The Considerate God

Working through the gospel of Mark I have been consistently moved by the way Jesus interacts with people. As the God-man he perfectly manifests true humanity and true deity. In Jesus we behold God. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19).

God is thoroughly considerate in his engagement with humanity. He listens to people, shares a meal with anyone, touches people with frightening diseases, generously gives his time, heals the blind, the paralyzed and the sick, cares about people’s pain and questions, and grieves over the suffering of others.

On two occasions Jesus feeds thousands of hungry people by miraculously multiplying loaves and fish. He cares for the physical needs of people. On one occasion Jesus miraculously raises a twelve year old child from the dead. The surrounding story of this miracle reveals a deeply considerate God (Mk 5:21-43).

In the narrative Jesus listens with concern to the fear and desperation of the parents. He responds to their heartfelt requests with care and action. He speaks words of comfort to them. He speaks life into the lifeless child. Everyone is astonished and overwhelmed.

I was struck by the dialogue that follows the miracle. “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat” (Mk 5:43). Sustenance was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, they had just observed a lifeless girl sit up! But it was on the mind of God. Jesus gave her life back and then made sure she had something to eat. I love this picture of God, so considerate, so kind, so practical.

The Purest Theology

Martin Luther once said, “the cross of Christ is the only instruction in the Word of God there is, the purest theology.” For Luther, the cross was far more than a saving event though of course he affirmed that it was central to salvation. His argument went far deeper. He believed that the cross was the central event of theology, the definitive act of God’s revelation and self-identification.

Calvary was a game changer. The Triune God is now and forever the “God of the cross.” As Robert Kolb states, the cross is “where human beings can see what God’s experience, God’s disposition—even God’s essence— really are.” If we would find God, Kolb says we must look in the most unexpected places. We find him as a “child in a crib, as a criminal on a cross, and as a corpse in a crypt.”

Luther based these theological assertions on his reading of Paul, particularly the Corinthian correspondence. Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 1-2 that the cross destroys our perceptions of reality and redefines everything. Wisdom, power and glory are now foolishness, weakness and humility. The cross turns the world on its head.

If the cross becomes our center and we orbit about the Crucified God things will never be the same. We will see with a different lens. We will make decisions that won’t make sense to others. We will value things that are often despised. We will recognize God in places we’ve never seen him before. We will embrace a cruciform existence and in small ways reflect the heart of this humble God.

Christmas Theology: Baby Boy and Humble Father

Jesus is true God and true man. As such, he reveals authentic humanity and authentic deity. Want to know about man? Go to Jesus. Want to know about God? Go to Jesus. The multi-faceted mission of Jesus included this crucial revelatory dimension. He came to explain God.

In Jesus God comes walking, speaking, touching, teaching, serving, dying, and rising. The wonderful collision of creature and Creator, this is the Christ event. What you see in Christ’s character is fundamentally true of God the Father. This is rich Christmas theology. A crucial chapter in God’s autobiography is written at the birth of Jesus. The title could very well be “The Humble God.”

In this post we discuss the connection of Christ’s humility to the Father’s humble nature. I believe we will find the old adage “like father like son” true of God.

The Son’s Revelation of the Humble Father

There are a number of texts we could look at to begin this discussion. I have chosen a brilliant passage from the book of Hebrews. The author clearly holds a high christology.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

The language is magnificent. Paul Ellingworth in his NIGCT commentary states, “In the present verse, ‘exact imprint of his nature’ (χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ) reinforces ‘radiance of glory’ (ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης) in describing the essential unity and exact resemblance between God and his Son…In the present verse, God’s ‘nature’ (ὑπόστασις) is his essential being, ‘the reality of God.'”

The Son is a true representation of the Father as he shares an identical nature with him. It follows that the character/nature of the Son is always consistent with the Father. The second text comes from the book of Matthew.

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt 11:27, cf Lk 10:22).

The Son holds exclusive knowledge of and access to the Father. It is grace that grant others that access and knowledge. The mission of the Son aims to make both a reality in the lives of sinful man. The text continues with an invitation to God and a revelation of his character. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).”

John Nolland in his commentary on Matthew makes some insightful observations. “Matthew 11:25–27 has dealt with both the revealing and the concealing activity of the Father and the Son. Where the failure of response in vv. 20–24 corresponds to the concealing activity, the fresh invitation in vv. 28–30 is probably intended to correspond to the revealing activity.” When Jesus is talking about his humble heart he is revealing the Father’s heart as well. He is doing exactly what he said he came to do in the previous verses.

