Turning from shalom

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

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

[Bible references: Psalm 53:1-3]

Although we try to cling to the hope of God and our final restoration, we, in our sin, face a world that is broken by sin. While waiting for the restoration of creation, we find ourselves continually turning from God and rather towards bringing further destruction into God’s good creation. We seem to be constantly bent on turning from shalom and towards a substitute that gives us pain and despair. The history of the world is filled with the flourishing of evil and injustice. The consequence of choosing to go our own way has put us on a path where we continue to separate ourselves from the source of goodness and shalom. Indeed, we find ourselves on a path of destruction despite God’s continual provision for us as he continuously and unrelenting pursues us and pours out his limitless grace. And so it is, that we find ourselves in a world where both good and evil abound, where the good things God created are corrupted continuing to turn us away from God.[1]

Rampant evil

[Bible references: Genesis 6, 9]

So that we can know what terrible direction we are headed without that intervening grace, God initially allowed his image-bearers to live long lifespans. The long lifespans seemed to postpone the penalty for sin such a long time by delaying the penalty of physical death, that the image-bearers behaved as if there were no consequences for their God-defiant behavior. The result was rampant unrestrained evil that infected nearly everyone, causing God to destroy all but one family. Sadly, even with that severe penalty, it would not be long before our God-defiant behavior would threaten to be our undoing again, but God would continue intervening with grace as He would gradually work out His plan to restore us to Himself beginning with the rainbow as a sign of hope.

Tower of Babel

[Bible references: Genesis 11:1-8; Genesis 12:1-3]

Despite the catastrophic destruction that destroyed all people except Noah and his family, the image-bearers’ defiance would emerge again when, thinking themselves to be wiser than God, they refused to spread out over the earth as God had commanded and then proceeded to build a tower as a monument to themselves. God’s response was very measured. By causing them to speak different languages so that they could no longer communicate with each other, the image-bearers would no longer be able to come together to complete the tower, rather they were now forced to divide into seventy different groups and spread out across the earth as God had intended. This breakup would lead to the creation of different nations – and eventually lead to God’s working out His solution to our predicament by the calling out from one of the nations, one man through whom God would begin His work of restoration.


[1] Brister, Tim. “6 Destructive Ways We Minimize Our Own Sin”

Reflect

Think about some things that should be inherently good but are used for evil purposes.

Observe

Read Gen 3:1. We often know in our mind what God’s instruction is when we are tempted to do our own thing apart from God’s instruction. We somehow find a way to justify our actions by questioning God’s authority. Does this give us a strategy for dealing with temptation?

Reflect

If there were no consequences for bad behavior, what do you think the world would be like?

Observe

Read Genesis 6 and 9. God sent a flood to deal with the rampant sin in the world but it wasnot long after the flood that signs of human rebellion sprung up again in Noah’s family. What kind of trajectory did this indicate for humanity?

Reflect

Even within a family, different experiences cause people to think differently causing conflict. They all use the same words but have different thoughts about what is right. Larger problems occur when people grow up in entirely different environments. When people use different languages, those different languages amplify the differences in how people think. In your own situation, what different cultures do you interact with and how do you process conflicts with people in those cultures?

Observe

Read Genesis 11:4. The construction of the tower at Babel was not a positive development, but God’s plans won’t be thwarted. What confidence does that give us about the difficult situations we see around us today?

Chapter 3 – The Impossible Creatures – Part2

The Impossible Dance – Table of Contents

Reflecting God’s goodness

Generous and overflowing shalom

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

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

Trustworthy and Faithful

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

Self-Sacrificing and Forgiving

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

Temple stewards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions:

  1. What tasks did God provide for the humans?
  2. What kind of tensions did our rebellion create between humans and between the humans and God?
  3. Unlike other creatures whom God simply created as male and female, Genesis 2 gives a story of a man specifically made from the dust and a woman created from the side of the man. What do think was God’s purpose for describing the origin of his image-bearers?
  4. How can we, within the finiteness of our lives and our intelligence, see how beauty points to eternity?
  5. . While meditating on the limitations of life on earth, verse eleven slides in a reference to beauty and eternity. How does that verse impact the rest of the chapter?
  6. Think about how love relates both to sovereignty and service. What implications does that have for how we treat others?
  7. Think about how humility relates to both mercy and justice. What implications does that have for how we treat others?
  • 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?
  • Read Exodus 18:21; Luke 16:10-12. In what ways can we challenge ourselves to be more faithful?
  • Read Romans 12:1-21. Christ’s sacrifice for us included his death on the cross. What kind of sacrifice are we expected to make?

Generous and overflowing Shalom

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reflect

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

Observe

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

Body, Soul and Spirit

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflect

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

Observe

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

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?

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?

Dancing through the pain

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Reflect

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

Observe

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