Archive for November, 2011

Self-Giving…Or Hell

“[Self-giving] is not a heavenly law which we can escape by remaining earthly, nor an earthly law which we can escape by being saved.  What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor ‘ordinary life,’ but simply and solely Hell.  Yet even Hell derives from this law such reality as it has.  That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality; the negative shape which the outer darkness takes by surrounding and defining the shape of the real, or which the real imposes on the darkness by having a shape and positive nature of its own.” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 137)

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“Jesus gave himself.  He would not save himself.  He gave himself to share in the deep darkness of a world sinful, estranged.  But the apostles of Jesus came to believe that when Jesus died in this manner, giving himself and not saving himself, he was not contradicting the reign of God.  Rather was he, the divine Son, showing what the reign of God is like and how the reign of God comes, indeed what God himself is like.  In the utter self-giving of Jesus in the desolation of his death there is the divine self-giving love, the very essence of deity…We believe indeed that God is omnipotent and sovereign.  But his is always the sovereignty of self-giving, pain-bearing love.” (Michael Ramsey, To Believe is to Pray: Readings from Michael Ramsey, ed. James E. Griffiss, pp. 137-38)

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The Son Became Flesh

“We cannot understand Jesus as simply the God-who-was-man.  We have left out an essential factor, the sonship.  Jesus is not simply God manifest as man; he is the divine Son coming into manhood.  What was expressed in human terms here below was not bare deity; it was the divine sonship.  God cannot live an identically godlike life in eternity and in a human story.  But the divine Son can make an identical response to his Father, whether in the love of the blessed Trinity or in the fulfillment of an earthly ministry.  All the conditions of action are different on two levels; the filial response is one.  Above, the appropriate response is a co-operation in sovereignty and an interchange of eternal joys.  Then the Son gives back to the Father all that Father is.  Below, in the incarnate life, the appropriate response is an obedience to inspiration, a waiting for direction, an acceptance of suffering, a rectitude of choice, a resistance to temptation, a willingness to die.  For such things are the stuff of our existence; and it was in this very stuff that Christ worked out the theme of heavenly sonship, proving himself on earth the very thing he was in heaven…a continuous perfect act of filial love.” (Austin Farrer, “Incarnation,” in The Brink of Mystery, ed. Charles C. Conti, p. 20)

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“To be sure, the death of the Son of God on a cross is a unique event, unrepeatable, reconciling humanity to God.  It is an event fraught with singular metaphysical significance, not merely a good example of how people ought to live and die.  Nonetheless, it does become for Paul also an example, a paradigm for the life of faith…The distinctive shape of obedience to God is disclosed in Jesus Christ’s faithful death on the cross for the sake of God’s people.  That death becomes metaphorically paradigmatic for the obedience of the community: to obey God means to offer our lives unqualifiedly for the sake of others.  Thus, the fundamental norm of Pauline ethics is the christomorphic life.  To imitate Christ is also to follow the apostolic example of surrendering one’s own prerogatives and interests.” (Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pp. 27, 46)

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A Glaring Contrast

“Books on the problem of pain divide neatly into two groupings.  The older ones, by people like Aquinas, Bunyan, Donne, Luther, Calvin, and Augustine, ungrudginly accept pain and suffering as God’s useful agents.  These authors do not question God’s actions.  They merely try to ‘justify the ways of God to man.’  The authors wrote with confidence, as if the sheer force of their reasoning could calm emotional responses to suffering.

Modern books on pain make a sharp contrast.  Their authors assume that the amount of evil and suffering in the world cannot be matched with the traditional view of a good and loving God.  God is thus bumped from a ‘friend of the court’ position to the box reserved for the defendant.  ‘How can you possibly justify yourself, God?’ these angry moderns seem to say.  Many of them adjust their notion of God, either by redefining his love or by questioning his power to control evil.

When you read the two categories of books side by side, the change in tone is quite striking.  It’s as if we in modern times think we have a corner on the suffering market.  Do we forget that Luther and Calvin lived in a world without ether and penicilin, when life expectancy averaged thirty years, and that Bunyan and Donne wrote their greatest works, respectively, in a jail and a plague quarantine room?  Ironically, the modern authors–who live in princely comfort, toil in climate-controlled offices, and hoard elixirs in their medicine cabinets–are the ones smoldering with rage.” (Philip Yancey, “Preface” to Where Is God When It Hurts?)

