Does God Have Passions?

Due to a move, I have been dramatically downscaling my book collection. I’ve gotten rid of over 2000, and it’s getting much harder. As I sort through books to give away–terrible process I am almost done with–I dip into them. Last night I dipped into God in the Dock and read the essay “Horrid Red Things.” This isn’t the gist of the essay, but in making his argument Lewis wrote this:

But if the same man afterwards received a philosophical education and discovered that God has no body, parts, or passions and therefore neither a right hand no a palace, he would not have felt that the essentials of his belief had been altered. [all emphasis added]

I wish, instead, he had written “that the Father has no…” That God has no “passions” is one of those “doctrines” that has always befuddled me. My command of systematic theology has always been partial and sketchy, and my memory is rusty and worn as to even what I think I once “knew,” but I believe this is predominately Calvinist and part of the idea of impassibility (God’s unchanging (unchangeable even by himself?) nature.)

But why must it be true that God has no passions? Why not perfect (complete) and pure (holy) passions? We allow that God has reason; we believe that humanity’s reason is a reflection of our being made in God’s image, but we argue our reason fell and became corrupted with Adam. Even then we place a high value on reason as a way of seeking and learning about God, though not as much as our Catholic brothers. So, why not fallen passions?

I will return to that, but to get at my “solution,” I want to go back to Lewis’ quote. Lewis also says God has no “body.” It’s absolutely true that the Father and Spirit has (singular intended) no body, but the Son has; and this bit of theology I haven’t forgotten: The Son is God. Most impassibility philosophy treats Biblical passages that talk about God “relenting,” changing his mind, or having passions as anthropomorphic. Some go so far as to argue prayer doesn’t “impact” or “effect” or “alter” God, which, to me, makes a mockery of the plain language of “If a son asks his father for bread will he give him a stone?” Of course, they have fancy ways of explaining it as anthropomorphic language put in terms we can understand.

In the the same essay, Lewis warns of the dangers of anthropomorphizing, saying it was condemned by the early Church, but isn’t the Son himself anthropomorphized God? Didn’t he have passions, or when he drove out the money-changers was his anger a show? An act? When he weeps over the death of his friend, Lazarus, is he really just a Vulcan or robot dramatizing a parable for the benefit of the crowd, showing rather than telling, but not feeling?


If the Son has a body, if the Son has passions, then isn’t it meaningful–though mysterious–to speak of God having passions? Do we diminish the Son to secondary status like the Modalists if we don’t allow the possibility?


Maybe, and I certainly don’t assert his as theological truth because I am very wary of ever doing so (in much the same way Lewis was), but maybe since Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3) we Image Bearers couldn’t have been made in any other form or with any other nature because the Incarnate Image existed in the Son from his Begottenness, like potential energy become kinetic in the Incarnation. Lewis, himself, almost gets at this in Perelandra. I don’t have a copy anymore, but an angel (?) tells Ransom that the man and woman on Venus were human because after God took on that form all other sentient creatures had to be made in it, vice the creatures on Mars in Out of the Silent Planet, who were created before humanity, the Fall, and Incarnation.

I think maybe Lewis didn’t see the true eternal implications of the Son’s humanness. Eternity is often confused with everlasting, but it is more. We have everlasting life, starting at a beginning and never ceasing, but eternity flows everlasting in both directions (really neither direction, as its truly outside of Time.) I think Jesus’ humanity had to exist before humanity. Since the theologians love the Greek philosophy so much (more on that below), why not go with Christ as the Platonic Form of Humanity made Incarnate, and yet uncorrupted, in Jesus? I think honest impassibility would have to admit this if it carried its own logic out to its natural conclusion because otherwise in the Incarnation God did change, and change radically!

That was what I read last night. As often happens to me I next randomly read something that reinforces the first. (Actually it usually happens later, and I then go desperately scanning through all the stuff I’m reading in search of the connection muttering: “What was I recently reading that meshes with this? Where is it? Was it a book? An essay? Online? There’s a pattern here…I can almost grasp it.” Or I think: “I wrote a note about that a few weeks ago. Which notebook? Or is it on my phone? Or in a file? Did I use Simplenote? Keep?” Ugh, I drive myself nuts with this!)

This morning I pick up Pinnock and Brow’s Unbounded Love, and open to the chapter “Judgment: Caring Love”, the subsection “Slow to Anger.” I read:

God does not want to be angry, and his wrath only happens when people remain stubbornly impenitent and when they leave God no alternative but to act in judgment. But even then God would much rather do them good, because he is compassionate by nature.

