Divine Simplicity

[Taken from “Calvary: The Story Behind God’s Gift of Himself”]

The story goes that little Johnny wrote his ex girlfriend from camp: “Sussie, I hate you.” And then signed it: “love, Johnny.” Some see this as ambivalence [mixed feelings]. God hated Esau, so said the prophet Malachi and Paul, the Apostle (Malachi 1:3; Romans 9:13), while at the same time according to the Apostle John: God is love (1 John 4:8). How can this be? The bigger question is: How can there be punishment for sin with God if He is forgiving?

Is this the boulder an omnipotent God created too heavy to lift? The phrase “cognitive dissonance” [inconsistent attitudes as regard behavior] comes to mind. It characterizes anyone claiming to live by one principle but doing things outside their professed character. And this is not God!

Only deceivers are complicated. “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive,” Sir Walter Scott wrote. Genuineness and spontaneous responses—established of love, gentleness, and mercy—are simple, and that is why we say God shows simplicity. There is a sense in which He judges mercifully, He administers justice for the sake of His creation whom He loves.

There is a well-known verse that profiles God, “God is not a liar like some men might be; He does not deceive; He is transparently honest; He is not a human being dealing with regret over mistakes and bad choices. What He promises, He does; do you think otherwise!? When does He speak and it doesn’t happen just as He said? ” (Numbers 23:19).

The doctrine of simplicity, teaches, then, that

  1. God is unlike any other being; “The Lord’s mercy and love exceed far beyond our expectations.” (Psalm 145:3) and that
  2. God is perfect, that is, God’s actions do not share in the limitations of human actions. God’s intentions, what He purposes to do, He does. “My word that comes from my mouth will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11). There is no difference between what God intends to do and what He accomplishes. We , however, see these two ideas as distinct.

Understanding God, though, is another matter. Our knowledge of God is on a pre-heaven level. It will be important later to dive into some terms used to describe God because they explain His simplicity. Irenaeus [Haer 2.13.3] calls God an “uncompounded Being, without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to himself, since he is wholly understanding, … spirit, …thought, ….intelligence, …reason, and wholly hearing, …seeing and light and the whole source of all that is good.” In simple language: “It is an utter impossibility for God not to be all He is: both merciful and just.”

Looking at God through a single lens (of divine love) , interpreting all His actions in terms of His love for us, not only inspires our understanding of God’s Word but it explains everything about our relationship with Him as believers. “I indeed know exactly what I will for you,” the Lord shares His thoughts, “plans for your peace and spiritual prosperity, not misfortune or ruin, but ultimately what you have longed for all along.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

It is our limited reasoning, limited by how we experience life and what we have learned about our own humanity that we endlessly compare our reasoning with God’s and ask so many questions about Calvary that may be above out current comprehension.

Simplicity shows how God could be merciful and at the same time exact a penalty for sin, how His justice could be both retributive and restorative. The doctrine of a divine simplicity for God attempts to show that when God is exercising one attribute of His nature, He is exercising all attributes of His nature. His justice is always merciful. When He displays His anger, He is fierce, but it is a feature of His jealous love for His people. “The LORD is jealous….” (Nahum 1:2; Joel 2:18)

Simplicity teaches that He does all things as an expression of His love. “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the LORD’s unfailing love”(Ps. 33:5; 89:14). All this can be said in one sentence: A study of Calvary is really a study about the love of God, that is, a study of the nature of God.

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Jesus Took Our Punishment

[Taken from “Calvary: The Story Behind God’s Gift of Himself“]

Penal Substitution Theory

I want to quote, Henry Wace, the Dean of Canterbury from 1903 to 1924, in his work, The Sacrifice of Christ: Its Vital Reality and Efficacy, page 16. He argued, “A law which can be broken without an adequate penalty, is no law at all; and it is inconceivable that God’s moral law can be violated without entailing consequences of the most terrible kind. … And can it reasonably be supposed that the most flagrant and willful violation of the highest of all laws—those of truth and righteousness—should entail no such results?”Jesus being punished because of us is an idea we, therefore, should not avoid, if we are serious about the truth about Calvary.

