- Social Justice Part I – Environmentalism: A Theology of Creation Care
- The Deep Blue Church
- Salvation is Liberation: Part I
- Living Water John 4:1-42
- 2020: My Year in Review
Have a great end to your year. See you in 2021.
Should Christians be environmentalists? Yes. The Church in the West has always done a great job of presenting the Gospel of forgiveness. However, this has often come at the expense of the Gospel that transforms, not only humanity but all of God’s creation. Sandra L. Richter addresses these issues with rich biblical theology as she brings to light what the Bible has to say about the environment, and the Christians place in caring for it. Richter’s book is a must-read for anyone who takes climate change seriously, and who reads Genesis 1-2 and wants to live out humanity’s vocation with rich theological nuance.
Theology throughout church history (especially within the past five hundred years) has been dominated by white western males. Even as I look upon my bookshelf, or as I scroll through my resources on Logos, I’m hard-pressed to find any resources that I haven’t deliberately gone out and purchased that weren’t from someone who was a different ethnicity from me (apart from the early church fathers of course). Insight, wisdom, and meaning is dynamic and can take on various forms depending on one’s cultural lens. Even from within our borders, growing up as an upper-middle classed white male on the Coast can elicit different interpretations from God’s Word, rather than a marginalised lower classed black or aboriginal child living in the West. Esau McCaulley’s book wonderfully demonstrates how a black (African-American) reading of the Bible is an invaluable tradition for the wider church to tap into as it tackles some of the biggest social concerns of our day. Another must-read for anyone wanting to meaningfully engage with the problem of racism and inclusivism in our modern-day.
It can be incredibly easy to forget that you are not the main character of the biblical story. In fact, the protagonist is God; everyone else is either the damsel in distress or the villain taking them captive and corrupting the world around (this includes you). Furthermore, despite the focus of the Bible on the nation of Israel, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the Bible is concerned about every tribe and nation, not just American or Australia. An oldy (2003) but a goldi, Daniel J, Hayes takes a deep dive into a biblical theology of race and ethnicity as he traces these themes throughout the biblical narrative. His book makes us pause and contemplate our place in redemptive history as we come to terms with our identity and shared humanity in the family of God. Read this book if you care what the Bible has to say about race.
As someone who wrestles with depression and the occasional spout of anxiety, this book could not have come at a better time. Emotions are messy, complicated, and often hard to make sense of. J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith helped me to come to terms with my emotions and realise that they’re something to embrace rather than suppress or run away from. Humans are crazy, and if you’re even half as crazy as me (or more), then read this book and start putting together the puzzle that is you.
Rumi was a 13th-century Sufi mystic, theologian and scholar that has been recognised as one of the greatest poets in history. Despite not being Christian, Rumi has had a profound impact on me this past year in my battle with depression and the world around me. Rumi has a unique way of expressing the inexpressible. Or, as T. S. Elliot once said, “poetry is a raid on the inarticulate.” Here is one particular poem that spoke to me this past year:
I was going to tell you my story
but waves of pain drowned my voice.
I tried to utter a word but my thoughts
became fragile and shattered like glass.
Even the largest ship can capsize
in the stormy sea of love,
let alone my feeble boat,
which shattered to pieces leaving me nothing
but a strip of wood to hold on to.
Small and helpless, rising to heaven
on one wave of love and falling with the next,
I don’t even know if I am or I am not.
When I think I am, I find myself worthless,
when I think I am not, I find my value.
Like my thoughts, I die and rise again each day
so how can i doubt the resurrection?
Tired of hunting for love in this world,
at last, I surrender in the valley of love
and become free.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
I’m almost 30 years old, and it has only been within the last 12 months of my life that I’ve begun the journey of being self-aware and reflective. I’m flawed and sinful. I’m more racist and sexist then I’d like to admit. I care less about our earth than I think I should. I don’t love my neighbours (Mark 12:30-30) as I ought, I don’t bless those who persecute me (Matthew 5:11-12, 44), I’m not a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9) or pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). Nevertheless, I ask you, dear reader, to evaluate yourself as I invite you to consider some of the most significant social justice issues of our time and whether or not you’re working towards the love of others and the glory of God, or against them. In this series, together, we will explore:
I desire that together we prayerfully consider our place in these issues and act in a way that images God and loves others more then we have before. In this post, we will be discussing environmentalism: a theology of land and creation.
