Hope in the brokenness

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 4 – Deforming the intended direction for creation

[Bible references: Genesis 2:16-17; 3:14-15, 23; Psalm 4; Hebrews 1:1-4]

Everything was broken and separated from God. Spiritual death, the impaired relation between God and His image-bearers was immediate and would be mirrored by the physical death caused by separation of the people who would no longer have access to the Tree of Life. This was a great tragedy that could not be undone, not by the image bearers. But as we look around us, we can see that, despite the tragedy around us, things aren’t totally bad. Even though evil is very evident around us, goodness is also evident. It is in that observation that we can glimpse the possibility of hope.

God had ordained the penalty of death, spiritual and physical, to be the consequence of turning away from him. Spiritual death, the separation God’s image-bearers from God happened immediately, but physical death, the separation of soul and body, did not happen right away. What God did, was to apply discipline to his image-bearers. He also gave a hint of the solution to the problem created by sin, the first of many other hints that were to come.

There was also evidence for hope in the continued creation by God, as he continued to sustain the universe he created, and within that universe He continued to create new living things, plants, and animals alike. Related to that hope, was that the mandate given to the image-bearers was still in force, although there would now be suffering involved in the fulfillment of the mandate.

There was also hope hidden in God’s very name. The name given to us, which was given to Moses and first revealed in Genesis 2, is “Yahweh” (Hebrew, יהוה). In the ancient Hebrew, the characters would have looked a little different and each character would represent an object or action.[1] In Hebrew, the characters are read from right to left. The first character (י) represents a hand or arm and could also represent work or worship. The character (ה) represents a man with arms raised and could also represent displaying or revealing something. The (ו) character represents a nail or tent peg and could also represent fastening something together. So, embedded in the name יהוה is the message “hand revealed nail revealed” – a foretelling of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

The sacrifice of Jesus followed a life in which Jesus successfully waited to receive those things that His Father intended to give, resisting the temptation to grab those things for himself. In his life and death, Jesus successfully accomplished what Adam and all those who came after Adam had not.

In the beginning, we were eager to grasp for ourselves wisdom and the knowledge of good and evil on our own terms. What we didn’t plan on the consequences that would follow. Sometimes God gives us what we think we want even though it would bring us the suffering that God was trying to steer us from. It’s a continuing pattern we see from the beginning until now, that it is not always a good thing when we get what we think we want.


[1] Benner, Jeff A. “Hebrew Alphabet Chart”

Reflect

It’s not hard to see signs of brokenness around us. Are there any signs of hope that can be seen?

Observe

Read Galatians 3:13-14; Ephesians 1:11-12; Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 1:26; Matthew 17:11; Acts 3:18-26. Throughout the Bible, God has chosen to share his future plans in pieces at a time. Because of that, what exactly those plans are, have been the subject of much debate within the church. What is your understanding of God’s plans for the future?

Chapter 2 – The Impossible God – Part 2

The Impossible Dance – Table of Contents

The Impossible Dance – Chapter 2 – The Impossible God

The Good and Overflowing God

Generous and Overflowing Shalom

When God created the universe, he was creating order out of disorder, assigning purposes for everything in the universe. When things functioned according to how he created them … they were “good.”  And when in the midst of all those good things he placed image-bearing creatures that also reflected his character, everything was “very good.”

However, when in the midst of that very good universe, those image-bearers rebelled, they and the world they inhabited suffered the consequences. Yet, despite that rebellion, God relentlessly pursued those image-bearers with the intent of restoring not only them but restoring all of creation as well to the good condition that He originally intended. The Bible is the story of how God’s original purposes will be carried out despite the constant rebellion of his image-bearing creatures – and how the good and very good, creation will endure the brokenness of the rebellion to be finally restored to the good and very good purpose that God had intended.

Within that story of creation and the relentless pursuit which followed, God’s character is revealed as he pours himself out even to the point of taking on the form of a man and the giving of himself to the humility and suffering of being tortured to death on a cross. Even though all of creation is now marred by the rebellion, it is possible to examine the character of God as it is revealed in this outpouring of himself into his creation and into his image-bearers.

Revisiting Genesis 1:1, we see God creating … everything in the heavens and the earth. The rest of that passage shows the orderliness in how the creation happened. We see that as God creates each set of creatures or things that God declares them to be good. Then after God creates humans, he declares “it was very good.” We will see later in Genesis those things got messed up, but at this point the core of everything in the universe, everything was good and beautiful and working as it should. Certainly, as we look around us now, it would be hard to say that everything is working as it should, but at the beginning, everything was good.

