Living Temples

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Genesis 3:6; Isaiah 54:10; Jeremiah 29:1-23; John 2:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; Revelations 15:8; 21:22]

Although God’s first image-bearers had close, unhindered, intimate contact with their Creator, there was enough space given them to think freely, as if they were not being watched all the time. It was in this space that they – and we – were given several mandates: procreation (be fruitful and multiply), stewardship (subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures), and a cultural mandate (work it and take care of it).[1] We were given the assignment to be fruitful, to fill all the earth, discover its possibilities and care for the world in the same way that God would care for the world.[2] Just as God continues to create more living things and sustain all that he has created, we as his co-regents[3], can join him in sustaining and creating those things entrusted to our care.

  “There are two ways in which God imposes his law on the cosmos, two ways in which his will is done on earth as in heaven. He does it either directly, without mediation, or indirectly, through the involvement of human responsibility. Just as a human sovereign does certain things himself, but gives orders to his subordinates for other things, so with God himself. He put the planets in their orbits, bits, makes the seasons come and go at the proper time, makes seeds grow and animals reproduce, but entrusts to mankind the tasks of making tools, doing justice, producing art, and pursuing scholarship. In other words, God’s rule of law is immediate in the nonhuman realm but mediate in culture and society. In the human realm men and women become coworkers with God; as creatures made in God’s image they too have a kind of lordship over the earth, are God’s viceroys in creation.” [4]

We were also given the responsibility to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures. When there is resistance, we still have the responsibility to bring the rule of God to the world. Then we are given the responsibility to work and take care of the earth, this will expand from taking care of the garden to taking care of all of God’s creations. Implied in all these things is that we should do everything in context of God’s love, to care for each other and to care for the earth and its creatures with the mind of the God who created us for love.

The work that we were designed to do was more than just tending the garden. In Genesis 2:15, we were given a mandate to “work” and “take care of” the garden God had created. These tasks in light of Ancient Near East culture, were more of a priestly nature, taking care of this temple where we reside with God.

“The verbs ʿbd and šmr (NIV: “work” and “take care of”) are terms most frequently encountered in discussions of human service to God rather than descriptions of agricultural tasks… ‘bd can refer to … work connected with one’s vocation, to religious service deemed worship … šmr is used in the contexts of the Levitical responsibility of guarding sacred space, as well as in the sense of observing religious commands and responsibilities … it is likely that the tasks given to Adam are of a priestly nature: caring for sacred space. In ancient thinking, caring for sacred space was a way of upholding creation.”[5]

We were to take care of this place which was designed to be a “very good” place for us to flourish in, creating whatever structures we needed to “increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.” This task, this mandate, meant that we would eventually go beyond the capacity of gardening and create not just a bigger garden but cities, a flourishing civilization as pictured in Revelation 21 and 22.[6]

When examined closely, we can see the breadth of what was committed to Adam and Eve. Subduing the earth would entail many physical, social, and intellectual activities. In the gardening we can see cultivation and farming; in taking care of the animals, we can see shepherding and domestication; in the naming of the animals, we can see a cultural and scientific activity which required understanding the nature and attributes of the animals and establishing authority over them. We can see that God had created things to be beautiful and as his image-bearers we would be expected to also create beautiful things.

In the new earth, nature’s comeliness will reach its pinnacle; the wilderness itself will burst into blossom, and streams will gush in the desert (Is 35). To complement all this natural beauty, human culture will flourish. All the great creativity of humankind-artistry in music, dance, painting, woodcrafts, sculpture, architecture and more-will be brought into the New Jerusalem (Is 60).[7]

There is a sense in which we, as members of the Kingdom of God, now seem to be living in a foreign land. This puts us in a similar position as the Israelites were when they were taken in exile into Babylonia. During their stay in Babylonia, God’s instructions were to settle down, build houses, get married, have children and to seek the prosperity of the city they were sent to, for “if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

But above all these things we can do, we should not lose focus on who we are. We are creatures designed by God to be like God to be in relationship with Him, the God who is a community in Himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Everything we do should be done in context of who we are. We should remember that we were designed to be human “beings,” not human “doings.” This viewpoint become clear when we compare the Biblical view of creation to the view of other Ancient Near East cultures. For the surrounding cultures humans beings were created to feed the gods and serve the gods who created them, whereas the Biblical viewpoint sees God being the provider for the people.[8]

Originally, we see Creation designed as a temple, a place for us to “be” with God. Later on, Jesus refers to himself as the temple, a human in whom God resides. Later on, Paul declares that our own bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. So here again, we see the mystery of perichoresis, where we are distinct from the Holy Spirit, yet the Holy Spirit becomes a part of who we are. In this we see the mystery of perichoresis unifying the persons within God, unifying the body, soul and spirit within humans, and unifying God and humans.


