Month: August 2014

Part I: What is the Rapture?

jesus coming soon raptureBy Stephen T. Hague  — To read the entire essay, click here: What is the Rapture Part I

Why do so many people perceive Christian faith as nothing but “pie in the sky” and the goal of Christian hope as in “heaven”?

The common (Hallmark card) perceptions of life on earth and life in heaven is the popular perspective that the “blessed” hope of the Christian is in the heavenly clouds, or somewhere upwards, in the sky, or Far Away from earth and this cosmos. It is assumed in this peculiar view that it is totally different than life here, and that we may not necessarily even recognize one another, or have memories of this present life. Where do these concepts arise, that are so foreign to the tenor of Scripture?
I suggest it is due, in large part, to the theology that flows from the popular secret and sudden “rapture doctrine” popularized by a number of contemporary authors and their films. Its roots go back to the nineteenth century . . . see What is the Rapture Part I.


This is not the way . . .

Ocean sphere

This is not the way
I pictured it,
sitting alone out under a rainbow
umbrella stretched in soul beneath
this grey sky reigning above a tempest
certain to disappoint.
The way I saw it, complete
in the circle of sand,
the distance between
joy and sorrow,
awash in the tide
of friends and family,
chasing sand-crabs,
building bonfires
of ancient detritus
from southern, subterranean waters
coming in and going out,
singing our songs
to a broken ukulele
with red wine,
and we would marvel as a whale
would pass ever so slowly,
and ten thousand porpoises
would flash above the breakers
past the broken arms of lightning,
deep drumming in the sea wooing them.
This is not how I figured it would play out.
The falcon diving for sparrows in the surf,
as gulls, half-interested, with eyes askance
on the crescent waves.
No-one to see it but the nautilus and crabs,
far beneath the drone of bagpipes
playing the wings of the white-caps,
as the whale bursts his spray
like the sudden rains that empty the beach
and I am left alone here to wait and see
how it will unfold,
though this is not how I pictured it
playing out,
never expecting such
profoundly disturbing beauty and sorrows.

“Before YHWH”

To read the entire essay, click here: Before the LORD

“Before the LORD” (liphne YHWH) — The meeting/dwelling presence of YHWH[1]Tribes and tabernacle

Abstract: A brief survey of a major historical-critical issue in biblical studies, and the subject of my doctoral dissertation, is that of the OT theology of the presence of YHWH in the sanctuary, and the supposed “tensions” and polarizations assumed “behind” the formation of the Pentateuchal narrative. The prevailing critical view is one which assumes theological polarizations/tensions between “Deuteronomistic” and “Priestly” traditions (that is, between name-theology and glory-theology) which serve as a compass for exegesis of presence passages. Within tradition-historical analyses, polarization of transcendent meeting-dwelling from immanent abiding-dwelling reflects tradition pre-histories which are coalesced to serve the ideology of the priestly viewpoint of a lost sanctuary during the exile. Underlying this dialectical polarization and synthesis idea are notions of YHWH’s enthronement (ancient ark ideas and later D “name-theology”), while manifestation notions correspond to the tent of meeting (later priestly “glory-manifestation theology”): that is, such polarities are considered by tradition-historical critics as “mutually repellent” motifs until coalesced in the so-called “Priestly” redaction.

The complete lack of consensus about this supposed “priestly” interpretation of the presence in the tabernacle (abiding or temporary), as well as the relationship of “deuteronomistic” notions to Exodus, has made room for alternative, and much more positive, proposals. Indeed, a closer consideration of some of the relevant texts indicates a remarkable theological/textual unity (coherence and cohesion) that supports the view that the presence theology of the OT is a unified one with many complementary and congruent motifs that convey the expected complexities and dynamics of an infinite and personal Creator who manifested himself in various profoundly creative ways to the ancient people called Israel. This presence theology is best understood from the Mosaic period of the tabernacle, and not from the post-exilic period priests of the returning nation.

[1] Stephen T. Hague, adapted selection from YHWH’s Glorious Presence: Covenantal and Cultic Presence in Exodus 25-40 [unpublished dissertation, 2001].

