Monday, January 4, 2010

the cycle of faith

I attended a teen summer camp many years ago and the speaker said a most interesting thing. He said that teenagers who go to the mall are going to hell. You could have heard a pin drop. Every teen there had been to the mall and each one had just been told by the "authority" that they were going to hell. Although, that was not exactly what he had said. He did not say that ALL teenagers who go to the mall were going to hell. What really rankled the kids at the camp was what the speaker did not say.

It's my contention that what we talk about is the dominant part of our culture. What gets the most press becomes the "flavor" of our community. Many churches these days are talking about the power of God and quoting Scriptures like "on earth as it is in heaven". Please hear me. I absolutely love this promise and I lean into it as hard as I can. However, I have noticed that we are not sure what to do with friends that have not acquired their miracle yet. I have friends with cancer, a son who is deaf, and several friends who have disfunctional marriages. I pray for these situations, believing that it is God's will to heal and restore. I do not believe that God sent these sicknesses or hardships to "teach" or "refine". God is not the author of death - Satan is.

So what do I say about those I love who suffer daily; those who battle character deficiencies for years on end? I think part of my difficulty is the traditional theology that sees the death and resurrection of Jesus as a point in linear time after which "all things have become new". I suspect that this is lazy theology. This idea ignores many Scriptures which talk of our suffering and those who remain sick.

I think we may have stumbled upon a major cultural mistake. Two thousand years ago time was conceived of as being cyclical not linear. Jesus life, death and resurrection was unique and world changing. However, the invitation to his potiential disciples is to follow him - to share in his life; to share in his death and "somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead."

We participate in the cyclical sequence of events which begins with a clash between the kingdom of heaven and the powers of this earth (human and demonic). The clash can both undo the works of Satan and produce persecution. In both however, we suffer for a little while so that our faith, which is of greater worth than gold can be proved genuine (1 Peter 1:7). Put another way, the life of living faith in Jesus will take us through seasons of pain and suffering as we battle for true faith and as we carry the burdens of others.

This conversation will applaud the faith of the one who lives with pain and the faith of the one who has been freed of pain. To ignore the seasons of unrealized victory and anticipated freedom in the continuing cycle of redemptive history is to paint those who are battling pain and disappointment, with a second-class brush. As if somehow they are exeperiencing a lesser measure of the love of our Father. What is love? To lay down your life for another. It is my bet that those of us who follow Jesus will experience both the fellowship of sharing in his suffering and the power of his resurrection in a continuing cycle of deepening faith.


  1. I don't believe in the eternal now nor do I believe that it makes sense of suffering and healing. I love 1 Peter 1:76 though and know that suffering is precious to the Lord. Jesus died once for all, he is not eternally suffering on the cross for our sins. IT is finished and by that we have victory. Those in the OT looked forward in faith to what was to come(offering sacrifices). We look back at what has been done. And I look forward to the day when it is all wrapped up in heaven.

  2. Could you please explain what you mean by "I don't believe in the eternal now nor do I believe that it makes sense of suffering and healing."
    I did not mean to suggest that Jesus is suffering eternally on the cross. On the contrary, I believe he is the first-fruit of our resurrection, enjoying a glorified body and hanging with his father in heavenly places.

  3. My thoughts on time
    So to explain a little.... when you mentioned linear time.... This is what I believe: time is linear, history is a record of time(sequence of events) and this is most consistent with scripture. To make it otherwise seems much more like Eastern philosophy(Augustine even proposed way back about the eternal now). I don't think that God existing in time limits Him or His Sovereignty. If you are proposing that there is eternal now I would say it is based off of human reasoning trying to understand God. So why does it matter? I look forward to all this being wrapped up and heaven to come. But I guess the writer of Hebrews says well that we should “look to the author and finisher of our faith so that we dont grow weary and lose heart”

    Rereading what you wrote I find that I may have gone on a rabbit trail sorry. I agree that the battle is not done and we have yet to receive the full prize. The wedding feast is yet to come. And like those in Hebrews 11 there is a journey ahead. This reminds me of one of my favorite books Ever Increasing faith(about Smith Wigglesworth). The title says a lot about it.

  4. I think faith requires a willingness to accept the fact that we are unable to comprehend God in all his glory and complexity. I actually find some comfort in my human limitations before the creator of the universe. One of my personal struggles is reconciling much of our modern worship music (which, musically, I really appreciate and which certainly moves my spirit, but . . .) which seems to celebrate the grace and love of God without paying due respect to His holiness, even His sternness. It is mostly in the Old Testament where we see this aspect of His nature, which has almost become an "alter-ego" of the God with whom we claim a personal relationship today. (I am still dusting myself off after being thrown to the ground in an attemp to wrestle with my Lord over the story of Uzzah). But He does not change (see Malachi 3:6). I fear this is another instance of our creating God in our image.

