Monday, 30 April 2007

The Story of the Universe

I will attempt to tell this story as I know it.
In the beginning, there was God.
This word - God - has been bandied about for centuries; millennia, if you want to talk cross-linguistically. Therefore, I shall be a good essayist and defiine my terms. By God I mean the highest and first that was and is. The Eternal One. The Most High. The absolute Source of all Good - Love, Light, Truth. He who fills all, and is in all.
I don't know what was the situation that made the time (a term utterly unknown in eternity, but I'll use it here for ease of understanding) ripe for love to be multiplied and reflected. Perhaps it was the challenging of God's authority by one of the highest beings in his service - an angel of light. That angel sought personal glory and power rather than Love. Maybe God decided military might, power, and authority were not the means by which he would ensure the reign of love and goodness in the universe. It could be that he decided to teach his remaining angels by an object lesson instead of a display of raw power.
In any case, he embarked on a very dangerous plan - dangerous because it did not immediately crush evil, but instead allowed Love's antagonist unprecedented power as a means of demonstrating its inherent inferiority to good; to love.
God created suns and stars that demonstrate, by contrast, the difference between moral light and darkness. He created a plethora of green, growing things that testified to the power of life. He created animals, through whom his warm compassion and wildness were displayed. But then, God created something quite unlike all that had been created before. He created humanity.
Humans were different from all the rest of creation in this: while all the rest of creation by its very nature glorified God, the Source of Love, humans God created like himself - personal, able to participate in that greatest of all things: Love. This was God's most glorious and dangerous invention. It was dangerous, because humanity was given the ability to choose. They could choose evil - selfishness - instead of love. Humans were vastly different from angels - they were nearly gods themselves. Such was the power and the glory God created in them that even he would not be able to take it back. If they chose evil, it would gain great power in the universe. But they could choose to love as no other creature could.
If humanity chose evil, it would have power in them. If they chose God, they would rule by and be ruled by love. Love would be reflected in myriad lives and thoughts and personalities, each a little different; each mirroring Light from a different angle.
Alas! Self, or the personal-ness like his own that God had given humanity, was used to trap the first man and woman into choosing evil rather than God. Evil gained the right to live among humans. Its power grew in the universe and destructive forces were allowed power from God throughout the earth. It seemed as though Love's rule was on the wane. Had God miscalculated?
God had a plan that was going to answer the challenge of selfishness. It was a plan that would cost him in the deepest way possible - causing him to take on pain. What is the most devastating pain for Love?
Being the one to give pain.
God himself, in Jesus, stepped out of eternity and into time. He limited himself as he had never done before. He took on a human body and submitted himself to all the indignities of living in a world under the rule of evil. For the first time, he knew weakness - hunger and thirst and tiredness. Finally, he submitted himself fully to that last triumph of selfishness - death.
All of eternity stood breathless at the sight. God had been challenged, and now mocked.
But just as a choice had sold God's creation out of his hand, a choice had been made by one of humanity's own - Jesus - to redeem it back to God. Each one would, by a choice, decide his master. God could not force humanity to choose love. But he had demonstrated its beauty and power over selfishness at the greatest price he could pay.
The angels looking on, were learning about Love - its cost, its value. They were also learning the emptiness of selfishness' golden promise. The challenge had been met, fully. Oh, there were battle scars (there always are!). Jesus would bear the marks of his sacrifice forever. Never again would he be Spirit alone.
The days and the weeks measure the passage of time, and many moons have waxed and waned, and still we humans go stepping, stepping through time's portals, tricked into pleasing self instead of Love and blinded by the evil that grows more powerful as we choose it. Still the angels watch and wonder at their God.
But time has an end, and one day God will decide that the power of love has been fully demonstrated. Choice will be no longer a tender shoot, pushing its way up. At the last, it will die or blossom, and the reign of love throughout the universe will be once again triumphantly complete, and richer than ever before, multiplied and glorified and reflected from millions of human souls who have chosen not only Love, but to love.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Not what we expect