[1] Jacobsen, Eric O. The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment, Baker Academic, 2012, Page 20.

[2] Crouch, Andy. “What is the Cultural Mandate,” The Village Church, 6 Jan 2017 http://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/talks/what-is-the-cultural-mandate

[3] Walton, John H. “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Proposition 4) InterVarsity Press. 2015 Kindle Edition.

[4] Albert M. Wolters. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Locations 203-208) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2005 Kindle Edition.

[5] Walton, John H. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (p. 105-106). InterVarsity Press. 2015 Kindle Edition.

[6] Busenitz, Nathan. “The New Jerusalem” Cripplegate, 8 April 2017 thecripplegate.com/the-new-jerusalem-2/

[7] Sherman, Amy L. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. Intervarsity Press, 2011 eBook location 291

[8] Walton, John. “The Lost World of Adam and Eve,” I “Proposition 12: Adam is Assigned as Priest in Sacred Space, with Eve to Help” (p.104) InterVarsity Press. 2015 Kindle Edition.

Reflect

If the universe is God’s temple and we are now living in the 7th day, that is, the Sabbath, how are we supposed to live?

Observe

Read Genesis 1; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16. What difference does it make if the universe is God’s temple or that our bodies are God’s temple?

Self-sacrificing and Forgiving

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Romans 6:4-5; 12:1-3; James 2:12-14; 1 Peter 2:10-12]

Our life in God does not begin with anything we have done but rather with the sacrifice made by Christ Jesus, the perfect sacrifice that was made on our behalf to reconcile us to God. When by baptism we join him in his death, we can also be united with him in his resurrection. It is that resurrection power that enables us to present ourselves as living sacrifices, to worship him by continually dying to our sins[1] and offering ourselves to the service of God and to others. And just as the mercies of God flow into our lives, so those mercies should flow over into the mercy we extend to others on God’s behalf.


[1] Piper, John, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice,” Desiring God, 13 June 2004, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/present-your-bodies-as-a-living-sacrifice-to-god; Wayne, Luke. “What does it mean to be a living sacrifice;” Gidley, James S. “A Living Sacrifice,” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry 31 Aug 2016, carm.org/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-living-sacrifice

Reflect

God did not need to rescue us, but He did, even though it required great sacrifice. As you ponder that, think of how you can show love to those around you?

Observe

Read Romans 12:1-21. Christ’s sacrifice for us included his death on the cross. What kind of sacrifice are we expected to make?

Trustworthy and Faithful

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 93:5; 86:15; 111:7; 117:2; Proverbs 20:6; Luke 16:10-12; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 11:1-40; Revelation 21:5]

We can’t seem to avoid breaking promises; whether it’s the one’s others make to us or the ones that we make to others. We usually expect broken promises from some people because we know they lack sincerity. Then sometimes we experience broken promises because things happen beyond our control, circumstances change, priorities are changed, or other things happen. Yet, in the midst of all that, we are called as God’s ambassadors to reflect his faithfulness to us. We are called to faithfulness in all things, whether it’s in truth-telling, in love, in doing good, in prayer, in doing the work of the Lord, in confirming our calling, to mention a few. As we attempt to be faithful and trustworthy in all things and when we fall short – as we surely will – we can still point to the trustworthiness and faithfulness of the Lord. The point must always be to not point to ourselves but to the Lord – we are called to trust Him, be dependent on Him, put our confidence in His faithfulness and His sacrifice on our behalf.

Reflect

In what ways can we be challenged to be more faithful?

Observe

Read Exodus 18:21; Luke 16:10-12. In what ways can we be challenged to be more faithful?

Generous and overflowing Shalom

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Deuteronomy 30:9; Psalm 37; 65; 72; 92; Isaiah 9:6; John 10:10; 14:25-31; 20:19-23; Philippians 4:4-9]

The church has a stake in human flourishing. The challenge for the church is to define and promote human flourishing (which we might otherwise describe as human well-being, human happiness) in accordance with biblical teaching, to present and commend its alternative approach to human flourishing in the face of competing cultural visions, and to embody human flourishing in the presence of God amid a culture of death and destruction. Christian theology has a role to play in assisting the church to meet this challenge.[1]

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself because it is not there.”[2]

Goodness, generosity and shalom all fit together. We begin with the premise that we are representatives of the Prince of Peace. Scripture is full of encouragement for us to live in peace because it is through shalom that much else flows, including goodness and generosity. Goodness flows out of the shalom which is concerned with the overall well-being of others and is necessarily linked to justice, mercy, and humility – and we are not to be content with helping God to usher in only the minimal amounts of justice, mercy into the world but the fullness that stems from the overflowing goodness of God.

