30 May 2012

The Earth is God’s Temple

forestIn the Old Testament we find the idea that the true sanctuary of God, the place where he meets with humans, is the earth itself. The idea can be found in the portrayal of  Eden as a royal garden, where God as king meets with Adam and Eve. But it is much clearer in the construction of the tabernacle as a model of the Edenic ideal of the earth. The parallels between the building of the earth in Genesis 1 and 2 and the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31 are clear (for example the six words to Moses, in 25:1; 30:11,17,22,34; 31:1 followed by the Sabbath command in 31:12). Within the temple, animals and plants are represented (goats, acacia wood, porpoises) and the menorah as a tree of light is carved with blossoms, bulbs and flowers (25:31f). When Solomon builds the Temple, he has palm trees and flowers carved on all of the walls and doors (1 Kgs 6:29,32,35). The parallel is clear to the Psalmist:

And He built His sanctuary like the heights, Like the earth which He has founded forever. (Ps 78:69)

In the OT, the Temple is the perfect expression of the LORD’s sanctuary – an Edenic space – but the earth itself, although fallen, is still God’s tabernacle in the faith of Israel:

The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everything says, "Glory!" (Ps 29:9)

The temple is an expression of the Edenic ideal: a parcel of sacred ground where the Fall is reversed, where humans can meet God and worship without the barrier of sin and rebellion, through the atoning sacrifices. The prophets foresee that this is only a temporary state of affairs. The tabernacle-temple is a statement of intent: the LORD plants on earth a small, perfect cube of space as an expression of the goal of his redemption.

This helps us to understand the theological significance of the tearing of the temple curtain in the Gospels, immediately after the death of Jesus. So often interpreted as a sign that humans can now go in to worship God, the true significance is that the Edenic presence of God is no longer within this Jerusalem temple. The redemptive programme is now expanding. The vision of the prophets for the earth to be filled with the glory of the Lord is set in motion through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God is present with his people in all the earth, wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, Eden is partially reconstituted in anticipation of the fulfilment of the redemptive programme.

Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. (Gen 2:9-10)

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)

25 May 2012

Philo and the Earth as Temple

rainforestIn Philo of Alexandria’s work On Noah the Planter (De Plantatione Noë), we find concurrently two ideas which we find in the Old Testament:

  1. The earth as the temple of the Lord; and
  2. The earth as the mountain of the Lord.

Philo is commenting on Moses’ Song in Exodus 15, and specifically verse 17:

You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O LORD, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.

The ‘them’ are the children of Israel, who have just escaped from Egypt through the miracle at the Red Sea. Philo says of Moses:

Therefore he had learnt, as plainly as any man that ever lived, that God, having fixed the roots and seeds of everything down in the earth, is the cause also of the greatest of all plants, namely this world, shooting up; which world he here seems to speak of enigmatically in the song which I have just quoted, where he calls it the mountain of his inheritance; since that which is made is the most appropriate possession and inheritance, of him who has made it.  De Plantatione, 48

24 May 2012

Holy Creatures

P1010070Just a couple more quotes that I’d marked in Webster’s Holiness. As an account of the human condition and God’s redemptive response, I like this. It’s an account rooted in our relationship with God as our Creator. The foundational place of Creation Theology in scriptures does not always feed into our accounts of salvation. The way in which Webster writes here places our status as creatures (made as the image of God in the physical world) at the centre.

Christian holiness is holy fellowship; it is the renewal of the relation to God which is the heart of holiness. To be a creature is to have one's being in relation to God, for 'to be' is 'to be in relation' to the creator, and only so to have life and to act. To be a sinner is to repudiate this relation, and so absolutely to imperil one's life by seeking to transcend creatureliness and become one's own origin and one's own end. This wicked refusal to be a creature cannot overturn the objectivity of the creator's determination to be God with us, for such is the creator's mercy that what he has resolved from all eternity stands fast. But the sinner's failure to live in acknowledgement of the creator's gift of life means that the creature chooses to torment and damage his being to the point of ruin, precisely by struggling out of the ordered relation to God in which alone the creature can be. (p84, emphasis added)

