The Impossible Dance – Chapter 2 – The Impossible God
The Good and Overflowing God
Generous and Overflowing Shalom
When God created the universe, he was creating order out of disorder, assigning purposes for everything in the universe. When things functioned according to how he created them … they were “good.” And when in the midst of all those good things he placed image-bearing creatures that also reflected his character, everything was “very good.”
However, when in the midst of that very good universe, those image-bearers rebelled, they and the world they inhabited suffered the consequences. Yet, despite that rebellion, God relentlessly pursued those image-bearers with the intent of restoring not only them but restoring all of creation as well to the good condition that He originally intended. The Bible is the story of how God’s original purposes will be carried out despite the constant rebellion of his image-bearing creatures – and how the good and very good, creation will endure the brokenness of the rebellion to be finally restored to the good and very good purpose that God had intended.
Within that story of creation and the relentless pursuit which followed, God’s character is revealed as he pours himself out even to the point of taking on the form of a man and the giving of himself to the humility and suffering of being tortured to death on a cross. Even though all of creation is now marred by the rebellion, it is possible to examine the character of God as it is revealed in this outpouring of himself into his creation and into his image-bearers.
Revisiting Genesis 1:1, we see God creating … everything in the heavens and the earth. The rest of that passage shows the orderliness in how the creation happened. We see that as God creates each set of creatures or things that God declares them to be good. Then after God creates humans, he declares “it was very good.” We will see later in Genesis those things got messed up, but at this point the core of everything in the universe, everything was good and beautiful and working as it should. Certainly, as we look around us now, it would be hard to say that everything is working as it should, but at the beginning, everything was good.
That goodness was further amplified when, despite the rebellion of his image-bearers, God tirelessly invited them over-and-over again to come back to him even though they would continue rebelling over-and-over again. The generous invitation and re-invitation would be highlighted by Jesus’ parable which has been commonly called the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) in reference to the wastefully spending son. But the parable could equally be called the “Prodigal God” in reference to the father who represents extravagant giving of God.
These continuous and generous offers from God are meant to draw us to himself so that he could restore to us the good and generous life that God has intended from the beginning, life free from suffering and pain, life full of joy and peace, wholeness and health, contentment and completeness, which is all captured by the Hebrew word, shalom.
Trustworthy and Faithful
God has continued to offer us lives of goodness, generosity and shalom despite our continued waywardness. Our opportunity to experience the faithfulness of God comes as we hold to his promises … even when we fail to hold to his promises. Scripture is full of passages of God’s commitment to faithfulness despite the lack of our own and those examples are helpful for us to hold onto as we experience our own trials and difficulties in life.
Self-sacrificing and Forgiving
God’s faithfulness to us is sealed in the love he showed to us by the ultimate sacrifice he made on our behalf. His commitment of love towards us could not be made any more clearly than through the excruciating death he suffered when he allowed us to put him on the cross in order that he should bear the penalties of our sins. And it is through His suffering and dying that he can offer us forgiveness for the rebelliousness of our spirits and the sins we have committed.
The Temple Maker
There has been much debate about how to interpret the creation account. There have been various attempts to understand creation as physical processes that had occurred (over shorter or longer periods, depending on your analysis) because in our current cultural context we default to thinking of creation in physical, scientific terms. But what if (surprise! surprise!) we consider the biblical text to be a theological text instead of a scientific one, about functional origins and not about material origins.
In the last few decades, research has uncovered much more about the culture in the Ancient Near East than ever before. It has been discovered that in Ancient Near East cultures, the Genesis account would not have interpreted the creation account in terms of physical processes but rather in terms of assigning purpose. So as we read the Creation account in Genesis 1, on the first three days the spaces of light and dark, waters above and below, and the land are being assigned a purpose. The next three days the populations of those spaces are assigned a purpose: the sun and the moon and stars, the birds and fish, the land animals.
In this perspective, the story of creation is seen more as a story about the dedication of a temple, where the universe and the world were dedicated as a sacred space, a space where God would dwell with his people. The seventh day indicates that the dedication is complete and so God is able to rest from the act of dedicating His temple, the earth, which would now be the place where He would now live with his image-bearers within that space. If you read Genesis 1-2, you will see that, unlike the other days, there is no “there was evening and there was morning.” That is because we are living in the seventh day.