To read the entire essay, click here: Before the LORD


To read entire essay, click here: THE SEARCH FOR SIGNIFICANCE

Stephen T. Hague

jamesWilliam James in Essays on Faith and Morals asks two big questions: “What makes life significant? And, “Is life worth living?” He notes rightly that there are many things (culture, ideals, heroism) that give some kind of significance to life, yet that they fail “when they pretend singly to redeem life of insignificance” (p. 306).                                     (right)William James

               Are we significant? Do we matter?
               Is life worth living?

A life worth living is a life that has significance, but one must know that significance. James argues strongly that life is worth living, yet he falls shy of affirming an unabashed Christian faith as the source of that significance. He rightly notes that pessimism is “essentially a religious disease” (p. 8), and that one stage in the recovery is the “exercise of religious trust and fancy” (p. 9). That is, there are possibilities. James quotes William Slater, “as the essence of courage is to stake one’s life on a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe that the possibility exists” (p. 31). Surely, this is true so far as it goes, but does this take us far enough to know that (our) life is truly significant and worth living? Will “religious fancy” or belief in “possibilities” cure our disease? His exhortation to his readers is, “Be not afraid of life! Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact” (p. 31). Is this a sufficient ground for affirming significance, for living our life?

It is the rare person who is so low and without hope that they have no regard for their own significance, for in fact it concerns the very meaning and purpose of one’s existence. Indeed, there may be some who claim to care nothing for such a concern, since their life experiences, and faithlessness, have brought them to a point-of-no-return to significance. For the vast majority, the search for significance drives all that they think and do. This search is not necessarily a straight road in any particular (pre-determined) direction, since many seek in places where no significance may be found. And many seek it in ways that are self-defeating.

In reality, since all (finite) people need an “infinite reference point” for integration, all finite reference points will fail to provide any sufficient integration for human personality, relations, aspirations, longings, hopes, fears, labors, loves, and life. Significance matters to all of these, and much more. Even the hard-hearted atheist must find spiritual, moral, and relational significance in their denials of God. Even the Scrooges of the world seek an infinite reference point for their significance, though it is in the sand-castles of their wealth-hoards.

singer(left)Peter Singer
Significance is more than meaning, however, for it particularly involves the unique quality of one’s life that provides a starting point for the kind of purpose and meaning that “make it all worthwhile.” This is especially important for those who might by some (like the eugenicist at Princeton University, Peter Singer) be categorized as “not fully human,” for it means that every human life is indeed unique and thus worth living. Meaning alone is an insufficient foundation for human significance, for meaning can be found where there is no true significance. In fact, integrative meaning derives from one’s unique significance. Significance is what gives sufficient purpose to face even extreme personal suffering, physical deprivations, and handicaps. Significance “signals” that we are for a reason, that we do for a purpose, and that at the end of the day we matter.

Now, “to matter” can be understood in very diverse ways. For the atheist or agnostic to find significance, they must seek a source other than the source of significance, God himself. As noted, however, the atheist, needing to know significance, must and will find some fragments of it without faith in God. Though fragmented by an incomplete theology (of unbelief), it is real nonetheless. Certainly, it is wrong to think that the atheist and agnostic have a life with no personal sense of significance, or have a meaningless life. This is because significance, and the search for meaningful life, is the inescapable reality of all made in God’s image (Gen 1:27; 9:6). It is the reality (environment) for all people, that being made in God’s image they do have true significance. Everyone thus finds some kind of “meaning” or “purpose,” for who we are and what we do truly matters. This is true for all, and is therefore profoundly significant.

Nevertheless, only the Creator can be an infinite reference point for those made in his image, and those seeking significant integration in what is finite will be forever frustrated. That is, to find “meaning” or “purpose” in things finite is not to find one’s integrative significance. Yet, for all humans made in God’s image, what we are and do truly matters; we are truly significant. Who we are and what we do in this life causes real ripples in this world, in the heavenly realms, and for all eternity.  Such a concept is startling, since it means we live horizontally into all eternity. That is, our lives, our present being, character, actions, personality, and relationships are eternally significant, horizontally so forever. Our work, our thoughts, our loves, our whole lives will continue into the eternal space-time continuum of either heaven or hell. The end-game, though this is no game, is determined by our present vertical relationships – whether we love God or Baal. Our present lives have eternal significance now, in all the details, in regards to this question, since we presently live in eternity.