That goodness was further amplified when, despite the rebellion of his image-bearers, God tirelessly invited them over-and-over again to come back to him even though they would continue rebelling over-and-over again. The generous invitation and re-invitation would be highlighted by Jesus’ parable which has been commonly called the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) in reference to the wastefully spending son. But the parable could equally be called the “Prodigal God” in reference to the father who represents extravagant giving of God.

These continuous and generous offers from God are meant to draw us to himself so that he could restore to us the good and generous life that God has intended from the beginning, life free from suffering and pain, life full of joy and peace, wholeness and health, contentment and completeness, which is all captured by the Hebrew word, shalom.

Trustworthy and Faithful

God has continued to offer us lives of goodness, generosity and shalom despite our continued waywardness. Our opportunity to experience the faithfulness of God comes as we hold to his promises … even when we fail to hold to his promises. Scripture is full of passages of God’s commitment to faithfulness despite the lack of our own and those examples are helpful for us to hold onto as we experience our own trials and difficulties in life.

Self-sacrificing and Forgiving

God’s faithfulness to us is sealed in the love he showed to us by the ultimate sacrifice he made on our behalf. His commitment of love towards us could not be made any more clearly than through the excruciating death he suffered when he allowed us to put him on the cross in order that he should bear the penalties of our sins. And it is through His suffering and dying that he can offer us forgiveness for the rebelliousness of our spirits and the sins we have committed.

The Temple Maker

There has been much debate about how to interpret the creation account. There have been various attempts to understand creation as physical processes that had occurred (over shorter or longer periods, depending on your analysis) because in our current cultural context we default to thinking of creation in physical, scientific terms. But what if (surprise! surprise!) we consider the biblical text to be a theological text instead of a scientific one, about functional origins and not about material origins.

In the last few decades, research has uncovered much more about the culture in the Ancient Near East than ever before. It has been discovered that in Ancient Near East cultures, the Genesis account would not have interpreted the creation account in terms of physical processes but rather in terms of assigning purpose. So as we read the Creation account in Genesis 1, on the first three days the spaces of light and dark, waters above and below, and the land are being assigned a purpose. The next three days the populations of those spaces are assigned a purpose: the sun and the moon and stars, the birds and fish, the land animals.

In this perspective, the story of creation is seen more as a story about the dedication of a temple, where the universe and the world were dedicated as a sacred space, a space where God would dwell with his people. The seventh day indicates that the dedication is complete and so God is able to rest from the act of dedicating His temple, the earth, which would now be the place where He would now live with his image-bearers within that space. If you read Genesis 1-2, you will see that, unlike the other days, there is no “there was evening and there was morning.” That is because we are living in the seventh day.

The seventh day would be later remembered by the celebration of the Sabbath. It was by the seventh day that God had finished the dedication of the “temple” but it was not a time where he ceased to do everything. Rather, it was the time where the “home” was now ready for God to live in, and for us as co-regents, to begin the settling into our “home” and doing the things that our home was designed for. Jesus in John 5:1-7 clarified this idea where he explained, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Living into this sacred space would entail us taking part with God in his continual acts of creating and sustaining the universe. That is the perspective of Eve, when she gave birth to Cain, she recognized that “I’ve created a man with Yahweh.”

In Genesis 2, the focus moves to the humans God created and how they were to function in that sacred space where the Garden of Eden is the center. Genesis 2 is also where God’s name, “Yahweh,” begins to be used. Genesis 1 introduces the God as the Creator of the universe whereas Genesis 2 introduces the God who in establishing a personal relationship with the people he created uses a personal name.

The cosmos that God created was intended to be the place where He would meet with his people. Therefore, the Creation, the Cosmos, was intended to be a temple. The temple/creation imagery permeates and unites all of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The temple/creation theme shows up in places like in the stories of Noah and Moses and Abraham, in the construction of the Tabernacle and the Temple, in Job’s dialog with Yahweh, in the poetry of Psalms, in prophecies of Isaiah, in the body Jesus and in us as his Body and finally in the depiction of reuniting of heaven and earth. Each instance shows its own unique aspect of the temple, so that when combined with each other, they show a more complete picture of how God meets with us and provides for us and what he has intended for us. We see a complex picture of the temple as a physical place in Creation and at the same time the temple is within us, inside the bodies of all of those who call on his name. In both those cases we can see the provision of God who 1) abundantly fills all of Creation in ways that exceed our imagination and exceed the capacity of any book to tell and, 2) abundantly fills us with His strength and His Spirit so that we can fulfill the desire He has for us to “cultivate and keep” the abundant place He has provided for us.

