Gracious, Merciful and Just

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 2 – The God who created

[Bible references: 2 Sam 24:14; Psalm 5; 85; 88; Matthew 5:6; 18:21-35; Romans 1:18; 9:22-24]

There is a common misunderstanding of how God is seen in the Old Testament vs. how God is seen in the New Testament. The perceived contrast has caused reactions such as thinking that there are two different gods or ignoring the Old Testament while focusing exclusively on the New Testament. It is easy to see how these misperceptions happen while looking cursorily at the Bible, but this misperception can be resolved by looking more carefully into the text. We can see that God’s love, mercy and grace is found not just in the New but also the Old Testament. We can also see that God’s wrath and justice is found not just in the Old but also in the New Testament.

God’s love, mercy and grace can be seen in the Old Testament right near the beginning.[1] There is grace in the placing the image of God on creatures that did nothing to earn it. There is mercy in the judgements meted onto Adam and Eve after their sin and grace in the provision of covering for their nakedness. While we could look at more other instances of mercy and grace in the Old Testament[2], let’s just consider the meanings of the Hebrew words that have been translated as “mercy.”[3]  One Hebrew word, “racham,” can also be translated as compassion and another word, “chesed,” can be translated as steadfast loyalty and is seen as God’s steadfast compassion and loyalty to Israel even after repeated rejections from his image-bearers.

But even beyond mercy and grace, God’s compares his love with his chosen people with the love of a husband to a wife. This Hebrew word that God often used for love, “ahavah,” refers to a giving type of love, which indeed was the way God showed his love to his chosen ones; even though time after time his people rejected him, God patiently worked through it all giving us a chance to see ourselves as we really are and the chance to put our trust in his unfailing love.

Wrath and justice in the New Testament can be seen in God’s strong desire expressed as zeal or jealousy concerning the welfare of his image bearers. In both the Old and New Testaments, God is clear about his desire for justice and righteousness. God expresses his anger very clearly when we try to cover-up our lack of justice with religious exercises or pretentiousness.

God’s response to injustice is his wrath. Although God’s wrath has been long covered by his patience and his desire that all people would come to him, his wrath will eventually be revealed when he comes back to earth to fully restore his kingdom on earth. While he cautions us to allow him to carry out vengeance, that does not mean we should not be concerned by the injustice that we see. The Greek term “dikaiosuné” which is usually translated as “righteousness” can also be translated as “justice.”[4]  Jesus exemplified justice throughout his ministry, and he encourages us to practice justice as well.

That concern for justice and desire to eliminate sin is explicitly expressed in Jesus’ statements in Matthew 10:34 (“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”) and Luke 12:49 (“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”). Then later in Revelation 19:11-21, however real or metaphoric this passage may seem to be, the passage clearly expresses in very warlike terms, Jesus’ concern to eliminate evil.

So on the one hand, God’s often responds to the injustice in the world with patience and mercy – and we all need the kindness of God so that we can respond with repentance and receive forgiveness. On the other hand, God will eventually respond to unrepented injustice with righteousness, justice and wrath.


[1] Arsenault, Bill. “Grace vs. Mercy – What’s the Difference?” Faith Island 10 Sept 2017 faithisland.org/grace/grace-vs-mercy-whats-the-difference/

[2] Forest, Joe. “A Better Way to Read the Old Testament” 29 June 2018 Instrument of Mercy instrumentofmercy.com/2018/06/29/a-better-way-to-read-the-old-testament/ ; Deem, Richard. “The Mercy of God as found in the Old Testament” God and Science http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/mercy_of_god.html; Beale, Stephen. “God’s Tender Mercy in the Old Testament” Catholic Exchange 10 Feb 2021 catholicexchange.com/gods-tender-mercy-in-the-old-testament

[3] Schmalz, Matthew. “What is the true meaning of mercy?” The Conversation, College of the Holy Cross, 8 Feb 2017, theconversation.com/what-is-the-true-meaning-of-mercy-72461

[4] Foster, Robert L. “Understandings of Justice in the New Testament;” Society of Biblical Literature www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/TBv2i5_Fosterjustice.pdf’; Grimsrud, Ted. “Justice in the New Testament” Society of Biblical Literature www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/TBv2i5_Fosterjustice.pdf

Reflect

The Hebrew words we translate as mercy also can be translated as steadfast compassion and loyalty. How does that affect your view of mercy and how mercy is shown to others?

Observe

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?

Sovereign and Servant

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 2 – The God who created

[Bible references: Proverbs 1:20-23; 3:19; Isaiah 52:10-15; Romans 11:33-35; Philippians 2:1-11]

There is a contemporary name for this juxtaposition of attributes: servant leadership. In this case, the one who is the creator and sustainer of all things does not wield that power in a self-centered way but uses that power to serve the needs of the very beings he created – even though they defied his authority and it cost him much anguish.

When the Creator decided to make creatures in his image, creatures that had the ability to love (and therefore the ability to choose whom to love or whom to not love), he imbued these creatures with the ability to make independent decisions. Doing that required releasing some control and then providing enough space be given so that those creatures would be free to make choices.