When God’s anger does burn against sinners, the Bible says it last only a moment. His anger passes but his love endures forever. Wrath happens but it does not abide. Because God’s anger is rooted in his love for us, it is actually distasteful to him. It is a tragic necessity, not something God ever delights in. It causes him suffering and means he must suspend his mercy for a time. [emphasis added]

Pinnock seems to clearly believe God has passions. I’ve read parts of several of Pinnock’s works, but I am more familiar with E. P. Sanders. Both of them are early proponents of “The Openness of God” school of theology, which many thinkers I trust are either highly skeptical of, or outright label as heresy, but I don’t see it that way. Neither Pinnock nor Sanders, the best I can tell, question the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, or Parousia. But back to the quote.

“Distasteful to him”? “Causes him suffering”? These, those who hold to a view of impassibility cannot abide. They insist God cannot suffer, but, again, that seems to diminish the Son as fully God, not to mention make the Father heartless, for isn’t heartless what having no passions means? Did the Son, as God, not suffer on the cross, or do we divide the Son’s nature into “parts” and argue only his human self suffered? Did the Father witness the Son’s suffering, and his lament “Why have you forsaken me”, with passionless stoicism?

Lewis suggest what the problem might be, but actually took it in a different direction than I am. Back to his quote: “If the same man afterwards received a philosophical education…” Impassibility has always seemed to me a Greek philosophical idea grafted onto Jerusalem, and onto the New Testament’s Jewish foundation. The passages used to support it are possibly misconstrued by the Greek filter, but I wouldn’t know, really. James says “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” and the author of Hebrews says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

But isn’t all that really saying that God in his nature and essence is pure (holy) and perfect (complete), not that he doesn’t have passions or modify his plans in light of his creatures sinful corruptions of it? God is light, and in him there is no darkness, so of course he doesn’t “change like shifting shadows” (as the NIV translates it.) There are changes that don’t indicate a change of nature. Movement is one, position another. To change states isn’t to change nature. Think water. When we sleep our nature doesn’t change. Does our nature change when we’re happy? Depressed? Tired? What is our true nature? Imago Dei. That never changes. Not through the Fall; not even in Hell. What is God’s nature? “God is love.” He is an unchanging God moved by love, and when he is moved he moves according to that nature without variation and without shadow.

For God, plans A, B, and C would all be pure and perfect. Any alterations would be just as holy and righteous. It’s actually an anthropomorphization to think of Plan B as a backup plan and Plan C as a fail-safe, and Plan D as a Hail Mary because that’s how we think. God cannot act contrary to his nature, but why must any change to plan A be contrary to that nature? After all, isn’t the cross Plan B? He “though whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made that was made” knew the cross was a consequence of creation, and yet, because his nature is Creator, he created anyway.

This is an issue of utmost seriousness, and I assert none of it as Truth. I pray God illuminate me and correct any error. We will never grasp the fullness of God’s nature even when “we’ve been there ten thousand years,” but by the light I have I think there’s something to it. These reflections are driven by a desire to honor and understand the Son as fully God, but I haven’t yet “received a philosophical education.” Except for two undergraduate philosophy survey courses all my philosophical and theological education is entirely self-taught. Perhaps, like the doctor who treats himself, the teacher who instructs himself has a fool for a student. But then again, maybe Lewis’ “ordinary man” who has yet to be so educated has something to offer, something those who have can no longer perceive.

I don’t think believing God has passions, can suffer, and can change his mind puts my soul in peril, or distorts the honest, ordinary language of Scripture. I suppose it undermines the Calvinists’ election in their thinking, but I’m of the mind that Calvinist self-absorbed introspection in an obsession to discern election is at the roots of modern Western narcissism, but that’s another essay. I’d rather reflect on God than on myself. (Ha! Don’t let me fool you. Paul may have been the “chief of sinners,” but I’m in the running for chief naval-gazer!)

I wish I had the time to make this more clear, but in total it already represents about 4 hours, so it will have to stand. Life beckons.

Something More

A quick thought: The cross has to be about more than forgiveness. I’m not sure ‘evangelical’ Christianity gets that. Confession, repentance and forgiveness are excellent things, but redemption is more than forgiveness. All stand under condemnation because of sin, and no sin is a small thing and Sin is not a trivial condition, but examining sin focuses us upon ourselves and/or others, the sinners.

Telling someone he’s unlovable but God loves him anyway is a contradiction at its very core (if God loves me I am able to be loved; that is, love-able), that she is so horrible she deserves eternal damnation but God can forgive her or that one is despicably, unspeakably ugly but God can make him lovely doesn’t seem, to me, to be much of a witness to the world or a source or edification for the Body.