Right now, we are facing a human-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisation and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.Sir David Attenborough
That is a scary quote. Environmental experts estimate that at least 95% of the current global warming trend is human contributed. According to the journal of nature, in 2015, the global number of trees has fallen by approximately 45.8% since the onset of human civilisation as we know it. The Royal Society estimates that since preindustrial times, greenhouse gases such as CO2 emissions have increased 40% with more than half of those emissions increasing from the ’70s. Coupled with a 150% increase in methane gases and a 20% increase in nitrous oxide (and the above data), this has lead to increase in the earth’s average surface temperature, rising oceans, and the extinction of wildlife. If we are to take this evidence seriously, then we are destroying the planet. Corporations, governments, and consumers have taken advantage of the world that we live in, and have profited off it without remorse. We have been given Eden, and instead of guarding and keeping it (Gen 2:15), we have used and abused it. What though, does the Scriptures have to say about our earth and the role we play in looking after it as Christians?
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As we read the Bible, if we can be sure of anything, it’s that creation finds itself in the hands of Yahweh, the God of the Bible. “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16 c.f. Romans 11:36). Because all of creation finds its very being in the hands of Yahweh, Christians everywhere can have a certain sense of peace knowing that God is sovereign over history and creation itself (Job 42:2; Proverbs 16:33; Isaiah 45:7-9; Matthew 10:29-31; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11). However, it would be unwise to believe that God is sovereign and to make the illogical conclusion that we’re then to do nothing. For whatever reason, Yahweh has decided to partner with humanity in the looking after of His good created order. From Adam and Eve (Genesis 1-2), Cain and Abel (Genesis 5), Noah (Genesis 6-9), Abraham (Genesis 15), Moses (Exodus 4:16; 7:1), Israel (Exodus 19:6), then finally to Christ and the Church (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:26), God has chosen to partner with humanity in the ruling and care of the earth, and its inhabitants (Genesis 1:28).
God, it seems, didn’t make a good investment. Humanity ruined their chance and couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain (Genesis 3). Instead of ruling over creation by guarding and keeping it, they let evil enter into creation and rule over them. As a consequence, humanity and creation are cursed (Genesis 3:14-19), humanity is exiled from the presence of God (Genesis 3:22-24), and sinful creation groans for redemption and new life (Romans 8:19-23). We pollute the land through bloodshed and war (Numbers 35:33-34). We defile the earth by transgressing God’s law (Isaiah 24:4-6). God gives us guidelines on how to farm that we reject (Exodus 23:10-11). All of this is still true today. Creation coughs and spits as it absorbs the consequences of our polluted behaviour.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in the statistics quoted above. If you are a Christian, it should bother you how we take care of the Garden God has given us. If the Bible calls us to look after the earth, and I believe it does, then we should be doing our part. We should be eating less meat, which leads to less farm land, and it turn, less deforestation. We should be making wise investments in renewable energy. We should be protecting our wild life and biodiversity. We should be thinking of ways we can better distribute resources so everyone has clean water, food, and education. However, the issue goes deeper than merely recycling and buying LED lights for the house (though that’s a great start).
True creation care happens at the very core of the issue, the human heart. Unless people change inwardly, we can’t hope to have an outward effect on the world. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the new covenant supernaturally changes the hearts and minds of the people (Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33). If we want to combat climate change, if we’re going to guard and keep our Garden, we need people transformed by God’s Holy Spirit. Then, we will love others by lifting them out of poverty, fight gender inequality and racism, and partner with God in saving people from their sins. This is simply obeying the command to love others as ourselves. As we love others better, as our hearts are changed, the environment is naturally cared for. Real change starts with the people, not with the policy. The political policy will reflect the people as they are conformed to the image of God’s son (Rom 8:29).