For many Christians, however, the life of faith is primarily vertical in perspective. Faith in Christ to them means deliverance from their body and all its life-woes. Faith means biding the time until death introduces them to freedom from this body’s life of trouble. Significance, in this case, resides mistakenly in faith-survival, or “muddling through,” to the end of one’s life. “Hanging on by the skin of our teeth.”  Certainly, undying faithfulness to Christ until the end of our lives is a paramount Christian calling. All the same, truly integrative significance in this life is largely absent from such a limiting vantage-point, since it excludes the totality of life lived under the Lordship of Christ, the telos of our being created: to glorify God and to enjoy him forever in his created universe. It is to live, work, create, and propagate as prophets, priests, and kings in his paradise on earth from creation to the new creation. It is to become master gardeners of earthly dominion. Though we live in the redemption-interval between the creation and the new creation, we are being prepared to live in that creation which Christ is preparing for us, forever. Actually, can we not affirm that our eternal life in creation is both now and forever? Our present lives will continue, though transformed by the renewal of all things, the resurrection of our bodies, in his created world (Isa. 11:6-9; 65:17-25; Mtt 19:28; Rom. 8:19-23; 2 Pet 3:13; Col 1:20; Eph 1:10; Rev 11:15).

The whole story of redemption of creation is thus the present context for our significance: how we treat our neighbors, friends, and enemies; how we think, work, create (or destroy); how we speak, plan, decorate, design and manage our world and lives; how we draw, sing, write, proclaim, testify, bear witness; how we study, use our time, love, laugh, suffer, and die. How we live, why we live, has to do with for Whom we live. We are all significant because God has made us so, since he made us in his image. Even our very words are all significant, since they are all spoken in his presence, as they flow out of us who are created with this marvelous gift of language to communicate.

Though feelings of insignificance are rife among us, since nothing is hidden from the One who made us, these have no merit in the reality of the Hidden One now more fully revealed in Christ. Nevertheless, a sense of smallness is prevalent among creatures living in a seemingly endless universe. Some even lovingly nurse this deep feeling of, or sense of, insignificance, since even this gives them some reference-point, some identity, some significance.  Similarly, there is the sad irony of those who find faith (and meaning) in their unbelief. This too is evidence of being made in the image of God, since all humankind must find their significance and purpose in an infinite God, or they will find a substitute.


francis-schaeffer-contemplatingFrancis Schaeffer (picture on right) once preached a sermon “No Little People, No Little Places” in which he described the human ambition to escape the feeling of being small (insignificant) in a small place. How much tragedy and heart-ache the world has known from humans seeking to be and do something big, to be what they are not: either as narcissistic gods or devils. Ironically, so often this flows out of a profound sense of smallness and insignificance. On the other hand, substitute theologies such as “worm-theology” (“I am just a worm”) that some Christians advocate is no more biblical than the self-exaltation of Narcissism. Significance cannot be found in a theology of total depravity (as wrongly understood as total on the ontological level) any more than in the total love of self encouraged in our therapeutic culture, the religious cult of selfism.

Significance begins with our creation in God’s image as social, spiritual, living beings who can create, love, and communicate. Despite the reality and effects of sin, being made in God’s image enables us to be living beings in relationship, to have real personality, will (choice, determination), communication (love, truth), emotion (affections of the heart), spirituality (worship of communion with God), rationality (logos, mind, knowledge, logic, hermeneutics), morality (conscience), creativity (aesthetics, work, beauty), dignity (personality), goodness (thought and deed), value (intrinsic due to image of God), dominion (vice regents, ambassadors, representatives) and authority (derived). As we live for God through Jesus Christ, we come to experience the fullness of our humanity. One central aspect of the image of God is that we are God’s representatives on earth. In essence, this is the purpose for which he created us.