The seventh day would be later remembered by the celebration of the Sabbath. It was by the seventh day that God had finished the dedication of the “temple” but it was not a time where he ceased to do everything. Rather, it was the time where the “home” was now ready for God to live in, and for us as co-regents, to begin the settling into our “home” and doing the things that our home was designed for. Jesus in John 5:1-7 clarified this idea where he explained, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Living into this sacred space would entail us taking part with God in his continual acts of creating and sustaining the universe. That is the perspective of Eve, when she gave birth to Cain, she recognized that “I’ve created a man with Yahweh.”
In Genesis 2, the focus moves to the humans God created and how they were to function in that sacred space where the Garden of Eden is the center. Genesis 2 is also where God’s name, “Yahweh,” begins to be used. Genesis 1 introduces the God as the Creator of the universe whereas Genesis 2 introduces the God who in establishing a personal relationship with the people he created uses a personal name.
The cosmos that God created was intended to be the place where He would meet with his people. Therefore, the Creation, the Cosmos, was intended to be a temple. The temple/creation imagery permeates and unites all of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The temple/creation theme shows up in places like in the stories of Noah and Moses and Abraham, in the construction of the Tabernacle and the Temple, in Job’s dialog with Yahweh, in the poetry of Psalms, in prophecies of Isaiah, in the body Jesus and in us as his Body and finally in the depiction of reuniting of heaven and earth. Each instance shows its own unique aspect of the temple, so that when combined with each other, they show a more complete picture of how God meets with us and provides for us and what he has intended for us. We see a complex picture of the temple as a physical place in Creation and at the same time the temple is within us, inside the bodies of all of those who call on his name. In both those cases we can see the provision of God who 1) abundantly fills all of Creation in ways that exceed our imagination and exceed the capacity of any book to tell and, 2) abundantly fills us with His strength and His Spirit so that we can fulfill the desire He has for us to “cultivate and keep” the abundant place He has provided for us.
One of the benefits of considering only the theological aspects of the Creation accounts, or the why of creation, is that we don’t have to be as highly concerned about the how of creation, or the scientific/physical accounts of creation. When scientific creation accounts are proposed and are not perceived to be correct because they don’t seem to theologically fit, we don’t need to despair. It may be that the various proposed scientific explanations simply don’t theologically fit because either they just don’t fit or because we just don’t understand just how they could theologically fit. We know that the sciences are limited and that theories will change as more discoveries are made. Sometimes those theories may seem to move closer or further from our limited theological understandings, but our theology is not constrained by whatever the current science may indicate. In the meanwhile, we are free to explore the science and wonder in awe and marvel at just how God managed to do it all while humbly admitting that we don’t have the mind of God and how much higher his ways are than our ways.
- Read Psalms 103 and 104 as a pair. How does the attitude expressed at the beginning and end of these Psalms challenge us to look beyond our current situation and beyond the things that we do not understand when we see God’s handiwork?
- Read Genesis 1:1-2; Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 48:14-16; Matthew 3:16-17. How could you explain the Trinity to other people?
- Read Psalm 139:2-3; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Matthew 10:29-31; Acts 17:27. What does it mean to you that God is intimately concerned about your life?
- Read Psalm 102. Reflect on how both anguish and hope are expressed. What speaks to you from that Psalm? How does God’s unchangeability provide hope in the midst of difficult circumstances?
- Read Isaiah 52:13-15; Philippians 2:5-11. If Jesus is our example of leadership, what should our leadership look like in practice?
- Read Deuteronomy 7:8; 2 Chronicles 2:11; Jeremiah 31:3. The Hebrew word for “love” in these passages is the same as used in the Song of Solomon describing marital love. How does that affect the way you perceive God’s mercy, grace, righteousness and wrath?
- Read 2 Corinthians 3:18. Discipleship is a process of “being transformed”. Ultimately it is something that happens to us – but it is something we can co-operate with by engaging is spiritual disciplines. What kinds of changes need to happen in our lives that would make it natural to invite someone else into discipleship?
- Read Zechariah 8. Zechariah’s prophecies were written it the nation of Israel many years after the nation had been taken in exile. How do you think these promises of God would have had on the exiles?
- Read Acts 2. Picture yourself as a witness in the setting of this passage as one of the travelers from out of town. How would you respond?
- Read Genesis 1-2, Psalms 8 and 104, Proverbs 8. Read the creation story as a temple dedication story, where a temple is a place for people to meet with God, a place for religious or spiritual rituals and activities as people engage with God. If the universe was designed as a temple, how should we respond?