However, those creatures violated that love and incurred an awful penalty. Fortunately, the Creator did not just mete out the penalty, but with compassion, and at great cost to himself, put in place a plan that would restore his relationship with his image-bearers. This costly plan would highlight an attribute that already had been revealed, the attribute of servanthood in which the Creator acts on behalf of his creatures.

Not to be overlooked, the ability to create and sustain the universe needs tremendous knowledge and wisdom as does the ability to create creatures in his image and then to guide them amid their missteps and varied circumstances. Were God to simply control each and every action in the universe, that would be difficult enough, but although God can control things directly through his sovereign will, there are actions which he desires but he gives us the option to obey or not.[1] We cannot even begin to understand the vast knowledge and wisdom that God needs. In fact, wisdom is so pervasive, not only in creation but as part of the many ways God interacts with us, that Wisdom is metaphorically portrayed to us in Proverbs as a person.


[1] Piper, John, “What is the Will of God and How Do We Know It” Desiring God, 22 Aug 2004, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/what-is-the-will-of-god-and-how-do-we-know-it

Reflect

God’s rule is contingent on God’s love. His power is not focused on controlling but on releasing his image-bearers to participate with him in taking care of his creation and of each other. In what ways do humans misuse their power over others?

Observe

Read Isaiah 52:13-15; Philippians 2:5-11. If Jesus is our example of leadership, what should our leadership look like in practice?

Timeless and In Time

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 2 – The God who created

[Bible references: Psalm 102:25-27]

Closely related to the paradox of how God is both transcendent and immanent is how God is both timeless and in time. Many scholars in philosophy and science have trouble trying to resolve questions such as: How can God even have both attributes? Did God create time or is God himself confined by time? Is time static such that the past, present and future all exist simultaneously and God sees them all at once, or is time dynamic such that the future does not yet exist – and therefore God does not yet know it?[1]  

It is not practical to try to summarize all the arguments with all their nuances here. For our purposes, we will not try to resolve the many difficult theological/philosophical issues[2] but, as Psalm 102 does, accept the finite mortality of our life on earth and the fact that God is both with us in the midst of our distress yet also exists outside of that.


[1] Closer to Truth “Is God Temporal or Timeless” This is a series of interviews showing different views on the subject of God’s timelessness.

[2] McKnight, Scott. “Is God Timeless”; Craig, William Lane. “God, Time and Eternity”; Ganssle, Gregory E. Review of “The End of the Timeless God by RT Mullins; All About God “God is Infinite Bible Verses”

Reflect

We don’t know if time existed before God created the universe. We perceive time through things changing and since God exists outside the universe, could he change?

Observe

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?

Transcendent and Immanent

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 2 – The God who created

[Bible references: Genesis 1; Psalm 139:2-3; Isaiah 6:1-5; 40:22-23; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Matthew 10:30; Acts 17:27; Romans 8:29; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3]

Genesis tells us there was a time when the universe, the heavens and the earth, began to exist. Before that moment of time, they did not exist – but before that beginning there was God and then God created the universe. From that starting point, we can see the transcendent nature of God. He was not part of the universe but apart from the universe. No matter what happens in the universe or to the universe, those things do not affect God who is separate from all that. Fortunately, we are not simply left with a God who is unreachably “out there” leaving us to fend for ourselves. In some incomprehensible fashion, while God is “out there” existing outside of Creation, He is simultaneously inside Creation … everywhere at once.[1]

This paradox of God’s transcendence (existing outside of Creation) and imminence (existing everywhere within Creation) has sometimes bewildered many who try to examine it through sheer logic.

God is other and set apart from everything else, that he is in a class by himself. God is not just quantitatively greater than us, but qualitatively different in his greatness. He is transcendent, infinitely above or beyond us. The true God is distinct, set apart, from all that he has made as the only truly self-sufficient Being. All his creatures depend on him; he alone exists from within himself. “And the true God is distinct, set apart, from all that is evil. His moral perfection is absolute. His character as expressed in his will forms the absolute standard of moral excellence. God is holy, the absolute point of reference for all that exists and is good. Across the board he is to be contrasted with his creatures. At heart he is a glowing-white center of absolute purity …

But thankfully for us, God is not just transcendent; he is also immanent. Simply put, God is near. God is wholly present with and active in the created order. God is near us, present with us, active on earth and involved in our world. He is present and active in nature, in history, in our lives. He acts in this world and dwells with his people …

Both truths must be affirmed. The two ideas must be kept together in biblical balance. Only Christianity has the right mix. Pantheism denies God’s transcendence. Deism denies God’s immanence. Only Christianity affirms both, especially as we see in the incarnation. [2]

As we unwrap the significance of this paradox, we discover many interesting attributes of God. Here are a few:

  • Regarding God’s Transcendence
    • God’s existence apart from creation, and apart from the brokenness of the world is described as his holiness. This holiness is so profound that mortal, sinful people (as we all are) could not stand to be his presence.
    • God’s omnipotence is seen in his ability to not only create the universe, but in his ability to sustain it.
    • God’s omniscience is seen in his knowledge about the hairs on our head, our everyday actions and even in our destiny
    • God is omnipresent
  • Regarding God’s Immanence
    • Although God is apart from the universe, He is the one who holds the universe together
    • God is present throughout the earth and available to all who call for him and even to those who are not calling for him

In the chapters ahead, we will examine many of the ways God has inserted himself into the middle of creation and even address how God is involved in ways we can’t even imagine.