Our Creator and Temple-maker intended for us to enjoy his overflowing love and goodness. He provided us a place of abundance where all our needs could be met, where He had a purpose for us as His stewards and His co-creators and where we could enjoy him and enjoy each other. This overflowing can actually be overwhelming when we consider the breadth, the beauty, the abundance, and the complexity of this temple he has provided. And we can marvel at the breadth, the beauty, the abundance and the complexity of the skills and abilities He has provided for us as his stewards and co-creators. Just look at what He has done and what we have done with what He has given us!


[1] Swain, Scott. “Psalm 19 and human flourishing” Reformation21 http://www.reformation21.org/blogs/psalm-19-and-human-flourishing.php

[2] Lewis, C.S. “Mere Christianity” Samizdat 2014 p. 31

Reflect

In what ways can the shalom of God flow over from our lives to the lives of others?

Observe

Read John 14:25-31; 20:19-23. What are the conditions of the disciples when Jesus offers them His peace?

Playful and Orderly

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Deuteronomy 12:1-33:18; Exodus 35:30-38; 2 Kings 17:1-41; Nehemiah 8:1-9:38; Psalm 100; John 4:23-24; Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-35; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40]

There is much that is wrong in the world. People endure pain and suffering sometimes from natural happenings and sometimes from the actions of others. Evil seems persistent and never-ending. When we are called to serve God in this world, we can become overwhelmed by all the work that is to be done. Playfulness can seem out of place. Particularly, any playfulness that emerges from self-centeredness or obsessiveness.

Actually, that is the point we need to assert. Playfulness can be out of place in a world of sin and evil. But playfulness can also be a reminder that the reality in front of us is not the total reality. Our playfulness arises out of the relationship we have with God, the one who has overcome the evil in the world, who will end the suffering and who will restore us and world to be what he intended from the beginning. Playfulness arises out of the hope and joy we have in knowing that reality in front of us is not the whole reality.

Our imagination can be helpful in this play. As children, we can pretend there is another world and do something like taking a cardboard box and imagining it to be a spaceship and accepting the rules of living in that spaceship. Family traditions (or even community or national traditions) are a form of play, they do not serve a utilitarian purpose, but stem from the creative ways we wish to remember our unique heritage.

This same imaginative playfulness can be useful reminding us of the reality that lies behind our current reality. Our traditions of worship are a form of play, albeit a more serious play. Our worship traditions represent ways for us to remember our spiritual heritage or to provide imaginative ways to perform biblical sacraments about which we have sparse details on how to perform them. These traditions and liturgies help us point to that other reality, a new Kingdom that began breaking into this world with the incarnation of Jesus.

Christian worship was in fact and from the beginning a festival:  the festival of Christ’s resurrection from the dead … Easter begins with a feast, for Easter is a feast and makes the life of those who celebrate it a festal life … Jesus himself compared the presence of God, which he proclaimed and lived, with the rejoicing over a marriage.  His earthly life was a festal life, even if it ended in suffering and death … the early Christians have understood his raising from the dead and the presence of the now-exalted Christ as the beginning of an unending joy and a happiness without end … the risen Christ as ‘the first among those who had fallen asleep’ and as the leader of life; as the leader in the mystic dance and himself as the bride who dances with the others, as the church father Hippolytus put it.  Long before the somber dances of death were painted in medieval times of plague, the figure of the resurrection dance can be seen in the old churches.  The modern Shaker song ‘The Lord of the Dance’ brings out very well the dancing Christ:

I am the life that’ll never, never die;

I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me,

I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.[1]

We hope to participate in the inbreaking of the new Kingdom by living according to its rules. When we pray or worship, we are participating in the rules of that new Kingdom. When we come to others and share with them the hope that we have, we are asking them to use their imagination to look beyond the current reality and envision the new Kingdom that is already here and is yet to come. When we accept contentment in all situations, when we trust in God, when we comfort others with the hope we have, we are living according to the rules of the new Kingdom.[2]

It is also true, that In this present life there are endless encounters with grief. Although we acknowledge the pain and suffering of that grief, whether that grief is ours or others, we can encompass that grief with hope. Even amid grief we can choose to cling to God and to the hope He brings us. If we can live into the rules of the new Kingdom, we can have assurance that the current grief will pass and will be replaced by future joy and laughter and that every tear that we have cried and will cry and even now cry will be wiped away.

Our hope of the new Kingdom allows us to endure the current pain and suffering knowing that the hard experiences can be redeemed and to be used for good. God can take the pain and suffering we endure to transform us to be more like Christ, who himself suffered for us, transforming the very evil intended for him into the final victory that shall ultimately also make us victorious. This hopeful living then is also a form of play, accepting the rules of a reality we cannot see and choosing to live according to the rules of a Kingdom that we can only realize in part.