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“If we understand God as the source of all existence, who freely wills to give life to Another (the Son), then we are beginning to recognize that the very same love which marks God’s life as trinitarian communion is also the intimate and continual source of the universe’s existing.  God is God because the Father freely wills to pour out existence to the Son—who is Son by lovingly entrusting this giving-life, Holy Spirit, back to the Father…And it is precisely this trinitarian life that is the glorious reason why there is a universe at all rather than simply nothing…The same Love who draws Father and Son into communion also draws them to include the creation of the universe as the very language of this divine communion…The whole universe echoes with the signature of the Father’s endless self-giving and the Son’s loving speaking of the Father’s giving and the powerful tide of the Spirit’s beckoning.” (Mark McIntosh, Mysteries of Faith, pp. 52-53)

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“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:26-28)

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have begun our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.  The mind that is not baffled is not employed.  The impeded stream is the one that sings.” (Wendell BerryStanding By Words: Essays, p. 97)

Romans 8 rightly occupies a beloved place in the affections of many weary Christians.  It contains some of the most profound meditations on God’s redemptive work in Christ on behalf of sinners in the entire New Testament, as well as the sweetest promises that could ever be imagined.  In a world of evil and death, all things nonetheless are working for our good.  Resurrection is coming–not only for Christians, but for the entire cosmos.  Every good thing we will ever need is personally guaranteed by God, since that feat is quite easy in comparison to the really hard thing which God has already accomplished for us (not sparing His own Son, but handing him over to death for us–the echoes of Genesis 22 are obvious).  In the face of our ongoing guilt, Jesus our righteous high priest intercedes for us before the throne of God.  And in the face of the often overwhelming sufferings of this present life, we are more than conquerors through the crucified and risen Jesus.  Therefore, nothing could ever separate us from the love of God.

Yet within this soul-stirring chapter, 8:26-27 are two verses that stick out like a sore thumb.  Self-evidently they are meant by Paul to be received as further positive reinforcement.  But what in the world do they mean? (more…)

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“There is in God’s own eternal communion a self-sharing that is infinitely beyond history and that is already infinite…This eternal self-emptying of one Person for another is the basis for the events we see taking place historically.  All the acts of love and self-surrender God undertakes in times are the merest whisper of the self-giving that goes on forever among the Persons of the Trinity.  All the humiliations of Jesus, even his sense of separation from the Father, are finite expressions in the broken language of time of the eternal and loving self-outpouring that constitutes God’s life.” (Mark McIntosh, Mysteries of Faith, p. 43)

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“You never enjoy the world aright, till you see how a sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God: And prize in everything the service which they do you, by manifesting His glory and goodness to your soul, far more than the visible beauty on their surface, or the material services they can do your body.” (Thomas Traherne, Centuries, pp. 13-14)

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Mission In Christ’s Way

A stirring reflection from Lesslie Newbigin on the final, haunting words of commissioning that Jesus gives to his disciples in John 20:19-23:

“According to the fourth gospel, Jesus sent his disciples out on their mission with the words: ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ (John 20:21).  This must determine the way we think about and carry out the mission; it must be founded and modeled upon his.  We are not authorized to do it in any other way.  What was, and is, the way?  How did the Father send the Son?…

Mission in Christ’s way will not be a success story as the world reckons success.  There is a kind of ideology of success that fits badly with the gospel…Let us never forget that in its first and mightiest conflict against the powers of this world, represented in the imperial might of Rome, the victory of the gospel was won not by the cleverness of its preachers and theologians, and certainly not by its programmes for social justice, but by the blood of the martyrs…Whether in word or in deed, what is required in every situation is that we are faithful to him who said to his disciples: ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you,’ and showed them his hands and side…

We have to remind ourselves again of the significance of the little word ‘as’.  It is the manner in which the Father sent the Son that determines the manner in which the church is sent by Jesus.  Its mission is governed by the manner of his…And lest the full meaning of that word ‘as’ should be missed, he shows them his hands and side.  It was the scars of the passion in his risen body that assured the frightened disciples that it was really Jesus who stood among them.  It will be those same scars in the corporate life of the church that will authenticate it as indeed the body of Christ, the bearer of his mission, the presence of the kingdom.  It will not be enough for the church to place a cross on the top of its buildings or in the center of its altars or on the robes of its clergy.  The marks of the cross will have to be recognizable also in the lives of its members if the church is to be the authentic presence of the kingdom.

I find it remarkable that this aspect of the biblical teaching has been so much neglected in the missiology of the past two hundred years, and that missions have been seen–by contrast–in triumphalistic terms.  It is remarkable that the consistent teaching of St. Paul about the nature of the apostolate has played so little part in missionary thinking.  When his claim to be an authentic apostle of Jesus was questioned, as it was especially (it seems) in the congregation at Corinth, Paul’s reply is always, in one way or another, to affirm that he has taken his share in the sufferings of Christ…His apostolate is authenticated by the marks of the cross…

The authenticating marks of a missionary church will be the marks of the passion–his hands and side.

When Jesus had showed them his hands and his side, he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’  Once again we are reminded of the role of the Spirit in the mission of the church.  We are not sent into battle by a commander who stays behind.  The risen Lord shares his risen life with us as we take our share in his passion, his conflict in the world…Jesus stood in their midst and said ‘peace be with you’, showed them the scars of that atoning passion by which alone peace is made between sinful men and women and their holy Creator; and then sent them out to be the bearers of that peace into the life of the world–but always in conformity with the way by which peace was made, the way of the cross.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Mission In Christ’s Way, pp. 1, 13-14, 23-24, 27, 30)

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