belief system you’ve been handed down is working for you, and you see no reason to make any changes, then a few things:

1. Great! Carry on with your good, stable life!

2. You may be squashing a spirit that longs to take you into uncharted territory.

3. Is it possible God is calling you to a new place of belief or unbelief?

4. If it doesn’t make you feel alive, if it doesn’t cause your pulse to rise at least sometimes, if it doesn’t inspire you to try new things, if it doesn’t implant in you a sometimes inexplicable desire to sacrifice yourself in big or small ways, maybe it’s not a Christ-y thing.

5. A fundamentally conservative posture towards life (not necessarily politically or theologically) goes against the natural grain of your own human spirit and the God inside you whose middle name is Surprise! In the same way that the universe is expanding, the universe inside you is expanding. God in his gracious freedom has given us the ability to say No Thank You to this natural evolution and growth towards new possibilities, but that means saying yes to stifling. To continue believing the things about God in the same way you did last year or last decade is to lock yourself into the God you believed in when you were four or twelve or twenty-three. But God is more like the mysterious wind than he is like a text to memorize or a list of rules to obey.

Evolution of Sin

bullseye

I spent a lot of time as a Baptist.

Baptists love to quote Paul. The wages of sin is death, all that jazz.

That’s interesting, because earlier Jews wouldn’t have understood that. Sin meant something else several hundred years before Paul. But he updated it. That’s because he was speaking to people in his time, in his culture, not people hundreds of years earlier.

The bible describes sin as a weight.

Then it describes sin as debt.

Then it had archery imagery: missing the mark.

But why freeze it? What is sin in 2018?

It’s been described in Jonathan Merritt’s book Learning to Speak God From Scratch as:

“Anything that robs us of the fullness of life.”

“Anything that contributes to less than what God intends.”

“Death dealer.” (Dementor?)

“Life stealer.”

Sin is excessive internet use.

Sin is Netflix binging when your conscience is telling you there’s something else for you.

Sin is wishing you had someone else’s Instagram life and not being able to live your own, the one God graciously gave you.

Sin is saying no to God’s endless invitations to taste and see that there’s something more than that thing you know is robbing you of life.

God is Silent and Nearby

Nah ist und schwer zu fassen, der Gott
Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God
    –German poet Friedrich Holderlinlauren

 

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.”

Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God.

Attractive Christianity

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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.

Saved But Not Whole

“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

Piper, Keller, Witherington: God Seeks Own Glory?

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.

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington seems to be more in line with Keller’s assertion. He says this on a blog post titled, “For God So Loved Himself? Is God a Narcissist?“:

“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?

Dallas Willard: Jesus’ Message Not Religious

“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)

Buechner on the Bible

“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

Thinking Through the Big Picture

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


__________

1 Genesis 1:27
2 Psalm 8:5
3 Genesis 1:26
4 Heaven is Not My Home by Paul Marshall pg. 18
5 The Challenge of Jesus by NT Wright pg. 184
6 Engaging God’s World by Cornelius Plantinga pg. 33
7 Plantinga pg. 44
8 The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard pg. 62,63
9 Plantinga pg. 24
10 Genesis 1
11 Plantinga pg. 53
12 Heaven is a Place on Earth by Michael Wittmer pg. 83
13 Colossians 3:9-10
14 Wright pg. 185
15 Revelation 21:3
16 Wittmer pg. 205
17 Marshall pg. 11
18 Plantinga pg. 32

Are There More Universes?


“Go outside at night in the country, where the sky is very clear. Then look up. Each one of those tiny points in the sky is a flaming sun. We’re a tiny part of an enormous universe, which may be one of many universes. No one really knows for sure what’s out there. So we use our imagination. Imagination allows us to ask big questions — questions that scare us, and for which we don’t have easy answers.”
Madeleine L’Engle

I just read a blog post titled “Civilization Has Barely Begun” at the Desiring God blog. Randy Alcorn is quoted as saying,

“We should expect the social dynamics from Earth to carry over to the New Earth, except when they’re a product of our fallenness or when God reveals otherwise.”

I really enjoy hearing about the new earth, especially since it appears as if it’s going to be a carry-over from this earth. Just now as I was walking around the neighborhood thinking about the ramifications of civilization having only just begun, as I approached an apartment complex with the still-lit April sky behind and a lone budding tree on the side, a quick happy feeling surged through me. Like I said, pondering the infinite possibilities of a new earth gets me really excited.

This is pure speculation, but what if, after thousands of years on the new earth, the pocket-full-of-surprises Overlord reveals yet another mystery — the individual work that each of us started doing on earth and continued to do in the new earth was preparation for something even greater, which after being revealed to us we all tap our foreheads and say, “Of course! It had to be this way — it’s characteristic of His endlessly-giving and explosive creativity.” Our new job, He joyfully announces to the billions and billions of new earth inhabitants during the monthly whole-earth assembly over a speaker system designed by a team of engineers and sound professionals from 40 countries, is to be sent out to a new universe and help the creatures that He’s freshly made begin life in their worlds.

To each universe are dispatched a multi-cultural team of storytellers, engineers, accountants, politicians, teachers, garbage men, police, weather men, architects, comedians, streetsweepers, doctors, even lawyers, to help launch the beginnings of a fresh planet. Each individual joyfully offers their expertise. And who knows whether or not they’ll be able to travel back and forth from New-Earth to their respective planets and share stories over campfires, laughing and marveling at these strange and wonderful new creatures from other universes. Each night the New-Earth inhabitants dream mind-boggling dreams of new inventions and ideas to share with their friends and students many light-years away but somehow near enough to travel to in the morning.

And it all began (or did it?) on a small planet called Earth in the Milky Way galaxy in a small corner of one of the many universes the Overlord began to create.

Of course this is all speculation, but a guy can dream, right?

“Hints that ours is just one of many universes keep cropping up in all sorts of different theories–and in ways that can seem far stranger than fiction.

The first credible suggestion that alternate universes might exist came in the early 1950s when a young physics graduate student named Hugh Everett was toying with some of the more bizarre implications of quantum mechanics. That theory, accepted by all serious physicists, says that the motions of atoms and subatomic particles can never be predicted with certainty; you can tell only where, say, an electron will probably be a millisecond from now. It could quite possibly end up somewhere else.”
–TIME Magazine article Will We Discover Another Universe?, April 10, 2000

Maybe one of these orphans from Mpumalanga, South Africa will be on your team:

photo courtesy desiringgod.org