Nolland goes on to discuss the significance of humility in this revelatory statement. “Moderation and other-centredness fit the context in Mt. 11:29. Matthew’s interest in Jesus as gentle (πραΰς) is reflected in his use in a fulfillment citation in Mt. 21:4–5 of Zc. 9:9 with its identification of the coming king as gentle (πραΰς). Matthew does not use humility (ταπεινός) elsewhere. The word normally designates a person who is in or has been reduced to a lowly position. But like gentle (πραΰς), it also has an ethical use. An ethical use is signalled here by the addition of τῇ καρδίᾳ (‘in heart’), which performs much the same role as τῷ πνεύματι (‘in spirit’) in Mt. 5:3. The one who is ταπεινός τῇ καρδία is unassuming and demonstrates humility.”

Nolland’s discussion on the original languages is important as this verse explicitly ties humility to the character of Christ. Theologically the text is significant as it draws an exegetical and contextual link between the Son’s humility and the Father’s character.

I end this post with a quote by Athan Smith. Note particularly the language of the Triune God entering human existence through the mediation of the Son. In the Son we do indeed see the Trinity.

“There and then, before creation, it was decided that the Son would cross every chasm between God and humanity and establish a real and abiding relationship—union. He was predestined to be the mediator, the one in and through whom the very life of the Triune God would enter human existence and human existence would be lifted up to share in the Trinitarian life. The gospel is the good news that this stunning plan of the Triune God has now become eternal fact in Jesus Christ. In his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension, he laid hold of the human race, took us down in his death, recreated us in his resurrection, and lifted us up into the embrace of the Father in his ascension.”

The Unsurprising Incarnation

I continue to be amazed by the humility of God in the storyline of Scripture. God persistently comes low to engage his creatures. His chosen vehicles of self-disclosure are always understandable and meaningful to humanity. Whether he is walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, wrestling with Jacob in human form, or having a conversation with Moses face to face, God’s revelatory activity is marked by condescension.

This is not surprising as humility is fundamental to the life of the Triune community. It is the warp and woof, the lifeblood, indeed, the cardinal principal that orders the life of God. God the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally humble in their engagement with one another. Every exchange among the three persons is executed with a posture of humility. God’s life is a dance of three persons striving to outdo one another in honor. When the Triune God engages the world we would expect to see the same thing, and we do.

The manner of revelatory activity in the Old Testament prepares the reader for a humble Christ. The larger canonical context leads us to read the incarnation as “normative” divine activity. In many ways, the incarnation is the logical next step in the Triune God’s self-disclosure. Don’t misunderstand me, the incarnation is astonishing and overwhelming. My point is that incarnation should not be considered “abnormal” activity for the humble Creator. It is consistent with who God is and how he has revealed himself throughout redemptive history.

The incarnation serves to reinforce and deepen our understanding of the humility of God. It serves as a link to all past revelation and yet is a clear and drastic move forward in God’s self-disclosure. God the Son permanently takes to himself humanity. The life of God can never be the same! The more God shows us himself the more overwhelmed we become by the depth of his humility.

The humility of the incarnation prepares the way for the humility of the cross. N.T. Wright captures the trajectory of the thought we have been tracing as he talks about the cross. God does not show us something new about himself, He simply continues to show us who He is.

“God became on the cross what God always was. I may have it in me, in ability and desire, to climb Mount Everest; but until I actually go into training and do it it remains latent. You may have it in you to be a brilliant concert pianist; but until you get down to practice and performance, all that brilliance remains latent. God always was the God of love—generous, spontaneous, free and cheerful self-giving love; but until God, if we dare put it like this, gets down to practice and performance, that love at its deepest level remains latent. On the cross God performs the score composed before the foundation of the world. On the cross God at last scales the highest peaks. It isn’t just that the cross reveals God’s love in its most striking way. It reveals it because it enacts it. It becomes part of, indeed the most central part of, the personal history of God…And now, to all eternity, the cross remains at the heart of God, stands as the truest symbol of God, offers the most exact and precise exposition of God.” [1]

[1] N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 56-57.

