Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fullness of Time

From the Message: Ephesians 1:10 " He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth."

I was never able to grasp the wonder of the incarnation until I was able to step back and view this verse in a new light. The incarnation was no arbitrary throw of the dice. God chose just the right the time to make things right. God let sin run its course, as a disease or a revolution must run its course, so that man would be certain that what he wanted to be- a god - would end in his ruin. To redeem him immediately might have left a "perhaps" to trouble mankind's peace. So we tried this notion of being a god thoroughly and failed miserably, beyond a shadow of a doubt. And when, somewhere in the super-consciousness of man, man realized that all attempts of being god were futile, God appeared to the Jews.

And just as God appeared to Abraham at the right moment, Christ came at the right moment. It changed the world forever. Not only was man no longer an enemy of God, Christ showed us that fishermen, tent-makers, slave, lame, deaf, blind, prostitutes and lepers were equally loved and valued by Him, not just the rich or elite. The Jews were teaching Love your neighbor as your self for a hundred years or so before, but it was the Lord Himself that gave wind to that notion and the world has never been the same.

So what I want to do this season of Advent is something I've wanted to do for a while. Survey the recorded ancient religions, philosophies, and cultures up to the arrival of the Lord. God becoming man is both simultaneously the most ludicrous and most believable idea that mankind has ever heard. No other religion teaches it. No other religious leader claims to have been God Himself while showing no signs of lunacy or evil. We believe that it was not invented, but rather it is inventing us. Just as any truth that has been veiled and then is revealed changes your course of action. The truth re-invents you. It sets you free, as Jesus taught us, and showed us.

I truly believe that all men who hear the nativity story want to believe the incarnation is true because if there is a God, he finally makes sense. Man can no longer ignore, fear, or despise a cold, uncaring God who watches us from afar, who knows nothing of our weakness and shows no compassion.

So I'd like to talk about what led up to that moment, and why the incarnation isn't ludicrous, but the most believable thing, if you believe there is a God.

It is not a blind leap of faith, but a step of faith that makes sense. As much sense as anything if you first believe that God made everything and still holds it together, which is a bigger step in my opinion.

So, it's a big task but it'll be good for me and might interested those of you interested in world religions and of making sense of it all.


Popcorn said...

Looking forward to your posts on this topic.

Tully said...

There is no question in my mind that God exists – I will admit, however, that I have trouble with the incarnation bit. I don’t dispute whether or not Jesus existed…just not sure if the story is right, and to your point, it requires a belief in something that surpasses the laws of science and logic. But I don’t know if it really matters if the story of his conception is true. He existed as a religious leader and changed people’s lives and to me his legacy is more important than disputing what people can wrap their heads around (if they don’t believe it) or if they have so much faith as to believe that this level of divine intervention is possible.

Was man ever an “enemy” of God though? I would have to argue that we were never an enemy nor was God ever cold or uncaring to those who acted in ways contradictory to his original intent. Just as we do today, many have chosen to see what they want to see and assumed that when bad things happen to them, that God was somehow punishing them. I would argue that the most trying times of my life (the most negative and painful) have given me the most knowledge and wisdom once I pulled out of the chaos of the situation. We don’t always see the lesson when we are in the middle of it, but it will emerge if we pay attention and want to grow from it – and thus, sometimes the most valuable gifts we are given are when our character and integrity are tested.

Seth Ward said...

Tully, thanks for your thoughts. I suppose I can no more "convince" you to believe that the incarnation is true than I can "convince" you believe that God exists. (even though you believe that part.) However, believing the Christian God exists is believing in the divine and in miracles. Three great ones to be exact. As Descartes said: 'There are three great miracles,
1. Things out of Nothing
2. Free will
3. Man who was God

Therefore, if there is a God, and he made everything out of nothing and gave created things each an individual will, then an incarnation into the human race seems only likely. If God set out to put things right between us, it seems like the best thing imaginable for us. It seems exactly like what a loving God would do. In fact, man has known this and longed for it since there has been religion. However, none could have guessed, that when He actually did come, the nature of his coming would be so humble.

So, we believe it on faith, that Jesus was who he said he was, and not some modern, new-age version of what he said he was, but God, which is why the Jews were so adamant on killing him and the high priest tore his robe and so forth.

Yes, a belief in Christ does require a belief that both embraces science (the historical validity of the scriptures, which are darn good compared to so many other historical documents that we accept as true) and surpasses the laws of science, (whatever we think those really are each couple hundred years.)

Science, after all is not God, nor is it an enemy of faith. God created it and set up the system. Science is simply observation. But logic, religion, art, and philosophy go beyond observation, as does the whole intellect. After all, a monkey or a dog can conduct small scientific experiments. A dog knows that if he brings a ball back to his master, the master will throw it again.

So yes, Christians believe in miracles. To roughly quote Pulp Fiction, "a miracle is God reaching down into creation to make the impossible possible." And Jesus did this. He cured blind men, lepers, lame... with the touch of his hand or a command from his mouth. Jesus commanded the wind and waves. Jesus raised a man from the dead. Jesus, himself was raised from the dead.

So as a reader, you have the option of ignoring all the wild things Jesus said about himself and did, sticking to about 3 or four phrases, or you have the option of taking Him at his words, the same words that put him on the cross. And this is the problem with Jesus; there really isn't much middle ground. Those that try to find it will simply find themselves either frustrated, or trying to convince others that he wasn't who he said he was, when they are really trying to convince themselves.

The thing about Jesus is, as Lewis says, he did not leave the option of thinking him just a "good teacher." His claims were dramatic and profound. Saying things like "I AM," when asked if he was the son of GOd, or, forgiving sins, or saying "I am the way the truth the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me," or, "I and the Father are one, if you knew my Father, you would know me." Those things, as a Jew, could and would get you instantly stoned - Don't pass go, do not collect 200 dollars... STONED. And they tried.

Now, you seem to be coming to your views from the point that you don't necessarily believe the bible's account. Well, I'm tempted to say, why believe any of it then? But if you really just want to discount the miracles, because the all-seeing, never-changing laws of science tells you different, which is what people have tried to do for 2000 years and failed, then you are going to have to work hard. Because they are so harmoniously, even artfully interwoven into the fabric of Jesus' character and actions, you might as well believe that he didn't exist altogether. And this is what many hard-core Atheists, seeing this dilemma, have tried to do. This is what the Jesus seminar tried to accomplish and failed, miserably.

Jesus, after you've really studied the history of the scriptures and not the Eckhart Tolle version, you find it hard to be half-way about Jesus. He really doesn't leave that door open. True historians know this and scratch their heads. So, to the Atheist, it is not even a question of was he god or just good man? (Jesus answers the question, "if God exists and is good, why doesn't he do something about evil?) But the non-miracle-working, God-equality-claiming Jesus just cannot exist. It just doesn't work, and they know it. So, the answer must be he didn't exist and he was invented. However, even the most liberal of historical scholars think the notion that Jesus was a fictional character is bogus and more far-fetched than believing miracles.

So you are back to square one: Do you believe in miracles? If you actually believe in God then you are not far off at all from miracles. In fact, believing in God and not miracles is, respectfully, nonsense. It is like believing in a square triangle. God becoming man is a great miracle, no doubt, but equally as great as God creating the whole universe from nothing.

So, If yes about miracles and God, then you are one or two steps from believing the Gospels as true.

I'll have to get to the enemy of God question later today. But, yes, we were. But that doesn't mean the that God ever stopped loving us, or that all good was destroyed in mankind. After all, it is Jesus who says to love our enemies... Mankind's nature wasn't destroyed, but rather fractured and we chose to worship ourselves and do our own way rather than God's. Anyways, much more to say on that one, but have to get to it later today, unless someone else wants to jump in!

Your views on pain and suffering are in perfect harmony with Orthodox teaching. The theology of Christian suffering is the only one that makes sense.

Tully said...

OK, but we’re talking about GOD…He’s God…He can do whatever He wants…He didn’t have to set out to put things right between us…why the need for His only son??? And why did He need Jesus to cure the blind…He could have just cut out the middle man and done it Himself…no? Inefficient is what that is (kidding)! :)

I wouldn’t dream of trying to convince you that he wasn’t who he says he was…I’m not even trying to convince myself…I’m merely saying I don’t know!!!

The same level of certainty that Christians go forward and believe in the Gospel is the same level of skepticism I have about whether or not the Bible is to be taken literally are rather interpreted! I actually don’t believe in the Bible (at least not the way it’s represented in the Christian faith), but I do believe in God – in an overall universal belief of right and wrong.

Miracles??? No, no…I believe in a call to action. A need for everyone to choose their path and execute their God given free will to ensure their life has meaning, to make a difference, to make “miracles” happen through action.

I would even go so far as to argue that needing “miracles” to believe in God is not acting in faith either. I don’t need proof that God exists – I see the universe ebbing and flowing every day between good and evil – I just can’t get behind a book (written by man, who is fallible) as the end all, beat all final say! I refuse to debunk it because I have no authority to do so and wouldn’t dream of telling others what to believe or which spiritual path to take…but for me (only me)…it doesn’t square with what my heart and soul is telling me.

Seth Ward said...

Tully, I agree with much of what you are saying and I think you are reacting out of a bad representation of Church doctrine. God does work his wonders through his people, or they should be working. No Christian should react angrily at God for his inaction as he has called us to be that very action as we are supposed to be his body. However, the Church also believes in Miracles. God reaching into creation and making the impossible possible. Creation itself is a miracle: something that cannot be explained by human reason. It is in our arrogance that we resist such a notion.

Why did God have to send his "son"? Well, firstly, the word "son" is one of three ways God through the biblical righters uses to define Jesus. The Logos, the Son, Image of the invisible God. Essentially, for man's relation to be set right with God, it had to be God setting it right. Why he chose to do it the way he did, no one can really know, though it does make sense if you view the fall of man throughout recorded history (app 5-10,000 years, a drop in the celestial-time bucket) and the way in which he did it, starting with the Jews.

The bible taken "literally..." this is a deep and long discussion, but "literally" to us today would not be thought of the same way as it would have been to the ancient. We think of "literally" only in scientific trail and error ways. Though those things do have their merit, when you are talking about God and something that is altogether different than creation itself then you must approach the subject with a different or more expansive set of tools. One of those tools is what the Church calls "revelation," meaning, that the truth can really only be fully known through a direct intervention of God. - faith. This is why "the Church" is the caretaker of the Bible and its interpretation. We believe that the Church is the lens in which to view the Gospel as it was passed down from Jesus to the disciples to the disciple's disciples and then on and on. Even by scientific standards, this is the more logical way to study any teaching of history. Context. It is most certainly a more logical way of interpreting than by a amateur, modern, un-historical, armchair way of looking at scripture. Who in their right mind would think they could understand an archeological discover without a proper historical contextual view.

Contrary to what is taught today in much fundamental evangelical protestantism, there is a direct line from the apostles about scriptural interpretations. And the more you dig, or the further back you dig, the more you'll find things that actually are in line with not only what seems to be more "natural" to scriptural interpretation, but... it actually "clicks," or makes sense.

For instance, did you know that St. Augustine in the 4th Century said the the first two or three chapters of Genesis could be taken "allegorically," for lack of a better word? This, of course, wasn't even a problem for the first century Christians. The bible is full of allegories and parables and then of course, factual events -as have been proven by our modern scientific archeological standards. This doesn't make the truth of the story any less true. The truth of Genesis showing that man (Adam) chose self, therefore he chose "not-God." This set mankind on a course, however much we try, of self-destruction. And God immediately set out to make it right. This was the price or "risk" of free will and real Love between man and Maker.

Tully said...

I dig you…and your approach above seems to be very different than how the scripture is commonly laid out…as many folks completely negate context and try to literally apply it to modern life. Which is why I say I don’t “believe in” the Bible as it is represented in most Christian faiths (generalizing of course) because they all too often treat it as a “to do” list as opposed to the historical doctrine that it is.

I think we are saying the same thing, we are just coming at it from two different angles – you as an active practitioner and myself as more as a passive reader. I concur that it holds tremendous value and insight, I absolutely concur that it holds historical facts as well as allegorical representations of the ideology itself – the disconnect begins when it’s being held too literally as a sword with which to strike others down…and such events undermine it’s brilliance, which is a shame.

Enjoyed our discussion today, looking forward to our next one. ;)

Susanne said...