A true understanding of what Sin and its affects are only comes imperfectly after spending time in the presence of God. Until then, and even as one’s understanding deepens, it’s hard not to think of what we consider judicious and just punishment. I think it’s nearly impossible for most people to think of sins of omission or commission as deserving a death sentence unless they are pardoned. Even a deeper understanding of Sin as a condition full of Pride, Avarice, Lust, etc. probably doesn’t elicit a sense of warrant for one’s death, let alone the death of someone else as substitution.

Imagine you’re in a tent on a base during war and one of your corporal rolls a live grenade into the tent in a fit of rage because he hates the sergeant. ?A friend dives on the grenade, substituting himself for everyone else, dying because of the evil of another.Not so hard to understand, and though it’s tragic and grieves you, you feel deep gratitude and love for your friend.

Now imagine you’re in that same tent with just your friend, but this time you’re goofing around like the immature right-out-of-high-school private you are, and you accidentally drop a live grenade which your friend dives on even though he was near the door and could have dove the other way and saved himself. ?You feel deep shame, unbearable horror, and unrelenting guilt, but you still know you’re friend died for you, and maybe someday, hopefully, you realize your friend would not want you to hate yourself and you owe it to him to live the life he spared to the fullest.

Many would agree that the person in the first case who threw the grenade should be executed, but no one would probably argue the second person should be executed, both because of lack of intention and because it would negate the sacrifice of the friend.

People are not Good, but they are mostly decent, at least by any norms ever defined by humanity. We all can see ourselves as the foolish, ignorant private, but we are unable to understand how it merits death. Sometimes we are aware that we are the evil ‘friendly’, but we think of it as a momentary act of emotion, not as a character-defining attribute, and we have trouble understanding how executing someone who had nothing to do with it would ‘fix’ anything, especially since most of the time we authentically are a ‘friendly’ and on the same side.

You lied? Accept God’s forgiveness. He butchered His Son so you could be forgiven. Oops…you did it again? Christ accepted torture, humiliation and crucifixion for a wretch like you because you were too ugly, disfigured and vile for Him to even look at until He did, but now you can be happy. You fudged your expense report? He’s got ya covered with the blood of His boy! Get this! He could have stopped it and He could have killed you for it and sent you to hell, but Alleluia! Instead He stood by and let his Son be slaughtered just so you could be forgiven. Now sing praises!

The sad hard truth is we’re neither the evil corporal nor the foolish private; we’re enemies with God. ?I’m not sure one obtains that understanding without forgiveness, an aspect of redemption and reconciliation, not prior to it. Imagine sin were a fruit and you were told what would happen if you took a bite of it and yet you did, but having taken the bite the poisonous juice traps you in a matrix of self-deception, you leave the garden and get lost, the poison makes you sick, lame, blind, distorts your hearing, disfigures you, put sores all over your body and yet convinces you you’re well.

Someone comes to you and says: You’re vile, repugnant and evil, but you did it to yourself, now say you’re sorry and turn around and go back because God killed His Son instead of you.

There’s got to be more. Isn’t it instead The Father sent His Son out looking for you, and the only way to heal your body, mind, heart and soul was to completely drain the poisonous blood and replace it with pure, and the only pure blood was in the Son, but in order for Him to have blood at all He had to first become like you, and putting His blood into you killed Him? And now the curse is lifted and you know you’re forgiven, all if well, and you back; in fact, with His blood came His Spirit to show you the way home.

N T Wright and Ecclesiology

Enjoyed this quote from N. T. Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision and thought I’d pass it on.  Ecclesiology has been becoming my driving interest for many years now.

Yes, say the scoffers, ethnic divisions are broken down, we know that, but why make such a fuss about it? The answer is that the church, thus united through the grace of God in the death of Jesus, is the sign to the principalities and powers that their time is up. Ephesians is not about the ordering of the church by the gospel for its own sake. “Ecclesiology” may sound secondary and irrelevant to some ardent enthusiasts for the old perspective, but that could just be because they are unwilling to face the consequences of Paul’s ecclesiology. For him, the church is constituted, and lives its life in public, in such a way as to confront the rulers of the world with the news that there is “another king named Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Paul says it again: this was the grace given to me, this was the mystery revealed which I became a servant, the mystery lodged since all eternity in the creator’s single plan: “that now the many-splendored wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he has accomplished int he Messiah, Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11).