[1] Compelling Truth. “What is the meaning of ‘perichoresis’?” www.compellingtruth.org/perichoresis.html

[2] Muehlenbert, Bill. “On God’s Immanence and Transcendence Culture Watch, 5 Aug 2013 billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/05/on-gods-immanence-and-transcendence/. The first portion is a quote from Thomas Trevethan

Reflect

If you’ve had a chance to look at the stars at night or at large landscape scene that’s miles long, what goes through your mind?[1]

Observe

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?


[1] Getty Images, Stars in the sky http://www.gettyimages.com/photos/stars-in-the-sky ; Fine Art America, Landscape photographs fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/landscape

A Person and a Community

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 2 – The God who created

[Bible references: Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 48:14-16; Matthew 3:16-17]

It is sometimes said that a picture is worth a thousand words, as it would take many words to describe the colors, shapes and expressions detailed in a picture. But sometimes, it can also be said that a word is worth a thousand pictures, as it is possible that one word in one document can be linked to many other documents where that same word is used with the meaning in each instance add to the meanings in the other instances. For example, the first sentence in the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Let’s consider the word “God.” In the Hebrew language that was used in the original writing of the first part of the Bible, that word is “Elohim.” The curious thing is that “Elohim” is a plural noun which could be, and often is, translated as “gods” while the verb “created” (“bara” in Hebrew) is singular.[1] This combination of “Elohim” with a singular verb happens throughout the Old Testament part of the Bible and in all those cases, “Elohim” is translated as the singular noun, “God”. So, what’s the story with this?

On the one hand, the Bible is very strident in insisting that there is only one God. One of the central doctrines taught to the Jews is, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” In the time frame that the Bible was written, this statement strongly contrasted with all the other cultures which had multiple gods. On the other hand, the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, talks about God as Father and also God as Son and also God as Holy Spirit. This phenomenon shows up even as we look at Genesis 1, where we can see that God created and that the Spirit was hovering over the water. We continue to see this concept of one God, but three persons referred to as God develop throughout scripture, both in the Old Testament as the New Testament.[2]

So how do we make sense out of the insistence on there being one God while also revealing that there are multiple personalities associated with “God.” This is certainly a tough question that has created problems in the church (more on that later) and is but one thing among many that God seems to have revealed to us without explaining it. The church has referred to this complexity as the “Trinity.” It is from the outflowing of love between the members of the Trinity that God created us, desiring us to join each other in community and together join the community of love that is present in the Trinity.


[1] Biblehub “Elohim” Strong’s Concordance, Bible Hub biblehub.com/hebrew/430.htm

[2] Stewart, Don. “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Found in the Old Testament?” Blue Letter Bible, ?”  Blue Letter Bible www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_330.cfm

Reflect

Chapter 1 introduced perichoresis as a way of trying to picture the relationship of the persons of the Trinity. How do you think of love as an integral part of not only that relationship but the desire to expand that relationship to include us?

Observe

Read Genesis 1:1-2; Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 48:14-16; Matthew 3:16-17.  This passage in Genesis uses the plural word “Elohim” to identify God. Deuteronomy is insistent that there is one God. Isaiah and Matthew indicate three persons as God. The word, “Trinity,” was invented to describe this phenomenon. The word, “perichoresis,” was used to try to describe this phenomenon. How could you use these words to explain this phenomenon to other people?

Dynamic Tension

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 2 – The God who created

Throughout the Bible there are statements that seem to conflict with each other. Since one of the principles of biblical interpretation is to examine any statement in the light of all scripture, the best option for understanding the tension between apparently conflicting statements would be to simply accept the tensions between those paradoxical statements rather than to resolve every issue to an understanding to a particular point.

The study of biology may provide good analogues in dealing with those tensions. For instance, in biological life, it seems that there are no simple formulas, no simple rules. Although, on the one hand, there are underlying precisely defined processes like the laws of chemistry and physics, on the other hand, there are overlying complex and variable biological processes that are adaptable to circumstances around them.

Even more, living organisms by themselves are noted by intricately balanced but unstable processes that, if the balance between processes fails, there is a most certain death. One of the standard definitions of life is that living things must evade the decay to equilibrium while at the same time maintaining internal order and organization.[1]  One example that we live with all the time is with our skin – every day our skin is shedding cells and creating new ones such that, on average, every 27 days a entire layer of skin is being replaced. Our skin seems “stable” and seems to stay the same even though entire layers of skin are constantly being replaced

That type of process holds true for all the processes happening in all the cells of living organisms; The internal structures seem to be stable, while matter and energy are constantly flowing through them and the materials within the internal structures are being constantly refreshed. More remarkably, if we examine all of this activity, we discover that this activity is sustained by an array of complex sets of interdependent processes where one set of processes feeds off the by-products of other processes and visa-versa. All this activity is delicate in one sense, if some processes fail at one point the result can be death. In another sense, the processes are flexible, allowing an organism to live in a wide variety of circumstances (environments). Thus, we have a paradox of systems that are simultaneously fragile and robust.