If you really study the Old Testament, then the incarnation is not ludicrous...it's expected. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies/foreshadowings of Christ's coming (example: Abraham placing Isaac on the altar...we could devote a whole other post to this topic), and they were finally fulfilled that night in Bethlehem when a baby was born to a Jewish virgin named Mary. By coming down to earth as a man, God gave us the wonderful gift of grace. Jesus walked among us and was one of us. He understands our temptations, our weaknesses, our grief, and our motives. Because Jesus, the sinless lamb, was sacrificed on that cross so many years ago, taking on our sin, we can have forgiveness from our sins. When we sincerely confess our sins and repent from them, not only does God forgive us, but He also completely forgets our sin. He wipes the slate clean. Satan will remind us of past sins, but God won't remind us of sins that we've already repented of. What amazing grace that is. That's what the season of Advent brings to my mind. Loved this post and the discussion, Seth.

Stephen said...

One of the best things I've read regarding miracles is from N.T. Wright, in the book he co-wrote with Marcos Borg, The Meaning of Jesus. Talking about the resurrection, he writes:
Grasping the nettle-proposing, as a historical statement, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty because his body had been transformed into a new mode of physicality - will of course evoke howls of protest from those for whom the closed world of Enlightenment theory renders any such thing impossible from the start. But if Christianity is only going to be allowed to rent an apartment in the Enlightenment’s housing scheme, and on its terms, we are, to borrow Paul’s phrase, of all people the most to be pitied - especially as the Enlightenment itself is rumored to be bankrupt and to be facing serious charges of fraud. The lines of historical enquiry point relentlessly inward to the first day of the week after Jesus’ crucifixion. Once you allow that something remarkable happened to his body that morning, all the other data fall into place with astonishing ease. Once you insist that nothing so outlandish happened, you are driven to ever more complex and fantastic hypotheses to explain the data. For the historian, as for the scientist, the answer should be clear.

It is no good falling back on “science” as having disproved the possibility of resurrection. Any real scientist will tell you that science observes what normally happens; the Christian case is precisely that what happened to Jesus is not what normally happens. For my part, as a historian I prefer the elegant, essentially simple solution rather than the one that fails to include all the data: to say that the early Christians believed that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead, and to account for this belief by saying that they were telling the truth.

(there's a longer quote here.)

And Susanne, I disagree. Even if you see foreshadowing of the incarnation in the old testament, that doesn't make it any less ludicrous. It is an incredible thing to claim that God made himself a man. But you can easily look at history, at the ancient myths in different cultures, and see that that is exactly what man was hoping for, in a sense. All our efforts to connect with the gods, and then Christianity makes the outrageous claim that God became one of us.

Seth Ward said...

Susanne, Weeeell, maybe in hindsight... I could see a little bit that it wasn't ludicrous. But to the Jews today, it is still ludicrous. The whole concept of the Trinity (which is what the coming of Christ revealed to us) is beyond total comprehension, even to Christians. These are things that if told by someone besides the Lord, would have been thought nonsense and total blasphemy. John the Baptist didn't even have the whole picture. THE DISCIPLES didn't even grasp the whole meaning until the upper room!

God sending a prophet or a great King isn't something out of the norm, but God inhabiting, FULLY, a baby, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born in a cave, surrounded by crap, straw... born homeless and on the run... something nobody saw coming.

It is only a story that God could have conceived, and made sense of it. That's why good old George Stevens called it "The Greatest Story Ever Told." ;-)

HOWEVER, it wasn't something the religions of the world weren't ready for! They were ten times more intellectually (and spiritually) ready for the incarnation then than we would be if it had never happened until present day...

As I'll get to a little later, it was, in my opinion, the peak of civilization.

Stephen, love the N.T. Wright. Thanks for the quote! I think that is one of the reasons that I wanted to do this post. The coming of Christ was the peak of civilization, thought, philosophy, and even medicine if we are talking "a new way of thinking." Everything in Medicine and Science today is based upon the way the Greeks did things. They changed everything.

Susanne said...

Good points. It's hard to imagine what it would've been like to not have the written Word that we have. I can see what you mean about it seeming ludicrous.

Here's an article I read today that reminded me of this post:
Kay Arthur says, "When did God conceive Christmas in His heart? The answer brings awe!...in Revelation 13:8 Jesus is described as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.""

From the very beginning, God planned our redemption. Amazing.