God in the Dark

Gregory of Nyssa was a theologian that lived in 300 A.D. He was one of the Cappadocian Fathers along with Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory and the other two fathers played a significant role in the formation of the Nicene Creed. They also wrote some significant theological works on the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the person of Christ, and the attributes of God. Gregory of Nyssa was also known for his own unique contribution to theology. He was one of the first to explore the theme of darkness as it related to God. Anthony Meredith in his book on Gregory of Nyssa says this:

“Gregory has often been credited with the discovery of mystical theology, or rather with the perception that darkness is an appropriate symbol under which God can be discussed. There is much truth in this….Gregory seems to have been the first Christian writer to have made this important point…”

Phillip Kariatlis wrote an interesting article entitled Dazzling Darkness: The Mystical or Theophanic Theology of St. Gregory of Nyssa. In the article he says this about Gregory.

‘That which set St. Gregory apart from other fathers in general and the Cappadocians in particular was the innovative approach to his understanding of the vision of God expressed in terms of darkness rather than the prevailing light imagery. Hence, instead of presenting the Christian life as a transformative journey towards increasing luminosity, St. Gregory put forward a vision of a person’s ascent towards God in terms of increasing impenetrable opacity.”

Gregory coined some very intriguing phrases as he wrestled with the paradox of God revealing himself in darkness. He liked to speak of God’s “luminous” and “dazzling” darkness. He used the language of “seeing that consists in not seeing” to describe faith’s engagement of the darkness of God.

So where does Gregory come up with this stuff? What would lead him to develop a theology that utilizes the imagery of darkness so heavily? Here are some of the key texts that support this line of thought.

“The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick  darkness where God was” (Ex 20:21).

“These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me” (Deut 5:22, cf. 4:11, 5:23, Heb 12:18).

“Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.’” (1 Kgs 8:12, 2 Chron 6:1).

“Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (Ps. 97:2).

“He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he was seen on the wings of the wind. He made darkness around him his canopy, thick clouds, a gathering of water. Out of the brightness before him coals of fire flamed forth” (2 sam 22:10-3, Ps. 18:9, 11, 28).

I don’t know about you, but I am very intrigued by texts like this. We think and hear much more about the biblical theme of God and light. These passages describe God as standing on, dwelling in, and being surrounded by darkness. Darkness, like light, functions to communicate things about God.  He cloaks himself with darkness and at the same time reveals himself through it. As Samuel Terrien states, “total darkness is a symbol both of the divine presence and the divine hiddenness.”

This theme of God’s revelation in the dark presses forward into the New Testament. Phillip Kariatlis says this.

“Saint Augustine in his Confessions states that God  is ‘most hidden, yet most present.’ The truth is that the God of Sinai is most fully in our midst in the cross of Christ where He is also most hidden. Karl Barth has declared that ‘one must know the darkness of Sinai and Calvary, and must have faith to know the God who is above us and his hidden nature.’ To approach ‘the thick darkness’ in the New Testament is to find God most of all in the cross of Jesus Christ. I find it more than symbolic that at the historic moment of Jesus’ death ‘darkness came over the whole land’ (Matt 27:45). If the holy means the hiddenness of God, nowhere did He more hide Himself than in the cross of Christ.”

The cross is the pinnacle of the light/darkness paradox in Scripture. Here the light of the world is cloaked in darkness. Both Paul and John consider Calvary’s darkest moment as the greatest expression of God’s brilliance and glory (2 Cor 4:4-6, John 7:39; 12:16, 23; 13:31; 17:1, 4, 5). At the cross we truly behold “dazzling darkness.”

Another author argues that this theme of darkness is foundational to Christianity. He states,

“The test of honesty is whether a man or woman has looked into the darkness in which Christianity has its roots, the darkness of God being killed by his creatures, of God himself breaking and reshaping all religious language by manifesting his activity in vulnerability, failure and contradiction.”

What are your thoughts? What other things may God be communicating through this darkness theme? How is this theme helpful for us today? How does it challenge our theology?

The Lion and the Lamb

I have been thinking recently about the description of Jesus in Revelation 5. The image of a Lion and Lamb coalescing in the person of Jesus is an amazing window into the heart and nature of God. It shows us that the core of God’s self disclosure is a paradox. I wrote this poem to try to capture this theme. Check it out.

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Lion and Lamb, posted with vodpod