As a longtime professor of biblical studies, a professional exegete, an author, a theologian, and – most importantly – a committed Christian, my objective in this little book [Stewards of Eden] is to demonstrate via the most authoritative voice in the church’s life, that of Scripture, that the stewardship of this planet is not alien or peripheral to the message of the gospel. Rather, our rule of faith and praxis has a great deal to say about this subject. And what the Bible has to say is that the responsible stewardship of creation is not only an expression of the character of our God; it is the role he entrusted to those made in his image.Sandra L. Richter
One of the things I both love and hate about Christianity are the tribes it inevitably creates around theological positions. I love it because there needs to be a sense in which we define what is true and good. I’m not too fond of it because often we settle and become passionate about second and third-order issues at the expense of other people. Tribalism drives me crazy. It makes sense because what you believe is inescapably intertwined with your identity and your worship of God. We reflect what we believe. We worship what we reflect and love. What we love we passionately defend ether for good or for worse.
Here’s the thing. Before we become theologians, before we’re biblically sound, before we know what we believe (if you ever get there right on!) before we keep others at arm’s length because they believe in some different things to us, we must remember that 1. They’re image-bearers like you and 2. You’re a sinner just like them. Do they believe women can be pastors? Don’t forget they’re image-bearers and sinner just like you. Do they think the gifts of the spirit have continued into the modern-day? Remember they’re image-bearers and sinners just like you. Do they struggle with same-sex attraction? Remember they’re image-bearers and sinners just like you. Are they liberal? Are they evolutionists, do they like modern songs more than hymns or vice versa? Are they Reformed, Charismatic, Anglican, in a cult, heretics? Remember they bear the image of God and you are a sinner as well. All of these issues are important and are worth discussing (I love theology remember). However, I don’t believe these discussions and forming opinions and beliefs around these ideas need to necessarily come at the cost of genuine love for neighbour and God. While we naturally want to stick to our own, might I suggest another way? Trans-Tribal Christianity.
Tans-tribal Christianity is a label (ironic I know) I’m throwing out there to define a way of doing Christianity without ostracizing, isolating, or rejecting others within the Faith while still holding to your own beliefs and convictions. You’re going to be naturally drawn to some and not others. Ordinarily, you’ll worship in a church that is tailored more towards your own beliefs and convictions. However, I want to advocate for a more inclusive way of doing Christianity without compromising on “truth.” You might believe in a precise definition of the Gospel, or in the way a Christian should do church on a Sunday. Good. Hold on to that. However, We should have enough love and humility to see the potential wisdom in others. We don’t need to treat others as “second rate Christians” just because they believe the Lord’s Supper should be taken every week rather than once a month. We shouldn’t turn our nose up to people who see the Bible and the world a little bit different to us. Instead of immediately defending yourself and your position begin with the question “what can they teach me?” You might be surprised at what you learn.
Full disclosure. Some of this comes from a reflection of my own experience. I’m an evolutionary creationist. I have a literary approach to Scripture. On occasion I see myself agreeing with liberal Christians over conservative ones. I read scholars who in some circles are seen as edgy and semi liberal, where in others they’re orthodox. I have a Reformed ecclesiology, but I’m more Arminian soteriologically. I’m a mixed bag, and it feels like I never really fit in anywhere. Yet, I have friends from all over the spectrum, and it’s got me thinking. What if we can aim for a little more unity in our theological diversity? What if we can sit down and learn more openly from one another. I’m not suggesting we trade theological accuracy for unity. I’m suggesting we aim for a loving, humble unity – a friendship with others that doesn’t need to compromise our convictions. Friendship, understanding, and empathy with others who are different doesn’t need to come at the cost of our own doctrine. So here are some steps you could take the begin this journey (if you haven’t already):
Christians are obsessed with the idea of salvation. Fair enough, salvation is essential. The problem, however, is that everyone has different opinions on what salvation actually is. Different traditions tend to emphasise and even make exclusive claims to their own definition of salvation at the expense of others. So in this series, I aim to explore the different facets of salvation so that we may better understand what it really is. Here are the salvific themes we’re going to explore:
Each motif plays a pivotal role in demonstrating what salvation is, how it is achieved and received, and how it is lived out by the believer. In this post, we will be exploring recapitulation.