A little further along…

However, evangelical sanctification is not only the holiness that the gospel declares but also the holiness that the gospel commands, to which the creaturely counterpart is action. Holiness is indicative; but it is also imperative; indeed, it is imperative because it is the indicative holiness of the triune God whose work of sanctification is directed towards the renewal of the creature's active life of fellowship with him. (p87)

23 May 2012

Election to Holiness

P1010057Just a short excerpt from Webster’s Holiness... In writing about the holiness of the Christian, Webster reminds us that our holiness is a work of God, not our work: ‘the Christian's holiness does not stem from the Christian's decision.’ He continues (p80):

However, there is an important complementary truth here: election is election to a way of life. The condition of 'being elect' is not simply a state but a history; election to holiness is not merely segregation. Rather, election is determination, appointment to be and to act in a certain way. The movement of segregation is, certainly, indispensable, for consecration means difference. But segregation cannot be made absolute; what is established by God's election of grace is not a state, but the consecration of the sinner for active service of God:

“[P]ractice is the aim of that eternal election which is the first ground of the bestowment of all true grace. Good practice is not the ground of election . . . But Christian practice is the scope and end of election. Though God does not elect men because he foresees that they will live holy, yet he elects them that they may live holy.” (quoting Jonathan Edwards).

Sometimes our presentation of the gospel de-emphasises our obedience to the gospel and leaves the impression that we are sinners like everyone else. We seem to think that grace is magnified if we leave out that the goal of election is not sinners, saved despite themselves, but holy saints, saved despite themselves, but transformed by God’s Spirit to and towards living righteous lives .

18 May 2012

Memories of Wilderness

IMG_7932It has been my good fortune to lie on the summit of the Matterhorn and look away across the sea of peaks to Mont Blanc, sixty miles distant; to sit at the old gite on the Weisshorn, and see the night chase the evening mists up the side of the Dom and Taschhorn, and to watch the sun rise and flush red over the grand dome of Mont Blanc; but I recall none of these things, beautiful and memorable as they were, so vividly to mind as that perfect night up in lonely Corrie Lagan.  Ashley Abraham, 1908.

15 May 2012

The Renewal of our Spirits and Bodies

P1010056In 1 Corinthians Paul perceives a now-and-not-yet in human salvation. Now, the redemption of our spirits, and in the future, but not-yet, the redemption of our bodies. It is part of Paul’s inaugurated eschatology. The contrast between the anthropos psuchikos (natural/unregenerate man) and ho penumatikos (he who is spiritual) in 2:14-15 expresses the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit. In 15:44, the soma psuchikon (natural/unregenerate body) is transformed into the soma pneumatikon (spiritual body). One body is animated by psuche, the other animated by pneuma. The categories applied to the inward transformation of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ are here applied to their bodily transformation. Both aspects are part of the same overall process and goal. The diagram on the right is an attempt to show this.

Hans-Joachim Kraus writes similarly in his Theology of the Psalms. In his chapter on The Individual in the Presence of God, he identifies spirit (ruah) and heart (leb) as synonymous descriptions of the inner being of humans. The ruah is ‘the wind, the breath of life, the life-giving power.’ It is equivalent to breath (nismah). So Psalm 51 contains a plea for a ‘clean heart’ and ‘a new and right spirit.’ It is a plea for a creative renewal of the human ruah, which can only be achieved through the intervention of the ruah of Yahweh himself.

ruah as a revivifying element of creation corresponds here to ruah as the divine power of new creation, or of its effect on the human spirit. The person who has been renewed in her or his ruah through Gods ‘holy spirit’ is the counterpart to the person who as God’s creature has been given life through ruah or nismah. Both aspects, however, are intimately related, because it is the will of Yahweh the Creator to renew his creation. This will is, however, first active in human beings in Israel. Here the human ruah is in need of God’s protection and guidance through the divine Spirit. ‘Let thy good spirit lead me on a level path!’ (Ps. 143:10).  p147.

What Paul sets out explicitly, we detect in God’s renewing, creative action in the Psalms. What I especially love about this quote is the salvation-historical clarity: the will of the Creator for renewal is ‘first active in human beings in Israel’! The same will of the Creator is today active in all the world! We are closer today to the goal: Behold, I make all things new!