That playfulness also emerges in our creativity, which erupts early on in our lives as our desire as children to play and also in the desire we have as parents to play with our children.[3] There is no doubt about how uniquely creative we are in the way we express ourselves, not only in all the various art forms we use but in the ways we can solve all sorts of problems[4] – even to the creative ways we try to cover up our sins.[5] No other creature can come close to expressing creativity the way we can.

Our ability to create and even detect order is also unmatched.[6] Our ability to detect order is evident in the way we can detect patterns in sight or sound. The sense of order is evident in our ability to recognize faces, our ability to recognize the voices of our mothers or fathers as infants and even before we are born.[7] Our sense of order is seen as we grow in our ability to recognize the patterns of letters and sounds and to recognize and respond to language – even languages.

Our sense of order becomes more evident in our ability to create order out of many abstract concepts such as math, science, philosophy and many other areas.[8] It is our sense of order that allows us to create businesses, governments and civic organizations to make society productive. When we bring order to farmland, we increase the productivity of the farm.

The visible order within Creation inspired Christians in the past to study Creation. Order within Scripture helps the Bible to be meaningfully used as meditative literature. In the same way, order during worship also helps us to avoid confusion and to focus on God.


[1] Moltmann, Jürgen. “The Living God and the Fullness of Life” ,” trans. Margaret Kohl Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p.192; Carter, Sydney. Lyrics “Lord of the Dance” (1963),

Tune “Simple Gifts” Brackett Jr., Joseph. (1848)

[2] Edgar, Brian. “The God Who Plays: A Playful Approach to Theology and Spirituality” Cascade Books 2017 (e-book)

[3] Gowman, Vince. “Playful quotes for the child in your heart” Vince Gowman http://www.vincegowmon.com/playful-quotes-for-the-child-in-your-heart/

[4] Baumgartner, Jeffrey. “The Basics of Creative Problem Solving – CPS”  ” Innovation Management, innovationmanagement.se/imtool-articles/the-basics-of-creative-problem-solving-cps/

[5] Brister, Tim. “6 Destructive Ways We Minimize Our Own Sin” Bible Study Tools http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/6-destructive-ways-we-minimize-our-own-sin.html.

[6] Basulto, Dominic. “Humans Are the World’s Best Pattern-Recognition Machines, But for How Long?” Big Think 24 July 2013 bigthink.com/endless-innovation/humans-are-the-worlds-best-pattern-recognition-machines-but-for-how-long.

[7] Pfaff, Leslie Garisto. “6 things you may not know your baby can do” Parents http://www.parents.com/baby/development/intellectual/6-things-you-may-not-know-your-baby-can-do/

[8] Armstrong, David. “Christianity Absolutely Critical to Origin of Science” Patheos, 18 Oct 2015, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2015/10/christianity-crucial-to-the-origin-of-science.html

Reflect

Our ability to play arises out of how we bear the image of God. How does our playfulness persist even in the midst of all the problems in the world?

Observe

Read Deuteronomy 12; 1 Corinthians 14. These chapters contain explicit instructions about how and how not to worship.  Since we do not yet experience the fullness of the new Kingdom, how can our imagination help us more actively engage in worship?

Merciful and Just

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

[Bible references: Psalm 33:5; Proverbs 2:9; Isaiah 1:17; 56:1; Jeremiah 22:3; Micah 6:8; Matthew 18:21-35]

There is much in this world that is not just or righteous. As God’s servants, we are called to seek both. But just like the servant in the parable of the unmerciful servant we can forget the mercies shown to us when we are dealing with each other. There is much that makes us yearn for justice in a world filled with cruelty, but we need to remember that as God acted on his own demands of justice, he yet found a way to bestow great mercy on us.

The prophets of Israel, and even Jesus, condemned those people who acted in self-righteousness and did not seek justice and mercy for those around them. In our own search for justice, we should remember the entreaty in Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”[1]


[1] Owens, Nellie. “Four things everyone should know about humility” Activechristianity.com   activechristianity.org/4-things-everyone-should-know-about-humility; Britton, Doug. “The Bible shows the power in humility” http://www.dougbrittonbooks.com/onlinebiblestudies-selfworthandrespect/meaningofhumilityinthebible-humbleinbible/

Reflect

In what ways have you received mercy in your life?

Observe

Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:8. Think about how humility relates to both mercy and justice. What implications does that have for how we treat others?

Co-Sovereigns and Servants

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Genesis 1:26-28; Exodus 18:4; 19:6; Leviticus 26:17; Numbers 24:19; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; 1 Kings 4:24; Psalm 33:20, 115:9–11, 124:8, 146:5; Ezekiel 34:1-10; Matthew 3:16-17; 20:27-28; 23:11; Luke 22:26-27; Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 1 Peter 2:9]

God is the master of all creation, yet he has given to us the responsibility to take care of the earth. It is out of that mastery that we have managed to use the resources of the earth to create all the technological advances that we have. Unfortunately, in many cases we have abused our abilities; abusing not just the resources of the earth but often abusing each other.

