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.

Gospel and Flood

What does the gospel have to do with the flood? It does not seem like the language of “good news” and world devastation should appear in the same sentence. In the book of 1 Peter, we have a gospel-centered perspective on the flood narrative.

“…God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is,eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Pet 3:20-21).

Note how Peter draws a link between flood and baptism. Just as Noah was rescued through the waters of judgment so we are saved through judgment by the death and resurrection of Christ. Our baptism symbolizes the saving event and this actually corresponds to the flood. Thomas Schreiner in his commentary on 1 Peter has some excellent insights on the connection between flood and baptism.

 “The water that deluged the world in Noah’s day and through which Noah was saved functions as a model or pattern for Christian believers. But to what is the water related in the new covenant? The answer is baptism. In fact, we have the surprising statement that “baptism … now saves you.” Before examining that statement, we must consider in what way the flood waters prefigure or correspond to baptism. The waters of the flood deluged the ancient world and were the agent of death. Similarly, baptism, which was by immersion during the time of the New Testament, occurs when one is plunged under the water. Anyone who is submerged under water dies. Submersion under the water represents death, as Paul suggested in Rom 6:3–5. Jesus described his upcoming death in terms of baptism (Mark 10:38–39; Luke 12:50), indicating that submersion under the water aptly portrays death. Just as the chaotic waters of the flood were the agent of destruction, so too the waters of baptism are waters of destruction.”

“In New Testament theology, however (cf. Matt 3:16; Mark 10:38–39; Rom 6:3–5), believers survive the death-dealing baptismal waters because they are baptized with Christ. They are rescued from death through his resurrection (Rom 6:3–5; Col 2:12). Hence, we are not surprised to read in this verse that baptism saves “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The waters of baptism, like the waters of the flood, demonstrate that destruction is at hand, but believers are rescued from these waters in that they are baptized with Christ, who has also emerged from the waters of death through his resurrection. Just as Noah was delivered through the stormy waters of the flood, believers have been saved through the stormy waters of baptism by virtue of Christ’s triumph over death. The word “now” refers to the present eschatological age of fulfillment. With the coming of Jesus Christ the age of salvation has arrived.”[1]

Baptism is a gospel portrayal and a gospel proclamation. When it happens in the church it illustrates the the once for all work of Christ’s death and resurrection that redeems us. By faith we are united to Christ, which means we are connected to his death and resurrection. In baptism, the old man is destroyed and drowned and the new man emerges. The flood in Peter is pressed into the service of the gospel. As we better understand the terrifying justice and overwhelming grace of the flood we will be better positioned to grasp the riches of God’s grace in Christ.

[1] Schreiner, T. R. (2003). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. The New American Commentary (193–194). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

A Personal Reflection on the Flood

I spent a good amount of time studying the story of Noah recently for a research project. I tried my best to utilize my imagination as I turned the narrative over and over again. I was stirred by two main thoughts as I read and wrote. First, I was made to pause when I read over the phrase, “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen 6:6). What could be so horrific that our Creator would express pain at the very sight of our existence? What in the world could cause the God who declared all things good to state that he wished he never made any of it? For me, this was a mack truck moment. I was bombarded and smashed by the terrifying nature of my rebellion and sin. I was undone by the fact that my existence could be grievous to my Maker. How does a creature do anything but unravel at such words from his Creator?

As I kept reading the story, I made a connection between two things that I had never recognized before. I saw the link between God’s grief and God’s wrath. God’s justice and wrath are the rightful response to sin’s rebellion. But this wrath is not calculated and heartless, it is laced with tremendous grief and sorrow. God is invested in his creation and the creatures he has placed here. His judgment is never distant and detached. The flood is a mighty demonstration of just power, but it is also an expression of great pain. It is the grieving God that sends the deluge on the earth. To me, this fresh perspective inserted a new picture of God in my mind: a Judge with tears in his eyes.

The second thing that stood out in the study was healing to this unraveled soul. I observed the kindness of God in a new way. The grief of God in the narrative was all inclusive. He was saddened by every moving, breathing, and existing thing (Gen. 6:7). He desired to blot it all out. The fact that Noah was not judged with the rest of the world is the result of one thing: grace. The text makes it clear that God showed mercy to Noah (Gen. 6:9). [1] In reality, the grace of God is the reason the world was created in the beginning. It is also the reason it continues to exist to this day. It is the same reason we live. God could have shut the book on us for good in the flood event.

Put yourself in Noah’s shoes. What would it have been like to watch the destruction of the world? What would it have been like to watch the waters rise and observe your town destroyed? What would it have been like to watch hundreds of people drown and realize that you deserved to be outside of the boat?  Noah had one of the most vivid firsthand views and experiences of the radical nature of God’s grace. I wonder what he felt, what he thought, and what he said during that time in the ark. The event must have changed him. We know he was tremendously grateful because the first thing he did when they hit dry land was build an altar, make sacrifices, and worship God (Gen. 8:20-21).

This narrative pushed me forward into the work of Christ for us, as it must. It caused me to step back and recognize that judgment, grief, and sorrow are all intermingled in a climactic way in the work of the Son. He was drowned in the waves of God’s indignation that we might walk the shores of God’s grace. Wave after wave of God’s sorrowful wrath pounded upon the Christ and ultimately swallowed him whole. This deluge of God’s judgment resulted in a torrent of mercy toward us. The flood has helped me grasp that God is very kind.

[1] Ross, Allen. (1998). Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. (185). Grand Rapids: Baker Books. “A close study of the word grace will support the idea that it signifies unmerited favor. If the word is given its proper meaning, it means that the recipients of grace actually deserved the judgment too…No one escapes divine judgment apart from grace.”

Both Judge and Justifier

We had a really good conversation last week in one of the detention centers about justification. Justification is being declared righteous in God’s sight on account of Christ’s perfect life and death. I posed the question: who will stand as your Judge on the last day? Most answered the Father. In truth the Son is the one we will stand before in judgment (Matt 25: 31-34, Jn 5:22-23, Acts 10:42, 17:30-31, Rom 2:16). This should transform that final scene in our thinking. Our Judge is the one who has justified us already. This is the thrust of Romans 8:31-34. Who can accuse and who can condemn us when the one judging us is the one who died, rose, and intercedes for us now! Jesus is our judge, advocate, and righteousness on the last day. We can stand with confidence as that day draws near if we are trusting in the sufficiency of the work of Jesus (1 Jn 4:17-18).

Justification and the Future

What does justification have to do with the day of judgment? Mark Seifrid answers the question well. “The day of judgment has been brought into the present in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.” It is a piece of the future brought into our present. The cross and resurrection is the courtroom where God condemns and vindicates us in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:31-34 captures this truth best.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be  against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

On the final day no charge will be stand against us according to this text. Why? Because it is God who justifies. Our justification now (Rom 8:1–there is now no condemnation) assures us of our right standing in the future. On that final day who will there be to condemn us? The answer to that is who cares. The one who ultimately can condemn us will absolutely not condemn us. The one who stands to judge is the one who died, rose, and is interceding for us right now. The one who can condemn us has promised us now that he will never do so. Every accusation of the evil one, of other people, of our consciences, of our sinful deeds will fall impotent before the justifying word of God that has been spoken to us now but keeps us forever.