This dynamic tension can be seen on another level with the interactions of bone and muscle. In a given skeletal muscle, some fibers are attached to one bone in one direction and some fibers are attached to another bone in another direction. For instance, in your bicep muscles, some fibers attach to the shoulder and the other fibers attach to the elbow. As the fibers within a muscle pull against one another the bones they are attached to move. You can see this activity when you “make a muscle.” As you draw your forearm towards your shoulder, you see the biceps start to bulge in the middle as the opposing fibers pull into each other.

Exactly which way the bones move is determined by the creature that controls the muscles, as the creature interacts with the environment, determining what direction to go or what task to do. While it seems at one level that in a given muscle the fibers are working against one another and seem to work opposite to one another, they are in fact on a larger scale working with each other to accomplish particular tasks.

All of this seems to reflect what we see in spiritual life. On one level, the attributes we see in the living God, His holiness, grace, etc. never change although they are constantly interacting with different circumstances. As circumstances change, although it may seem that God’s responses may change, it is not because God has changed, only that God’s dynamic response to different circumstances, whether globally or locally, has changed.

So, as we consider this, it may seem that some of God’s characteristics conflict with each other or are pulling against one another. For instance, how is God’s perfect desire for justice able to be reconciled with God’s grace? Or how is it that He can be the Lord of all and able to also be the Servant of all? In fact, God is interacting with the world, determining what He wants to do and then coordinating His attributes to do what He desires. For example, although God’s authority and servanthood seem to be in tension with one another, He is coordinating them to deal with our individual circumstances.  At some point He sees the need to demonstrate more authority and at other times, more servanthood.

I call this interaction, Dynamic Tension; a process controlled by a person or an organism in which the attributes seem to be pulling in different directions but are in fact working in concert with one another to accomplish particular goals. These tensions carry over into many areas of theology. We see that as different congregations wrestle with apparently conflicting issues they make decisions based on their particular situations. Different congregations in different situations will come to different resolutions.

We are blessed to have both God’s creation itself and God’s revelation available to us as we try to try to learn about the living Creator. Fortunately, it is to our blessing that we don’t have to know everything about God for us to know or understand him, because we can at best only know Him in part. But meanwhile we have some paradoxes about God for us to examine and we will start exploring some of those paradoxes now.

“… many of the great theologians and leaders of the Church—including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Origen of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley—in various ways believed that Creation bears witness to the glory and truth of its Creator and that this witness is fully compatible with the witness of Scripture.” [2]


[1] Weber, Bruce. “Life” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 7 Nov 2011, plato.stanford.edu/entries/life

[2]  Mann, Mark H. “The Church Fathers and Two Books Theology” Biologos 4 Nov 2012 biologos.org/articles/the-church-fathers-and-two-books-theology

Reflect

What are some paradoxes that you see in the world around you?[1]  What paradoxes do you see in the Bible?[2]


[1] Mental Floss, “10 Paradoxes that will boggle your mind” http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/59040/10-mind-boggling-paradoxes

[2] Lifeway Research “14 Biblical Paradoxes Every Christian Should Know” lifewayresearch.com/2019/03/19/14-biblical-paradoxes-every-christian-should-know

Paradoxes and Mysteries

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 2 – The God who created

[Bible references: Genesis 1-2; Job 9; Psalm 8; 19; 104; 139; Proverbs 8; Job 38-39; Isaiah 55:9]

When we look at a work of art, what can we tell about the artist? What can we find from the skill in using materials, the subject matter, the emotional content, the values? We may be able to figure out a few things, but all-in-all we can discern very little. To learn much more we need the artist to reveal not just more about the artwork but also about him or herself.

People always want to know what inspires you to make art … think beyond the artist statement. Artists are living beings with thoughts, feelings, and ideas … explain who you really are” [1]

 “Besides making art, storytelling skills are the most valuable in achieving a gratifying journey as an artist. Your storytelling skills enhance your ability to achieve your goals. Art and stories, both written and told, are powerful tools to touch people. When art and stories are woven to work together, they create a compelling experience for artists and their followers”.[2]

So, as we begin to explore what we can know about the Creator, we also begin by looking at his artwork (that is, the creation)[3] but then we need to hear what the Creator has revealed about himself to us (that is, through the Holy Bible).[4]

So, let us begin by looking at the living things God created. Sometimes, we think we can look around us and figure out what is living and what is not; but when look at the spectrum of living things, especially through the eyes of the scientists who specialize in it, it becomes more difficult to try to come up with a definition for life. In fact, one organization catalogued over 100 definitions[5] … and none of those definitions satisfy everybody. What does that say about the one who created those living things?

If we get so confused about what was created, it is likely that we will get confused about the Creator. When Job challenged God, Yahweh responded, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” In Isaiah, God explicitly says, “My ways are higher than your ways.” There simply are things about God that are beyond our comprehension, mysteries, which should give us a spirit of humility.