In our sinfulness, we typically appeal to our call to sovereignty while forgetting our call to service. This very issue Jesus took care to remind us of on many occasions. If we mistreat the earth that we are placed in or if we mistreat others, then we dishonor not only the one in whose image we are made but even the other image-bearers of God. In fact, it is out of our call to sovereignty and service that we are called to love, to willingly give of ourselves to the service of God just as God gave of himself to us.

It is under the constraint of God’s love that he tells us to “subdue” and “have dominion” over his creation. As God’s stewards, our sovereignty means we have the responsibility to maintain the good in God’s creation, to bring order to it and to help his creatures flourish and fill the earth.

There are two dimensions to our responsibility to subdue and have dominion.

When Genesis 1 was written, it was hard work to cultivate the rocky soil and people had little control of the elements; people were more powerless than powerful. In that context we see the forceful aspect of radah (ruling the earth) that is evident in other instances in the Bible when that word is used. That is one dimension of our responsibility.

But another dimension of our responsibility to have “dominion” is tempered by gentleness, such as when God spoke through Ezekiel’s to the “shepherds of Israel” and reprimanded them for using cruelty and violence and caring more about themselves than the people they were responsible for, serving themselves instead of the people.

In our service, we are dependent one another. We were not made to be self-sufficient; we not only need to have a relationship with God but also with each other. God allowed the first man to see that he needed another human before God presented the man with a woman to be his ‘ezer kegnedo. In Hebrew, ‘ezer is usually translated as “helper” or “deliverer” and is most often used to describe God delivering his people; kegnedo is usually translated as “in front of” or “opposite” or “parallel to”.[1]

Later on, in scripture we see that we are called to be a nation of priests and a body where all the different parts have a purpose as they work together. We are called not just to a restored relationship with the one who made us but are called together as a people to serve each other and to serve the world around us.


[1] Blue Letter Bible “ezer”; Bible Hub “Neged” biblehub.com/hebrew/5048.htm

Reflect

God provides the model of servant-leadership (see Chapter 2). What are some ways in which that should affect the way we take care of the earth and each other?

Observe

Read Mark 10:35-41. Think about how love relates both to sovereignty and service. What implications does that have for how we treat others?

In Time and In an Eternal Future

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Exodus 25-28; 1 Kings 5-6; Psalms 19; 37:4-5; Proverbs 3:5-6; 11:14; Ecclesiastes 3:1-27; John 10:27; Acts 16:6-10; Romans 1:8-10; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; 15:42-49; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Peter 4:10; 1 John 3:16] Gen 2:9; 1 Samuel 2:26; Ps 19:1-14; Ecc 3:-22; Matt 6:28; Romans 1:18-20; 1 Cor 3:7;15;42-49; 2 Cor 10:15; Eph 4:15; Col 1:6-10; 2 Thes 1:3; 2 Pet 3:18

Although we have not existed from all eternity, God created us with more than a mortal body. We are also endowed with a soul and a spirit that can be joined to God’s Spirit. In the present moment, our mortal bodies are created from the stuff of the earth, and we are born into particular times and places so that we may serve and enjoy God in those particular times and places.

… God made us as creatures. And the good part about being a creature is we were made to be dependent upon God and, by our very design, also dependent on other people and the earth … Often what we’re missing is the good of dependence. We need to cultivate an awareness of how our dependence and our needs open avenues of love … What if we stopped thinking of life as to-dos and started thinking of it as relationships? When we’re so task-driven, it’s very hard to appreciate love, because love is incredibly inefficient … 59

Our creatureliness which sets us in a particular place and time with a particular body is an opportunity to appreciate our finiteness and God’s infiniteness, to cultivate a sense of dependence on God’s provision and our dependence on each other and within the context of those relationships to truly learn how to love.

when we were younger, God didn’t expect us to be what we are now. He’s still taking his time, by his Spirit, to bring about order through developmental growth … Part of recognizing our limits is getting comfortable in God’s space and growing in dependance on him.59

Our creatureliness also forces us to deal with God’s ordering Creation through process. Everything, whether physical, social, emotional, intellectual or spiritual, is controlled by processes. Sometimes we desire to bypass those processes: we want to be instantly knowledgeable and wise and experts at what we do … and not dependent on anyone else. But it was precisely that kind of desire that led to our rebellion at the beginning of humanity.