Resurrection, Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)(left) Albrecht Durer (Resurrection)
Also, as his representatives, and as believers, we have the high calling of testifying to Jesus Christ and his gospel of redemption for the whole person and the whole world. True and complete significance derives from Christ alone who is himself the True Image (2 Cor 4:4 – ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν του θεου) of God. Christ is The image of God, not made “in the image of God” (Col 1:15a) (contra the Gnostics) (cf. Col 3:10). All who are made in the image of God are thus signs, signifying, pointing to Christ himself. We are not gods, angels, or devils but rather creatures made in God’s image. As humans born in Adam’s line, sin has affected our hearts’ wills, choices, bodies, relations, and minds, but it never “removes” the image of God. It can be affirmed without doubt that “there are no little people, no little places.” Hence, there are none without significance, since it does not depend upon us but upon the image of God in which we are each made.

Further, in redemption, we are “being renewed in knowledge in the image” of our Creator (Col 3:10). For the believer, integrative significance is known, and can be lived out, under the sovereign Lordship of Christ in the process of restoration, being transformed and conformed to the likeness of the Son (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; 5:17; 1 Jn 3:2). This recreation-restoration corresponds to the image of God given in the Garden of Eden. It involves the  total person and total life of our creativity (reflecting the aesthetic of the creation-order of work). The utmost dignity of mankind’s work is thus affirmed. To work () and guard () the garden (Gen 2:15) involved being fruitful (Gen 1:28). It also involved having dominion by ruling and governing in the garden over all creation (1:28) (Jesus himself fulfils the Edenic mandate of work and creativity [Jn 5:17]). Restoration also involves family and community (reflecting the social-order of creation in fathering/mothering of children, love, community, church, society, and conveyance of the revelation of God’s Word).

One important significance of all humans is that each evidence the glory of God; we are the greatest evidence for the glory of God. Even those who deny his glory have this significance, since it derives from the living God, not from the various “meanings” or purposes they create or adopt for significance. How beautiful it is then, for believers in Christ, to know that life lived under Christ’s Lordship is eternally significant! How much more believers should grasp this, to know, live, and love such significance in this life; it is immeasurably more than for those who deny Him as the source of life and its significance. These are not nice, or abstract, platitudes about the Christian life as better than the unbeliever’s life. This is not just a pragmatic challenge to believe in Christ so as to have a happier, more fulfilled, life of meaning and purpose. This is an assertion that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that we who are made in his image are invited to partake in God’s redemptive purposes to restore us and his creation.

Our message to unbelievers is not, “Your life is presently meaningless, therefore reject your life, accept Christ, and you will find your significance.” Rather, I suggest it is better to proclaim that God made all people in his image, and that all attempts to live apart from God are subject to varying degrees of futility. And, that all of the meaning, purpose, and significance of every person’s life can only find a sufficient reference point in Christ the True image of God. This more adequately accounts for the reality of significance, purpose, and meaning in all peoples’ lives, even if twisted by the consequences of sin. It also provides more of a common-ground, or point-of-contact, between unbelievers and those of us who have embraced Christ as Lord and Savior of our whole lives, all our significance deriving from, and pointing to, him.

For those who are lost in the self-made forest of finite insignificance, or for those captivated by their over-significance (the former thinking they are nothing in the universe, the latter supposing they are everything), both are trapped in a world without integration or redemption. Humans are neither just dirt nor are they devils; they are the “glorious ruin” of creatures made in God’s image, redeemable by God’s marvelous grace. True integrative significance is always the fruit of God’s loving grace, and thus always leads to both the Cross and to the empty tomb. Christ’s empty tomb opens into the garden of the new creation where the purposes of God are completely manifested, and where the present significance of our lives will be perfectly realized in our physical resurrection to continue living forever in God’s creation before his glorious presence.
perspective man
Biblical significance rests in biblical faith, being re-made whole and holy, not in William James’ “possibilities” of just believing in trust of religious “fancy.” This is not just optimism, or optimistic belief; it is knowing the Lord Jesus as the Christ and deliverer of our bodies and souls. He is the only infinite reference-point for complete integration of our selves and this universe. In Christ we are made whole again. There is nothing “large enough” in this world for our identity, our integration as body and soul made in God’s image, our personalities, our significance. Christ is the only One sufficient for the task. He is complete, and we are complete in him alone.