Because much about God is mysterious and beyond understanding, we naturally find that the Creator is full of paradoxes: with characteristics that seem to oppose each other. When we do encounter apparently conflicting statements about God, we must hold those qualities in tension with each other. Sometimes we might not totally understand how these characteristics can all be true together, but that is what we should expect. If we cannot fully comprehend the creation, why should we think that we can fully comprehend the Creator. We should also consider that if we ever think that we totally understand the Creator of the universe then we probably are not understanding things correctly – we are probably creating a god in our own image rather than the other way around.

This inability to totally understand God forces us to make speculations as we try to find a way to reason things about God. We do have to be careful though, for we will create all sorts of arguments with each other if we insist on certain speculations as the defined truth of God. It might be that if we study those revelations of God that we can draw some conclusions, but we need to be careful about making dogma out of something that we don’t fully understand. Unfortunately, we will see in future chapters that various theologians and congregations have sometimes split up over some of those very issues which no one can fully understand.


[1] Sayej, Nadjz. “How Artists Use Video Storytelling to Connect with Their Audience” artrepreneur, 21 Feb 2018, abj.artrepreneur.com/video-storytelling

[2] Davey, Barney. “Personal Storytelling for Artists & Creatives” Marketing Courses, mymarketingcourses.com/p/personal-storytelling

[3] Ross, Hugh. “The Major Biblical Creation Texts/Creation Accounts” Reasons to Believe 1 Aug 2008 reasons.org/explore/publications/articles/the-major-biblical-creation-texts-creation-accounts

[4] Rusbult, Craig. “How should we interpret the Two Books of God, in Scripture & Nature” American Scientific Affiliation http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/two-books.htm

[5] Chamary, JV. “A Biologist Explains: What is Life?”; Zimmer, Carl. “What is Life? It’s Vast Diversity Defies Easy Definition” Forbes 27 Mar 2019 http://www.forbes.com/sites/jvchamary/2019/03/27/what-is-life/?sh=22008ddb1c77

Reflect

What speaks to you, or confuses you about God’s character when you look at Creation?

Observe

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?

Dancing through the pain

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Dancing In the Kingdom – Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom Chapter 1 – Prelude

[Bible references: Luke 17:20-21; Hebrews 12:2; Revelation 21:1-3; 22:1-5]

Right now, it might seem hard to see images of the Dance of God’s Kingdom. We look at the news and wonder where things are headed to. Sometimes we look at our own lives and wonder … If there is a God where is God? What’s His plan for the world – for the church – for us? Then we pick up a book called the Holy Bible and read the stories and wonder how they all fit together. Then we look at the church – well, churches, there are so many of them – and wonder why it’s so complicated and messy and wonder if anybody’s got it right. And, what about me, my story, my mess? How do I fit into it all that?

But hints of God’s activity with His people are there to be found. God has been working through and intervening in the lives of many people that have been dancing the Kingdom Dance through the years, bringing hope and healing to the world. Their stories can be found in the Bible and in the rest of history[1] and sometimes even inserted into the news of the day, in the middle of all the stories of our brokenness.

I dance because it makes me happy! My experience is that when I dance I can express something from my heart to God that cannot be expressed in words. Dancing is a point of contact with God for me. It gives me an experience of God as the origin of creativity and beauty … “I dance because I want to spread a message of love, joy, hope and faith to the world … Among the dimensions added by the dance expression itself is the meta-message that there is room for the whole human being and life in its fullness in a Christian religious setting. Dance can teach children and adults a body-embracing way of living, believing and being in God’s world. One participant says that through dance in general, “we want to communicate heaven to people down here, the message of salvation, our freedom in God, the joy in God, and the joy of dancing with fellow Christians.” … Through dance these Christian dancers experience and practice their religion in a bodily way. This means that their spirituality takes an embodied form and that dance for them is not only a bodily practice, but also a spiritual one.[2]

For us to dance the Kingdom Dance we don’t have everything figured out, He does. We don’t even have to worry about the results of the dance because the results are not dependent on us but on Him, who is working through us. As much as we may mess things up, as we have done and will continue to do, He will ultimately restore us and the rest of creation, making us all into what He had intended from the beginning.

Among all the creatures that God created, we are uniquely made, even if we are not the physical center of the universe as some people may have thought at one time. Through the pursuit of science, we now have instruments that make it very clear that we are not physically at the center of everything, not that we can prove anyway. We are only specks on a small planet spinning around a star in an apparently random solar system in an apparently random galaxy in a universe we cannot even see the edges of. Although we don’t know where the center is, the universe seems to have been created with us in mind. The properties of the universe, the physical constants, the atomic structures, were all created such that it would support our existence.[3] Interestingly, although we are creatures made of the stuff of the universe, not only can we study and reflect on the properties of that stuff, but we can also study and reflect on and even reflect the one who created us.

In the meantime, we do not know when He will return, and we find ourselves in the middle, in-between those two times, between the beginning of the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth and the time when it will be fully accomplished. In this in-between time, sometimes we see some signs of God’s restoration – and sometimes we can’t – and it’s hard to figure out what God is doing, especially when there are times that He seems to be absent. In those times, we need to call upon our faith to hold onto the hope that God is still working out His plans. We need to recall all the times that we did see Him at work, and then we also need to remember that getting to the end of the plans that He intends for us may require some pain on our part just as it required pain on His part. And like Him, our pain will be overwhelmed with the glory that will be revealed.