The doctrine of recapitulation is just a fancy term to describe the idea that Jesus reenacted the drama of humanity. That is, humanity in the person of Adam was supposed to not “eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” but in Genesis 3, they failed the test. Jesus, on the other hand, did pass the test, and every test subsequent perfectly. Joshua M. McNall explains recapitulation to be the foundation in which every other atonement theory makes sense.
Like every biblical theme, we see the origins of recapitulation on the first few pages of the Bible. In Genesis 1:26, we find that God created humanity in His image (the imago Dei). In previous posts, I’ve already explored what the image of God is, in short, it is a two-fold reality. First, the image is something ontological. In other words, the image is something that is part and parcel of human nature. Second, the image is expressed functionally through the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” and to work and keep the Garden (Genesis 1:28, 2:13). The problem?
In Adam, all of humanity has now become a corrupted version of what God had intended. We’ve failed to have dominion and to keep and work the Earth. This failure becomes apparent in Genesis 3, where sin in the form of the serpent rules over humanity instead of humanity ruling over it. Also, instead of guarding and keeping the Garden (Gen 2:15), Adam and Eve allow it to be invaded by the serpent to tempt them into idolatry. Mainly, Adam and Eve failed at being human and imaging God. In Adam, we have all failed the test, and we’ve all failed to be human. However, God doesn’t just give up on humanity. Instead, God is about restoring and renewing humankind back to its original purposes, and in fact, a more excellent state (complete unity with God). So then, let us trace recapitulation through the rest of the Bible:
My final thoughts. As we read the Scriptures, we’re supposed to see something of ourselves in them. We aren’t the heroes of the story. Far from it. We are, however, like Abraham, Moses and David. We’re all in some way or another, failures at being genuinely human. We all fail at loving others as ourselves and God with our entire beings. You could be a king like David, or a nobody like Abraham in a God-forsaken city, or a priest like Moses who talks to God like you would a friend, none of us are who we are meant to be. We all suck at imaging God. That’s ok. There is one who’s greater than us who is truly human. Who in His life took up the entire history of humanity, laid it upon Himself, and died for it. Now Jesus can make you human again, but it isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
The essence of being human isn’t seeking perfection, but now, it’s seeking Christ.
Genesis 1 is one of the most loved and hotly debated chapters in all the Scriptures. Probably the most famous debate has been around issues like the age of the earth. Young Earth Creationists use Genesis 1 (and of course other passages) to argue for the existence of a Creator and even go so far as to use it as a model or paradigm for their scientific method. Others interpret Genesis exclusively as mythology, seeing no authority in the text whatsoever and understanding it as an ancient Jewish origins account of the world. These people think that in light of modern science, Genesis 1 has nothing to offer its contemporary readers. Two very different understandings of the text lead to two very different ways in which you can understand the world and God. I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
In past blogs in this series, I have categorised Genesis 1-11 as mythological theological history. What I don’t mean by this is that the events in Genesis 1-11 didn’t happen. Instead, the primary point of these chapters is the divine truths the author is presenting. Mythological doesn’t mean fiction in this context. The mythological genre can be better understood as parabolic or allegorical. The events in Genesis 1-11 happened. However, the events recounted in the narrative bring out a theological point rather than a detailed account of the past. As Tremper Longman III says, “The book of Genesis is not a history-like story but rather a story-like history.” After we explore the literary genre of the chapter, we need to ask ourselves some critical questions.
As we have already seen in the first verse, the Lord God is the creator, of all that exists. What we see in the rest of the chapter is that God places importance on an ordered and ruled creation rather than merely leaving it to its own devices. Unlike the other gods of the time, Yahweh is deeply concerned with every piece of His creation as He places everything in the right place and humanity has the crowning jewel.