Sometimes, I think we’re actually scared to death to pray, because if we actually take the time to get quiet, we might begin to fear that God’s not there or wonder whether he’s apathetic or just really angry. Only in prayer will we discover how compassionately God views us … cultivating the gift of encouraging and celebrating others. It’s a spiritual discipline, a healthy way of dying to yourself and encouraging others. We are all dying for someone to pay attention and notice our presence and being. When someone articulates that, it’s life-changing.[1]

As God’s image-bearing creatures, we not only have relationships with each other but also with our Creator. With other of God’s image-bearing creatures, our love can be expressed in our opportunities to support, uplift and encourage one other. God has no need of such support from us, but He offers us such support. When we recognize our dependence on Him, He gives us the ability to pray, to acknowledge our needs and to recognize His provision for us when He supplies our needs.

We think of prayer as mostly self-expressive—as a way to put words to our inner life … if we pray the prayers we’ve been given, regardless of how we feel about them or God at the time, we sometimes find, to our surprise, that they teach us how to believe … We sleep each night in our ordinary beds in our ordinary homes in our ordinary lives. And we do so in a universe filled to the brim with mystery and wonder. We always sleep in a crowded room in our crowded cosmos, so we ask for crazy things—that God send unimaginable supernatural beings to watch over us as we drool on our pillows … Sleep reminds us of how helpless we are, even merely to stay alive. In the Christian tradition, sleep has always been seen as a way we practice death. Both Jesus and Paul talk about death as a kind of sleep. Our nightly descent into unconsciousness is a daily memento mori, a reminder of our creatureliness, our limitations, and our weakness. [2]

As we pray in our mortal bodies, we remember that although our mortal bodies will return to the dust from which we are made, our bodies will be resurrected when heaven and earth are reunited so that we, with soul and spirit and new body, will be able to enjoy God forever into the future.

What is that phenomenon we call ‘beauty’ and why does it lie at the core of both collective civilisation and individual desire, even as we value it precisely for existing outside of practicality? In his essay The Weight of Glory [A sermon given in Oxford in 1942], C.S. Lewis explains it as an echo of eternity, imprinted upon humanity as an indication of our origin and destiny.[3]

Indeed, our God is a God of beauty, and he has created us to enjoy his beauty. Art and our appreciation of it are among the great gifts God has given to us. Sure, like anything, it can be turned into an idol. But art, beauty, and appreciation for the finer things of culture are all good gifts from a good God. [4]

In the meantime, while we await for our resurrection and to gaze on the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4), we have reminders of our connection with our transcendent God in the beauty of His Creation and in our capacity to make things of beauty. Whether the beautiful things are of our creation or the Lord’s, they are a reflection of God’s own beauty.

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing … they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited … We do not want merely to see beauty … We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.


[1] Straza, Erin. “Learning How to Love Your Limits” Christianity Today 13 Dec 2021 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/january-february/youre-only-human-kelly-kapic-limits-god-design.html Interview with Covenant College theologian Kelly M. Kapic’s about his latest book, “You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News.”

[2] Warren, Tish Harrison. “The Cosmos is More Crowded Than You Think” Christianity Today 14 Dec 2021 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/january-february/prayer-night-tish-harrison-warren-angels-crowded-cosmos.html

[3] Wang, Irina “Beauty betrays eternity” Salt salt.london/articles/beauty-betrays-eternity/

[4] Meuhlenberg, Bill. “Art and the Christian”; Culture Watch 28 July 2011 billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/28/art-and-the-christian/

Reflect

How does having an eternal future help us live in the world today?

Observe

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-22.  In the midst of meditating on the limitations of life on earth, verse 11 slides in a reference to beauty and eternity. How does that verse impact the rest of the chapter?

Transcendent and Immanent

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Exodus 19:6; Psalm 19; 37:4-5; 139:16; Proverbs 3:5-6; Ecclesiastes 3:1-22; Jeremiah 29:11; John 10:27; Acts 16:6-10; 17:24-28; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Peter 1:16; 2:9; 4:10]

Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within him the interior dimension of the gift. With it he brings into the world his particular likeness to God, with which he transcends and dominates also his “visibility” in the world, his corporality, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness. A reflection of this likeness is also the primordial awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body, pervaded by the mystery of original innocence.

Thus, in this dimension, a primordial sacrament is constituted, understood as a sign that transmits effectively in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial. This is the mystery of truth and love, the mystery of divine life, in which man really participates. In the history of man, original innocence begins this participation and it is also a source of original happiness. The sacrament, as a visible sign, is constituted with man, as a body, by means of his visible masculinity and femininity. The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.[1]

God has placed each one of us in a particular time and place and with particular people. Within that time and place and people he has plans for us. Each of us has a particular mind and body with which we need to discern God’s calling for us in our time and place. Such plans are revealed in many places in scripture.