How can “ecclesiology” be a secondary topic, unworthy to be associated with the great doctrine of justification, when Scripture itself gives it this high a place? Why should not the point of justification itself be precisely this, that, in constituting the church as the single family who are a sign to the powers that Jesus is Lord and the they are not, it serves directly the mission of the kingdom of God in the world? It cannot be, can it, that part of the old perspective’s reaction to the new is the tacit sense that once we associate ecclesiology with the very center of the gospel we will have to go all the way and rethink the political role and task of the church? Surely the wonderful “objective” scholarship of so many old perspective exponents would not allow such a motive to affect exegesis! And yet: Luther’s “two kingdoms” theology may have more bearing on this than we might like to think. Not to mention the deep resistance, in some of the same circles where the old perspective still flourishes, to any attempt to articulate a gospel-based “kingdom” theology to complement and illuminate Paul’s soteriology.” (173-174)

Impassibility and the Buffet Rule

I was just walking and listening to a lecture on my mp3 player on the influence of Greek philosophy on early Church Fathers, one of which was the concept of impassibility.  This teaching has annoyed me from the very first time I remember hearing about it, and from time to time I try to articulate why.

Greeks believed that passions (same root as passivity) moved us, so we were not completely acting (same root as activity) freely, which was not good. For God to be good he had to be impassible, or unmoved by passion (or emotion), or he wouldn’t be either good or perfect.

Even if we accept the absurd dissection of God into reason, emotion and will–called the mind of God, the heart of God and the will of God–which can no more be separated than water can from a wave, then why must the conclusion be that God be passionless, or impassible, in order to be unchanging?

In our current state of class warfare, the Left has decided that if a millionaire pays less in taxes (as a rate) than his secretary because he pays capital gains and she pays federal tax then the only solution is for the millionaire to pay more so there is fairness.  Why can’t it be that the secretary pays less?  Would this not also achieve a more fair result?  Why do people so readily accept the conclusions others want them to.

Likewise, rather than God being impassible because He is unchanging why can’t it be that He has perfect, incorruptible, eternal passion rather than none?  An unchanging God moved by love?

Love, joy and peace are not purely emotional, as we understand emotion, but surely they have emotional aspects.  To argue God is impassible is to argue that though He experiences, say, peace that He is not moved by it.  Why can’t He be perfectly moved by it?  Why couldn’t such movement have occurred before the creation, and why couldn’t creation and redemption itself be a result of God being perfectly moved by pure, incorruptible, unchanging love before the creation of the world?

How do we reconcile Jesus Christ of Nazareth as Lord with the Garden of Gethsemane, with the Son of the Most High God weeping when His friend died?  How is the Incarnation itself not a change?

I guess what bugs me the most, and I had three other examples of this I was going to write you about the other day, is the way Christians who accept the philosophical notion of the impassibility of God build the whole edifice upon Platonic thought, which is the iceberg, and cap it off (the tip of the iceberg) with a proof text like God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and then cry Sola Scriptura.

Is there any reason a God moved by love wouldn’t still be the same yesterday today and tomorrow; that is, unchangingly a God moved by love?

In Essentials

For decades I have heard people use the expression: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I think a common reply to this is that we can never agree as to what is essential and what is non-essential. In fact, most of the time it appears that disagreement about what is essential is the most common source of disunity within the Body, so we debate and debate the particular question at hand.

However, it seems to me as I have been reflecting on this dictum that it channels the discussion into a false framework; well, not so much a false framework as disguising what the problem really is. It would be hard to disagree with this centuries-old formulation, so why so much disunity? I don’t believe it’s because we can’t decide what is essential and what is non-essential; I think it’s precisely because we all agree to an unstated single, core essential I would state as: The only real essential is understanding and obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ in all things.

So, Protestants believe we are saved by faith alone. We believe that is the correct understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ in both proclamation and action regarding salvation. Catholics believe that when James wrote “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” he was expressing a different “correct” understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ regarding the nature of salvation.

Every issue we disagree about from baptism to the ordination of women, from the number of the sacraments to the proper care of the environment, from the exact nature of the inspiration of Scripture to church polity hinges on the desire to correctly understand the teaching of Christ so that we can be obedient to that teaching. Those who believe homosexuals should be allowed to marry believe they are obeying a correct understanding of Jesus’s teachings about love. Those who don’t believe they should be allowed to marry believe they are obeying a correct understanding of Jesus’s teaching about holiness. Those who think communion should be open to non-believers, those who don’t, and on and on.

Because we are united in our unstated agreement that the only real essential is to be obedient to the teaching of the Living Word we can allow no liberty towards one another because how can one be at liberty to disobey the Lord’s teaching? So the fragmentation of the Church continues apace. “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Love and Justification

Theologians are always debating the righteousness of God in justification.  Is it imputed?  Is it infused?  Is it forensic?