The seven days of creation in Genesis 1 are not a scientific account of how God created the world, rather, it is a literary device standard in the Ancient Near Eastern world to describe God who is king ordering a cosmic temple to settle in and rule over. Another way to explain it is that Genesis 1 is not about the material origins of the universe. Instead, it is about the function of the things that exist with God at its centre. As John Walton explains:
I believe that people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system.
Beginning in a state of chaos, in days 1-3 light, darkness, the sky, the earth, and the sea are all formed, separated and ordered. In days 4-6, God fills these spaces with the Sun, moon, stars, animals and humans to rule over them. In other words, God gives them a function. On day 6, humans are made in the image of God. The image or the imago Dei is another debated issue, but two things are clear in the text. The imago Dei is an ontological reality that is reflected in the function of flourishing humanity. They’re to have dominion over the earth (God’s cosmic temple), they’re to multiply and fill the earth.
On day 7 (the Hebrew number for completion – a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible), after having ordered His cosmic temple, Yahweh rests. The word rest here is important because as the story of the Bible progresses, it takes on developed meaning. Here, though, the word rest, according to John Walton, has royal and divine significance. It’s not merely God stopping or ceasing from His work (though that’s, of course, the apparent meaning of the text), instead, it’s God sort of sitting on the throne after completing the structuring of His cosmic temple where He now dwells.
In Genesis 1, the scene is set, the cosmic temple has been ordered, and God rules amid humanity and His good creation. Good though creation may be, it isn’t perfect. There is untapped potential that God wants humanity to cultivate and produce. This is the functional role that humanity is supposed to live in. Humanity in the world, God’s cosmic temple, is supposed to act as proto-priests as they tend to His good creation in harmony and peace. Genesis 2 fleshes this out more where Adam and Eve are to keep guard the Garden which is designated roles given to priests in Israel later in the Biblical story. For now, however, we see both male and female, and indeed all of creation was meant to live in an ordered world where God dwells and reigns from.
So what do these observations say about God? God is a divine king who wants to dwell imminently with His good creation as opposed to the ANE common understanding that gods were separate tyrannical rulers. What does this say about creation? That all of creation is good but has the capacity for more as it’s given to humanity to cultivate and rule over. What does this say about humanity? That humanity as God’s vice-regents, they were to live in harmony with God’s and the created order as they reign alongside God over the rest of creation and cultivate it.
As John Walton summarises
The key features of this interpretation include most prominently: The Hebrew word translated “create” (bārāʾ) concerns assigning functions. The account begins in verse 2 with no functions (rather than with no material). The first three days pertain to the three major functions of life: time, weather, food. Days four to six pertain to functionaries in the cosmos being assigned their roles and spheres. The recurring comment that “it is good” refers to functionality (relative to people). The temple aspect is evident in the climax of day seven when God rests—an activity in a temple. The account can then be seen to be a seven-day inauguration of the cosmic temple, setting up its functions for the benefit of humanity, with God dwelling in relationship with his creatures.
“The man here tells us a truth that is awful – we baptise ourselves with names that are far from the only truth about ourselves.”
One of life’s biggest question’s is who are we? What does it mean to be human? What is our purpose in life? What is the meaning to all of this? Essential questions, unfortunately, not quickly answered.
The Scriptures tell a story about us that starts on the first few pages of this ancient book. Humanity is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), from the dust of the ground, from the breath of God’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7), and from one another (Genesis 2:22). Humans were created to be like God and relate to Him by ruling over God’s creation. They were created with a connection to the earth as they were to cultivate and protect it (Genesis 2:15). Finally, they were created from one another as it is not good for anyone to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In Genesis 3, we became something less than human as we failed to be like God, and we allowed the serpent to rule over us. We became less than human as we failed to protect the Garden from evil. Then, we failed in our relationship with one another as we immediately turned to blame one another for our mistakes.