Why is God so often not what we expect? He is so elusive, so unwilling to be neatly wrapped and tied into our smug understanding.
Take Simon's experience for instance. Simon was, I expect, a curious fellow. He had heard about Jesus, who was healing people and performing miracles. Not entirely respectable, mind you - rumor had it this Jesus was spending time with tax collectors and other, ahem, sinners. He was travelling about doing - well, other than the miracles, who knew what? Was he a prophet? A fake? A magician? An attention-seeker? Anyway, it would be good to be on the safe side - he might be a prophet after all. Weren't all of Israel's prophets a little eccentric?
Simon was no dimbulb. He was going to find out about Jesus. He was going to solve the riddle. First, he'd invite Jesus to dinner.
Jesus came to Simon's house. Simon was determined not to give him any honor until he had proven himself worthy. Simon was, after all, respected in his town, and a Pharisee. He didn't welcome his guest with any undue warmth. He didn't even have Jesus' feet washed, a customary gesture showing welcome and willing service.
But a woman in that place heard where Jesus was, and she came to Simon's house. She brought an alabaster box full of precious ointment. She didn't hesitate to welcome him. She wept, washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Then she broke the alabaster and poured the ointment over Jesus' feet.
Simon thought he had caught a fraud. He was almost embarrassed for Jesus.
Surely if Jesus were a prophet, he would know that this woman was an unsavoury character - she had a reputation throughout the town. Surely, if he knew her sin, he would never let her touch his feet!
"Simon, I have something to tell you," Jesus said. He had seen his host's heart as well as the woman's. "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
Simon had been trying to judge Jesus by his own sense of right and wrong. But his sense was too dull; too narrow.
So it is with us. We think, "if God is who is says he is, then he will..." We should examine our intelligence, our understanding of such things. If we want to judge God, then we must be sure that the criteria we have established are valid.
God is apt to surprise us, just when we think we've got him figured out.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Who Do You Say That I Am?

How is God to be known amid the babble of modern Christianity's myriad voices? Everyone's got a different opinion, and they're all on a mission to make that opinion orthodoxy. How ever does God expect us to know which one to listen to? Should we record them all and go through them systematically, run statistical tests and calculate probability? Should we deliver them all to the great philosophers, scientists, historians of our age, and trust that they will give us the right answer? Should we throw up our hands and "just have faith" in whatever we costs us the least, pleases us the best, or is easiest to explain? Would it have been easier if we could have met Jesus while he was on earth? Did Jesus really expect that the average Jew in his day would be reading the old scriptures and from them have a full understanding of the prophecies contained in the Tanakh? How did the disciples know that Jesus was their Messiah?
What does God expect?
Peter was a fisherman. Now, I don't want to presume - he might have been shipped off to university in Rome or Athens by his parents and rebelled by buying a fishing boat. He might have studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel, as Paul was supposed to have, but it's likely he was just a fisherman. Little knowledge of theology, history, or prophecy. And yet, when Jesus came along and said, "Follow me," Peter put down the nets and went. What made him do it? Was he just naive? Easily led?
Matthew tells us.
"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'
They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'
'But what about you?' he asked, 'Who do you say that I am?'
'Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'
Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven.'"
(Matthew 16:13 - 17)
Doesn't mean nobody told Peter. Doesn't mean he couldn't have learned something from the stars, as the wise men did, or from an angel, as the shepherds did, or from the Tanakh, as Paul did. But he didn't know for himself, for sure, from those things. God had to reveal himself.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Thoughts from "Toward Jerusalem"

O Thou who art my quietness, my deep repose,
My rest from strife of tongues, my holy hill -
Fair is Thy pavilion, where I hold me still...

- Amy Carmichael

I love Amy Carmichael. However different we may be in temperament and experience, she is a woman who knows my God.

Monday, 16 April 2007

God Himself

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." Revelation 21: 1-3

How I love that word - himself! It's so personal. The God of the Revelation is great, high, and above all - holy. But John records that God - himself - will come and be with men and women. He is not going to be their superhero, not their sugardaddy, not their good-luck piece, not their grandfather. He is going to live with them and be their God. Who can imagine living with God? Who can imagine being pure enough to want to live with God?
Something deep down in my soul is homesick for that God. I miss him. I was meant to be with him.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

God at my door...

I love God's way of speaking to us. Patiently, quietly, he speaks. Then he waits. He doesn't yell, he doesn't nag, he doesn't cajole. He gives us more respect than we give ourselves. We forget that we are made in God's image, but he doesn't.
To tell the truth, I used to wonder why God doesn't yell. I used to think, "Someone's dying inside that house, and he knows. Why does he knock so politely? Why doesn't he holler and cause a ruckus and break the door down?"
Time is such an issue for us. We are slaves to it. We can yell things like "fire!" because there's only enough time to get one thought across, and if we don't get that thought across, someone is going to die. To God, time is nothing at all. No one dies too soon for him. He never misses a deadline.
God doesn't let them die until his point has been made, and his point is much more complicated than "fire!". Not more intellectually complicated, but it requires a person's understanding on every level. He wants to come in and sit down, have tea. Today and everyday. It's going to take some time. He is communicating himself.
Love. Light. Truth.
Try running around yelling those words. You'll make people even more confused than they already are.
Never heard him? Listen.
Wasn't that a knock?