There are two words in the Greek for punishment in the Bible. One, means to defend the honor of the punisher who receives satisfaction in afflicting pain on an offender. Although akin to the idea of vengeance, punishment need not be vindictive, especially if it is required by law. The other word is corrective. The first is retribution for evil inflicted. The second, discipline.

Aristotle [sorry for not offering you an aspirin for your headache] tried to explain this difference: The question is hidden away in the mind of the punisher. Is he doing this to satisfy his rage and defend his honor? Aristotle called this retribution. Or is he punishing someone to deter recidivism [enough pain that makes them think twice about doing it again], as a correction?

From pagan inscriptions, we learn that only retributive justice is spoken of. Violation of cultic law brings retribution and only confession of the offender’s guilt can bring back the deity’s gracious favor. Sacrifices are intended to appease the deity’s wrath, to fulfill (Aristotle’s word for “to satisfy”) their outrage over being dishonored or disobeyed.

The word the theologian likes to use is “propitiation.” The use of this term says that Jesus pleased God by dying for our sins. The suggestion is a retributive justice. [I don’t like the word, propitiation, even though it has been in use at least since the 4th century. Nor am I interested in using it.]

Let’s speak of punishment as retribution, and “chastisement” as correction or a restoration of order, friendship, right from wrong. Now, let’s ask the Bible. The Bible does speak of a severe punishment, torment, but the words used never refer to the Cross. Scriptural silence, however, does not mean that this isn’t true; for, Isaiah’s 53rd chapter is the message of a vicarious [for us] affliction Jesus took on our behalf. This might be viewed as a punishment.

But Isaiah preferred to use the word “chastisement.” He prophesied that “the chastisement of our peace was upon Jesus” ( Isaiah 53:5). This term is primarily associated with the proverbs of Solomon where he addresses parental instruction and the need of children to be taught which sometimes means discipline—but never, hopefully, death.

Punishment in the Bible is eternal and has nothing to do with those who love Jesus (Matthew 25:46). The word punishment went from chastisement to retribution because it lost its use as a corrective force and became more a final solution; so, the New Testament only uses it in the context of final judgment. It might be said that Jesus’ crucifixion was a final judgment (“it is finished”) on our sins and the “old us” (Romans 6:6) but it would have been somewhat clearer had the word been used in that context—it was not.

Our faith was never dependent on our knowing exactly what this all means, anyway, only that it was Jesus who was that sacrifice for our sins. Nevertheless, let’s be cautious about comparing God’s reason for doing what He does with what sounds natural and reasonable to us. Getting back to what Henry Wace said, we need to proceed with an open mind and heart when talking about the “law of God.” Some form of punishment or correction was required because of who we were without Jesus, and Jesus took that punishment and correction for us. We are merely recipients of such a mercy. Later we will talk about this as the “Wondrous Exchange.” It’s awesome!

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The Power of Christ’s Forgiveness

[taken from my newest project: Calvary: The Story Behind God’s Gift of Himself]

It is not uncommon for God in the Bible to use examples from life to explain deeper truths. Hosea became such a lesson (Isaiah 20:3; Hosea 1:2; 3:1). The story behind Hosea’s marriage to his wife, Gomer, is actually God’s story with Israel. Gomer had been a prostitute, whom God asked Hosea to marry, knowing all along the similarities that would surface between their relationship and His with Israel.

[Keeping this in mind:]

Jesus’ death on Calvary for our sins in our place became a powerful proclamation of forgiveness—a message God wants every Christian everywhere to carry with them into their world. Forgiveness is not a word psychologists use or are comfortable with. The Church owns this idea. It is a Biblical concept. It is God’s creation even though it is basically a simple idea. When someone holds on to such negative feelings and thoughts as hate, grudges, revenge, and bitterness, they do themselves harm. To forgive means literally, in the language of Scripture, “ to let it go.” It completes a redemption because it supports the outward action with a corresponding inward one. When Hosea, who we spoke of already, bought back his wife to become her husband, he still needed to forgive her … and, no doubt, she, him.