At the Fall, something happened to humanity where we lost our identity. We don’t know who we are anymore, we don’t really understand what we’re meant to be doing because of that loss of self. So in an attempt to recover our lost sense of self, we grab anything that seems to offer an answer to the big question “who are we?” A lot of us, at least in the West, have bought into the modern cultural meta-narratives of capitalism, scientism, gender equality, and probably dozens of ideas I can’t really think of right now. Why? Because even those these in and of themselves aren’t bad, these things help us make sense of who we are yet never really give us the complete picture. Each little story or philosophical idea makes us feel safe for just a fleeting moment. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much science discovers, whether we find peace in the Middle East or if climate change is solved tomorrow, we’d still end up feeling sense of restlessness and loss of who we’re truly meant to be.
The Bible tells us that because we’re incapable of being human ourselves, God has to send someone who can fix that problem for us. Jesus is the perfect human. He was truly human in that He was completely like God (Colossians 1:15) He ruled over the serpent and evil (Matthew 4:1-11). He loved God and others as Himself (Matthew 22:36-40), even His enemies (Matthew 5:44). So as we’re united to Christ by His Spirit, we start to recover a real sense of who we’re all meant to be (I’m thinking the beatitudes here as an example). It’s only in Jesus that we truly begin our journey on becoming truly human, which will culminate in glory.
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
– Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1. 177
Yoda, Gandalf, Rafiki, Dumbeldore, Morpheus, Professor X are among some of the greatest and wisest of characters throughout fictional cinematic history. We immediately gravitate towards these characters because they guide the hero (us) along the path, without them, there would be no happy ending. We love them because each one of us craves to either have someone like that in our lives or because we wish we were like that ourselves. How great would it be to be as wise as these characters? Even within our own history, we envy those who have gone before who seemed glimpse into the world a little then ourselves. Buddha, Muhammed, The Dhali Lama, The Pope, Jesus Himself. Each one (whether you’re religious or not) a guru and a sage in their own right. Each one has changed the course of history and that of their people in profound ways we’re only still beginning to comprehend. If only we had just a slice of their wisdom and insight into the world, maybe we’d have inner peace, perhaps we’d have it all together like they did. Maybe.
Unfortunately, wisdom has a high price. Nothing in this world is free, and wisdom is no exception to this rule. Whether it was fighting a Balrog, fighting in the clone wars and being overthrown by the Sith or being on the constant lookout for the One, Yoda, Gandalf, Rafiki, Dumbeldore, Morpheus, Professor X all went through their own trials to gain the wisdom and knowledge they had. Gautama (the actual name for the Buddha) had to observe and experience suffering before realising it had to be overcome and thus becoming enlightened. Even the Dhali Lama, how many lives (it’s a Hindu thing) has he gone through to accumulate the wisdom he aims to share with the world? Then there’s Jesus Christ Himself the Son of God, the greatest of them all, yet even He suffered and died so that His saving Gospel could go forth into every nation, tribe and tongue. Wisdom comes at a high cost, and it is pain, trials and tribulation.
Not only does it take pain and trials to acquire wisdom, but it takes a vast amount of time to accumulate it. There’s a reason why age is associated with wisdom. It is because those who are older have gone through the pain, they’ve experienced the vanity of this world and grasp what it is that makes the world tick. This is tied to their experiences. No amount of sitting under a tree or inspirational mountain hikes or #worshipsessions will give you wisdom, it’s something God teaches you as you walk gradually through the highs and lows of life. But it does begin with God (Prov 2:6), and as the Spirit carries you along the rough seas of life, you must always keep in mind that each vouge is a lesson that the Master has to bestow to you. We must have ears to hear and eyes to see and open hearts to receive.
The Epistle of James is a timely piece to read and meditate on. The main theological theme of James is wisdom and faith during trials and tribulations. James encourages us to ask God for wisdom. For He will give it liberally without hesitation (James 1:5). That the sort of wisdom God gives is “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). That these good fruits are produced through patience and a lifetime of learning through trials (James 5:7-12).
For me, I am learning to embrace and cherish each moment that is painful and hard (and there’s been a few of them lately) as I try to remember that God is working this out for my good (Romans 8:28), that He is sovereign over history which includes my life (Genesis 5:20; Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 16:9), and that out of He will conform me to the likeness of His Son Jesus (Romans 8:29) who is wise beyond measure (Colossians 2:3).
