Tag Archives: Good Friday

The problem of good in the world (Part 3/3): the end that has begun

“The great Spanish poet, novelist and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, once asked a farmer if he believed it was possible there is a God but no afterlife.  The rustic responded ‘Then wherefore God?’” (The New Criterion, Martin Garner, Nov 2008).

He came into our neighborhood—John 1:11 (Dale Bruner)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field”—Matthew 13:44

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—Matthew 27:46

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay—Matthew 28:6

***

In part 1 (here) of this series we discussed the essence of God and what it tells us about the Creation—both humanity and the natural world.  We deduced from God’s inwardly loving nature that He created us for relationship with Him—and that with a proper understanding of our relationship with God, we can move out into relationships with one another.  Because we understand God to be a loving God, we also deduced that the natural world is inherently good—and also full of good things for our enjoyment.

But in part 2 (here) we acknowledged life doesn’t always feel so good.  We feel isolated from God, suffer on earth and are left to wonder what it all means and why God would allow such pain and loneliness.  We began to consider whether we have displaced God in our lives with the pursuit of other things—all good things, but none the right shape to fill our hearts—and in so doing have severed the relationship with God for which we were built.  The problem of good in the world being that it has lured our eye from the Creator to created things.

Garner’s farmer was right in a sense, but perhaps didn’t have enough time to fully think through his answer.  Yes, if this temporal life—with so much suffering and so many broken relationships—is all there is, we are left to wonder why God bothered; wherefore God (indeed!)?  On the other hand, if there is an afterlife—that is presumably more of what God had in mind—wherefore this life?  The latter is an earth-as-purgatory approach that suggests this was the best God could do for now—but that He’s engineering something better for us later. This is a notion we dismissed here, so we’re left to consider the farmer’s question.

Wherefore, God?

There are a lot of ways one can answer this question, though we’ve dismissed a whole set of them in concluding that God is loving (part 1) and that the law is an expression of His character (here) rather than being arbitrary or dictatorial.  Much of what’s left in popular thought can be grouped into two categories that might be expressed something like:

  1. God is a means to a happy life here (or)
  2. God is the means to an afterlife

If we look closely, I think we see they’re the same thing with different objectives: God as an assistant to help us get what we want—loving and benign, but with goodies in his bag for us if we can get His attention; earning them or otherwise.  But God as a means to anything suggests that something is more important to us than God.  It’s using God to get what we treasure—not treasuring God as an end in Himself.

He came into our neighborhood

There was another man, another rustic, who had plenty of time to think the whole thing through.  He was a man of little standing like the farmer. Though civilization had awaited his promised arrival for thousands of years, he was not recognized when born amongst animals in a stable.  He was a fugitive from birth, running from those who would have him killed.  He was a wanderer with no home, rejected.  He was upright, lived a life of service calling people back into relationship with God.  He offered comfort to the afflicted, friendship to the lonely and performed restorative acts—giving sight to the blind and healing the sick. He was comfortable in the company of the irreligious; he was ridiculed by the religious. They eventually had him killed.

While on earth, he was an ordinary man in most senses, certainly fully human, but also much more.  This was Jesus, the Nazarene, a baby born of a woman, yet conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He was the promised Messiah to the Jews—the One who was prophesied to come and bring them out of exile.  Yes, He was much more than human; He was Deity who had come into to our neighborhood—Jesus Christ, part of the Triune God.

The brokenness and separation from God that results from our idolatry is not easily reversed.  We have been expelled from the Garden, as Adam and Eve were when they chose the apple over God.  Israel never made it back into the Garden, but rather spent much of its history in exile.  Like the ancients, we are on the outside trying to get back in.  We have lost the privilege of being in God’s presence.

So He came to recover His treasure

In the end, He was brought up on false charges but didn’t defend Himself.  He was stripped, mocked and beaten;  forsaken by His friends.  He was hanged on a wooden cross between two common criminals to die of asphyxiation, when he could longer get a breath by hoisting himself up by his nailed wrists and feet.

It was in this—the greatest of all defeats— that he prevailed (see also upside-down, inside-out.  It was on this day that everything changed forever.

JC was taken outside of the city, so that we could come in.  He was forsaken by God, so that we could be reunited with Him. He gave up his standing and record so that it could be credited to us.  He wandered so we could be invited home.  He was a nobody, so that we could become somebodies.  He was annihilated, so that we could be restored.

It was through Jesus’ sacrificial death that the depth of God’s love was made known; the means of exalting God to the proper place in our hearts was made simple; and the restoration of the creation was begun.