    And yet, we have a choice to agree with the sovereignty of His kingdom or to glorify the works of the enemy by focusing on how bad things seems to be. In Joshua 6, the angel of the Lord is trying to get Joshua to look through the eyes of faith to see a fortified city already given into his hands. The battle is God's. We know He has already won. It is our job to agree with the victory which is to come - to envision it into being, if you will. It is not about our agenda; it is about His. In Exodus 17, the Israelites take charge in the battle whenever Moses has his hands raised in a gesture of praise. When his hands grow tired and he lowers them, the tide begins to turn against Israel (so they prop Moses up on a rock and Aaron and Hur hold his hands up until sunset - brilliant!). In all cases of spiritual warfare, it seems our duty PRAISE GOD, acknowledging the victory we cannot yet see, declaring the sovereignty of His kingdom despite our darkest fears and all appearances of the physical world. This seems to me the very essence of faith.

    I believe in the name of Jesus Christ. I believe in God's ultimate victory over the enemy. I don't mean to ignore the suffering of the world, I just know that I don't help matters by looking at the depth of the darkness. Maybe, by looking with the eyes of faith I can cultivate the courage to follow God into the victory that I cannot yet see. When I pray, " . . . your kingdom come, your will be done . . .," I am acknowledging His authority in my world. There are many times when I simply don't know what else to do.

  5. Interesting comments guys. I guess I should let you in on a little secret of mine. One of my most cherished theological positions is the one I like to call, "I don't know." I think that our discussion of God and his nature and our relationship with him is absolutely necessary, healthy and ultimately open-ended. We will, for all eternity, be discovering new things about our God.

    It is no surprise to me that our understanding of who God is and our relationship to him is ever changing. I think this is the nature of finite beings experiencing an infiniate being.
    Let me try to explain a couple of key starting points which I acknowledge as I try to explain God to people.
    1. We are not in a lab. What we believe about God is ever-changing and ever-growing. Our discussion of God cannot ever hope to be anything resembling scientific or definitive.
    Unfortunately, most Christian theology tries to be both. We use Scripture as some kind of God encyclopedia from which we dogmatically assert doctrine that defines who God is and what he does. We say things like he is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. Not only are these doctrinal assertions impossible to prove - they are completely useless to us in a discussion of how we should live.
    2. Any discussion of the revelation of God in Scripture must acknowledge that our revelation comes to us in story form. I cannot honestly find in Scripture anything like a doctrinal statement. We simply get a peek at how God interacted with other humans in other times in other cultures. To lift that experience off the page and plunk it down as a precept about God in our culture in the 21st century ignores the very nature of Scripture. Our understanding of who God must be relational. We can gleen information about how God has related to others in the past, but this is not an explanation of how God will relate to us in the present.
    3. It appears to me that Jesus is the pinnacle of divine revelation. "If you have seen me you have seen the Father" takes the discussion out of the trancendant and places it in the world we occupy. In other words, Old Testament revelation was a description of God relating to man from a different plane of existence. New Testament revelation of Jesus is a clearer experience of God as we encounter him on our plane of existence. Whenever I come to one of those, "I don't knows", I go with the revelation of God contained in my understanding of the life and teaching of Jesus.

    Anyway, hope this helps the conversation along. I really treasure the hearts and minds of those who are willing to engage me in a real conversation about these things which are so dear to my heart.

  6. Now i compleatly agree with you so what i say isn't an arguement, its just an obervation, that would be that your saying that scripture, if i understand you right, is compleatly 100% true just not 100% of the time? So that being said you said and i quote, "It appears to me that Jesus is the pinnacle of divine revelation. "If you have seen me you have seen the Father." Does this meen that this is compleatly true? Is what jesus says always true, while other parts of the bible are just bits and pieces of story?

    A lot of what you've been talking about is what did jesus really say and what is stuff that we have taken out of context or postibley something that we where told but never really checked out for our selfs, so i guess what im asking is there parts of the bible that are always true or is it that the whole bible just a story about and amazing god and its just a way of learning of his nature?

  7. Language is representational. That is, we use words to convey ideas. The words aren't the idea itself, they simply describe or carry the idea from one person to the next. The question then about language is whether it is meant to be a one for one equation (like math) or whether the language of Scripture and ultimately the language of our faith is relational.
    For instance, when I say the tea is hot. I mean it is to hot for me to sip. Everyone in my family knows that I am a baby when it comes to "hotness" and most of my family would gladly sip my tea when I say it is too "hot". Is the idea of hot mathmatical or relational.
    In the same way when I say that God is love, does this define him in an unchangeable way or is it a relational observation that will be experienced differently by different people?
    So, to answer your question. Yes. I believe that the Bible is always true, because it is a story about the relationships of humans with an amazing God. Their relationships with God were true. And through these relationships we can learn about his nature.