I can’t tell you the torture I put myself through for decades over this kind of stuff.  Like a navigator who knows if his calculation is off by the slightest degree he will miss the mark, I constantly feel like I have to get these formulations down at the outset, forgetting that all I really have to do is follow the One who not only knows but is the Way.  I swear Christians make this so hard, though.

I could and perhaps will say more about that, but I have to be gone the next couple of days, so for now, just this.

From Lewis, a close paraphrase: God does not make us good [righteous] so that He can love us.  Because He loves us He makes us good [righteous].

Not a righteousness [goodness] that comes through the law, be it God’s covenant law (e.g. circumcision, Sabbath keeping, dietary, etc.), like the arguments of the New Perspectives on Paul, which make a lot of sense to me, nor by the law as in moral laws, but by His grace.

Nouwen: “God’s love does not depend on our repentance or inward or outer changes.”

While I want to be one of those who repents and changes inwardly and outwardly, and believe I am, even if I’m not God loves me.  This is not the message I have heard from the church, but the deficiency may be in me.

I have either heard wrongly many evangelical and/or reformed writers, teachers and preachers, or they have not said it in a way I could hear well.

God’s love precedes his imputed, infused or forensic righteousness in each of us.  His love precedes creation, and creation flowed out of it.  His love precedes the Fall.  His love preceeds the Incarnation and is the very reason for it.  God’s love precedes the cross and made the cross itself inevitable.

Intentional or not the Calvinist/Reformed tradition has taught me that unless I am among the elect I am not and never can be righteous.  It has followed in my mind that if I am not among the elect, therefore righteous, God does not love me.  No matter what they say, one can not know with certainty, I don’t believe, if one is elect.

I don’t care how much good fruit you produce in keeping with righteousness, you’re going to sin, and we are never going to be certain if our motivations are right, and they never will be completely pure.  If our motivations are not right, our actions can’t be fully right-eous.  It produces an effort to prove one’s righteousness to one’s self, so that one can be assured of God’s love and forgiveness.

So, how do I ever know I am really being Christ to other’s, really being transformed, really putting on Christ and not trying to prove to myself and others I am among the elect out of fear of damnation rather than love of God and neighbor?  I don’t see how, but maybe that’s because I’m not elect.

Maybe the elect all have specific, dramatic conversion experiences and are then perpetually filled with peace, joy, gratitude and contentment, never stop growing, love selflessly and sacrificially and forgive everything all the time.  Maybe the elect know they are elect and those who think they are elect and don’t know it are deceived and it’s impossible for one to be among the elect and not know it. It’s a nightmare of a labyrinth.

Yesterday I heard a radio preacher I like.  I’m not going to mention names because it’s a distraction.  I went to his web site and was reading the days devotion.  There’s a line in it I heard countless times in the Evangelical circles in which I ran in college, and to whom I owe a great debt:

“The Holy Spirit…tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’”

Indeed, Christ is all in all.  However, the message I heard over and over is that I am nothing or I am worthless.  The fact is that we elevate Christ so high that we forget what all the bother was about.  Christ is exalted; He is supreme; all creation will bow before His majesty, glory and power when it is made His footstool.

No question, no doubt, but is it possible that in the way we do, we corrupt even that to the point that we claim for Christ something He never claimed for himself: that God bounded Himself in flesh, space and time, suffered and died for…nothing?  That’s the word I hear all the time.  Not ‘nothing’ as in for “no reason,” but ‘nothing’ as in “worthless,” the other word I hear all the time.

Like Jeremiah’s potter, God is reshaping spoiled vessels.  Spoiled is not the same as nothing; it’s not the same as worthless.  The misshapen vessels have such infinite value and worth that even if they are not usable in their current distorted shape, the Potter loves them so much, that rather than just discarding them and starting over, He reshapes, remolds, restores, recreates them.

God does not make us good so that He can love us.  Because He loves us He is making us good.

To preach Christ and Him crucified is to preach his radical, all-encompassing, unalterable love for us.

I suppose the concern, as it has been for me often, is that if we preach this love to ourselves and others it might lead to encouraging sin to abound so grace can abound even more, or it might make us think there is to be no striving or pressing on towards the goal.

If that is what we or others hear it is not the Good News because the Good News is that because God loves us we can be recreated, not stay the same miserable, spoiled vessels and the Potter merely says “Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to begin with.  It will look lovely in this spot or I can just use it for this purpose instead.  Silly me.  What was I thinking?”

The full quote above from the devotion, which was adapted from Spurgeon, is “But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that ‘Christ is all in all.’”