Our ultimate destination is not a mere returning to the way we started out, but to the full flourishing of our potential, where God will establish a kingdom of image-bearers released to display God’s character and reflect His glory.

“And salvation only does what it’s meant to do when those who have been saved, are being saved, and will one day fully be saved realize that they are saved not as souls but as wholes and not for themselves alone but for what God now longs to do through them. The point is this. When God saves people in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed—it isn’t too strong a word—to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future. That is what Paul insists on when he says that the whole creation is waiting with eager longing not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed.” [4]

With that in mind, we can not only wait and hope. We can participate with God in bringing His kingdom to earth and bringing a taste of healing and hope into a broken world that desperately needs it.

“Within the biblical story, the Christian discovers a constant call for justice on behalf of the weak and forgotten. In the biblical tradition, justice is an aspect of God’s shalom, a notion that carries with it the idea of completeness, soundness, well-being and prosperity, and includes every aspect of life – personal, relational and national.”[5]

The suffering and pain in the world can be overwhelming, challenging our ability to maintain hope and persist in effort to bring shalom. That challenge forces us to focus on the taste of shalom that God has given to us knowing that it is just a foretaste of the fullness of the shalom that awaits us in the fully restored earth.


[1] See the section, “Recognizing the contributions of the Church” (p. 104ff) for some examples

[2] Schurr, Hildegunn Marie T. “Dancing Towards Personal and Spiritual Growth”) Nordic Journal of Dance – volume 3, 2012 (pp. 31-40)

[3] Slezak, Michael. “The human universe: Was the cosmos made for us?” New Scientist, 29 April 2015. www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630190-400-the-human-universe-was-the-cosmos-made-for-us

[4] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope, Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. Harper Collins 2008. Kindle Edition

[5] Katongole, Emmanuel. Rice, Chris.  “Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing,” p. 72

Reflect

Think about how the universe seems designed for us, our capacity to think about and explore it and then think about our capacity to reflect on the One who created it all. What does that suggest to you about what God has intended for us?

Observe

Read Luke 17:20-21 and pages 107-108 in the text. Can you think of any stories from the past or presence either from your experience or your reading that help remind you that God or his people have been working at healing and restoring our broken world?

Interlude

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Dancing In the Kingdom – Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom Chapter 1 – Prelude

Interlude

As I was working one warm summer night at a convenience store with the door open, it was not unexpected to see a moth fly in through the door. Normally, moths are attracted to light sources, but this time the moth was attracted to the white top of a garbage container. The moth was distracted by the light reflected off the garbage container. I think that describes a lot of human behavior; we get distracted by the pretty garbage.

In the meantime, there is a story that began long ago when God brought into being creatures made in his image, a story about his plans for those creatures, plans for them to fill the earth and making the whole earth a place of love and goodness, but a place where that love and goodness would be disrupted by our rebellion. Fortunately, that disruption did not deter God from continuing his plans for his image-bearing creatures and that story is still in the making. That story is now our story.

For too many people, even Christians, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible can seem disconnected. Some people have even proposed that the God described in the Old Testament is different from the God in the New Testament. This is partly due to the issue of the cultural barriers between us and the Old Testament. One purpose of this book is to show the unity of both Testaments, how they help make sense of each other and how together they make one cohesive story, a story into which we can fit.

There is a further disconnect. Between us and the biblical writings is the long and messy history of the Church. The Church seems very divided on how to interpret those writings and how to live into them. It is downright confusing to sort out all the various interpretations and practices that seem to contradict one another. How is one supposed to make sense of it all?

This book’s purpose then, is to not just overview the Biblical story from Creation to Revelation, but to show how we, as part of God’s Church, are intended to participate. God did not need to create us or the universe, He did it out of a desire to share his love and delight. God’s creation was more an act of play than of work and He desires that we actively play with him, if you will, to dance with him in His Kingdom.

The Kingdom Dance is not meant to be a solo effort, we are to dance with God and with his people. To that end, while this book can simply be read as a solo exercise, there are additional ways to engage with the material.

  • Biblical references are provided extensively through the book. They are there to support the text. If you read them, take the time to slow down and let God the Spirit speak to you. The Bible has been described as ancient Jewish Meditation Literature.[1] It is best read when you give yourself time to absorb it.
  • There are extensive footnotes throughout the book. Whenever possible, I have provided hyperlinks to make the additional materials easily available to you. If you spend time investigating the footnotes, you will notice that I am not drawing from only one Christian tradition, but from a variety of them, allowing the richness of the different traditions to form a more complete story. To form a more complete story I also, particularly in the beginning, will use materials from the “Second Book of God” that is, book of Creation.[2]

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.”[3]

  • For those who are not practiced in studying the Bible, Appendix A gives a summary of techniques that could be used to help understand scripture. This may prove useful for understanding when you study the Biblical references given throughout this book.
  • Reading the material with a group can make the most impact. The Dancing in the Kingdom Workbook provides exercises and questions to help process the material as a group. These exercises and questions will help you engage with the material by first asking you to think about how each section applies to your life and secondly to share your thoughts with others in the group so that together you can more thoughtfully “Enter the Dance” with God, with all the others that have come before, with those that are coming now and with that will continue to come until Heaven and Earth are reunited.
  • Finally, the best participation will be not to just read and reflect, but to dance the Kingdom dance with God. The last chapters of this book will suggest ways to take part in his activity in bringing healing to the world he loves, broken now but to be finally fully restored when He rejoins heaven and earth.