He loved us enough to give everything to have us back.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field

Though we treasured Him not, He treasured us all the more! By Jesus’ death, we see that we are God’s treasure—the thing He was willing to give everything to get.

Only by understanding this can we restore Him to the proper place in our hearts—above all the good things of this world.   Only when we reflect on the way He loves us can we begin to love Him as we should.  Only when we see the beauty of the cross can we joyfully give everything we have to be near Him again.  Only when we see that we are God’s treasure can he become ours.  The we will cherish Him to no other end except to see His face.

The end that has begun

But Jesus didn’t just die; He rose again—signaling an ultimate end to death and decay.

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

In Him, we not only find a God who understands what it’s like to suffer (beyond that which we will ever suffer!), but also the promise of an ending that has already begun.  We find in Him not only understanding as we struggle in a world that is not yet perfected, but also the assuredness that the restoration has begun!  So we can mourn our present hardships and the world’s suffering with hope.  We can groan with Creation itself for the day when all sad things will come untrue.

It’s consistent with that for which our hearts hope, but also with what we see playing out in the world .   It’s the highest view of life and creation.

What Garner’s farmer didn’t understand is that this life and the next are part and parcel—that God’s love and presence are available in both. Yes, we are eternal souls in a world full of suffering, but we’re also children of God in a world full of His goodness.  The world is not against us, but is rather subjected to the same condition to which we are.  But the victory has already been won—death and decay are conquered.  We groan together with creation as we wait in hope for the end that has begun, but is not yet fully realized.

part 1 here.  part 2 here.

The Day Between

“Gandalf! I thought you were dead!  But then I thought I was dead myself.  Is everything sad going to come untrue?  What’s happened to the world?”

The Return of the King.  J.R.R. Tolkien

Appeasing the Deep Magic (Narnia part 2)

 

 “I’ve a most terrible feeling-as if something were hanging over us” said Lucy.

“Have you?  Because as a matter of fact, so have I,” replied Susan.

“Something about Aslan.  Either some dreadful thing is going to happen to him, or something dreadful that he’s going to do.”… “Susan!  Let’s go outside and have a look round.  We might see him.”

”Oh children, children, why are you following me?”

“We couldn’t sleep,” said Lucy—and then felt sure that she need say no more and that Aslan knew all they had been thinking.

“Please, may we come with you wherever you’ve going?” asked Susan.

“Well—” said Aslan and seemed to be thinking.  Then he said, “I shall be glad of company tonight.  Yes, you may come, if you will promise to stop when  I tell you, and after that leave me to go on alone.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you.  And we will,” said the two girls.

Forward they went again and one of the girls walked on each side of the Lion.

Aslan stopped and said, “Oh, children, children.  Here you must stop.  And whatever happens, do not let yourselves be seen.  Farewell.”

And both girls cried bitterly (though they hardly knew why) and clung to the Lion and kissed his mane and his nose and his paws and his great, sad eyes.   Then he turned from them and walked out on the top of the hill.  And Lucy and Susan, crouching in the bushes, looked after him and this is what they saw.

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining, many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke.  But such people!  Ogres and monstrous teeth, and wolves and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plant; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book—Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins.  In fact here were all those who were on the Witch’s side and whom Wolf had summoned at her command.  And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself. 

A howl and a gibber of dismay went up from the creatures when they first saw the great Lion pacing toward them, and for a moment even the Witch herself seemed to be struck with fear.  Then she recovered herself and gave a wild, fierce laugh.

“The fool!” she cried.  “The fool has come. Bind him fast.”

Lucy and Susan held their breaths waiting for Aslan’s roar and his spring upon his enemies.  But it never came.  Four hags, grinning and leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do, had approached him.  “Bind him, I say!” repeated the Witch.  The Hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all.  Then others—evil dwarves and apes—rushed in to help them, and in between them they rolled the huge Lion over on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all.  But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh.  Then they began to drag him toward the stone table.

“Stop!” said the Witch.  “Let him first be shaved.”

…snip-snip-snip went the shears and masses of curling gold began to fall to the ground…

“Why he’s only a great cat after all!” cried one.

“Is that what we were afraid of?” said another…

“Muzzle him!” said the Witch…[and now] those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage, and for a few minutes the girls could not even see him-so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him.  

At last the rabble had had enough of this.  They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone table, some pulling and some pushing.

When Aslan had been tied on the flat stone, a hush fell over the crowd…The Witch bared her arms as she had bared them the previous night when it had been Edmund instead of Aslan.  Then she began to whet her knife. 

…at last she drew near.  She stood by Aslan’s head.  Her face was working and twitching with passion, but his looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry no afraid, but a little sad. 

The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. 

 

From C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe