Monday, June 19, 2017

Seven FAQ's about Christian Faith (and Seven More for Good Luck) 02


Ch.2: What is God’s will for Our World? For Me?

Knowing God’s Will

One of the great mysteries of Christian faith eddies around knowing God’s will. We pursue it like the holy grail, grasp onto any new spiritual technologies that promise us insight into it, or gurus who claim special competence in discerning it. We worry that if we miss God’s will for us our lives will drip away into a puddle of inconsequence. And no one wants that, do they?

Nevertheless, many of us give up on ever really knowing God’s will for the world and especially for themselves. The technologies don’t work and the gurus fail to deliver really satisfying results. So we muddle along or charge ahead doing the best we know how. Yet still we wonder about the big picture of God’s intent and purpose for the world. And what God really wants us to be about here.

Well, I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I do know what God’s will for this world is and what role(s) he expects you to play in it. Not because I have any special insight, or a new method, or have received some special revelation. I don’t and I haven’t. But I have read the scriptures carefully. And I offer my reading for your consideration.

Revelation 21-22 and Genesis 1-2: God’s Will for the World

If God has a purpose for creation and roles for us to play in it, where do you imagine we might find it?

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”[1]

I agree with Eliot. Let’s make our start at the end, the last scene in the vision of the book of Revelation, chs.21-22. Here we find the purpose of God fulfilled in vivid picture language. The fluid imagery of the Seer allows the pictures to coalesce into one grand image. First, we have a new earth and a new heaven. Then the holy city, the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, descends to the new creation. And becomes coextensive with it. So new creation = New Jerusalem. The shape of the New Jerusalem is cubic. Only one other structure in the Bible has this shape – the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple. This was where God dwelt in the temple. Only the High Priest, and him only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, could enter this part of the temple. John seems to suggest that the fulfillment or full fruition of God’s purpose renders the entire new creation a Holy of Holies in which God and all his people can live together in harmony and fellowship through the ages! If this is true we ought to be able to find evidence of it in the creation stories of Gen.1-2.

And we do, if we read them in light of their cultural context. It seems clear in light of the work of Greg Beale,[2] John Walton,[3] and others that Israel’s creation stories narrative God’s building a temple for him to inhabit to be with his people. Where, after all, do gods live but in a temple? It’s all embryonic and at its earliest moments in Genesis, of course. But the world is structured on the pattern of Solomon’s temple – the Garden of Eden = the Holy of Holies, Eden = the Holy Place, and the uninhabited lands outside Eden = the outer Courts where foreigners may go. Further, the river flowing out Eden to water the uninhabited lands suggests they’re meant for habitation. And we know from Genesis 1 that humanity is mandated by God to exercise dominion over the whole creation. Thus it seems God intends his creation in toto to become a temple where he and his human creatures will live together in fellowship and love.

And that’s just what we’ve seen in Revelation 21-22. God’s eternal purpose, then, his will for this creation is for every nook and cranny to be a creational temple. That’s what he’s up to throughout history. This is where the whole thing is going. Creation’s destiny.

Genesis 1-2: God’s Will for You and Me

Within the creational temple God is building you and I have been given roles to play. The best roles, in fact. High privilege and high responsibility. First, we are made in God’s image. We are meant for relationship with him, his adopted children as it were. As children of the Great King we are also royals. And as such appointed God’s representatives, his ambassadors, charged to reflect his character and will and exercise dominion throughout the creation.

The form of this dominion is given in Genesis 2 where the Lord places Adam (humanity) in the garden to “keep and till” it (2:15). In addition to its horticultural meaning this pair of words, used together, often refers elsewhere in the Old Testament to the work of priests in the temple. We are to be royal priests. That’s our identity; that’s our vocation. God’s will for us. Wherever we are and whatever we do.

If in our royalty we represent and reflect the character and will of God, as priests we stand before God and between God and the world and the world and God. The core of our vocation, then, or our efforts to do God’s will, consists in mediating the presence of God to the world and holding the world in all its pain and brokenness before God. One of a priest’s primary tasks was to help the people “discern distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10). This ancient language from a scheme of dividing the world we no longer use or understand very well basically means living according to God’s design and order in his world. Or, in the language I have been using, reflecting God’s character and will throughout the world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer emphasizes this as he reflects on the church’s role in a world-come-of-age:

“(The church) must tell people in every calling . . . what a life with Christ is, what it means “to be there for others.” In particular, our church will have to confront the vices of hubris, the worship of power, envy, and illusionism as the roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, authenticity, trust, faithfulness, steadfastness, patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment. It will have to see that it does not underestimate the significance of the human “example” (which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus and is so important in Paul’s writings!); the church’s word gains weight and power not through concepts but by example.”[4]

We are to help those “in every calling” learn to how express and embody their “life in Christ,” their life “for others.” As we do this, we will draw near to them, embrace them in God’s gracious welcome and hospitality in spite of (or perhaps because of) their sin, bear their burdens in joint responsibility for the pain and injustice of the world, and hold them before God in hope that Christ will also welcome them into in his kingdom as he will us, through his gracious love and mercy.

That’s God’s will for you and for me, friends. Paul puts it this way: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It’s not the job we do, the decision we make, or path we take that is specifically God’s will for that we might miss if we decide wrongly and place ourselves outside the will of God. If it is important to God’s purposes that we be somewhere or play some particular role, God can be trusted to make that clear to us (think Moses or Paul). Lacking such specific direction, or even with it, our vocation remains as Bonhoeffer so ably described it above.

For most of us I suspect, there are any number of job we might hold, tasks we might undertake. We must use our best judgment in deciding between such opportunities when we face them in the resolve that whatever decision we make God’s will for us in those places or doing those tasks we will seek to express the life “for others” that embraces and holds them in God’s gracious presence. Only by defaulting on this resolve do we place ourselves outside the will of God for us. Only if we fail to live as God’s royal priests helping to extend the boundaries of his creational temple to embrace the ends of the earth do we fail to do God’s will.

Conclusion

I submit that God’s will is not a mystery shrouded in confusion or darkness. It is not a guessing game we must play with God throughout our lives. We do need to be fearful of living outside God’s will but not because we don’t know it but because we choose not to do it.

In sum, the will of God for our world is for it to become a worldwide temple where God will live with us forever in his shalom (peace or universal well-being). God’s will for each of us is to serve in that temple as royal priests declaring and demonstrating the way of life God intends for his creatures. We do this in whatever jobs, occupations, roles, or tasks we assume. We can do this knowing that God has blessed us, that is equipped and fortified us, for just such service. Thanks be to God!



[1] http://www.columbia.edu/itc/history/winter/w3206/edit/tseliotlittlegidding.html.
[2] Beale, 2014.
[3] Walton, 2009.
[4] DBWE 8:14361-14367.

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