Saturday, March 14, 2020

If We Would Just Catch Our Breath

It has been broadly accepted that mankind is nothing more than a highly evolved animal, not really any different from any other living thing out there. No other animal is even remotely like us in the ability to reason, or to will, or to communicate, or to abstract, but according to the modern conception that is only a matter of degree rather than substance. I don't believe that, but then, what makes man so special in my view? In the early chapters of Genesis, we are told exactly what that is and especially with regard to all other life.

The creation account in the beginning of Genesis is really an elucidation of God’s determination to make mankind in his image. The creation of the universe itself and all other lifeforms is treated as the backdrop to that ultimate aim. No more explanation than “and God said…and God saw that it was good” is offered for all of those creations, but for mankind a bit more needed to be said. The thrust is that mankind is unique, special among God's creations with something nothing else in all the physical world has.

Mankind was made in the image of God, which means they are a likeness resembling God. God is non-corporeal and outside of the created order (John 4:241 Timothy 1:17), which means that man’s resemblance to God is not physical but something else. Physically, mankind is much like anything else that is alive and is separated by mere degree from all else. However, nothing else is like mankind in those areas of divergence noted above and that is where the image of God shines forth. God is the only thing other than man (and angels) that shares those qualities.

Presumptively, God fashioned man, physically, from the same material he had used to make other creatures. Whereas they were brought forth from the earth by a mere word, mankind was formed [Hebrew: yatsar] by God in the manner of a potter and then directly breathed into by God which granted man soulish life. Although later in the creation account, that word (formed) was applied generally to all the creatures God had made, I find it interesting that in dealing with the detail of creation, a clear difference in how that played out is specified.

Whereas a general, creative word was sufficient for every other creature, with man God got his hands dirty and infused his own breath into Adam. Every creature had living being [Hebrew: nephesh chayyah, the animation of living being] granted by God, but had so without any reference to breath breathed into it by God himself. For creatures, God merely said, "Let the earth bring forth..." For man, God took dust in his hand and formed the creature, then breathed out of himself into man's nostrils the breath of life.

What is important about this distinction, it seems to me, is that the quality that makes mankind’s living souls uniquely from God is also the means by which God’s image was uniquely communicated to man. We are in God's image, not just because we are like God descriptively, but because we came directly from God substantively. We are, in essence, breath from God. Human beings truly are the offspring of God.

As wonderful as that is, it has a drawback--it means we last forever, just like God. God is eternal and the breath that came out of God and was put into man (and made him a living soul) lasts forever too. Therefore, people never cease to exist, their soul is eternal. Ultimately, body and soul will brought together, as at first, and permanently assigned to their place of eternal abiding. So the only question about our future existence is not if we will, but where we will and under what conditions.

We certainly can't be destroyed, anymore than God can!

Most of us are only all too aware of our need for the redemption our broken, dying bodies: physical death, and what leads up to it, is enough to get that message across. Thankfully, we have the necessary vicarious sacrifice in the death of Christ and his victorious resurrection from the dead for that, provided we place our trust in him. But what is the more essential need included in the mix is the redemption of our eternal souls, those whisps of the very breath of God which last forever. Everlasting life is in our hands from the scarred hands of Christ, if we would just pause in faith and catch our breath.

Monday, March 9, 2020

A Christian Worldview: What Should We Do?

Solomon was an interesting figure. Blessed with incredible wisdom, intelligence, wealth and power, he decided to test drive life by his own wits. He set out to figure it all out and experience everything he could. He studied everything he could, sought out every kind of pleasure he could find, built great projects, amassed fantastic wealth, and at every turn felt nothing but emptiness. Famously, he decried, "All is vanity and a striving after the wind," in despair at the discovery.

He looked at the people around him and saw they experienced the same thing—emptiness. The Hebrew word translated emptiness or vanity throughout Ecclesiastes (hebel) literally refers to breath or vapor. Quite accurately it conveys the fleeting quality of thing that seemed to be there but then wasn't. For Solomon, after all of his efforts, achievements and experiences, life boiled down to a merciless sentence with emptiness at every comma and a period ending it all in the suddenness of death.

A very dour perspective, to be sure, but all that matters is whether or not it’s true. 

Despite the endless despair over the emptiness of human existence cited throughout Ecclesiastes, a positive conclusion came at the end. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,” Solomon averred. Now that is a perspective we can live with! In very practical terms it makes living through so much meaninglessness meaningful with the added benefit that it's easy to remember.

"Recognize God, respect him as your creator, live life in regard to him" is how I would state it. That may seem very “Old Testamenty” from a New Testament vantage, but it translates readily into a Christian worldview. For Christians, life revolves around recognizing Christ as God in the flesh, respecting him as Savior, and living in regard to him. What Solomon learned the hard way Christians can adopt by faith, and without all the bumps and bruises along the way that come when one of trusts in oneself.