God paid a huge price in the death of His Son to free us from all the evil that was systemic in our nature and create in us a new heart, as another prophet, Ezekiel, explained it (Ezekiel 11:19). This is redemption (Ephesians 1:4) and forgiveness is a necessary part of it. Paul echoed the message. “The price of our freedom, our redemption,” Paul taught, “was Jesus’ shed blood which includes our forgiveness; these are two provisions of a multifaceted grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

I have chosen in this work to use this upcoming chapter to talk about our forgiving others. Like Hosea’s experience, nothing exemplifies, nothing teaches the lesson of, divine forgiveness like God using us in our circumstances to demonstrate it. When we affirm Jesus’ death as an act of God forgiving us alone, we have found a dogma but not the inspiration of that dogma that brings it to life. Unforgiveness coming with lingering hurts robs us of a future. When we forgive those who are, otherwise, unforgivable for things we accuse them of having done to us—when we let it go, for real—we not only get our future back but we could not preach a louder more emphatic message of God’s love.

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The Parentheses to the Story

The Bible has a prologue as well as an epilogue, an introduction as well as a conclusion (the open and closing parentheses to time). And in between is the story of God and His creation.  This blog is a meditative look at, what I call, the parenthesis that separate out this main story from “the beginning and the end” of all things (Revelation 22:13).

Pondering the first verse of the Bible  (“In the beginning”) I wondered, “the beginning of …what?” Not God! He had no beginning. Theologians call this the Aseity of God (He is uncaused. 1 Timothy 1:17). Not the earth or the firmament, the heavens; they were yet to be created (Genesis 1:6-10). I concluded the only understanding possible here was “In the beginning of time.”

The opening parenthesis, the Beginning: God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” There was an evening, and there was a morning: one day. – Genesis 1:5

The closing parenthesis, the End: Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Rev. 22:5

In Genesis we begin with God creating a unit of time known as a “day” which, as we now know, involves sunlight as the earth spins on its axis. Time ends, logically, when God decides we no longer need the sun. Our Bible records God’s dealings with us “in time” even though everything about Him is outside time. Ultimately He would send His Son  “in time” to die for us (Galatians 4:4).

God, here, calls the coming age a sunless  “for ever and ever” (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων). In the Old Testament the primitive idea in reference to God (We are grateful to Isaiah 40:28 for this) no longer meant some remote past or future but, now, “unending time.” Plato called αἰῶνας timeless “in which there are no days…” [Hernann Sasse for Kittel Vol I, page 198]. As our referenced scholar points out, “how else can human thought picture it?” [page 201-2] This word also does duty for our word “world” since this world is linked to the “age” in time in which it resides. The end of the age is the end of this world (Matthew 24:3 NIV compare KJV).

Sasse then adds, “The future αἰῶν, the future time of the world is the new [age] which follows. It is something inconceivable, to be represented only symbolically, e.g. as ‘the Kingdom of God’ … or ‘the new heaven and the new earth.’ .. [The] contradiction consists in trying to picture in …time that which stands in antithesis to it.” [page 205]

What excites me is in the epilogue when the sun will be no more:

Revelation 22:10-11 [MSG] “Don’t seal the words of the prophecy of this book; don’t put it away on the shelf. Time is just about up. Let evildoers do their worst… but let the righteous maintain a straight course … in holiness. …

Now I must say it! The Bible did not say “forever” but “into the ages of the ages,” (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων). This, to me, is God’s way of describing to our kindergarten brain the indescribable that’s in store for us in His eternity.

I love Revelation 22:20 [in the MSG]

He who testifies to all these things says it again: “I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!”

