The life and death problem, as explained by your trash

And why an angry God loves you more.

Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end… but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature … and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears: would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?
–Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

‘Ooh!’ said Susan, ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’

‘Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.’
C.S. Lewis, The Narnia Tales

Last week I spent a day ar a recycling facility in New York City. As it turns out, we can learn a lot from our trash.

Did you know that after your trash is sorted, a ton of “Pure White” paper is worth $450, but that any tint of color or discolor drops the selling price to $350 per ton? It’s value drops from there until it is, well…garbage.

***

Christianity asserts that the God of Creation loves us more than we would ever dare hope. It’s a worldview that suggests we were created in God’s image to share in a perfect relationship with Him and to enjoy all the good things He created for us. It provides a plausible explanation of who we are and why we’re here, a rational basis to believe in eternityheavenTruthsignificance and hope, and a tangible prototype of service and love in the life and death of Jesus Christ. In many ways, it’s the answer to what I think we would hope was true if we didn’t know. That is, if God didn’t reveal Himself, we might have invented (this part of) Him.

It’s critical that we dwell on God’s love for us–understand it and bask in it–but it’s also possible to focus so much on God’s love that we end up with an incomplete picture of God Himself. We tend to pick Biblical ideas about God we like…and leave others out. A God who answers prayers, yes; but one who judges…not so much. We like the idea of a loving God but not a jealous one. We’d prefer to take the cuddlier version and leave out the one with teeth–forgetting His perfect Holiness, Justice and Wrath. We would never invent that God.

Ironically, when we strip away God’s Anger, we end up with a less loving god, not the more loving god we set out to create. And perhaps most importantly, we lose an understanding of what sets the Christian worldview apart from all others—the way it addresses sin in the world and in our lives…

Yes, we are more loved than we ever dare hope; but we are also more sinful than we ever dare imagine. Yes, we were created by a loving God to be in a perfect relationship with Him, but he also created us to worship and obey Him. In this, we have come up short–both individually and collectively.

The reality is that we have chosen not to obediently follow God, not to worship Him as He requires. We have desired other things more than God. We have looked in other places for our identity and have worshipped other gods. This is the very definition of sin in the Bible and because of it we are not Pure White.

The problem is that when color (or discolor?) is mixed with Pure White, Pure White always loses–ending up, itself, discolored–blemished. But a God who is blemished is no God at all. Thus, our Pure White God can no longer keep company with His discolored people. Sin disturbs the very relationship with God for which we were built; separating us from His blessing and presence and progressively destroying us–this is a self-chosen state the Bible calls Hell.

No, we would not invent the God of the Bible. He is not less than perfectly loving, but He is much more. He is also perfectly Holy and Just, which means He cannot simply ignore sin. He is Right to be Angry—Jealous that we have loved others more than him. This God has teeth. His Wrath against us is justified and must somehow be quenched.

This presents a thorny problem for a loving God. How can He save us from our own sin when the required punishment would be our undoing? Who could pay the price for another when all are guilty and deserving of punishment? How can God allow us into His presence again? I contend that this is the problem of life and death that any worldview must address.

Christianity’s answer is found at a dump.

Golgotha was the name of a dump outside of Jerusalem. It was also municipal execution site. It is at this dump where we find God himself, in Jesus Christ, hung on a tree to die amidst the garbage.

It’s a graphic and moving scene, but it’s important that we not lose the reason for it amidst the emotion it evokes. Though He is the God who created us—bound by neither time nor space—Jesus entered humanity and subjected Himself to death. He died more alone that day than any man has ever died; for when The Son cried out to His Father from the Cross, The Father did not answer–could not answer. At that moment, though sinless Himself, Jesus was discolored with all the sins of the world; and the Pure White Father could not let his own Son into His presence! Jesus experienced the separation from The Father that we deserve and died the death we deserve to die. As a result, the power of sin to separate us from God died that day with Him. Jesus was the Perfect Sacrifice who absorbed the Wrath and Justice of God on our behalf.

Some modern thinkers object to the Cross on the grounds that it is violent, archaic and vulgar. They create an image of a loving God who does not require bloody justice and sacrificial death, but God without the cross cannot be a Just God–and something more is lost. The suggestion that this sacrifice was unnecessary shows a lack of understanding of both the severity of the problem of sin and the depth of God’s love for His people. Unintentionally, these thinkers make up a God who is less loving–not more.

Pure love is costly love. No other religion has a God who entered history to suffer and buy His people back from the slavery of sin, pouring out His blood as payment for their ransom. He became garbage, so that we could be Pure White again. He was put out of God’s presence, so that we could enter into it. He died without His Father, so we could live with Him forever.

This is Christianity’s unique answer to the problem of sin. It is an offer to receive a cloak of Pure White to cover our imperfections, bought with the blood of God Himself.

He isn’t safe, but He’s good.

***

“Why the discrepancy in price for a subtle shade of discoloration?” I asked our guide at the recycling facility. “Pure white can be used for anything,” he replied, “once it’s discolored it can never go back…and its uses become more limited.”

Half right. It can never go back by itself.

How will we make the case to enter God’s presence? Even our trash reveals the simple truth that once discolored, we cannot make ourselves Pure White again. Maybe it’s worth looking for someone who can help.

I think you can find Him at the dump, though luckily He was not last seen there.

“Come, let us return to the LORD.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.

After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.

Hosea 6:1-2

  1. Kicked out: home, pt II. | inklingz - pingback on 2010/09/30 at 3:16 pm

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