“Time, as it grows old, teaches all things.”
A friend of mine once said the “Gospel” we preach today is the reason why so many people are at a loss with the Church. It’s the reason why so many of us are struggling with depression, anxiety, gender identity, and why once-famous Christians are walking away. Maybe. I think everyone believes that their “Gospel” is the right one. I think everyone thinks that if everyone just got their “Gospel” then the world would change and BAM! Jesus comes back and all is well with the world. The problem with thinking like that is that even in the midst of biblical Christianity, the Apostles had a lot of crap to deal with. Life didn’t get better for them, it got worse. They had hope in Jesus, but in their immediate set of circumstances, the Church was killed and ostracised for being a cult and for rebelling against the State (the Roman Empire). I’m now half a world away and two thousand years into the future. There might not be a Roman Empire per se, but mental health issues, social and educational persecution, the prosperity Gospel, liberalism and a swath of issues are on the front lines of the Church’s Western Front. Principalities and powers indeed.
Not only that but more than ever in the history of humanity information and in turn philosophical and scientific theories are spreading like wildfire. You can walk into one room full of ten people with vastly different perspectives and get ten different definitions on the meaning of life and how it should be lived. Even among Christians, I’ve rarely met any two people who could agree on what it even means to be Christian. We all say yes and amen at “love thy neighbour,” but what it actually means to do that looks completely different to whoever it is your talking to.
Personally, as I venture down the black hole that is theological and philosophical thought, I find myself, in my strive for wisdom, in a constant inner war between two primary concepts; meaninglessness and purpose (found in Christ). I find myself very much at home with the existentialist or even the authour of Ecclesiastes. There is a realness to life I think we all try to avoid. We all wear smiles as we attempt to turn that frown upside down. It’s socially awkward to admit that life sucks. “How are you?” “Yeah, good” or “not bad” is our autoresponse. Life slaps us in the face when a loved one dies or a tragedy befalls us. Suddenly it’s ok to cry, to mourn and to hurt… yet… every one of us does that every day. There’s a beautiful dread to life that we hate admitting exists. If it weren’t for the Gospel then where would I, or any of us be?
Here’s my point to all of this. Human, get good at talking about the pain and the hurt and the despair. These are real things forming (perhaps even unwittingly) an identity inside every one of us. They take root, they form us and they make us into who we are behind the masks we all wear. Then thrust the Gospel of life into their hearts. Peel back the layers of chaos and bring the shalom each one us truly aches for. Life is beautiful but it can be more in Jesus the Messiah.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (Galatians 5:14; Romans 12:9, 15; John 13:35).
Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic. – W. H. Auden
Quick note: I’ve skipped a few sections in this series, but I felt compelled to write about this sooner rather than later. So like Starwars, some of these posts will be out of order. Thanks 🙂
There is nothing more sobering than the death of a loved one. When someone dies, it is the perfect time to deeply reflect on the value of life, purpose and destiny. Why does death exist? Why do we all have to die? After we die, then what? Important questions and the answer largely depends on what you believe about humanity, God and the Bible. It’s taken me a while to write this post because I’m constantly challenged on my perspective of death. Growing up, death was a reasonably foreign idea. I had a cat that died, but apart from that, I didn’t really have any relationship with it. It probably wasn’t until my dad died just a few years ago that the reality of death kicked in.
In the Bible, the first place we come across the idea of death is in Genesis 2:15-17. Here God has placed mankind in Eden to work and keep it. Then God tells them that they could eat from any tree in the Garden except the tree of knowledge of good evil; otherwise, they’ll die. What an odd story. Eat fruit from any tree except this one, or you’ll die? Is the fruit poisoned? Does God really like this one particular tree? Are they allergic to its fruit? What’s going on here? A careful reflection on the story might lead one to consider that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. First, there are two main trees in the Garden here (Gen 2:9). The tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Don’t eat from one, but you can from the other. In the story, these trees were representative of important and more profound realities. Wisdom/knowledge and eternal life. Let’s focus on the tree of life for a moment.