Honestly, there is only thing in life that isn’t wasting away, that crosses the threshold of death and remains in eternity--our relationship with Christ. This is the only thing of worth we will ever have in this life and the only thing we can improve upon and have stand the test of time. It certainly is the only thing we can take with us. All the things that humans treasure and labor for and try to preserve and protect from the savages of time (and savages themselves) matters not a whit in the end.

Only what we have with Christ matters!

The only thing of any real value in life is knowing God on friendly terms. So why are people, supposedly with a Christian worldview, working at anything else? By not developing this kind of Christian worldview and living by it, believers end up living in a tug of war between the flesh and faith, between the world and the Spirit. They live defeated, worldly, empty lives and feel uncertainty about their place in the end. It doesn't have to be this way, vanity is not unavoidable.

Living with Jesus eyes is the only way to live at all. Anything else is a waste of time.

So put first things first. Above all, know God, not as a precept or a theory, but personally, as a constant companion that you want to be with. Then, simply go where he goes, do what he does, and say what he says. Live with life revolving around Jesus. If we don’t put the most important thing first, in the end, we’ll have nothing. That would be the vanity of all vanities.

What went before...

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Christian Worldview: Where Are We Going?

In the last post I mentioned that the antidote to the place we find ourselves in is Jesus Christ, but what is it that gets people to come to Christ the antidote? Certainly, God is the most fundamental answer, but if God's effort was all that was needed to get people to the antidote, God would bring everyone to Christ and everyone would be saved. But that is not what happens--it does not comport with reality scripturally or materially. Whatever God does in the hearts of people to draw them to Christ has to be coupled with something that is not up to God to accomplish, otherwise, everyone would come to Christ and be saved.

That something is faith.

It takes faith in the antidote to actually avail oneself of the antidote. Faith in Christ like this is impossible for the depraved mind we spoke of in the last post to express, but it is also impossible for faith like this to be imposed. It wouldn't be faith in that case, it would be something more akin to instinct. So two elements need to come together to produce the faith connection to Christ: God, the Spirit empowering; and a willful reaction to trust God from the human heart. Like epoxy, two elements mix together to make a bond that works.

The old adage says that one can lead a horse to water but he can't make him drink. The Holy Spirit convicts, draws, we might go so far as to say woos the sinful human, but the Holy Spirit cannot and does not believe for him. Enabled by the Spirit's action, we must believe for ourselves. If we won't, God will not do it for us, and we won't be saved. The snag in all this, it seems to me, is that big word, REPENTANCE.

Repentance means to change one's mind, to realize after determining a course, that it was not the right course, and so changing directions. We tend to fixate on the small population of our own misdeeds when thinking about repentance, but that doesn't really get to the root of things. To repent of the thing that really ails us we have to go back to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. True repentance lies in undoing what Adam and Eve did.

Adam and Eve thought their judgment was as good as God's, we have to unthink that. Adam and Eve saw themselves on par with God as to determination of the what and wheres of life, we must "unsee" ourselves as like that. The thing Adam and Eve despaired over with regard to God, we must repair by the application of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. Simply put, we must stop trusting ourselves and start trusting God.

Pop psychology pushes people to trust in themselves, and seems to assume that people don't do so enough. As far as I have seen, most people have “trust-in-self” in spades. They really aren’t interested in trusting God, but they'll trust in their self, independent of God, even if their lives are falling apart. Pride? Perhaps. Yet, so many of those same folks still want eternal paradise, they're just not so hot on the whole overbearing God thing.

But if one doesn't love and trust God, one wouldn't like heaven.

An all-expense-paid trip to Disney World would be totally unappealing to me. I’m not interested in Disney characters, I don’t like standing in line, I have no interest in animatronics and I’m much more interested in experiencing a thrill in movement than watching a cheesy production. To top it off, I hate Florida! The heat and humidity are as close to hell as I hope ever to be. Why would I ever want to go to Disney World, even if offered an all-expense paid trip?

A similar question could be posed rhetorically to some folks regarding heaven. Heaven is all about God. Everyone there trusts him implicitly, everything there serves him unquestioningly, everyone there is fascinated by him, everything there is perfectly aligned to his will (and the people and angels there, willingly so). You see, everyone there is conformed to the image of Christ. For some folks that holds no allure. They may not want to go to hell, but they really don’t want to have life revolve around Jesus either!

The point of this life is not to get an all-expense-paid trip out of hell, nor to have life cease working against us (as in reversing the curse here and now). The point is changing our mind about God and ourselves, about realizing our need for Jesus and embracing a framework for living that revolves around trusting God rather than ourselves. A Christian worldview arises out of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ.

So where are we heading as Christians?

Toward Christ in trust. Toward knowing Christ as Lord. Toward becoming just like him. A Christian worldview sees life revolving around God. Anything less is a fallacy. So turn to him today. Follow him tomorrow. Be at it next week. Make it the principle that governs all your living. That's where a Christian needs to be going.

How then shall we live...