 

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Worldviews

Behind all reasoning is a worldview, a frame of reference, a set of principles, that must be assumed before we can begin to discover the how and why of things.  Logic is not simply logic.  The machinations of our thought processes must depend on some ‘in the beginning’ (Genesis 1:1). some starting point, which we tend to forget about while we are attempting to figure out the dynamics of who we are and why we are here.  We need to appreciate the significance of our worldview to our definition of ‘truth.’A worldview is what the Free University of Brussels’  Center Leo Apostel” defined as “a system of representation that allows us to integrate everything we know about the world and ourselves into a global picture.⁠1  The christian scholar, N.T. Wright, explains a worldview as the foundation of a house [the thought process]: vital yet invisible.  Our worldview ultimately gives meaning and reason to everything we do in the name of right from wrong.  

Said another way: our worldview  is the unrecognized thought process behind all our conclusions which we find reasonable. Ultimately it provides the logic that shapes our principles, values, and moral code—that shapes our lives and our futures.  

See it this way: at the center of anyone’s worldview are the core convictions “about the nature of what is real, true and important.”⁠2  

Evolutionary or Societal View

Civilization now comes with a new perspective, a new worldview,⁠3 a different kind of reasoning, an evolutionary approach deemed more scientific, more appropriate for educated minds, than what christians surmised from reading their Bible.  Carter Phipps referred to it as “transformative insights of an evolutionary perspective.” It is a new way of imagining the past and the future.  It comes with a new consciousness.  It is known as the new truth, “the broader view.”⁠4  It is a brand new way of thinking. We no longer grow or develop.  We evolve: socially, culturally and psychologically as well as physically. Every aspect of being is in the genes.  It is the new consciousness and whether or not it is the right approach to the meaning of life is a question never asked any more in academia.

Henri Bergson in his 1907 classic, “Creative Evolution” assured his readers, that “this..will not be made in a day…it will only be built by the collective…effort of many thinkers.”⁠5  The societal worldview represents the frame of reference by which a group explains the meaning to life, defines or trains a collective conscience, decides what morality should call right from wrong, and  gives the culture its identity.  A worldview, for good or bad, creeps slowly unnoticed into the cultural mind.  

Nazism was a worldview that saw the extermination of millions as a reasonable exercise in cultural development—something that would never have been accepted by the German people if the ugliness of this ideology had been put to an open and honest vote instead of fed piece meal, idea by idea, to a nation starving for self-identity and meaning. 

And for the sake of social acceptance and cultural support, some will accept a society’s ‘way of thinking,’ as their own.  It happens often unnoticed in the darkness of some tragedy or in the heat of some spiritual or psychological battle.  For good or bad:  a strange thought strolls down the memories of our minds and walks us into the the light of a new idea that once we would never have accepted.

Evolutionary thinking proposes an eventual utopian world without sickness, poverty, or “evil”.

Materialism or Consumerism

Another example:  it is a creeping materialistic worldview that unchecked can choke the Word of God, Jesus warned.⁠6 

Science

We may wish to be more scientific in our approach to understanding life, but a scientific perspective can itself be a worldview: a faith in man’s ability to ultimately discover all that is there to be discovered and to create his own heaven.  It is the tower of Babel all over again. The erroneous thought is:  man is getting smarter and smarter and wiser and wiser and better and better at eradicating evil, disease, poverty, etc.  Who needs a god, anyway.

Creator

Christians endorse science but find a belief in the Creator, the Intelligent Designer, behind it all as a more reasonable explanation.  Christians recognize an attribute of holiness in that Creator that defines moral truth. Believers find the message of saving grace reasonable. For the believer, it is spiritual enlightenment, the miracle by which the love of God shares with us His worldview.  It is a worldview in which salvation in Christ is a real experience.  It is coming into a worldview that is mind transforming and reshapes our very perspective on the Bible and life itself.⁠7

Touchstones

Every worldview, also, has what  philosopher William Halverson called a “touchstone proposition.”⁠8   For the christian this is the belief in the involvement of an immanent God of Love whose purposefulness and plan makes life a progressing toward the fulfillment of God’s promises to us. Miracles make sense.  Our worldview, because it includes God as an author of history as well as a director of it, can comfortably wait on science to “catch up.”  