And though we are called to particular times, places and people, there are ways in which God’s transcendent character spills over onto us. The mark of his transcendence is even placed in each of our hearts. The expressions of transcendence are impossible to avoid in our day and age: Although we were not born with the ability to fly, we can fly to the moon, although we were not born to live under water, we are able to spend months at a time under water even at incredible depths, although we were not born to run like a cheetah, we don’t even think about climbing into a vehicle and going more than 60 miles an hour for hours at a time, we can also create works of art that show places we have never been, we can use the resources of the earth to generate more power than we can imagine … and the list goes on.

With our gift of transcendence, God has shown that he has set us aside as his representatives, “to be holy as he is holy.” We are not to merely live as earthly creatures but as creatures who represent the living God. The challenge before us is to discern, as God’s image-bearers, to what end God can use our particular bodies, emotions and minds in the particular family and community into which we are placed, to fulfill the purpose he has intended for each of us.[2]


[1] Paul II, John. “The Redemption of the Body and Sacramentality of Marriage (Theology of the Body)” Man Enters the World As a Subject of Truth and Love, p. 49 28 Nov 1984

[2] Russell, Chris. “8 Steps to knowing God’s will for your life”; “How to Find God’s Plan” WEC International; Renner, Rick. “Discerning God’s Plan for your life”

Reflect

List the ways in which we exhibit transcendence.

Observe

Read Ecclesiastes 3:9-15. How can we, within the finiteness of our lives and our intelligence, see how beauty points to eternity?

Body, Soul and Spirit

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Genesis 2; Matthew 3:16-17; 19:6; Acs 2:42-47; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20; 12:4-30; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 21-22]

The mystery of perichoresis which tries to describe the one person God consisting of the relation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may very well be the best approach to the mystery of God’s image-bearers. There are conflicting views on whether a person consists of a body and soul or body and spirit or body and soul and spirit. Are we two parts or three parts then which parts? A similar issue arises in the attempts to figure out the relation between the brain and consciousness.[1] Although some researchers reductionistically think that consciousness is all biology and that we will be able to eventually build a computer with a conscious, it is likely that the mystery of perichoresis will prevail.

As image-bearers, being created as community of male and female points one way to the community of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also points in another way to their unity as represented by becoming “one flesh.” There is an element of equality with a difference between male and female as represented by the woman being created from, what has been commonly translated, a “rib” from Adam’s side. The equality becomes more apparent however, when we understand the word that has been translated as “rib” is more usually translated as “side” – as if Eve were constructed from a full half Adam’s side.[2]

Yet the Hebrew word צלע (tsela) does not mean “rib,” but rather “side.” … Adam’s own words clarify that Eve comes from one of his sides when he declares of his wife, “Finally, this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen 2:23). Had Eve been created from the man’s rib alone, Adam would only have been able to say that she was “bone of his bone.” As Adam’s bone and flesh, the woman is the man’s “other half.” When man and woman cleave to one another and return to being “one flesh” (2:24), the two equal halves of humanity are brought back together.[3]

Adam’s “deep sleep” (תרדמה, tardemah) connotes a hospital patient’s sleep via anesthesia. However, the practice of anesthesiology was unknown in ancient Israel; Genesis does not have modern medicine in mind. Rather than physical sleep, tardemah denotes a visionary trance … Instead of splitting Adam physically, God provides him with a vision to show him the meaning of the relationship that he will have with his wife: a fully equal partnership with a person who constitutes his “other half.”[4]

The mystery deepens further when we consider the sexual union of husband and wife. Our male and femaleness show us our human incompleteness without each other. In the joining of the male and female bodies we manifest a completeness. Humans are unlike all other creatures in that we are made in God’s image with body, soul and spirit, and our spirit is joined to God’s Spirit. Therefore, the sexual union of husband and wife, unlike other creatures, is described as becoming “one flesh.” The combination of spiritual union and physical union creates a living metaphor of the union of Christ with the Church. The love, intensity and passion of two different but complementary bodies united both in spirit and in “one flesh” is an extension of the perichoresis of the Trinity as the bodies of the image-bearers united in spirit with Christ become the body of Christ on earth, joined in love, intensity and passion, enjoying the overflowing goodness and shalom that God has intended for us.

We are created body, soul and spirit with the intention that when heaven and earth are rejoined, we will be restored body, soul and spirit (although it will be in resurrected bodies) in the new heaven and earth. It is also through our bodies that we are restored to Christ. When he took on flesh.

God created the flesh of man, which the Son assumes in the Incarnation, all so that he might save the flesh of man. Tertullian states this idea straightforwardly: caro salutis cardo, the flesh is the hinge of salvation …Thus, our bodies are not meat-suits to be discarded or clusters of atoms that will disintegrate and disappear. They are made to last, because God’s kingdom will last, taking up from this world all that is good and preserving it. All that is made in and through Christ – including the body – will find its ultimate meaning in him. “My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Ps. 84:2 RSV).[5]

When fellow Christ-bearers assemble together, they are together the Body of Christ, with each person bringing different gifts to support and strengthen the others in the Body.

