This is an important distinction, and doesn’t even take the whole minute and a half to explain.
This is an important distinction, and doesn’t even take the whole minute and a half to explain.
Why didn’t Jesus appear to everyone when he was raised, so everyone could, you know, know, it happened? Thomas Oden explains:
Jesus appeared to numerous witnesses (Acts 10:40-41). But why not to everyone, instead of some?
The resurrection in the sense is more rather than less like other historical events – seen only by some. What other historical event was ever seen by all?
Peter preached that “God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose the dead” (Acts 10:40-41).
That this event was attested only by some, not all, humanity qualifies rather than disqualifies it as a historical event, for ironically an event alleged to be seen by all could hardly have been an event in ordinary history. When the decisive event comes, it comes quietly, personally, in low key, and like ordinary events it happens in the presence of some and not others.
Following on yesterday’s post…How huge is what we’re about to remember on Sunday?
If true, the resurrection would have meant to beholders that God is finally revealed in his chosen Son. The promised kingdom is already appearing! It is a tenet of Hebraic historical logic that if the Messiah is risen, then God is unstoppably revealed, for only at the end of history is the meaning of history knowable.
The end of history is in a sense already present in Jesus’ rising from the dead. The general resurrection is foretasted in Jesus’ resurrection. In this way, Jesus’ divinity is implied from his resurrection (Romans 1:4). If risen, then Son of Man, Son of God.
All who shared the expectation of a general resurrection felt themselves grasped by the end time in the living presence of the risen Jesus. They acquired an incredibly confident and otherwise implausibly courageous attitude toward history, suffering, and life’s ambiguities. Why was the New Testament community so confident about the historical process? Because in Jesus’ resurrection, the end was already beheld. The resurrection is thus the clue to the whole of history, through which God is finally made known.
–Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity
For Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week, I’ll post short thoughts from Thomas Oden’s book Classic Christianity on maybe the most incredible, earth-changing thing to happen in all of history: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Here’s the first one:
By rising from the grave the Lord raised up a new human nature and honored humanity in an unparalleled way.
By the resurrection, the drama of God’s plan of salvation.
To understand the resurrection is to understand the meaning of history from its end.
(…see Romans 5:15-19; Acts 2:24; 1 Cor 15:20-23)
On Friday I posted some thoughts on how the Bible can be simultaneously both the words of God and written by humans. Here are some more thoughts on this mind-altering truth, from Thomas Oden’s book Classic Christianity. “God the Spirit,” writes Oden, has been historically viewed by Christians as “the author of scripture.” He continues:
The authors [of the Scriptures] wrote or spoke as moved by God’s own Spirit. Their consciousness, peculiarities of language, personalities, and psychological makeup became fittingly adapted instruments of the divine address. The Spirit found their particular psyches, their intelligence, their readiness, their social location, their historical placement useful to the divine plan and purpose, and spoke through them to and for all. It is the personal particularity that made the most differences in telling the story, since each hearer is unique….Each one’s personal human existence is unique and characteristic of that person; this is especially so in respect to speech…
Prophecy was not understood [even from the beginning] by ancient [Christians] as a product of the human imagination, but of human agency being gloriously transfigured by God’s own Spirit, wherein human egocentricity did not interrupt or distort what God sought to communicate…
The commonly received assumption [in the beginning of Church history] was that the Spirit so guided the writers that, without circumventing their own human willing, knowing, language, personal temperaments, or any other distinctly personal factors, God’s own Word was recalled and transmitted with complete adequacy and sufficiency.
Seriously, isn’t this awesome?
And doesn’t it challenge the common ideas about what it means to be human, and what it means for God to work with humans?
This past weekend, in the booklet we used to study through 1 Peter, I included a note on why we spoke about the letter as something that was both written by Peter, and–at the same time–God’s word. How do Christians conceive of this being possible?
The answer to that question is found in one of the most interesting and fascinating parts of Christian doctrine, the doctrine of inspiration. Seriously, after the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, this has to be top on your list. Anyway, for any of you who’ve never thought through this before, here’s the section from the booklet, which is taken from the Truth on Campus booklet you can download here.
HOW DOES THE BIBLE WORK?
