Gospel and Ground

All themes in the Bible connect to the gospel. Since the last few posts have been on the ground, it is worth asking the question: how does the ground relate to the gospel? The gospel is the good news of God becoming man, dying our death, and conquering the grave—all to rescue us from the threat of condemnation. The gospel encompasses the entire career of the Lord Jesus. The life and work of Jesus overlaps with the theme of the ground at a few key junctures. These junctures can be grouped into three themes.

The Gospel Affirms our Creatureliness

Being created from the dust links us inviolably to the earth. God fashioned us to live here and he placed his stamp of approval upon our earthly existence (Gen 1:31).  The incarnation is a further affirmation that our creatureliness is good. God becomes a creature. The one from above assumes an existence from below. The one who makes men from dirt becomes a man of the dirt. The simple fact that God comes as one of us communicates volumes.
The resurrection is yet another affirmation of God’s high opinion of the way he fashioned human beings. Jesus is the first man to be raised from the dust of the ground. He alone has taken the journey through death to a perfected human life. Resurrection is about restoring our humanity. It is about remaking us into the earthly creatures of his original intention.  
The Gospel Restores our Creatureliness 

 The sin of Adam is properly defined as a transgression of creaturely boundaries. Adam grasped for divinity. He reached for knowledge and abilities that were beyond his human capacity. It is sin to reject what you are and reach for what you cannot be. Gerhard Forde does a brilliant job of explaining the connection between our creatureliness and the gospel. The following excerpts are from his book, Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down To-Earth Approach To The Gospel.
“The temptation is for man to refuse his creaturehood, to refuse his humanity, to refuse to take care of the earth and to become a god…the fundamental point to begin with, is that man is man and not God. Man is a creature and is to remain a creature. If he attempts to step beyond the limits of his creaturehood, as did Adam, he commits the prime sin…the fall of man is therefore a fall from faith. What happens is that man succumbs to the temptation to overreach himself. He denies his creaturehood and his humanity and attempts to take up the mantle of God.”
“The purpose of the cross is not to pay a debt which man owes for not making it to heaven, not to assist man in his aspirations toward some kind of religious perfectionism. The purpose of the cross is to create that faith which man has lost, that faith that enables him to live as a creature on this earth. The cross and resurrection therefore is that power which makes new creatures; it makes anew the kind of person intended for this earth.
 “The gospel is strong enough to make and to keep us human, to enable us to live as we were intended to live–as creatures of God…grace is the power of God revealed in Christ which destroys the unnatural, destroys man’s refusal to be natural. Grace thus makes nature what it was intended to be. In that sense grace perfects nature–not because it adds what was lacking, but precisely because it makes nature to be nature once again. The grace of God is a power strong enough to make and keep us human. It does this because it makes us give up our attempts to be gods, our attempts to control our own fate and enables us to wait as creatures of this earth in faith and hope for what God has in mind in the future.”
The Gospel Restores the Earth

The gospel is about renewal. The envisioned restoration is cosmic in scope. The death of Christ was accompanied by a quaking earth (Matt 27:51). On his brow was a crown of thorns, a symbol of the curse of the ground (Matt 27:29). He did not just come for the creatures of the ground, but the ground itself. He came to restore the entire world he had fashioned in the beginning. His coming was a response to the groaning earth (Rom 8:22-28). His death and resurrection touched the outermost parts of the universe.  
His saving work accomplishes a universal reconciliation (Col 1:19-20). The new heavens and the new earth are the fruit of Christ’s redeeming work (Rev 21:1). God’s plan and promise to restore the world is another window into God’s attitude toward our lives on this planet. Our final destination is not heaven, it is a renewed earth. The story of humanity begins and ends on the soil of this planet. We were made to be here. God could not make that more clear.

You, Me, and the Ground (3)

This theme was originally intended to take up one post. We are on to three already. Some of this stuff is just so interesting that I couldn’t help myself. I really enjoy exploring new concepts and theological ideas. This little study has pushed my thinking in new directions. In this post, I will complete the theme and draw out some implications. 
Ground and Worship

The ground is to be worked and the fruit of that labor is to be used in the service of God. In the Old Testament the people were required to bring a portion of their crop to the temple. They were to provide for the priests and the poor through their little plot of ground. This generous gesture was considered an act of worship. 
“We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord…and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor” (Nehemiah 10:35-37).
Holy Ground

God’s presence is always transformative. It even has an impact on the ground. Regular ground is quickly changed into “holy ground” when God shows up. We see this in the story of Moses and the burning bush. Moses could have come upon this bush an hour before his encounter with God and there would have been no reason to take off his shoes. When God comes on the scene everything changes. A bush becomes the holy of holies and the ground surrounding it becomes dangerous to walk on. The implications of this are staggering when one starts to think about the new heavens and new earth. God’s presence will permeate the world in a way not yet known. All ground will be holy ground when Christ returns.

“Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground‘” (Exodus 3:5).