One of the benefits of considering only the theological aspects of the Creation accounts, or the why of creation, is that we don’t have to be as highly concerned about the how of creation, or the scientific/physical accounts of creation. When scientific creation accounts are proposed and are not perceived to be correct because they don’t seem to theologically fit, we don’t need to despair. It may be that the various proposed scientific explanations simply don’t theologically fit because either they just don’t fit or because we just don’t understand just how they could theologically fit. We know that the sciences are limited and that theories will change as more discoveries are made. Sometimes those theories may seem to move closer or further from our limited theological understandings, but our theology is not constrained by whatever the current science may indicate. In the meanwhile, we are free to explore the science and wonder in awe and marvel at just how God managed to do it all while humbly admitting that we don’t have the mind of God and how much higher his ways are than our ways.

Questions:

  1. 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?
  2. Read Genesis 1:1-2; Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 48:14-16; Matthew 3:16-17.  How could you explain the Trinity to other people?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. Read Isaiah 52:13-15; Philippians 2:5-11. If Jesus is our example of leadership, what should our leadership look like in practice?
  6. 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?
  7. Read 2 Corinthians 3:18. Discipleship is a process of “being transformed”. Ultimately it is something that happens to us – but it is something we can co-operate with by engaging is spiritual disciplines. What kinds of changes need to happen in our lives that would make it natural to invite someone else into discipleship?
  8. Read Zechariah 8. Zechariah’s prophecies were written it the nation of Israel many years after the nation had been taken in exile. How do you think these promises of God would have had on the exiles?
  9. Read Acts 2. Picture yourself as a witness in the setting of this passage as one of the travelers from out of town. How would you respond?
  10. Read Genesis 1-2, Psalms 8 and 104, Proverbs 8.  Read the creation story as a temple dedication story, where a temple is a place for people to meet with God, a place for religious or spiritual rituals and activities as people engage with God. If the universe was designed as a temple, how should we respond?

Chapter 2 – The Impossible God, Part 1

The Impossible Dance – Table of Contents

The Impossible Dance – Chapter 2 – The Impossible God

The Impossible God

In Genesis 1:2, most translations will read that the Spirit “hovered” over the face of the waters, but that word can also mean “brooded,” as in a bird sitting on her eggs to keep the eggs warm until they hatch. So here we can read that the Spirit hovered and brooded, over the earth ready to bring forth life of all sorts, but particularly creatures that would be like God, creatures that would reflect the character of God: transcendent, loving, wise, fruitful, etc. This is how the story begins, full of anticipation and hope for what must be a grand and wonderful future.

But even before the story begins, we may contemplate another mystery, the mystery of the one person God also being the three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The early church struggled with this concept and eventually, in the second century, a Christian apologist, Tertullian, coined the term “Trinity” to describe this 3-persons in 1-person concept.

However, that tidy little term can mask over the impossible to understand idea of God being one person and three persons at the same time. There is Greek word available to us that addresses the complexity of this three-in-oneness, “perichoresis” which comes from two Greek words which mean “interpenetrate” or “mutually indwell.” This is meant to describe the interpenetration or mutual indwelling of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

While this term may be partly helpful in understanding this impossible to understand concept, there is another word that is very similar to perichoresis which means “to dance around,” which gives us a word picture of our living and complex God in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit not only interpenetrate but interact with one another, in a freewheeling, synchronized dance. There is no way for us to fully understand this one-person who is a community. So as we try to understand God, there will naturally be some paradoxes and mysteries.

Paradoxes and Mysteries

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.

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) but then we need to hear what the Creator has revealed about himself to us (that is, through the Holy Bible).

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 … 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.

A Person and a Community

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. 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.

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 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.

Transcendent and Immanent

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.

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. 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

Timeless and in Time

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?  

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 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.

Sovereign and Servant

There is a contemporary name for this juxtaposition of attributes: servant leadership. 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.

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. 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.

Gracious, Merciful and Just

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. 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, let’s just consider the meanings of the Hebrew words that have been translated as “mercy.”  One Hebrew word could be translated as compassion and another word as steadfast loyalty. These characteristics can be seen in 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 often used for love 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 which is usually translated as “righteousness” can also be translated as “justice.”  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.