Col 1:15-20 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,  whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Rom 8:19-21 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Quotes from Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy:

The obviously well kept secret of the “ordinary” is that it is made to be a receptacle of the divine, a place where the life of God flows. But the divine is not pushy. As Huston Smith remarks, “Just as science has found the power of the sun itself to be locked in the atom, so religion proclaims the glory of the eternal to be reflected in the simplest elements of time: a leaf a door, an unturned stone.”  It is, of course, reflected as well in complicated entities, such as galaxies, music, mathematics, and persons.
Now, considered apart from its Creator—which was never intended—the “ordinary” truly is so ordinary and commonplace that it is of little interest or value. No atom by itself radiates solar power. In its own right everything is always just “another one of those.” To be ordinary is to be only “more of the same.” The human being screams against this from its every pore. To be just “another one of those” is deadening agony for us. Indeed, it actually drives some people to their death. It was never God’s intention for anyone.

This is why everyone, from the smallest child to the oldest adult, naturally wants in some way to be extraordinary, outstanding, making a unique contribution or, if all else fails, wants to be thought so—if only for a brief time. The fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol said everyone would someday have, in the modern media-saturated world, may give desperate souls an assurance of uniqueness that could protect them from being “nobody,” at least in their own eyes.

The drive to significance that first appears as a vital need in the tiny child, and later as its clamorous desire for attention, is not egotism. Egotistical individuals see everything through themselves. They are always the dominant figures in their own field of vision.

Egotism is pathological self-obsession, a reaction to anxiety about whether one really does count. It is a form of acute self- consciousness and can be prevented and healed only by the experience of being adequately loved. It is, indeed, a desperate response to frustration of the need we all have to count for something and be held to be irreplaceable, without price.

Unlike egotism, the drive to significance is a simple extension of the creative impulse of God that gave us being. It is not filtered through self-consciousness any more than is our lunge to catch a package falling from someone’s hand. It is outwardly directed to the good to be done. We were built to count, as water is made to run downhill. We are placed in a specific context to count in ways no one else does. That is our destiny.

Our hunger for significance is a signal of who we are and why we are here, and it also is the basis of humanity’s enduring response to Jesus. For he always takes individual human beings as seriously as their shredded dignity demands, and he has the resources to carry through with his high estimate of them.

Dallas Willard,The Divine Conspiracy, pp. 14-15.

Psalm 23, life’s battles, and the gospel


To read the entire essay, click here: Psalm 23 and the Biblical Theology of God the Shepherd-King

(illustration left) by Emily Johnson

Psalm 23 is undoubtedly the most well-known psalm in the entire world. Isn’t that remarkable? There are various reasons for that, primarily because of its simplistic beauty and literary quality. It is a perfect length to memorize, and its shepherd and royal imagery speaks across all cultures and languages. It addresses succinctly the temporal fears of all humans in all times. It expresses succinctly all human longings for peace and righteousness and hope and protection and comfort and goodness, known to all humans in all times. It is also ironically a comfort to many who do not even profess faith in God or the gospel. Thus, this confirms a biblical theological interpretation that this psalm essentially conveys the Edenic, paradisal, heavenly picture of a restored relationship with God. That relationship is what all creation groans in travail for; all humans are trapped in the downward death-cycle apart from God the creator. The shepherd-king imagery of the Bible often is found in contexts that assume God as Creator. This is true of many OT psalms, OT prophets, proverbs, etc. We call this creation theology as the backdrop to redemption-theology. In the Bible, God the Creator is always God the Redeemer.

It is too easy to take the beautiful imagery of this psalm literally, thus failing to understand its redemptive-historical profundity: the Lord is indeed concerned with our daily needs, comforts, and rest of soul, but that is not what this psalm is primarily about. I believe it is primarily about the spiritual realities of redemption given to all true believers. As such, it also contains Messianic themes for all believers. As such, it thus gives all believers comfort and joy and encouragement in the midst of suffering, death, darkness, and want. But the comfort to the believer flows from God; it is dependent on the spiritual realities of those who belong to the Living God, Creator and Redeemer.