I’m not at all certain the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self.  Away from false self, fallen self, sinful self, but not true self.  Paul spends much time in 1 Corinthians 15 expounding on the resurrection of the body.  We must avoid a purely spiritualized theology.  Theology is incarnational and embodied. The Word made flesh and the risen Christ.  We can not stop at the cross for all it’s majesty and glory.

There IS a me, a true me, a me crafted, knit together and wonderfully made. God does not want me to forget this self, but to become it.  To remember it, not as though I have a memory of it, but His memory of it.  His memory of ME.

We live in a self-absorbed, self-fulfillment, self-obsessed me-driven world in the grip of relativism.  Be that as it may, like with everything else, it’s not purely and solely a lie.  All good lies have an element of the truth, and the truth is that there is a me for God to love.  Distorted, warped, and idolized though self-love may be in this world does not mean the solution is the forget self; it’s to remember our true self.

God is not running an assembly line in which we turn to Him, climb on the conveyor belt and God stamps out a Jesus such that when we stand before Him all He sees is His Son.

In The Wrinkle in Time, Meg defeats the lies of the enemy with this truth: “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”  Because I am clothed in Christ does not mean there is no me to be clothed.  Because I am made like Jesus does not mean I am the same as Jesus.

I don’t know how many times I have heard “When God looks at you on Judgment Day, He will see Jesus.”  When I stand before God He will see the true me I can only be IN Christ.

Heaven will not be populated with a bunch of Jesus clones.  Only Jesus is Jesus, thanks be to God.  Heaven will be populated with resurrected, unique, infinitely  precious, incalculably valuable people of inestimable worth, spoiled vessels recreated.

God does not make us good so that He can love us.  Because He loves us He is making us good.

To me, it makes all the difference in the world.

10 Commandments and Hubris

I was in Ex 20 this morning.  Besides the fact that I have broken every one of the 10 in so many ways except the obvious ones people think of.

I often put myself as a god before God.  I have used His name in vain.  Even when I remember the sabbath (most weeks in worship) my whole day is not spent in sabbath rest.  I have murdered in my heart,  Stole, even if time from my employer daydreaming. I have coveted. I have not always honored my parents.

The point is humbling.  Sure, we say, I h’ain’t killed no body.  I ain’t never cheated on my wife.  I ain’t  never made a false image.  Yup.  I gots ’em all covered, ‘ecpt-in maybe that parents thing, but boys is wild.  Everbuddy knows this.

It was good to be reminded.  Not much later while driving I had a thought about someone and I immediately started exhausting myself, and was just on the verge of creating a fantasy about how I could do this or do that and show the other up.  It felt like God snatched the hair off my head getting in there to root it out.  The whole process from think to repent was less than a second, and then I told God: Go head, snatch it out.  I’m sick of it everytime I think about doing something good.  I was yelling and realized it.  I apologized to God for raising my voice to Him but explained it was me I was mad at.  So the 10 are good to read often. I think Luther tried everyday.  Yes, the rediscover of grace through faith studied the Law, hard.

The main thing that stuck me, though, was this:

“An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.”

Just before this I had read Psalm 24:

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof [sometimes translated and all that fills it)
the world and those who dwell therein,

Here’s the key to Hubris, and we see it everyday.  God made the stones; they are part of the fullness of the earth which belongs to Him.  They would change His creation by hewing them.  He forbid this.  “They’re MY rocks.  Why would I want your pathetic hands trying to shape them?  They’re perfect the way I made them.”

But how often do we apply ourselves to a task thinking we are the creators, the builders, the movers and shakers, the ones the world need in order to “Get ‘er done!”?

Shear Hubris!  Even when we are doing good it is often according to our plan.

We are stone stackers of the alter of God.  The only thing He wants is our obedience.  Not our leadership.  Not our creative designs.  Not our tools.  Not our organizational charts and flowchart plans.  He wants us to pick up the rocks he created and place them where He wants them to go.

God’s Faithfulness or My Faith

Our views of God are critically affected when, in an attempt to understand Him and know Him, we make Him into our image so we can relate better.  We are people made in the image of God, so we look at ourselves like shadows on Plato’s cave wall, instead of looking at the one who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3)  Yes, “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14), but we are only broken images, not “exact imprints.”

Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8 reflects this well.  I think it’s possible that the angel who appeared to Gideon might have been a manifestation of Christ prior to His incarnation (like perhaps with Jacob) because Gideon actually makes an offering to him and then feels doomed when he realizes who it is.  The angel does not tell Gideon not to make a sacrifice or build an alter after, as one might suspect and angel would, and the angel touched the sacrifice with his staff and it was consumed.