8 May 2012

The Earth He Has Given to Man

earth2Psalm 115:16 is undervalued and somewhat unnoticed. It tells us that:

The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.

This verse has been on my mind for a good while. It contains a very important truth. The theology it expresses it very close to that in Psalm 8: 5,6:

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet…

The kingship of humans over creation is a neglected doctrine. It finds its root in the Genesis narratives where humanity is created as the image of God to steward the very good creation. As the image of God, humans are to exercise a kingship of harmonious care, not a kingship of exploitation.

There are many places you can take this truth, but one that has impressed itself on me is in the area of theodicy – why do bad things happen? Psalm 115:16 helps us with the age old conundrum of how to balance God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Yes, God is sovereign (the highest heavens belong to him), but responsibility for the earth has been devolved to humanity. This helps us to understand the effect of the Fall itself and why human sin is portrayed as having an environmental effect. It also helps us to answer the question often asked by those wanting to impugn God for the way the world is: if God is all powerful why didn’t he stop X? Where X is something bad, ranging from personal illness, through to war or even a natural disaster. God could stop X, but perhaps doesn’t because ‘the earth he has given to man.’ This is obviously helpful when it comes war, but even in the realm of personal difficulties it helps us to understand that the world is the way it is because of humanity’s disconnection from the Creator through its rebellion. Humans must live within the human story with all of its consequences.

One more thing: this is not the same as seeing God as an absentee landlord, a God who is ‘watching us from a distance.’ God’s involvement with his creation is specific, unceasing and permeates all of reality. But the Creator works within the paradigm of order expressed in Psalm 115:16. Which is why in order to put the world right, He became a man.

2 May 2012

The Book of Creation

P5250109For the whole sensible world is like a kind of book written by the finger of God—that is, created by divine power—and each particular creature is somewhat like a figure, not invented by human decision, but instituted by the divine will to manifest the invisible things of God’s wisdom. 

Hugh of St Victor, De tribus diebus 4.

1 May 2012

The Task of the Disciple

road3

For those in the congregation, this post is a brief resumé of a sermon entitled The Task of the Disciple.

The Attitude of a Disciple

  • If you are a Christian, you are a disciple of Christ.
  • Jesus calls for a radical reconfiguration of our lives around a new priority. Luke 14: 26-27.
  • Discipleship requires a single-minded commitment. It is a journey, it has a beginning, an end. Luke 9:62.

The Goal of Discipleship

  • Why does Jesus call us to follow? Why does God want us to obey?
  • Is God a mean task-master, who needs to be kept happy with slavish obedience? No.
  • The goal of discipleship is freedom. The truth sets us free. John 8:31-32.
  • We cannot gain this freedom from within ourselves, it must be bestowed upon us from outside. John 1:12.

The Task of the Disciple – Add to Your Faith

  • Many NT texts speak about the task. For Peter, it is summed up in 4 words: Add…To…Your…Faith. 2 Peter 1: 3.
  • Peter gives a list of virtues that should increasingly be ours. This is our task.
  • The task is a journey. The journey is long. We have to walk. There are no short-cuts. It is a journey of freedom and to freedom.
  • This list of virtues is book-ended by references to our knowledge of Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1: 3, 8.
  • As in John 8:31, where Jesus calls us to persevere in His word, we cannot be successful in our task without teaching & learning.

The Task of the Disciple – Is Driven by Teaching & Learning

  • The writer to the Hebrews is convinced of the need of Christians to become mature in their understanding. Hebrews 5:11-6:3.
  • Teaching and learning is fundamental to discipleship.

The Task of the Disciple – Leads to an Effective Church

  • The Apostle Paul sees that God has given prophets, apostles, ministers to the church to teach, so that every member can be equipped for the task of the Church. Ephesians 4: 11-13.
  • A church where each person is serious about the Task of Discipleship is an effective Church.

The Task of the Disciple – The Challenge

  • Jesus calls us to reassess our priorities.
  • All of our life-aspirations, plans and ambitions exist under one over-riding heading: I am a Disciple of Jesus.
  • We must learn by making the most of opportunities to be taught.
  • We must together be a community of disciples, equipped and being equipped for works of service to the glory of God.