A scientific touchstone proposition, however, needs to believe in the stability of the universe and the rules by which it is governed.  It needs to reason that such knowledge is comprehensible using rational inquiry.  It needs to rely on the discovery of unchanging principles of natural law.

Evolution represents a touchstone proposition that sees all things in flux, becoming, adapting.  An evolutionary worldview reasons that what is today was not here in the past and will be changed, gone, in the future., We are ever evolving into a better world—in the word’s of Teilhard de Chardin,⁠9We are moving; we are going forward.⁠10

A believer’s touchstone is Hebrews 11:6 (NLT), “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

‘Nough said.


1 Carter Phipps. Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea. (New York:Harper Perennial, 2012), 11.
2 Ibid,, 24.
3 I found this interesting in the Norwegian TV series “Okkupert” (“Occupied”) Season 1, Episode 1.  2015.   Prime Minister Jesper Berg (played by Henrik Mestad) explains:  the world as we created it is a process of our thinking.   It cannot be changed without changing the way we think.”
4 Carter Phipps.  Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea. (New York:Harper Perennial, 2012), 11.
5 Ibid, 12.
6 Mark 4:7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. NEW INT.
7 Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
8 Carter Phipps. Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea. (New York:Harper Perennial, 2012), p. 26.
9 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of Peking Man
10 Carter Phipps.  Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea.  (New York:Harper Perennial, 2012),  27.
In grammatical terms, the ‘actionsart’ of the present tense could be repetitive or continuous state (as science might see life), nascent or the beginning of a state (as an evolutionist might see the evolutionary process always in flux), inchoative, the beginning of or having just now come into being (which doesn’t suit either evolution or science but might describe the ‘origin of life’ ) and progressive for the christian in which God’s plan is being worked by Him.  ..
Ephesians 4:13 “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” NEW INT.
Sleeping could mean 
falling to sleep; about to fall, on the verge of falling,  to sleep’ (nascent); 
being asleep’ (repetitive or continuous state); 
‘beginning to fall to sleep’ (inchoative); 
in rem sleep, in a deep sleep, dreamland’ (progressive, a working hypothesis for dreams).
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The Cross

[Taken from, “The Cross: Why Jesus Had to Die.”  The book is finally written.]

The fifth chapter in The Acts of the Apostles is an historical reference to possibilities when the church learns to unite behind the Gospel. In verse 12 Luke tells us, “Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles.“ We read this as if this were a one-off event instead of the possibilities for which the Church was commissioned. Verse 14, no surprise, testifies, “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers…” Governments of the world, take notice!

Make no mistake about it: The Bible is the promise of Salvation offered thru Christ’s death—a message that counters today’s evolutionary worldview of an eventual utopia, a self-made heaven for mankind. The Cross represents a miracle of grace that science cannot confirm or deny because it is outside the realm of natural inquiry. The resurrection from the dead and what it means for believers has broken out of the confines of natural history.

We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10) Christianity is, indeed, a bloody religion, an idea, perhaps, in and of itself, offensive (I’ll give you that) to logical minds, to academicians who reason from a scientific perspective, and who, therefore, see no value in the death of a Savior.

But with an unapologetic conviction, this is what our faith is all about! This is our living hope: the glorious return of the great God even our Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13) who shed His blood on a cross on our behalf, in our stead, to reconcile us to God. “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses..” (Ephesians 1:7) This has become our trumpet sound as believers. Paul unambiguously declared “… through him to reconcile everything to himself … by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:20)

We asked specifically: Why did Jesus have to die? We must agree with John Stott in his work, “The Cross of Christ” (page 159)

The Cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, any quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honor or a technical point of law.  Jesus was not forced into submission by God as some moral authority over Him, nor  punished by a harsh .. punitive Father.  Nor was God, the Father, reluctant to forgive or accept the Cross as a means of our salvation. 