OR, HOW CAN IT BE THE WORDS OF A HUMAN AND GOD AT THE SAME TIME?
You are a totally unique kind of being in the universe. You are a human, and a human is that kind of creature who—by definition—can be in relationship to God. Of all the universe, we are the one part God talks to. (This idea was suggested to me in Robert Letham’s book The Holy Trinity. He quotes an author named Alar Laats, who says this: “A human person is one who is in principle open to the Holy Spirit and who is able to respond to him. Or to put it in other words: a human person is the one who can in principle be in communion with God.” How can we know this is true? Because of who Jesus is. Letham explains, “If it were not so and could not be so, then Jesus Christ—God and man—could not be one person, for the difference between Creator and creature would be so great that incarnation would not be possible.”)
What does this have to do with the Bible? Well, we can take it one step further: a human is that kind of creature who can be indwelt with the Spirit of God. As Christians so often say: “We have a God-shaped void in our hearts.” To put it another way, God created us to be so close to him that he could actually live in us, permeating our Spirits and uniting us to him. It’s an elevation beyond our wildest dreams—to be in union with the One who made us. And the writers of the Bible say that it is exactly this reality that allowed them to be humans who wrote God’s words.
In a special way through history, some people (first known as the Prophets and later Jesus’ followers known as Apostles) were so in union with God that, at times, what they spoke or wrote were God’s words, even while they were simultaneously their words. In the scriptures we learn that it is God’s Holy Spirit who is the key link between God and man. “We have received…the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God,” wrote the Apostle Paul in a letter to a church in Corinth. This Spirit, Paul says, knows “the deep things of God.” (That’s in 1 Corinthians 2.) “Holy men of God spoke,” the Apostle Peter wrote, “as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
Here’s where we may run into, and should solve, an old assumption about the way God and humans relate. Many people seem to have a way of seeing the God-Human connection as a kind of pie graph. The bigger God’s slice gets, the smaller ours gets. When some people talk about the Bible, they seem to assume that the fact that humans were involved means that God wasn’t involved. Or at least, if God was involved, the human part messed up his part. In other words, since people wrote the books of the Bible, it’s not God’s word. But how do we know that humans are, by nature, the kind of beings who cancel out God wherever they are?
It might sound powerful to say “The Bible is man’s word, not God’s,” but do you see the “either/or” thinking here? Why must it be either God or people? Why couldn’t it be both? Maybe there are better ways for us to think about these things. When we truly encounter the Bible, we have that kind of thinking challenged. God is not the kind of God who has to cancel out our humanity when he wants to do or say something. He doesn’t push us aside to get his work done. The whole universe is a theater for God to work in, through, and with us. We are, by nature, the kind of beings who find our highest expression when we are united to, becoming like, and working with our God. And that’s exactly what happened—in a totally unique and never-repeated way—when the Spirit of God indwelt and guided the writers of the Bible. What they wrote was completely their words, and completely God’s words. That’s why, in the Bible, different books and letters and poems by different authors sound different. Each author has a unique touch that shows individuality, exactly as we’d expect from a collection of books written by different people. And yet, all this humanity is no problem at all for God, who seems to like to speak his word in this way. He doesn’t erase the individuality of the authors as they write—he actually seems to use their particular personalities. As Bible scholar Vern Poythress puts it: “We can see that God manifests the infinity of his wisdom and his harmony with himself exactly when his speech resonates with the particularities of the personality of a particular human being. For example, we can see in Paul’s writings the person of Paul…What do we think about this presence of Paul as a person in his writings? Do we think that it harmonizes with inspiration? Is it strange? Some people may be tempted to conclude that such personal expressions, by showing a human side, contradict the divine side. But that sort of reasoning misunderstands human nature, inspiration, and the way in which God’s presence can affirm and take account of human contexts. In fact, once we have come to understand in some measure who Paul is and how he speaks, these personal touches are in full harmony with who God is and how he expresses himself. He speaks in harmony with the person of Paul when Paul is the person through whom he speaks.”
This is what Christians mean when they say the Bible is inspired. Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy: “Every word of scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).