Paul’s marital imagery in describing the relationship between Christ and the church. By wedding himself to humanity, Christ truly becomes “one flesh” with them (Ephesians 5:30–32), making them his members, “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), with Christ as their Head (Colossians 1:18). Head and body are joined through the “bond of charity,” the love that has been “shed abroad in our hearts” by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The union of love between Head and body is so close that “Head and body speak as one,” because they are “no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:6).[6]


[1] Tolson, Jay. “Is There Room for the Soul?” CBS News 15 Oct 2006 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/is-there-room-for-the-soul/

[2] Walton, John. “The Lost World of Adam and Eve” Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate”. InterVarsity Press. 2015 Kindle Edition. p. 78

[3] Schaser, Nicholas J. “Did Eve Come From Adam’s “Rib?” Israel Bible Weekly 8 May 2021 weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/eve-come-adams-rib/

[4] Schaser, Nicholas J. “Splitting the Adam” Israel Bible Weekly 23 July 2021 weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/splitting-the-adam/

[5] Franks, Angela. “What’s a Body For?” Plough Quarterly 6 Aug 2018 http://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/culture-of-life/whats-a-body-for

[6] Colbrook, Niamh. “Inhabiting Our Feeling Bodies” Comment Essay 26 Aug 2021 comment.org/inhabiting-our-feeling-bodies

Reflect

If God’s love is expressed through our current bodies which were used to shape our character, do you think that it is possible that our resurrected bodies will retain aspects of our current bodies which have shaped us in the same way that Jesus’ resurrection body still bore his scars?

Observe

Read Genesis 2. Unlike other creatures who were simply created male and female, Genesis 2 gives a story of a man being specifically made from the dust and a woman being created from the side of the man. What do think was God’s purpose for describing the origin of his image-bearers?

Dynamic Tension

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: 1 Corinthians 3]

Just as there are tensions within the attributes of the living God that actively interact with each other, so also God’s image-bearers have to deal with similar tensions. But in addition to those good and healthy tensions, we also impose another tension due to our rebellion against God. Our rebellion has created tensions not only within us, but between us and also between us and God.

Reflect

Do you have any relationships that do not have some unhealthy tension?

Observe

Read Genesis 3:11-19. What kind of tensions did our rebellion create between humans and between the humans and God?

Reflecting God’s Paradoxes

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers

[Bible references: Genesis 1:26-32; 2:4-7,15-25; Matthew 22:36-40; John 15:8-11; Romans 8:20-21; Galatians 5:22-23]

Understanding the character of God, can help us understand what he has intended for creatures that are made in his image. Image-bearing creatures are not gods or duplicates of God, but they are imbued with the character of the God that made them. In this chapter we will explore some of the ways God intends for us to reflect his image. In later chapters, we will expound on those characteristics in more detail.

It was into this good universe that God prepared beforehand that God created creatures to bear his image. Good creatures, image-bearers, who were given the task of taking care of the good creation that God blessed them with – and God declared it to be very good. The image-bearing creatures were created in the complex image of God – the one God who was a community within Himself, the God who was immensely creative, the God who was generous and loving beyond imagination, the God who is sovereign over the universe, the God who is above all things.

There was a danger in God creating image-bearers. To make creatures that were lovers – just as He was a lover – meant giving these image-bearers the freedom to choose whom or what to love. We are unable to choose to not love but only who or what to love. Because God’s image-bearers were the capstone of creation, the option to another love than God, risked an awful catastrophe, a catastrophe that could affect the entirety of creation itself. The good creation, all of it, would become not so good.

And so it was, after creation was prepared for God’s image-bearers, those creatures who were created in the image of the loving God were given instructions to be stewards of the world God had made. Everything was good, and the first human couple had free access to the provisions in garden prepared for them. Only one restriction was placed before them, a restriction not meant to deprive them of anything good but meant to provide the opportunity to test their love, by testing their obedience to the one who created them.

We all now know that those creatures failed their test, and we daily experience the consequences of that failure. We also daily experience our own incapacity to restore holiness on our own efforts, our inability to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and our inability to fully love God or to fully love our neighbors as ourselves.

The mystery of who we are has to worked out between all the goodness we are endowed with as creatures who bear the image of God and all the evil we are encumbered with as creatures who innately rebel against that same God. Traces of heaven and hell run through each of us and are manifested in our everyday lives. The tongues we praise God with also curse our neighbor. The selflessness we display to others is corrupted by the selfish desires that emerge from the same heart.

Reflect

How is love dangerous?

Observe

Read Genesis 1:28; 2:15. What tasks did God provide for the humans?