But these explanations, to some, sadly, sound reasonable. They seek a story that explains Calvary. But the Cross is not a message in logic.  It is a message in grace! 

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Love Feasts

[taken from: my work, “The Cross: Why Jesus Had to Die“]

It is believed that the Love Feasts, Christian fellowship around a celebratory meal, were originally associated with our Lord’s Supper as a proclamation of His death on the Cross “until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).  These were designed as a practical expression of Christian community, ”a joyous declaration of faith”⁠1 from a thankful fellowship for Calvary while looking, with great anticipation, for their Lord’s soon return. If I may borrow a Catholic idea:  there is nothing more sacramental than this.  When Christians began to celebrate the Eucharist or participate in Communion, it was a “holy” communion, a true thanksgiving. We must take care not to marginalize the Spirit’s role in the Church in the name of orthodox purity. Whether we view the communion elements as symbolic or literal, they must always be significant.   

With time, these feasts ceased, for some, to  inspire a sense of spiritual awe, a sense that Jesus was indeed in their midst, as He promised (Matthew 18:20).  In our day, is it possible that, the old hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross,” that used to bring tears of gratitude, are never sung …or if they are, they merely embellish the phylacteries of a now meaningless ritual? Even during the early centuries of the Church, for some, love feasts were less love and more feast, a splintered assembly, eating apart from the poor, cliques of the more wealthy (“who feed only themselves.”⁠2 Jude 12)—a fellowship in name only. They began to eat apart, ignoring others who came from poverty and need.  Jude called it now “…dangerous blemishes at your love feasts as they eat with you without reverence.” (Jude 12) The message of the Cross was now—if I may imagine—lost in a haze of discussions over the dinner and good times without true thanksgiving. Paul described such a person as one who “eats and drinks without recognizing the body.” “(He) eats and drinks judgment on himself” because this is a sacred gathering that has degenerated into something horribly disrespectful of what the Spirit of God is doing there! (1 Corinthians 11:29). Lest we think this overstates the seriousness of the occasion, Paul explained, “This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep (a euphemism for “dead”).” (1 Corinthians 11:30) 

I might think myself correct in calling the elements “symbols” of Jesus’s passion (and I do. Sorry to all my friends of faith who disagree), but I would be wrong to see them as only an object lesson in something that happened 2,000 years ago. Jesus’s crucifixion, for a believer, should be the only thing that really matters and upon which hinges every hope, every promise, and every blessing from God.

 


1 Colin Brown. ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986), vol II. p. 547
2 The Greek: to entertain sumptuously in company with
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Holiness

God, Himself, commanded us, “Be holy, because I am holy.” (I Peter 1:16) Are we not capable of appreciating His holiness at least on a elementary level?  We are at least in the earliest grade of a divine schooling, learning to trust Him (Psalm 25:4), learning to identify His will for our lives as “good, pleasing, and perfect.” (Hebrews 12:2) It is not surprising that God’s servants find abortions as tearfully and angrily evil (Isaiah 49:1 & 15; Matthew 19:14; Luke 17:2). We cringe in disgust on hearing falsehoods and lies. All those movies that are uninhibited evil that have unabashedly abandoned any sign of moral decency for the sake of ratings are no longer watchable, even if we fail to explain why.

And what does a Holy God find abhorrent, disgusting? In addition to rebellion (1 Samuel 15:23) and idolatry (Leviticus 26:30) which in our cultural setting is “greed” (Colossians 3:5) Solomon can find seven (Proverbs 6:16-19).

  1. “arrogant eyes, 
  2. a lying tongue,
  3. hands that shed innocent blood, 
  4. a heart that plots wicked schemes,
  5. feet eager to run to evil,
  6. a lying witness who gives false testimony, and
  7. one who stirs up trouble among brothers.”

If we want a true picture of heaven just picture a place where these cannot enter. And now we know what words like “pure, clean, godly, saints, and sanctified” mean. These are characteristic of God’s holiness in us.

