Tag Archives: Sacrificial Love

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

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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.

A Witch Reigns, but a Lion Comes (Narnia part 1)

“Prepare the victim,” said the Witch.  And the Dwarf undid Edmund’s collar and folded back his shirt at the neck.  Then he took Edmund’s hair and pulled his head back to that he had to raise his chin.  After that Edmund heard a strange noise—whiz—whiz—whiz…

… it was the sound of a knife being sharpened.

At that very moment he heard loud shouts from every direction — a drumming of hoofs and beating of wings — a scream from the witch — confusion all around him.  And then he found he was being untied…

When the other children woke the next morning…the first thing they heard…was that their brother had been rescued…they all went out, and there they saw Aslan and Edmund walking together in the dewy grass, apart from the rest from the court.  There is no need to tell you (and no one ever could) what Aslan was saying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot.  As the others drew nearer Aslan turned to meet them, bringing Edmund with him.

“Here is your brother,” he said, “and—there is no need to talk to him about what is past.”

…one of the leopards approached Aslan and said, “Sire, there is a messenger from the enemy who craves audience”

“Let him approach,” said Aslan…

… “What is your message, Son of Earth?” asked Aslan.

“The Queen of Narnia and Empress of the Lone Islands desires a safe conduct to come speak with you” said the dwarf “on a matter which is as much to your advantage as to hers.”

A few minutes later the Witch herself walked out on to the top of the hill and came straight across and stood before Aslan.  The three children who had not seen her before felt shudders running down their backs at the sight of her face; and there were low growls among all the animals at present.  Though it was bright sunshine everyone felt suddenly cold…

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offense was not against you.

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller.  “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?  Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill?  Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea?  You at least know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning.  You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill.”

“And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine.  His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“Come and take it then,” said the Bull with the man’s head in a great bellowing voice.

“Fool,” said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, “Do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force?  He knows the Deep Magic better than that.  He know that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

 

Taken from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe