Jacob

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 5 – Patriarchs

Deceit instead of faith

[Bible references: Genesis 25:29-34; 25:23; 27:1-40]

The biblical descriptions of Jacob and his twin brother Esau are not flattering. Esau is the older twin brother, but for a pot of porridge Esau was willing to give up his birthright. To seal the deal, Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, would conspire to deceive Isaac: They would take advantage of Isaac’s blindness by deceiving Isaac and setting it up for Jacob instead of Esau to receive the primary blessing from Isaac. This deceit happened even though when Rebekah was pregnant with the twins that Yahweh had told her that “the older would serve the younger,” so it is curious that Isaac still insisted on giving the primary blessing to Esau instead of Jacob and that Rebekah saw fit to use deceit to help Jacob receive that important blessing.

A higher order

[Bible references: 1 Samuel 3-4, 15-16]

The case of Jacob and Esau is not the only example where Yahweh would choose to upset the common order of things. In this case, it was side-stepping the normal primogeniture and instead have the older sibling serving the other sibling. In other times it would be stronger serving the weaker, the sons being displaced by someone outside the family. This pattern of displacing the normal order of primogeniture and inheritance is repeated later in Samuel following Eli instead of his sons Hophni and Phineas and in David replacing Saul instead of Saul’s son Jonathan. And in all these cases, we see God preparing someone new to lead while he arranges to end another’s leadership.

Nation of wrestlers

[Bible references: Genesis 31:25-45; 28:3-4; 27:42-45; 28:10-22; 32:22-32; 35:22-26; 30:21; 32:1-5]

After the deception of Isaac, Jacob’s would continue his pattern of deception. Yet, despite that character flaw, God would continue to bless Jacob with success just as he had blessed Abraham and Isaac. Jacob’s deceit with Isaac and Esau forced him to leave home and visit his uncle Laban, in Haran for many years. On the journey to Laban, Yahweh shared with Jacob the promise he made with Abraham and with Isaac, that “all the people on earth would be blessed through you.”

While staying with Laban, Jacob would continue his deceit to take advantage of Laban. Then years later, when Jacob left Laban to return to the promised land, God saw fit to engage with Jacob on both the journey to and from home. On the journey home, Jacob now has two wives and two concubines, thirteen children and a great wealth in flocks, herds, and servants. On that trip home, Jacob finds himself in a wrestling match with a man that Jacob learns was God.[1] During that struggle, Jacob was forced to confess his character by admitting that his name means “deceiver,” but then was given a new name, Israel (which means “wrestles with God”). Wrestling with God would become a hallmark of Israel’s descendants (that is, the nation of Israel) and is evident throughout the Old Testament.[2]


[1] Sproul, RC “A Wrestling People” ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/wrestling-people.

[2] Although there are many examples of people questioning God, the Psalms contain many examples.

Reflect

What things in our life do we tend to “help God with” rather than figure out what his ways are?

Observe

Read Genesis 25:21-34; 27:1-40. The family dynamics in Isaac’s family were typically messy and complicated as many real families are and yet God will carry out his purposes. How can we use the example of Isaac and his family to give us confidence that God is able to carry out his purpose for us?

Reflect

Sometimes what looks like chaos to us is actually a pattern that we haven’t figured out. One example is encoded messages – we can’t read them without knowing the underlying order. What patterns from God confuse you?

Observe

Read 1 Samuel 3-4; 1 Samuel 15-16. These passages illustrate how God continues to carry out his will despite the messiness of our lives. How does that affect how you pray?

Reflect

God is able to fulfill his purposes as we wrestle with him. Do you feel compelled to wrestle with God about anything?

Observe

Read Genesis 32:22-28. God would rename Jacob to Israel, which means “wrestles with God,” which would eventually become the name of the nation descended from Jacob, and the nation through which the Messiah would come. Can we be strong in our faith in God, if we have not wrestled with God?