In the ancient near eastern world, these kinds of trees are associated with youth and the reversal of age. In the Gilgamesh Epic, there is a plant called “old man becomes young” that grows at the bottom of the cosmic river. In the rest of the Bible, the tree of life is portrayed as offering life and new life (Prov 3:16-18; 15-4), and can also be found in Revelation (2:7; 22:1-2, 14-15, 18-19) where the tree of life and the river of life are associated. For me, this sheds a bit of light on the meaning of what’s going on here in Genesis. A new creation is happening in Revelation. Renewal of the earth and the removal of sin and corruption where creation is finally united to God in the complete sense of that phrase. In Genesis 2, something similar is happening, unity, flourishing and absence of sin.
Furthermore, the mention of rivers in Genesis 2 flowing out from the Garden coupled with the tree of life says to me that this is where all life and goodness comes from, this Garden, this sacred space. Except for one crucial difference. In Revelation, there is no tree of knowledge, there is no presence of sin.
Now for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The name given to the tree is counter-intuitive. Knowledge is good, right? Isn’t gaining the ability to discern between good and evil something we should have? Obviously, something more is at play in the story. First, it’s important to note that the Hebrew word for evil here is different from the way we use it today. Western philosophy is loaded with a certain ethical definition that isn’t necessarily in the original Hebrew word. It’s probably better to understand the word evil as bad or not good for you. For example, the word can also be used of things God does (Jdg 9:56-57; 2 Sam 12:11; Isa 45:7). However, we know that God is good and that in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), so the word doesn’t always have to have the same philosophical definition that we have for it. I suppose my point is; this tree represents knowledge to distinguish between what’s bad for us and what’s good for us in the world. We call this wisdom. Essentially, eating from the tree meant choosing to live by our own wisdom (this is the definition Genesis 3 gives for defining to be like a god), rather than living by Yahweh’s wisdom. Let’s just stop for a moment. It’s not like Adam and Eve didn’t know what the right thing to do was. They certainly believed that they were going to die if they ate the fruit from the tree. It wasn’t until the serpent tempted them that they decided to become gods themselves.
So now to death. God said, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). The thing is Adam and Eve don’t die when they ate the fruit, at least not in the conventional sense. Adam lived until he was 930 years old. He had a long full life, longer than ours. So then death needs to be understood as something more than simply not existing. First, the plain meaning of death here does incorporate physical death. Adam might live until 930 years old, but he does end up dying, and I believe that’s something that’s not apart of God’s good creation (Gen 3:19; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:55). However, the kind of death emphasised here is a relational separation from God who is the source of all light and life (Gen 2:7; Job 33:4; Neh 9:6; John 1:3-4; 1 Tim 6:13). Like I argue in my post on Genesis 1, Moses’ audience and the later Exilic audience would have understood Genesis 2-3 as their current experience, being separated from the land, sacred space, and God’s presence as a result of human rebellion.
To conclude, death is two-fold. It is separation from God’s presence and the ceasing of one’s physical existence. One inevitably leads to the other. Because Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden (God’s presence), so was all of humanity in Adam. Because the inevitable consequence of rebellion and separation is physical death, all shall die. But there is good news. God makes all things (including death) work together for the good of those who love Him, according to His purposes (Rom 8:28). Though we all may die, those who turn to Christ will actually find their life (Matt 10:39, 16:25; Mark 8:35; John 11:25-26), and will take part in His resurrection (John 6:39; Rom 6; 1 Cor 6:14, 15:20-23; 1 Thess 4:16; Rev 21:1-5). We’re all exiles now (1 Peter 1:1-2), but one day, those who have bowed the knee to Christ and given Him their allegiance will be raised up on the last day and rule alongside Him in a New Heaven and a New Earth in perfect harmony with God, one another, and creation. So let’s choose to eat from the tree of life (God’s wisdom), rather than choosing to decide what’s good for us. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God indeed (Heb 10:31).