It is not instrumental to the story nor is it a matter of doctrine to believe one way or the other, but I find it intriguing, and like to think of the story this way because it shows God’s extraordinary faithfulness in the face of our lack of faith, so I will write as if it was a non-material manifestation of our Lord even though if it was a messenger it was still God speaking.

Gideon had his strengths, to be sure, but he also made those from Missouri look like pure mystics in comparison. Like usual, showing He can use the “weakest member from the weakest clan,” God called Gideon.  Gideon shows how corrupted Israel had become (his father even had an alter to Ba’al) by saying “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us.”

This is actually encouraging to me.  While I don’t like it when I too feel that way, God demonstrates it’s not Gideon’s faith but His faithfulness that matters.  He doesn’t consume Gideon on the spot, as He could and would be just and right in doing, as with any of us.  The Lord actually addressed Gideon as “Mighty hero,” and when Gideon showed his doubt, God didn’t rebuke him; he actually commissioned him: “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites.  I am sending you!”

Incredible!  God says “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you”–perhaps even as the one uttering those very words.  Gideon basically replies “Yeah, right.  You say so, but it’s obvious to any rational person He’s not.” And God’s response is to commission him!

It gets better.  Gideon then whines like Moses and Pigglet “Bbbb-but, I’m too ttttt-timid.” (I’m not mocking the man, but Moses stuttered, too, right?)  With infinite patience, the Lord says “I’ll be with you.”  Gideon b?n Missouri says “show me.”  “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign.” So he runs home, whips up some tasty goat and bread and rushes back.  Then after the Lord consumes the offering Gideon has what might have been the granddaddy of all “Oh, crap!” moments in history.

So now he’s on board, kinda, sorta, at least for a while.  God tells him to destroy a pagan alter and a pagan pole, build a true alter and sacrifice a bull.  Well, OK, Gideon does it, but he takes 10 servants with him and “did it at night because he was afraid.”  He almost gets killed again, this time by the people, but his father grows a pair and defends him.

Is Gideon ready to go up to the big leagues, get in the Show.  Nope.  Basically he’s still going with “the strength he has,” which is just fine because it’s God’s faithfulness that matters and not Gideon’s weak faith.  Gideon still wants to be sure God really wants him to actually go into battle against the allied armies.  So this time he asks God for a sign, and then when he gets it replies like a Teletubbie: “Again, again!”  (OK, I’m missing my children’s childhood.  I loved Pooh and hated the Teletubbies, but I have a fondness for them now.)

God gives Gideon the back-to-back signs he asked for.  He roust the allied armies with 100 men, kills their leaders and then kills the town people who refused to help him.  He refuses to be king and tells the people “The Lord will rule over you.”

<<Fade to Black>>

But wait!  It’s just a “Return of the King” type long pause to make you think it’s over.  This man who had just been used by God to rescue his people now asks them all for a gold earing from the plunder which he uses to make a sacred ephod and place in his hometown.  According to the Talmud, the wearing of the ephod atoned for the sin of idolatry on the part of the Children of Israel.  Yet, they had just days before been rescued from years of immersion in a pagan, idol-worshiping culture.  So what did they do?  “The Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.”

It’s no where indicated God told him to do that, and wisdom would have dictated not creating something so like an idol in that culture and climate because, as you say “He is not made with human hands” and they still were acculturated after years of living within that worldview to think He was.

Idolatry, weak faith, making God into our image, cultural conditioning, pagan warriors, fear, uncertainty, doubt.  Through the whole story, again and again, God proves Himself faithful.

I am like the weak parts of Gideon, Jim, and we live in a pagan culture (no sense pretending we don’t) but you know what?  God is still God and He loves me.  “All the promises of God have their Yes! in Christ Jesus” my Lord.

Faith alone?  I wonder sometimes.  James actually says “Not by faith alone.”  However, I don’t ever wonder if it’s Faithfulness Alone.  Whatever else this new life is, surely it’s grounded on God’s faithfulness.  By His faithful mercy and grace, He’s taking me along for the ride.  From my perspective it is a scary ride.  Sometimes we’re lost in the jungle, sometimes caught in raging waters, sometimes doingImmelmann’s in a dogfight, sometimes crawling through a desert.

Thanks be to God it’s not dependent on my frail faith but on His Glorious Faithfulness.  Thanks be to God that He is not made in my image.

On Love and Righteousness

I stumbled across this quote that for me just shows how Christians thinkers, as humans, try to sift the mysteries of God into false hierarchical categories:

“Holiness is pre-eminent in God, for in the actual dealings of God his other attributes are conditioned and limited by his holiness. This is beheld excellently well on Calvary: in Christ’s redeeming work, love makes the atonement, but it is violated holiness that required it. The prime source out of which our salvation issued is God’s violated holiness. His love motivated him to actually accomplish it on our behalf, helpless and weak as we are.”