Chapter 3 – The impossible creatures – Part 1

The Impossible Dance – Table of Contents

The Impossible Dance – Chapter 3 – The Impossible Creatures

As God’s image-bears, we can reflect the image of the loving, interpenetrating, interacting, and dancing God as we participate in His work of taking care of His Creation and of one another. This dance which started before Creation, has been joined by God’s image-bearers since the beginning of humanity. It is now our turn. We just need to learn the moves and join the dance. Ultimately, 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.

Reflecting God’s paradoxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body, Soul and Spirit

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

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

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

We are created body, soul and spirit with the intention that when heaven and earth are rejoined, we will be restored body, soul and spirit (although it will be in resurrected bodies) in the new heaven and earth. It is also through our bodies that we are restored to Christ. And when fellow Christ-bearers assemble together, they are together the Body of Christ, with each person bringing different gifts to support and strengthen the others in the Body.

Transcendent and Immanent

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

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

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

In Time and In an Eternal Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-Sovereigns and Servants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merciful and Just

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

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

Playful and Orderly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playful and Orderly

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflect

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

Observe

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

Generous and Overflowing Shalom

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

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

[Bible references: Genesis 1; Psalm 69:16; Zechariah 8; Luke 15:11-32; Romans 1:20; 8:18-23; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Revelation 21-22] 

When God created the universe, he was creating order out of disorder, assigning purposes for everything in the universe. When he assigned purposes to the places and things in the universe, when things functioned according to how he created them … they were “good.”[1]  And when in the midst of all those good things he placed image-bearing creatures that also reflected his character, everything was “very good.”

God is good because he delights in the existence of something other than himself.[2]

However, when in the midst of that very good universe, those image-bearers rebelled, they and the world they inhabited suffered the consequences. Yet, in spite of 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”[3] 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,[4] which is all captured by the Hebrew word, shalom.

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight — a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.” [5]


[1] Walton, John, H. “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. (Proposition 5) “good” refers to a condition in which something is functioning optimally as it was designed to do in an ordered system – it is working the way God intended”

[2] Weil, Simone.

[3] Keller, Timothy, The Prodigal God

[4] Refiners Fire ‘Meaning of the word “Shalom;”’ Blue Letter Bible “Word search: Shalom” www.therefinersfire.org/meaning_of_shalom.htm

[5] Plantinga Jr., Cornelius. “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin,” Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition p. 10

Reflect

How do you define “good?”

Observe

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?

Playful and Orderly

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

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

[Bible references: Genesis 1; 3:6; 51:6; Job 26:7-14; Psalm 102:25-28; 104:26; Proverbs 8:30-31; Jeremiah 9:24; Zechariah 8:4; Romans 1:20; 5:12-20]

It would be more conventional to title this section, “Creative and Orderly,” but the creativity is just a part of broader category of play. Although many experts disagree on how to define play[1], 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[2] 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.” Job seems to have understood what Shams-ud-din Muhammed wrote later on:

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.


[1] Edgar, Brian. “The God Who Plays: A Playful Approach to Theology and Spirituality” Chapter 5: Theology: Ludic(rous) Thinking, Theories of Play

[2] Yu, Alan. “Which animals play, and why?” WHYY 15 Aug 2019 whyy.org/segments/which-animals-play-and-why/

[3] Hafiz (or Shams-ud-din Muhammad Tripping over Joy from reference Edgar, Brian “The God Who Plays: A Playful Approach to Theology and Spirituality” Chapter 4: Spirituality: Playing with friends, Competing with God

[4] Harrison, Peter, “Christianity and the rise of western science” ABC Religion and Ethics, 8 May 2012, www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/05/08/3498202.htm; Armstrong, David, “Christianity Crucial to the origin of science,” Patheos, 18 Oct 2015, www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2015/10/christianity-crucial-to-the-origin-of-science.html; Hannam, James. “How Christianity Led to the Rise of Modern Science” Equip.Org, 17 Jan 2017, http://www.equip.org/article/christianity-led-rise-modern-science

Reflect

As you view the world, what seems more apparent to you, creativity or order?

Observe

Read Romans 1:18-32.  Reflect on how natural laws reflect the character of God. Based just on natural laws, what kind of character does that reveal about God?

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