The Bible is a complex collection of literature, using many literary styles and techniques and it can be difficult to understand some parts, particularly when one part seems to contradict another part. I have found a useful principal in studying the Bible which I call “Conflicts are clues” which says that any apparent conflict or confusion in Scripture should be handled as clues to look further instead of thinking that the conflicts create contradictions which reduce the integrity of the Bible.

In our age, many regard science and theology to be in conflict. In years past, however, the issue was not about conflict but about which discipline rules over or undergirds all the other disciplines. These ideas were expressed in ways such as “theology is the queen of all sciences,” “math is the queen of all sciences,” “philosophy is the queen of all sciences,” “philosophy is the handmaid of all sciences.”

The biblical perspective is that God speaks to us both through two books, the book of Creation and the Bible. Theology’s main goal is to understand spiritual reality and science’s main goal is to understand physical reality, but both fields can inform the other about the nature of God.

This principle of “Conflicts are Clues” applies not just to the “First Book of God” (that is, Scripture) but also to the “Second Book of God” (that is, Creation) which is practiced by the testing and revisions of theories, but also between the Two Books. During the course of history, the study of the Two Books got separated and some of those in science rejected Scripture and some of those who were Christian rejected science, leaving conflicts unresolved as contradictions. But moving forward, this does not prevent us from considering apparent conflicts between the books as clues to be investigated further.


[1] Bible Project “Ancient Jewish Meditation Literature” Bible Project bibleproject.com/explore/video/bible-jewish-meditation-literature-h2r/

[2] Rusbult, Craig. “How should we interpret the Two Books of God, in Scripture & Nature” American Scientific Affiliation http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/two-books.htm

[3] Bacon, Francis. “The Two Books of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human.” The First Book. Section.VI.Paragraph.16 1605

Reflections

Look at the four videos you can find at bibleproject.com/explore/category/how-to-read-bible-introduction/ for an overview of the Bible. How do these videos help you understand the larger context of the Bible?

Observe

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16; Hebrews 4:12-13; Romans 15:1-6; 2 Peter 1:19-21. What is the purpose of the Bible?

A Brief Account

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Dancing In the Kingdom – Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom Chapter 1 – Prelude

A Brief Account

The following is an Extremely Brief Account of the Very Long Story, a summary of the Bible’s story.

There was, and is, and will be, a complex person we call God, who exists as three people that we have come to know as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God decided that he wanted to expand the love that was shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To that end, he created an entire universe so that on one of its planets he could create an abundance of living creatures.

On that planet, he created special creatures, humans, who were made in his image such that they could love him in the way that he loved them. This universe then, would be a form of temple, a place where God can meet with his people. The garden he placed them in was where the dimensions of heaven and earth overlapped. The garden was a place where God’s good and beautiful kingdom of heaven was fully present.

Of course, these humans were not duplicate spiritual beings who were gods themselves, but physical creatures who had enough of God’s characteristics so that they could love in the way God loved. But because love is a voluntary thing that we must choose to do, we cannot love unless we have the option to not love.

God placed his first people in a garden and gave them an assignment. They were to be his representatives, priests if you will, in this garden. They were to take care of it as His representatives, His stewards in the garden. Their long-term task was to multiply and fill the earth so that the whole earth would become the place where God could meet with all his people. The entire earth was intended to be filled with God’s abundant provision for his people who would then take care of what God provided, and all the while giving and receiving and sharing the love which God would freely bestow. In this way, the kingdom of heaven would overlap with the entire kingdom of earth and God would freely mingle with his people.

The option to love or not love was provided by a test of trust. There was in the garden a tree whose fruit not only looked appealing but promised to provide the gift of all knowledge if one ate it. The humans were told to trust God and not eat the fruit of that tree. Eating that fruit would not only provide certain knowledge but would also provide death.

The results of that test are now apparent all around us. Death comes to us not only in the form of physical death, the separation of our souls from physical life, but also in the form of spiritual death, the lack of love which separates us from each other and from God. Fortunately, our current situation is not our destiny – and that is what the rest of the story is about.

God intended that death would not merely be a penalty for not trusting (or loving) but would also be the very mechanism by which he would restore us to himself. From the descendants of the first people, God separated out a family through which he would bring blessing to the entire world. Through that family that a nation would be raised and through that nation the eternal God would choose a family to accomplish the inconceivable. In that chosen family, the eternal God would cause himself to be conceived within the womb of a woman who would then give birth to a being who was both fully God and fully human. He would then be raised as a human and eventually would suffer death by execution as a human and then be resurrected as a human.

In that resurrected human body, the eternal God would return to heaven, but before doing so, he invited us to, in essence, to represent Him on earth by becoming part of his body on earth. By trusting him and accepting his Spirit, we could join with him in His death and resurrection by dying to our own self-interests and uniting with his loving interests.

