Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why Living for God is Not Easy


Nothing about being the Bible’s God’s person or God’s people is easy. And that’s just the way it is. It stems from the reality that God has a plan for this world. Every human being has defied that plan and sought to live life as they desire. In each and every case, then, there is no human being who comes into the world who wants to live God’s way. If God had given up and refused to have any more to do with us and abandoned us to our own fate then whatever religions or spiritualities we cooked up for ourselves (for it seems we humans have to worship something as Bob Dylan made clear in his song “Gotta Serve Somebody”) would be pleasing and understandable and doable by us.

          But God has never so given up. Instead he launched a subversive counter-revolutionary movement to reclaim and restore his people and his creation to his creational design and plan. God always intended to create a world in which he and his creatures (human and non-human) could live together in love and harmony. However, since we have turned away from God we do not know his plan and resist his efforts to move us in that direction. And living in a world that is no longer as God designed it and as people who no longer want it the way God wants it, his plan and actions makes no sense to us or seem obvious to us.

          In other words, life with God as people recovering from our revolt against him in a world that no longer works as it should is a contested life. Our minds and hearts as well as the testimony of the world around us will contradict what we have come to know of God’s plan. It will seek to seduce us into believing that a God who has a plan and still at work to fulfill it is but a wishful projection or fantasy for which there Is not only no evidence but plenty of counter evidence provided by the quantity of presence in the world. God’s Word to us in the Bible, then, amounts to a “theodicy,” that is, an attempt to justify the ways and acts of God against all the claims and evidence that it makes no sense.

          It does this not by looking backwards to probe the origins of sin and evil. Both sin and evil are fundamentally irrational and there is no sense to had in exploring them. Not even God can understand and make sense of something essentially rational. Instead, the Bible looks ahead to what God has done about these things in and through the chosen people of Israel, the on faithful Israelite, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Jewish-Gentile church he birthed and continues to live in and work through by his Spirit. In other words, God justifies himself through what he accomplishes in life and history of his people.

          This makes this chosen people the center of world-history. Now God didn’t make it easy on himself by choosing a mighty, wise, and beautiful people. Instead he chooses a small people he raised up from far away pagans. This people possesses none of such attractive qualities. Yet God promises he will be with them and will use them to bless everyone else! Human destiny is now borne by this people and what happens to and through them.

          This people of God (the Jews) were to both demonstrate the life intends for humanity and spread God’s blessing to everyone else. In a world running away from God and seeking to secure itself against God in its revolt, this people is God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement. Undermining the attitudes, actions, patterns, and structures in relationships and standing against the zeitgeist (the “spirit of the age”) and institutions it animates is the way it does this but it does it as a function of the “good news” it is called to spread: forgiveness, peacemaking, love of stranger and enemy, economic sharing, willingness to risk martyrdom, and other practices of Jesus that Oscar Romero beautifully characterized as the “violence of love.” This is the way of Jesus, God’s subversive counter-revolutionary par excellence. This way of the God who came himself in and as this Jesus.

          Israel did not keep faith with God or serve as his faithful subversive counter-revolutionary movement. They turned away from him and became as much a part of the problem as the pagans who revolted against God. It was Jesus, as I just noted above, who alone loved and served his Father with unswerving loyalty. He came to resolve the problem of Israel’s unbelief because they were the people God had promised to bless the world through. And in resolving their problem he also resolved the wider world’s problem of revolting against God.

          He did this by dying on the cross as sacrifice for sin and the reconciliation of the world to God. Then he raised up a new people, Jewish and Gentile, gave himself to live in them through his Spirit and take on the mantle of God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement to implement and expand Jesus’ victory throughout the earth. And this Jesus will return one day to finally and fully establish God’s kingdom, his home with us forever on this renewed earth.

          This story about how God is working to reclaim and restore his creatures and creation to his creation dream is hard to swallow. Certainly for those who don’t trust him. They can only deem this account foolishness. And have from the Greeks in the 1st century who argued with Paul to Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th who inveighed against the weak slave morality of Christianity. But even many among God’s people find it difficult to take Jesus seriously at key points. Usually those points cluster around the practices of the “violence of love.” None of that makes much sense in the “real” world we live in. Might be nice as ideals to shoot for, though we’ll never reach them, or to hope that the world to come might be this way. But to think that God expects us to actually live this way is more than we can wrap our hearts and minds around.

          And that’s why nothing about being and living as God’s person and people is easy. To live this Jesus’ way of life, as God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement, in a world still-not-yet-fully reconciled means there is work and struggle to come as we serve Jesus in that world. And that in us that continues to resist God’s will and way in our lives (which Paul calls the “flesh”) will dog our steps to death or Christ returns. Part of the Spirit’s work is to lead us into all truth which means the frustrating and often painful process of dying to self and living for God and his subversive counter-revolutionary movement.

               

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