Made for Others

God did not fashion us with the ability to see ourselves. Eyes were made to see the world and the “others” around us. Created to look outside of ourselves, it is no surprise that freedom, joy and purpose align when “others” are the focus. Genesis 1-2 reveals humanity looking up to the Creator and outward to his creation. Adam’s marching orders were to look out for his spouse, the living creatures and the earth. His vocation was other-focused and outward-postured.

Genesis 3 is a tragic interruption to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. Humanity’s rebellion was an inward turn—concern for one’s own desires, pleasures and understanding of reality trumped any thought of the “other.” That moment defined humanity. Adam and Eve looked down and realized they were naked…self-concern and self-preservation were enthroned. The “other” became a stepping stone, a means to satisfying the desires of the self. Made for others and enslaved to ourselves, this is the judgment under which we rest (Rom 1:18-32).

In the early 1900’s, a well-known paper in London sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton, famed theologian and author, responded with a two-word letter to the inquiry: “I am.” This admission is the starting point for every human to move back toward wellness. We must own the reality that we exploit and damage the “others” we were made to serve and love.

Sin is deeply personal. The “others” have names. Sin damages people. Sin offends and grieves the Triune God. My self-devotion is a stench to my Creator and a weapon against my fellow human-being. Repentance takes complete responsibility for the rancor in our souls. It is movement back toward the Creator, agreement on his assessment of our loyalties. It puts the needed cry on our lips: “Lord, have mercy on me, heal me, for I have sinned against you” (Ps 41:4). The need for cleansing, forgiveness and healing drives us to the how.

How is beautiful. God comes down. In Christ we see humanity’s design. In Christ we see humanity’s Healer. Looking up to his Father and out to his fractured creation, the outward postured God rescues us. The judgment earned by my self-worship is endured by the Son of God, the one true worshipper of the Father. The chains of self-slavery are shattered by Jesus Christ, the free God who bound himself to the cross.

The saving work of the Triune God is not exhausted with forgiveness, cleansing and right standing. He gives us new hearts. He places the Holy Spirit within us. He bends the inward curve outward. He makes us human. The Trinity is devoted to restoring what was lost, remaking what was broken and ushering us into the freedom of otherness.

 

Advertisements

Falling Upward and Doing Nothing

Gerhard Forde was a Lutheran theologian that taught as a seminary professor for 40 years. He wrote some very insightful material on the doctrine of justification and the theology of the cross. He was a strong proponent of the radical grace of the gospel.

He understood the original sin to be a an upward lunge and grasp for divinity. He understood salvation to be the finished work of Christ applied to the person who does nothing but receives.

Here are a few great quotes from Forde.

“We must consider the fall and sin differently from the traditional scheme. The fall is really not what the word implies at all. It is not a downward plunge to some lower level in the great chain of being, some lower rung on the ladder of morality and freedom. Rather, it is an upward rebellion, an invasion of the realm of things ‘above,’ the usurping of divine prerogative. To retain traditional language, one would have to resort to an oxymoron and speak of an ‘upward fall.'”

“We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works. To the age old question, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ the confessional answer is shocking: ‘Nothing! Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!’

“Sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification.”

“Christian growth is forgetting about yourself.”

Immanuel: God With Us In Our Sin

Names mean something. This was especially true in the world of Christ. Names were carefully chosen and would often set the trajectory of a child’s life. In the Matthew narrative we learn that the naming of Jesus was no different. The text says that Mary and Joseph received divine guidance regarding what they would call Jesus. “You shall call his name Jesus for He will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

The name Jesus has Hebrew roots, it literally means “God saves.” God the Father makes clear what the saving work of Jesus is focused on…sin. His name indicated the reason for his coming. His name was a constant reminder of why he was born. Jesus came to deal with sin, this is absolutely central to his purpose. In the context it is very interesting to see that the author moves on to state that his name will be called Immanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23).