He then promised to return to us again in bodily form, at which time the kingdoms of heaven and earth will again overlap. Heaven will be rejoined to earth to fulfill the intention God had from the beginning. But meanwhile, in this time between His incarnation and His eventual return, we are still called to be stewards of our currently broken world, bringing slivers of the light and hope of heaven into a world now very dark with evil and suffering and pain.

Reflections

How do you feel in comparison to the immense size of the universe? What does it mean to you, that the universe was designed with you in mind?

Observe

Read Acts 2:22-36; 7:2-50; 10:34-43; 13:16-39; 17:22-31. These passages show the various ways the gospel was presented to various audiences. As you read through the different accounts of the gospel, what stands out to you?

Let the confusion begin

Dancing in the Kingdom- Table of Contents

Dancing In the Kingdom – Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom Chapter 1 – Prelude

Let the confusion begin.

[Bible references: Psalm 139; Jeremiah 29:11; Ephesians 2:10]

There’s a story to our lives. Some of us feel content, for the moment, about where we are. But many of us want a story that doesn’t end where we currently are because we want our lives to be more than the mess we are or the mess we see. We have a sense that “this is not the way things should be,” something is not right either about ourselves or our bodies or our minds our situation or the world around us. We want our selves or our world to be better or to be in a better place. We are, at some level, discontent, dissatisfied, and restless.

A few thousand years ago, someone began writing a story, a different story than the others in circulation at the time. Those other stories were about gods who, except for being immortal, acted just like the humans with all their faults and shortcomings. And those stories headed nowhere. Nothing got better.

But this new story was not about many gods but one God. This new story explained that even though things were originally good, there is a mess now, but there is a plan to make it better.

Intriguingly, although the story was begun by one human author, the story would continue to be written by many other human authors, different types of authors who spoke different languages and who lived at different times over the course of 1500 years. What held it all together was the divine author whose Spirit was breathed into each human author. What began as a set of writings by one human author, eventually became a book, a literary masterpiece with common themes, but complex literary devices, inter-textual references, poetry and songs, and different kinds of narratives (about events before the writers lived, narratives of events witnessed by the different writers, prophetic narratives about God’s judgments and plans in either the immediate or far-off future).[1]

This long, complex story told in these many texts reveals a God who has remained faithful despite our distracted and discontented ways. In fact, it became apparent when God was the author overseeing the human authors, because the human authors would foretell something about the future that made no sense at the time it was written. Sometimes, the full meaning of things written by one human author would only become clear as later writers added to the story. Sometimes, things did not make sense until God acted at a later time. And some things are still hard to make sense of.


[1] The Bible Project. “Ancient Jewish Meditation Literature” Bible Project bibleproject.com/explore/video/bible-jewish-meditation-literature-h2r/

Reflections

Share the impressions you have of the Bible and of Christianity. What questions do you have?

Take time to draw a map of your story. (see the Life Map exercise at soulcare for some ideas on how to do that. soulcare.net/resources/Life%20Mapping%20Exercise.pdf)

  1. Write down highlights and events that have shaped you and defined your life.
  2. Name the people that have had a meaningful impact on your life.
  3. Look for any theme that emerges from your life
  4. Think about the complexity of your life
    1. What things are hard to understand or share with others?
    1. Does your life story show the impact of God on your life?
    1. What questions emerge from your story?

Take time to share your story with others. As you read through this book and continue to reflect, you will begin to see how your story fits into God’s story.

As you listen to each other’s story, what themes do you see in each other’s lives?

Observe

Read Psalm 139. Think about the comprehensiveness with which the Creator knew you even before He created you and even before time and how He is intimate with you during each moment of the day. What kind of confidence does that give you?

The Story-Teller God

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Dancing In the Kingdom – Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom Chapter 1 – Prelude

The Story-Teller God

[Bible references: Genesis 1-50; Matthew 1-28 or Matthew 13:1-23]

At one level, many, many scholars over the last two millennia have delved deeply into the details of this complex story and have tried in many ways to interpret this story. It can be frustrating to try to figure out the Creator of this universe and of this complex story. There is so much of the creation itself that we don’t understand that it “makes sense” that we would be unable to understand the one who created it. That said in what seems to be a deliberate pattern, the Creator doesn’t try to explain Himself, as much as He just does things and then tells us who He is and what He does, such as:

  • The creation of the world and His response to it
  • the first people He created and the messes they made and how He responded,
  • the family he chose to give His laws to, the messes they made, and how He responded to them

But we have another level at which to understand this story. When God came to us in human flesh as Jesus, a man from Nazareth, a small town in the Galilee region of ancient Israel, speaking to us as one human to another, much of his basic teaching was in the form of little stories called parables. It’s within those stories and through those stories, the stories of God’s interactions with people and the stories told by Jesus, that even children as well as adults can intuitively grasp the very character of the Creator.

Reflections

If you have the time, skim through Genesis and/or Matthew. Notice that much of the Bible is narrative, stories about things that happened. Write down your impressions of this high-level skimming read of these books and of any questions you have then share them with others.

Observe

Read Genesis 1-3 and Matthew 1-3. Compare the first three chapters of Genesis with the first three chapters of Matthew. What do they show about how God works?