Monday, June 27, 2011

The Revelation of God

When I first believed in Jesus, something amazing happened.  I wasn't aware of it outwardly at the time, but my whole view of God changed in an instant.  Before then, I had some vague, nebulous notions of God.  God was a "force" that created everything and held the universe together.  God was an "it."  God, if He was a judge at all, was really not all that concerned with what goes on in our lives.  He was more concerned with effort -how well we tried to live a good life.  He was more of a teacher who graded our tests, but He was one of those new-agey teachers who don't care so much about grades but more about if we generally try to be good and that we think we are pretty good, too  Things like pornography or living completely for myself really didn't matter to Him.  What mattered was that I generally didn't lie and I had a few other positives on my resume that distinguished me from the majority of people my age.  So, if He was going to grade the class on a curve, I was sure I would pass at least.

The point is that this was all vague, a hazy conglomeration of my own ideas about what I thought God could, would, or should be like.  That all changed when I heard about Jesus and why He really came to die on a cross and rise from the dead.  Suddenly, I saw God.  I knew who God was.  In a real sense, He saw me and I saw Him back.

What did I see, and what do I continue to see when I look at Jesus on the cross and rising from the dead?  I see a God completely different from any other conception of the divine out there.  He is not a God who is part of His creation, and therefore subject to it, like when people worship cows and birds and lizards.  But He is also, more importantly, not a God who sits on a lofty throne, high and distant up in some far removed place called heaven.  He is not a God who sits back, waiting to see if His creatures will do the right things to climb up the ladder, either through their moral goodness or their laborious attempts to figure Him out and crack His heavenly code, and finally reach Him.

He is also not a God who is some kind of impersonal force.  He is not an "it," even if a big-I "It."  He is not a pulsating power-source somewhere outside of space and time, generating positive energy to feed the universe and feed now completely abstracted concepts such as "love."

No, when I look at Jesus Christ, I see God revealed.  Jesus Christ is God's revelation of Himself to the world.  If you miss Jesus, the real Jesus, you miss God completely.  That is what Jesus said in various ways:

"I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6)
"If you knew Me, you would know my Father also" (John 8:19b)
"No one has ever seen God; the only God [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known." (John 1:18)

But it is not enough to stop here.  We must look at what exactly this means.  First, God is a God who comes down to earth.  The way that God has chosen to reveal Himself in the most fullness is not through some kind of heavenly vision or some kind of strict, ascending moral code and principles.  It is through a man, a God-man, born into this world, born of a woman, born in obscurity, born in humility, and then who lived, spoke to the world, died as a criminal for our sins, and rose from the dead.  He will not have us trying to transcend our humanity by trying to pierce the heavens either with our will or our wit.  He comes down to the dirt.  He walks in our shoes.  And He subjects Himself to death, which all of us will experience in some form.  He is a God who doesn't want us to keep putting our heads in the religious clouds.  He wants us to come back down to earth to see Him.  He wants us to see Him and see His heart.  He comes down to our level and deals with our problem in an utterly earthly way, yet while accomplishing what a mere human could not.  He dies for our sins at the hands of earthly men on an earthly cross in an earthly town on a certain day, hour, minute, and second in time.
Second, Jesus reveals to us that God is not impersonal at all.  Jesus ate food and spoke and lived with real people.  He touched and healed and had compassion on real people with personal stories of their own.  He wept and laughed with them.  He came down and met us where we were.  And He died for us -for the curse of human sin affects all of us corporately and individually.  "All have fallen short of the glory of God," it says in Romans 3:20.

These things are most exemplified to us, today, in the Lord's Supper.  Some call it "communion," others the "eucharist" or "the Lord's Table."  In those simple elements of bread and wine, we have a repeated demonstration of God's revelation to us in simple, earthen, down-to-earth ways.  For what could be simpler than a piece of bread and a small cup of wine or juice?  Yet we still feel the need to hyper-spiritualize it.  We turn it into something it is not -either a purely symbolic remembrance of something else or some kind of special religious magic where the eucharist magically transforms into Jesus' body.  When we do that, we obscure the reality of things.  In the elements, God comes to us as He did in Jesus.  Sure, it is a remembrance of what Jesus did.  No doubt about it.  But the promise of the Gospel is there in those elements.  God is there with us in those elements, not in some type of weird possession-type way, but His presence is there with His promise.  It is as though, in those elements with the spoken Word of the Gospel, He is saying to us, "Here... here I am for you.  Take and eat.  Take and eat and drink these simple things and, in so doing, come back down to earth where I came to meet you, in the body and blood of Jesus, broken and spilled for you.  Here, have Me.  Here I am for you."  God comes down to earth and becomes personal.

It is staggeringly simple.  When we are tempted to forget or obscure or conflate or over-embellish the Gospel, we must only remember the Lord's Supper (that is.. if we haven't screwed that up, too).  In those elements and in that promise, God comes down to earth to us, for us, with promises of forgiveness and deliverance.  He "inhabits" the earthly, just as He did in the incarnation, coming right to us.  We need look no further to know God or what He wants to do with us.  We need not try to lift up the covers to peek into the hidden places of the heavens.  God comes right to us in the tangible, earthen, and personal.  And when we see it, what shall we do?  Hopefully, we shall eat and drink -we shall come as mere men and women and take and enjoy and live and come out of the clouds of religious fraud and pseudo-piety.

But of course, the rebel in us says, "No, I don't want that.  It seems just plain silly.  Besides, the more I understand it the more I see it might mean giving up my throne over my own life.  What a foolish idea that would be.  Why would I want that?"  But the religious fraud in us says, "No, I don't want that.  It would mean that all my attempts to climb my ladder to heaven would be meaningless.  My pride in my own efforts can't handle a God who comes to me so completely and so fully in such a meager way.  Surely, I must do something and insert myself somewhere into the equation, and I must find a way to lift this kind of 'God' back up to heaven to fit with my system."  But isn't that what God says of us?  It is written that to the non-religious this seems to be "foolishness" and to the religious a "stumbling block."  But to those called it means life. (1 Corinthians 1:23)

It is writtein in 2 Corinthians 4:6, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."  For a long time I've had a very lofty image of what this means.  I pictured a gloriously glowing Jesus with a shining face, high and lifted up.  Certainly, we have glimpses of Jesus in Revelation that are powerful and even frightening.  But I think this misses the point.  The scandal of the Gospel is that God showed His glory in non-glorious, non-heavenly, but rather humble and earthen ways.  To me, what Paul means here has much less to do with some heavenly, glorious image and much more to do with this.  To see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ means to be struck by the Gospel and see God as the God who reveals Himself to us in Jesus, who comes down to earth to us in humble and meager form, and who comes to us personally.  As we see this, as we really see it, we begin to come back down to earth, too.

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