We might gain some insight into why Jesus’s crucifixion for sin in our stead was God’s plan from the beginning (Genesis 3:15). God cannot allow sin into His heaven because He is holy. But He wants us!  While suspended on the Cross, Jesus seem to sense the Father’s difficulty with what was happening (Mark 15:34). “God … condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering.” Paul explained (Romans 8:3).

But how to separate the sinner from his or her sin was the delicate operation grace needed to perform. Salvation had to be more than a word of forgiveness. It had to make provision for sinners to be transformed into saints; for believers to be able to follow Christ; to make us holy as He is. “Christ in us, all our hope…” (Colossians 1:27)

We have analyzed our Savior’s mission; we have studied His words and watched Him respond to His humanity but in a perfectly sinless way. We admired His compassion as something beyond our ability to love so completely and became breathless to hear His wisdom. We puzzled over His parables; they were more than parables to us.

But more than all this, we have theologized every possible cultural, spiritual, and natural reason that might supply us with a sound and consistent logic as to why a Cross. Even though Scripture is dedicated wholly to this divine task we felt it important to have a reasonableness to support faith.

But we have wept and rejoiced because of Him; we have hungered to know more of Him—all the while seeming to sense that our faith was all we ever really needed and then let Him do the rest in us (Philippians 1:6). “You believe in God,” Jesus encouraged us, “trust me, too.” (John 14:1)

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God’s Piece to The Puzzle

I commented to Joyce that we were never apart long enough to write to each other, whereupon, she got up and a few minutes later returned with an armful of correspondence we wrote to each other while I was in the second semester of my junior year of college and she was still working in Southern Jersey.  (We were planning a wedding!)

I did not remember we did this. I am glad she saved them, though.  I have been reading somewhere around 175 letters. There is a story here.  Much of what we discussed was the kind of wedding detail that everyone talks over but there were elements that required small miracles to make it all come together—and for that, I affirm, there was God!

Some details of our wedding needed to “fall in place” that couldn’t have by happenstance. Two details come to mind: One, I needed a good job to support the marriage while finishing my senior year of schooling. I had no car and no license to drive one. Family argued that I should return to the place of my Nativity and save money. Talk marriage in a year. The other puzzle piece of obvious importance was a place to live.  There were none according to the realtors within a 10 mile radius of the school. Married couples on campus had already gobbled them up. Beside, I had no job, remember!

The year before, the faculty advisor for the yearbook offered me the assistant editor position in training for Editor-in-chief in my Senior year. It didn’t work out as planned, but I was introduced to the current Editor in Chief, Don, who also worked at Longacres in Franconia, PA where they made chicken products. A month before the wedding following an intense conversation with the Lord, I met Don who approached me with a job opportunity to work there. The following year, an H.R. department was set up at the company making this kind-of offer impossible.  But for now, according to the correspondence, I would start at 1.80 an hour, a fantastic wage in those days.

The apartment?  I met Frank while attending school.  Frank was refused admission because he did not complete high-school. Frank came across state from the Pittsburgh area to attend the school and he too was looking for a place to live for a family of four. There was a two room and a bath a mile down the hill from the college that was too small for them which the local realtor forgot he had. When Joyce and I enquired, we were turned away the first time but Frank said, “Go back!  It’s there!”  We did and the realtor apologized.  Fifty dollars, utilities  included. I still wonder how many students sought out that agency for something and were turned away.  Did God hold it for us, using a brother who traveled across the state to attend a college that didn’t want him?

The letters also documented a very stressful disapproval of both families and some friends that we were planning a wedding in August—just 9 months after we met on campus in ’67. With the job and apartment we moved the wedding up to June 22.  This week will complete 53 years together..