Psalm 23:1-6 A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

To take this verse as strictly temporal-literal would reduce it to a comical assertion, for though the imagery evokes an Edenic longing for a place of peace and rest in a garden setting, it cannot possible be only about such universal temporal longings. Indeed, as in his proclamation that he shall not be in want, David is describing the true rest and peace his soul longs for. Indeed, in this sense the longing for such peace affirms the universal spiritual longing for true peace of heart, soul, and mind. This is of course pictured here in the poetic (Edenic) imagery of green pastures and quiet waters, but this imagery is metaphoric of the spiritual reality he knows with God, a true relationship, a true peace, a true freedom from deprivation. The deep desire of all people to return to the garden, to the waters of peace, speaks of our need for redemption, our need for restoration to God’s presence and fellowship. (I would qualify this assertion by adding that the Edenic themes may also include the hope for the final restoration-rest he will find in the new creation of the physical earth. In this case, David could have been speaking prophetically, or foreshadowing, of what was to come.)

Importantly, it is God who does this: it is his Shepherd who causes him to lie down (Hiphil imperfect). This lying down is obviously not simply about sleeping, though it can include the kind of assurance in God that he might have when he does sleep. It is the Lord who has himself made it possible for David to find true rest beside streams of water. The Lord is the one who leads him (Piel impf conveys the intensive aspect, stressing God who does this leading).

Water is a metaphor for a variety of things in the Bible (over 600 references), and in this case I believe it portrays well-being of soul that pictures a rest from striving and peace of heart. This describes the soul at peace with God. Remember also that Adam and Eve enjoyed in Eden the rivers that watered their garden-paradise. In contrast, unstill water would have brought memories of the Flood of judgment on the world. We especially find allusions of water to the all-defining experience in Israel’s history: the Exodus, which involved both deliverance through water (Red Sea and Jordan River later) and deliverance by water (water from the rock). Water was the most fundamental symbol for life in the A.N.E., for water was essential to basic survival, drought being the worst fear of all ancient peoples, drought meaning death.

In our era, poets are generally seen as the defeated beatniks of a lazy and lost generation. Nevertheless, historically poets and poetry were seen as the mainstay of civilization, giving voice to the deepest longings and hopes of the human heart. They played a very significant role in social life, politics, recording of history, conveying values and beliefs, and even in wars by preparing people’s hearts with courage to face death and destruction for what was thought to be necessary. In the ancient Old Testament context, emboldened with truth stated poetically, the heart could be strengthened in ways that strait prose can never do. To test this idea, just try and put any of the OT psalms into conversational prose! The same goes for our songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; not only have they historically provided comfort and strength to countless millions of believers, they also have prepared them for the spiritual battle. Thus, it is a historical travesty that many in our generation dismiss the great hymns and songs of the past, and replace them with soupy, touchy-feely, happy-clappy ditties lacking blood, sweat, and tears; lacking the themes of death and sorrow, thus truly lacking real comfort and encouragement. Indeed, entirely unlike David’s Psalm 23, such sentimentalism provides nothing for the battle raging around us and against us!

This is not so with any of the OT psalms, and certainly not for any of David’s psalms. David’s psalms must be read in light of his life, for it is there that they speak most clearly of his Lord, his Shepherd and Warrior-King. David lived under the Lordship of God, he trusted in God for his life in the face of unmanageable, indeed impossible, opposition from within and without. But, more importantly, we meet a man who completely trusted in God for his redemption. One thing that David’s psalms speak most emphatically to is the spiritual reality of being a sinner in need of a Savior. We too often remove the psalms from this historical context and squeeze them into what some call “temporal faith.” That is, we use the psalms to get temporal encouragement in the face of economic, personal, and national hardships. And, indeed they give us much of that kind of encouragement. But, taken thus far, they were never intended to leave us there: I believe that this psalm especially presents us with the much more important spiritual message of the gospel of redemption. As we all know, David’s life was a living testimony to that gospel, demonstrating in vivid colors the unmerited grace of God, but even more important than that is David’s proclamation of the gospel which redeemed his life. David consistently and extensively proclaims this good news through his psalms.