Ground and Hope

At death men return to the dust. Scripture often talks about death as “sleep.” This is because our bodies will only be laid in the dust for a limited time. The promise of resurrection means that we will rise from the dust again. “From dust to dust” will not be the final words spoken over us. God will do a miraculous resurrection work. He will create us a second time from the dust!
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

Implications of our Connection to the Soil

  • Our creation from the dirt creates an inextricable tie between us and the earth. We were meant to be here. An unearthly existence is unnatural for human beings. This is why our ultimate hope is not eternity in heaven, but eternity on a new earth with resurrected bodies. God’s intention for human life lived on earth will not be thwarted. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder that we belong on the earth.
  • Our interrelationship with ground should inform how we evaluate what has value in life. We often spiritualize things and demean normal human existence. You can do this only when you conclude that we were not meant to be here and that our goal is to journey through this place as detached and unscathed as possible. The fact that we were created for this earth brings value to every created thing along with every human task. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of the value of tangible earthly things.
  • Creation from dust should invoke humility and awe in all human creatures. When we recognize that God formed us from a clump of dirt how can we be anything but amazed. When we recognize that our origins are in the mud how can we boast about anything. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of our creatureliness.
  • The ground we exist upon is first and foremost a gift of God.  Eden, the Promised Land, the New Earth, and  your back yard are gracious gifts of the Creator. He gives us soil to live upon. He gives us space on his created earth to work and enjoy. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of God’s grace toward us.
  • The reality that we have come from dust and will return to dust invites us to look our mortality square in the face. It’s amazing how effectively we push this reality away. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of our mortality
  • Our destiny is connected to the earth. We groan along with the earth for deliverance from bondage and decay. We ache for the removal of the curse. The hope of the earth is the hope of the believer—the return of Christ. When Christ returns the dead will be raised from the dust and the earth will be completely renewed. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of our hope of resurrection and life on a restored earth.

Is there anything else that you would add to this list of implications? Any further thoughts on the importance of our connection to the soil?

You, Me, and the Ground (2)

In the previous post we looked at how man is taken from the ground and made for the ground. We also focused on the ground as a generous gift of God to his creatures. In this post, we continue looking the theme of ground. As you will see, there are some more interesting references to ground in Scripture.

Ground as Witness

At times, Scripture personifies inanimate objects. The ground  is said to feel things and do things.  One interesting activity attributed to the ground is that of a witness.  In these two examples, the ground gives an account to God about our activity. Apparently when no one else is looking, the ground we walk on is.

“And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground ‘”(Gen 4:10).

“If my land has cried out against me and its furrows have wept together, if I have eaten its yield without payment and made its owners breathe their last, let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:38-40).

Ground and Judgment

When sin makes entrance into the world our relationship with the ground changes. The context of blessing and gift becomes the place of curse and judgment. The ground we were called to cultivate and keep turns against us and makes life hard. Death drives us back to the ground from which we were made. In Cain’s case, his judgment is to be driven away and cursed from the ground. He experienced a double curse in relation to the ground. In Israel’s case, the ground responds to their rebellion by opening its mouth and swallowing an entire tribe in judgment.

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

“You are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand…Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground” (Gen 4:11, 14).

“And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Num 16:31-33).

Ground and Grief

There are two strands of biblical data in the vein of grief and ground. The first relates to the grief of the ground. Paul utilizes the language of groaning and pain when discussing the current state of the earth. In the text that follows we see that the ground grieves and hopes along with mankind. The second relates to the grief of men and their use of the ground to express their sorrow. There are a multitude of examples in Scripture when humans crumple into the dust and cover their heads with it to express a traumatic loss of heartfelt repentance. 
This act of grieving and repentance signifies humility and recognition of one’s status before God. To lower oneself to the ground and pull the earth over your head communicates that you know where you came from and you know where you are going. This body language communicates to God what the psalmist voices in Psalm 103:13-14. “The Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:19-22, cf. Jer 14:4, Joel 1:10).
“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head” (1 Samuel 4:12, cf. 2 Sam 15:32).
 “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

You, Me, and the Ground (1)

You may recall a post from a couple weeks back on the dust. In that post, I highlighted the significance of being created out of the dust. This post is an extension of that line of thinking. I am intrigued about our relationship with the ground. Even writing that sentence feels weird. Relationship with the ground? Seems strange. You may be surprised to find that  Scripture actually has a bit to say on the topic. So here we go. You, me, and the ground. I will explore this theme over the next three posts.

Made From The Ground

Scripture indicates that mankind, plants, beasts, and bird were made from the ground. None of these creatures were created from nothing. They were all formed out of the ground. This creation out of something motif implies that we are all vitally connected to the substance from which we came. We are “from” the ground!

“The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground” (Gen 2:7).

“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight” (Gen 2:9).

“Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens” (Gen 2:19).

Terrence Fretheim in his book on Creation Theology spells out the importance of texts like this in our theology.

“Even more the ground (adamah play on adam) proves to be a crucial ingredient for the creation of the human. Human beings are not created ‘out of nothing,’ but out of an already existent nonhuman creature, a creature that has creative capacities (Gen 1:11-13, 24). The ground proves to be an indispensable medium for the creative work of God the potter (of nonhumans as well as humans, 2:19). In other words, human beings are keenly dependent upon the ground not only for their sustenance and livelihood but also for their very being. Without the ground they would neither exist nor survive. At the same time, as we have noted, the ground depends on the human for its proper development. Issues of dependence and interdependence  in a highly interrelated world are her brought to the forefront.” [1]

On a side note, this truth may be the most significant and foundational for building a biblical ecology.

Made For the Ground

The ground preceded us. It was foundational for our existence. We are dependent upon it for our life and sustenance. Ground exists for our good. And yet, there is a sense in which we were created for the ground as well. As Fretheim put it, we dwell in a “highly interrelated world.” The ground is dependent upon us to cultivate and keep it. That seems to be the thrust of these two texts. Note especially the language of the second passage.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).

“The Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken” (Gen 3:23).

Ground as Gift

Our existence is a generous gift of the Creator. The context of our existence is no less a gift. He forms us from the ground and then allows us to live, move, and have our being on the same thing from which we were made. This ground that we make our home on is considered a gift, whether it be Eden, the Promised Land, or the New Earth.

 “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Gen 2:8).

“Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 26:15).

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5).

[1] Terrence E. Fretheim, God and the World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), p. 54.