In seeking to explain how this works when it comes to writing, theologian John Frame explains that inspiration is “a divine act that creates an identity [that is, an exact match] between a divine word and a human word.” If you’ve moved in Christian circles for a while, you might be seeing that this way of thinking about what the Bible is can help address some issues Christians sometimes disagree on—like the extent to which the Bible does or does not contain mistakes. Even in the Christian camp, some people may assume things about God and humanity that make it hard for them to see how God could have given us a clear, error-free book that is at once totally human and completely, perfectly, divine in origin. And yet, once we allow ourselves to be open to a biblical way of thinking about both God and humanity, we see that we don’t have to play the human and divine off against each other. They exist together in perfect harmony.
In other words, the Bible shows us a supreme example of these horizon-opening truths: God exists. He speaks. We can hear and understand. We can know him. He can live inside us. And, even though we won’t be writing scripture (those days are over), when we allow him to rule in our lives, it won’t mean the end of our individuality or personality, but rather the fullest, truest expression of who we are.
If you’d like to download and read the entire booklet entitled “What is the Bible?”, you can find it here.
In his excellent book on the Trinity (which I’ve referenced here several times) Fred Sanders gives this memorable example from his childhood to illustrate how much those of us who are born again actually do know about the Trinity, even if we just need to have it pointed out to us…
Anybody who has encountered God in Christ through the Holy Spirit has come to know the Trinity. But not everybody in this position knows that they know the Trinity. When they move to that next level of knowing that they know the Trinity, a bright light shines on everything they knew before. The situation is like a vivid learning experience I had as a child.
I was standing on the front lawn of my great-grandmother’s farm watching clouds pass in front of the moon. It was early evening, the sun had just gone down, the moon was already very bright, and the clouds were blowing quickly across the face of the moon. It was very beautiful, and I was standing on the front lawn, just looking at it.
My Uncle Dan came out and asked, “What are you looking at?”
I said, “I’m watching the clouds go by the moon.”
He asked, “What does that make you think about?
I replied, “Well, really I’m waiting to see if any of the clouds will go behind the moon. So far they’ve all gone in front of it.”
Uncle Dan stood there with me watching clouds, and after a while he asked, “Where is the moon?”
“It’s in outer space.”
Some more time went by. “And where are the clouds?”
“Oh… right,” it dawned on me. “I’m going to stand here a long time before I see a cloud going behind the moon. In fact, it’s not going to happen.”
What I always come back to when I think about that story is the question, Did I know that clouds are closer than the moon, or did I not know that? I had in my mind all the information I needed to draw the right conclusion, but I had never put it together. It was a situation in which I didn’t know that I knew it. And that put me in an awkward position, and made it very likely that I would say foolish things and even waste my time waiting for something that was never going to happen.
If you trust Jesus to be your salvation, you already know the Trinity. But it’s a great benefit to know that you know the Trinity. It’s a great benefit to know that you’re a Christian because you’ve received a Spirit of adoption from the Father, a Spirit that makes you call God “Abba, Father.” The Trinity is lurking in the gospel, just as it is lurking in the life of every believer. This Trinitarian reality is going on in our Christian lives whether we know that we know it or not.
Thomas Oden, on why we humans have messed up thoughts apart from God’s wisdom. [My thoughts are indented to the left and italicized.]:
Modern secular piety claims on the simple grounds of creation a natural relation with God unimpeded by sin.
Note: Catch that first sentence. Oden’s point is that the typical person today assumes that, if God exists, we’re all in a positive relationship with him, just because he created us. If we simply exist, God must be cool with us.
All privileges and immunities of unhampered goodness are imagined to be equally distributed as if without reference to any actual history of sin.
In other words, most people tend to think that how we’ve lived and what we’ve done or been doesn’t matter at all to God. Whether or not God has said he’s not cool with something doesn’t concern us. He must just keep feeling really affectionate towards us, cause that’s who he is, right?
The secular imagination posits that if I am basically good and getting ever better, and my self-interested passions are reliable guides, even if there might be a divine Giver or source, such [a God] would not reject me for any conceivable reason. Such is the diluted modern version of the teaching of adoption by nature, not grace.
By “adoption by nature” Oden means the idea that we’re “God’s children,” with the rights of family, just because we’re human.