For a longer version of these thoughts, see Psalm 23 and the Biblical Theology of God the Shepherd-King

Can we cope with life?

melencolia_i(etching) Melancholia by Albrecht Durer

“To such a world, Ecclesiastes has something to say. He does not come as a formal philosopher; it is a word from God he has to share, despite his reflective low-key approach. He does not present half-a-dozen arguments for the existence of God. Instead he picks up our own questions. Can you cope with life without having any idea where you are going? You don’t have all the answers to life’s enigmas, do you? Your neo-pagan view of life doesn’t give you any hope of achieving very much, does it? Nature will not answer your questions, and you are bored by it anyway. History baffles your attempts to understand it. You don’t like to think about your own death; yet it is the most certain fact about your existence.
What would it be like, asks the Preacher, if things were utterly different from what you thought? What if this world is not the ultimate one? What if God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him? What if one of his supreme characteristics is his utter, incredible generosity, his willingness to give and give and give again, his utter acceptance of us just as we are. Could it be, asks this provocative and seemingly negative Preacher, that the barrenness and hideous purposelessness of life stems only from the fact that you will not believe in such a God?”[1]

There can be little doubt that the author of Ecclesiastes intended his work as a kind of apologetic, or pre-apologetic, with his lack of references to YHWH (none), the law of God (12:13), the nation of Israel (1:12). He wants to appeal to what is universally known, as did Paul in his preaching to the philosophers of Athens when he does not mention at one point either Israel or the name of Jesus (though he concludes with an affirmation of the resurrection, Acts 17:16-31). Eaton argues along these lines in his proposal that Ecclesiastes is an apologetic work: “It defends the life of faith in a generous God by pointing to the grimness of the alternative.”[2] “Ecclesiastes is thus an exploration of the barrenness of life without a practical faith in God.”[3]

[1] Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983, p. 158Eaton, Ecclesiastes, p. 158.

[2] Eaton, Ecclesiastes, p. 44.

[3] Eaton, Ecclesiastes, p. 45.

The Key to Life

Ocean sphere  “The world is not weighted in our favor. But the same things, which break the man of the world, can make the Christian, if he takes them from the hand of God. Go on looking for the key that will unify the whole of life. You must look for it: God has made you like that, sore travail though it be. But you will not find it in the world; you will not find it in life; in revelation you will find the outskirts of God’s ways; in Christ your finger tips touch the key, but no one has closed his fingers on it yet. No philosophy of life can satisfy if it leaves out Christ. Yet even the finest Christian philosophy must own itself baffled. But do not despair. There is life to be lived day by day. And in the succession of apparently unrelated events God may be served and glorified. And in this daily service of God, we may find pleasure, because we are fulfilling the purpose for which God made us.” (Wright, “The Interpretation of Ecclesiastes,” in Classical Evangelical Essays, pp. 149-150).

I think Wright’s article is profound and beautifully written, and I could not agree more wholeheartedly with this point above that we can not know exactly why each event happens, but I would like to put it even more positively. That is, we do know ultimately that redemption and restoration are the goal, and if that is so, then all events (somehow) in God’s wisdom are working towards that end. We also know that the will of God for us in this life (from the Teacher in Ecclesiastes) is to “fear God and keep his commands.” This is to know, love, and serve God in the spirit of the law in the midst of this fallen world. This being true, there is no insignificance in our lives, nor in any event. Though we do have many unanswered questions on the particulars of our lives, God has given us a comprehensive and positive vantage-point for a proper perspective (interpretation) on all of life. This does involve real faith and trust in God, as expressed by a Psalmist: “Though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,” we are told to “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps 46:2, 10). This is not a Stoic resignation that is baffled by it all; it is a confident hope.

Although we are given this vantage-point of faith, we often fail to take advantage of it adequately. That is, appearances in the “succession of apparently unrelated events” sometimes deceive us, when we stop there, into naturalism, doubt, and despair. Yet, through the gospel, we know that we are being conformed to Christ’s image because he is preparing us to inhabit his renewed earth in resurrected bodies (Rom 8:18-25). We know, through all of life’s “events,” that he is inscribing his eternal law and character, renewing his image, in us (Matt 19:28; 2 Cor 4:16).

1 Jn 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

In sum, the kingdom has already come in Christ, and we are already inhabitants of it as new creations. He is the key to this, and to all of life. He is the one who begins such a work and the one who will finish it when he brings the kingdom in all of it fullness at his glorious return. This is his covenant-promise. This is our present and living hope.

Rom 8:18-25 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.