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Christ, Our Representative

Jesus’s death was not merely substitutionary but also representative. The dictionary reads,

When one person takes upon himself suffering which another would have had to bear, and therefore not only endures it with him, but in his stead, this is called substitution or representation—an idea which, however unintelligible to the understanding, belongs to the actual substance of the common consciousness of man….it has found its true expression in sacrifice….”⁠1

Paul advanced Isaiah’s message: Jesus not only took our place; we, too, were crucified with Him. His death becomes an inclusionary⁠2 substitution. Dr. Craig [in  Atonement and the Death of Christ: An Exegetical, Historical, and Philosophical Exploration. Waco, TX. Baylor University Press. 2020] explains this using the illustration of a proxy vote.  Whenever the shareholders meet to discuss any action to be taken over the funds I have investments in, I elect to sign my vote to a proxy.  I allow someone else to vote in my place.  But it is still on the record as my vote.   I am included. In this way, consider the possible explanation the Adam in the garden was our proxy. “…in Adam all die…” [1 Corinthians 15:22]  Adam was to blame and so was I …and you! We were in Adam at the time and sinned with him.  “…because⁠3 all sinned…” [Romans 5:12] And what is the benefit to including us in Adam’s sin?

This is great news because now God can show mercy to all who seek Him.  For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” [Romans 11:32]   Godet interprets this to mean moral solidarity or community of life.⁠4  Perhaps the logic that says we were there is not sufficient to satisfy reasonableness. But if we were to say, “all humanity was represented in Adam” we have a clearer understanding.  All died in Adam  or as Godet interprets,“in whom they [all] were embraced.⁠5  

Jesus’s victory over sin became ours! What was true of the first Adam, is true of the second Adam, Jesus. “He  [Adam] is a type⁠6 of the Coming One [Christ Jesus].” Paul taught [Romans 5:14]. But with a difference:  Jesus did not sin and through Him God offers the gift of eternal life to all who believe. Jesus’s sinlessness is a critical aspect of His life that makes His death representative.  In terms of our example of a proxy: My proxy has one vote.  It is either his or mine.  As my proxy, it is mine.  Jesus’s death on Calvary was for my sin, humanity’s sins, since He had none of His own to expiate.  

… the gift is not like the trespass.” Paul continues.  Adam brought death; Jesus brought eternal life. “For if [and it is true] by the one man’s trespass [Adam’s sin] the many [all humanity] died [spiritual death and natural death] , how much more [death is final but life is eternal] have the grace of God and [even?] the gift [the concrete expression of grace, i.e. our salvation] which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed [as Paul wrote to the Ephesians 2:7, in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace] to the many [salvation is not universal but to those who believe].” [Romans 5:15]  By summary: we sinned in Adam, we were crucified with Christ. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” [Romans 6:6] 

And what is the ultimate truth here? “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, …So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 6:8, 11] The overarching message of the cross for us is being “alive to God,” being made in His image, at last by the transformation of our minds (and hearts) we again, as Adam before the fall, can walk in the will of God and perceive it [Romans 12:2] as good [Jeremiah 29:11], and acceptable [1 Timothy 6:6], and perfect [Ephesians 4:13] for us.  It will be, in this life, as if God rolled back time before the fall but this time we resist the snake. [Hebrews 5:14] When we reach the kingdom shore, we ought not look for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  It is not there, but the tree of life is. [Revelation 22:2, 14]


1 Keil & Delitzsch. vol VII. p 316
2 exclusionary is understood as “one party taking the place of another in such a way that the guilty party is excluded from the obligation or fate.” cp Craig page 81 footnote 2.
3 ἐφ᾽ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον.   ἐφ᾽ ᾧ  in its primitive meaning translates “near.”  With time it signifies “at the date of.” In a moral sense “on the ground of” and logically: “as may be seen by.” Professor Godet admits that the simplest interpretation might be “as a consequence” of Adam’s sin, all have sinned and all die, but he confesses that this meaning is “without precedent.” [Godet, Romans. 207ff]
4 Godet in his Epistle to  the First Corinthians, 352
5 ibid. 353
6 “a person … prefiguring a future person.” Thayer. 632
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