Placing these two names side by side is instructive, something the context also seems to require. God is with us and God saves us from sin. Jesus is the God-man who enters the fray, he comes alongside and is present with us even in our sin. To save us from our sin he must walk with us as we struggle and falter. The saving work of God is not accomplished at a distance. He is uncomfortably present…so much so that “he who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

When we speak of the God who is with us, we mean to say that he is with us in our darkest moments, our greatest sins, our desperation, our brokenness, our weakness, our pain, our grief, our suffering…he is with us in the places where we need him most. Luther was right, God is “with us in the muck and in the work that makes his skin steam.”

Select Quotes from G.K. Chesterton

The following quotations are taken from an article on G.K. Chesterton written by Relevant Magazine. The assortment is a good snapshot of his wit and creativity.

The Nature of God

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” – Introduction to The Book of Job.

Creativity

“Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.” – Orthodoxy

Mystery

“As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.” – Orthodoxy

Individuality

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” – The Everlasting Man

Humility

“It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.” – Charles Dickens: A Critical Study

Sin

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” – Orthodoxy

Theology

“Theology is only thought applied to religion.” – The New Jerusalem

Religion

“One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created.” The Boston Sunday Post

Idolatry

“Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.” – Illustrated London News

Religious Liberty

“The man of the true religious tradition understands two things: liberty and obedience. The first means knowing what you really want. The second means knowing what you really trust.” – G.K.’s Weekly

Humility

“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” – The Innocence of Father Brown

Humor

“It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it”. – All Things Considered

Being Childlike

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” – Orthodoxy

Thought

“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” – Orthodoxy

Freedom

“According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.” – Orthodoxy

Gems from the Screwtape Letters

C.S. Lewis wrote a famous book titled The Screwtape Letters. The plot line is that of a senior demon instructing his nephew (Wormwood) on how to tempt and undermine the faith of the Christian man to whom he has been assigned. If you have not read the book, I recommend it. Here are a few great excerpts.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” 

“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” 

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” 

“When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” 

“The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” 

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to **** is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” 

“The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents–or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.” 

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s (God’s) ground…He [God] made the pleasure: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy [God] has produced, at at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He [God] has forbidden. ” 

The Lord’s Supper: Broken Bread for Broken People

In the gospel of Matthew the story of the Last Supper is sandwiched by two narratives of betrayal. The text that precedes the Last Supper is the story of Judas selling out Jesus (Matt 26:14-25). The text that follows portrays the certainty that all the disciples will fall away and betray Jesus (Matt 26:30-35). It is striking that Jesus knows exactly what is coming and still, he invites his disciples to the table. This is a powerful and intentional demonstration of grace. Jesus is showing us exactly who he wants at his table: broken and needy people.

The only way for the disciples to sit at table with God is through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus—there is no other way. At this meal, we see the heart of God. We behold his embrace of rebels and sinners. In Christ, he has provided all that is necessary to dine with him! The Last Supper for Jesus leads the way to the sinner’s first supper with God. Gilbert Ostdiek is intrigued by this idea as he reads the Last Supper narrative. He states this:

“Why would the early communities for which the gospels were written have chosen to include this less than flattering portrait of the first disciples in their accounts of the supper? Exegetes commonly hold that the four gospels were written not simply as transcriptions of historical events, but as faith accounts told in such a way as to help the different communities reflect on the meaning of these events for their lives. Francis Moloney has argued that admission of broken and weak disciples to the table of the Lord is a thread that runs through each of the biblical accounts of the last supper, though altered to fit the circumstances of each community. These memories are enshrined precisely because the later disciples experienced themselves as did the first, prone to fail and in need of the strength and forgiveness this holy meal provides. From his study of New Testament materials Moloney concludes: ‘the Eucharist celebrates and proclaims the presence of Jesus to the broken.’”

John Calvin makes a similar point when he states, “let us remember that this sacred banquet is medicine to the sick, comfort to the sinner, alms to the poor.” A broken body for a broken people—this is how God makes us whole.