The resulting fantasy is a God who can’t say no, who draws persons who never lack good intentions toward a Christ without a cross.
Conscience amid modernity has become so seared that we imagine we are welcomed by God while we are doing precisely what God disapproves, and remain determined to continue (Amos 5:23).
Christian teaching assumes the opposite: that the history we share with the first humans has come to a disastrous end – our own sin, tempted in all things. God as caring Abba, a central teaching of classical Christianity, has been diluted by a thinner modern version that denies the history of corrupted freedom and, in the interest of tolerance, romanticizes human innate goodness. This view promotes a distorted vision of the family of God, as if human creation had never actually fallen, so as to remove any need for rebirth from above.
Though modernity clings desperately to the belief that we are by nature children of God, classic Christianity remembers how deeply we are “by the nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). “By nature” implies choice. It is only by the grace of adoption that we become children of God “through faith.”
Adoption into the family of God implies turning completely away from the way that leads to death.
Following on last night’s beginning discussion of the Biblical teaching about the coming new heavens and earth, here’s some thoughts from Thomas Oden to answer this question:
Does the Biblical teaching that the present earth will be done away with and remade lead Christians to mistreat the environment as they live their lives now?
Believers do not simply pray for destruction, but the restoration of God’s will in creation.
The earth was not simply demolished or destroyed in substance by the flood, but renewed with a rainbow promise. Similarly but on a more grand scale, “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31) to make way for cleansing and a new setting-in-order (Romans 8:19-22; Revelation 21:1).
Yet this renovation requires a complete negation of all that has gone awry, not merely a rearranging of its present broken qualities (Psalm 102:26-27; Isaiah 51:6; Matthew 24:35, 2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12). The scriptural metaphors here are “vanish like smoke,” “be dissolved,” “melt,” “burn,” “pass away,” and “be no more”.
Is there something ecologically dangerous in the idea that the world is transitory? The answer is yes, if one systematically forgets that the transitory is also profoundly valuable, and the gift of God the Creator, given for human stewardship. But such forgetfullness would be a grotesque distortion of the intention of the Christian doctrine of creation.
— from Classic Christianity by Thomas C. Oden (p. 820-821)
Though people sometimes disagree with the idea, the fact is that the Bible teaches that the eternal state of someone’s soul is determined in this life, before a person dies physically. The question that is often posed in these discussions is, “Why?” Why would God only give us a chance in this life? Isn’t he the God of second chances? Doesn’t he want as many people as possible to be saved?
I found some great thoughts on this in an unexpected place the other day–in a commentary on the Book of Proverbs by Bruce Waltke. He’s writing about Proverbs 1:24-29, which read like this:
24 Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,
25 Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,
27 When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.
28 “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD,
30 They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.
31 Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.
32 For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them…
Waltke applies the “calamity” and “destruction” spoken about in verses 26 and 27 to eternal things–he sees them as representing, not just consequences of poor choices in this life, but the final consequences someone faces after this life is over. Here are his observations about why Wisdom, personified as a great woman here in Proverbs, refuses to come to the aid of the person who, having spent their life rejecting Wisdom (the “fool” which Proverbs speaks about), has now died and faces eternity:
Fools, seeing no need for “the fear of the Lord,” do not carefully select it as their way of life. In fact, they decide against it and sanction other lifestyles. Theological reflection suggests several reasons why wisdom disengages herself at the time of final judgment, offering fools no second chance after this life.
First, human choices before judgment would amount to no more than preliminary decisions before a real choice was made beyond death.
Second, this life would be preempted of its true dignity if choices made now had no eternal consequence.
Third, fools would be confirmed in treating this life with careless complacency.
Fourth, the disciples of wisdom would be made to look foolish if sensual pleasure could be had without responsibility and accountability.
People deny the doctrine of final judgment because they do not want to give this life such dignity that decisions now affect an eternal future in a decisive and definite way.
What a great, biblical point! The people who say God should give a second chance after death are really asking for a life that’s not real, a life that doesn’t count, like a sports team that only ever plays pre-season games. But God has given us a real life to live, where we do real things, and can make real impact on the world, even for eternity, for good or evil.
It all counts, and it all matters.