God’s often responds to the injustice in the world with love, patience, and mercy – even passionately pleading with us to turn back to him in repentance and receive His forgiveness. But when we don’t respond with repentance, God will ultimately invoke His righteousness, justice and wrath.

Playful and Orderly

Many experts disagree on how to define play, we may think of play as activity which is typically not productive and is done only because one wants to do it and is usually a fun activity involving other people and will typically help people bond together. When it comes to the Creation, God did not have to create anything. God did not need the universe or anything in it – not the planets, nor the stars, nor the creatures. God created the heavens and the earth for the delight of it, and He did it because He wanted to share heaven and earth with his image-bearers. This spirit of playfulness is reflected in many of God’s creatures including Leviathan and humans. God’s playfulness also shows up in other interesting places in the Bible.

When Job complains about the difficulties he is going through, God seems to admonish him by “putting Job in his place” and citing all the ways in which God’s ways are higher than Job’s ways. But God does not follow through with any discipline of Job but rather begins the process of restoring Job’s fortunes. In response, Job confesses, “I spoke of things I did not understand … I retract my words and I repent in dust and ashes.” … And yet, Job changes an interesting behavior – he no longer rose early in the morning to offer burnt offerings for all of his children, worrying that “perhaps they have sinned.” Shams-ud-din Muhammed in his work “Tripping Over Joy” may have captured what Job was thinking when he wrote “the difference between our life and a saint’s is that the saint knows that the spiritual path is like a chess game with God and that God has made such a fantastic move that the saint trips over joy in surrender whereas we think we have a thousand serious moves.”

Another instance of playing occurs in Mark 6, when Jesus takes a late-night walk on a very windy lake, walking as if to go by his disciples. Of course, they were initially terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. But he got in the boat and the waters calmed down. He could have calmed the waters down before the disciples started to go on the lake. He could have chosen another way to make his point … but he decided to do it that way.

God’s creativity can be seen within the created world in the extremely diverse types of plants and animals: differences in colors and shapes; different ways of digesting food; different ways of moving and observing the environment to name a few. The creativity we see is awesome. From out of nothingness, from no previous model, God created a whole system of particles and energy fields that interact with each other to form the building blocks of subatomic particles which are used to form atoms, which are used to form molecules of all sorts of complexity, which are then used to form planets and stars (actually, the fusion reaction in stars is used to create larger molecules from smaller ones). And at least one planet was used to create living things like plants and animals in all their complexity and then those living things were used to create communities (ecosystems) that allowed living things to thrive and flourish.

Yet, within the overwhelming creativity displayed within all the diversity of living things there is an order that is controlled by a set of ordered processes, some of which we call scientific (natural) laws. Christians, like Francis Bacon, pursued these laws as an extension of God’s moral laws in the universe, which then led to the development of modern science. It is within science that we examine orderly processes at work that we call the natural laws which describe how all physical things behave: like the forces of gravity, electrical forces, etc.

There is no disobeying these natural laws. If you think that you can try to violate them, you’d be wrong. For instance, if you are on earth and stand on the top of a table and then jump off with the assumption that you will not be subject to gravity but rather float around without falling to the floor, you’d be wrong. You can’t violate gravity. You can try to set up circumstances that will cause other forces to come into play – such as airplanes do when they use aerodynamic forces that counteract gravity – but you simply can’t violate gravity, and there will be consequences if you try.

By observing the laws of the created order, we can ascertain some aspects of the character of God. The natural laws that govern how things are supposed to behave reveals a God who expects things to behave, and that violations are not tolerated. But when image-bearers were brought into the world there was a new level of complexity added to this physical model constrained by natural, physical laws.

On the one hand, we image-bearers are physical creatures and are therefore subject to the natural laws, but on the other hand we image-bearers were created to reflect God’s transcendence and were even given dominion over the creation into which God had placed us. Within that capacity, we image-bearers were given a moral freedom, the freedom to choose between good and evil. This freedom could not be given without some risk, because in order for image-bearers to be able to reflect God’s character of being good and choosing to do good there must be the possibility for the image-bearers to be able to choose to not be good.

And just as there are natural, physical laws that govern how physical things behave with consequences for trying to violate those laws, God has also imposed spiritual, moral laws to govern how the image-bearers ought to behave in the good universe He created with consequences for violating those moral laws. Sometimes the sin of one generation is passed down to the next. But regardless of whether a particular sin is passed to from one generation to another, the penalty for sin is physical and spiritual death.

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?