“In the same way, the eternal punishment of the wicked is irrevocable because of God’s unchangeable holiness. His self-vindication overbears the pleading of love for the sufferers.”

“Holiness shows itself higher than love, in that it conditions love. Hence God’s mercy does not consist in outraging his own law of holiness, laying it aside or even disparaging it. No, it is rather by enduring the penal affliction by which that law of holiness is satisfied.”

Really?  Holiness is pre-eminent in God?  “Holiness shows itself higher than love?”

Please. Love is not an attribute of God because it’s not a modifier.  Holy, righteous, just, merciful, pure, wise, good, sovereign, powerful, glorious, eternal, impartial, etc. are all modifiers, thus attributes or inherent characteristics.  Love is never a modifier.  The Word does not say God is loving.  Well it does (abounding in loving kindness), but it says “God is Love.”  It says “God so loved….”

1 Peter 1:20: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”  Jesus was chosen to suffer and die before He created the world, and yet He created it anyway.  If holiness was pre-eminent or higher than love, if it conditioned and limited Love then God would have just destroyed the spoiled pot instead of reshaping it.

Every attribute of God is an attribute of Love because God is Love.   Theos Agape.

Compare other uses of God and is.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God
For the LORD your God is a merciful God
God is giving you.
God is commanding you.
God is with you.
God is my rock.
God is greater than other gods.
God is gracious and compassionate.
God is mighty.
God is exalted in power.
God is our refuge.
God is merciful.
God is righteous.
God is sovereign
God is one.
God is truthful
God is God.
God is glorified.
God is Spirit.
God is light.

Almost all of these take the form of Noun Adjective (modifier).  Some are Noun Noun, but the noun is a figurative expression of a spiritual truth (e.g. God is my rock.  God is our refuge.) as it relates to us.

Here are the ones that don’t describe what I consider to be attributes; rather, they describe God Himself in Himself and they are all Noun Noun:

God is Love
God is Light
God is Spirit
God is One

Oneness isn’t an attribute; it’s not a characteristic; It IS
Spirit isn’t an attribute.  It is a person of the trinity.
Light isn’t an attribute; it’s how He exists, is present.

John is the only one to use this phrase:  Theos light is.  This means: to be, to exist, to happen, to be present.  This is how God is, exist and is present to us.

To me it’s similar to Yahweh.  It is saying God exist as love; God exist as light.  God exist as Spirit; God Exist as One.

They are not characteristics.  God’s love manifest itself to us as attributes like holy, righteous, merciful, just, eternal, sovereign, steadfast, mighty, powerful, but his nature is Love.

Not a Christian Nation

I support the National Day of Prayer.  It’s not unconstitutional; there is no imposition; one can pray to Whomever, whomever (only my God gets the capital–that’s how it works on my blog), or whatever they want, or to no one or nothing.  The recent court decision declaring that it violates the Constitution is nonsense, and it will be overturned.  The text of U.S. Public Law 324 clearly states that this is optional: ”The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”

However, I do not agree with all the rhetoric in support of it based on the notion that “America is a Christian nation.”  Without a doubt, Judeo-Christian values, history and philosophy have informed, shaped and influenced this nation’s founding, laws and history, profoundly.   Yet, the definition of Christian is grounded in what one believes about the person of Jesus Christ, His death, and His resurrection.

Christianity is not a philosophy, ideology, political theory or worldview.  It can and does guide and shape those things; those things can and do arise and grow naturally out of  Scripture and tradition, of necessity as we strive to honor God with our lives.

Christianity itself, though, is about “Who do you say that [Jesus is]”, and what, precisely are you going to do with that answer? If you believe he is the Messiah, the God-man, the Christ who died for your sins and rose from the dead, and you surrender yourself to His grace and submit yourself to His Lordship in all things, then you can claim the name of Christian.  If you place your country above Him, you have, in fact, made an idol of your nation and violated the First and Second Commandments.

No where in our founding documents is the divinity of Christ, His atoning work on the cross for our sins, or His resurrection from the dead even implied.  They are political documents strongly influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics and values, but they are not Christian in the sense that “The Epistle To Hebrews” is Christian, or even “The Augsburg Confession,” or “The Catechism of the Catholic Church.”  All are written affirmations of who Jesus Christ was, His purpose and mission, His call and our response.

If you do not believe what Scripture proclaims and the Spirit confirms about Jesus Christ and answer His call to come to Him, grow in Him and go for Him, then nothing you write, say or do can rightly be characterized as Christian.