Redemption

Our Failed Attempt at Being gods

Through the creation account of Genesis 1, God both creates and declares. He speaks, making that which was not to be, then he declars what he made to be “good” (טוב).

When the serpent, “the craftiest of animals of the field,” spoke with Eve, he tempted her with this declarative right. His enticement was that God only prevented her eating the forbidden fruit because he didn’t want her to be כאלהים, which can be translated “like God,” or “like gods” (This name for God, when it is translated “God” in English, takes the plural form for deity in Hebrew). For Eve, the incitement of the idea of functioning like deity rather than like a human was too great. So, Eve entered into her first declarative act: she declared that the forbidden tree was “good” for food (3:6). Whereas God made what was good and declared it to be so – the thoughts and actions of God being a seamless whole, Eve saw what was forbidden and declared it to be “good.” Her inadequacy as deity speaks for itself. The bitter irony of this whole matter is that Eve was already more perfectly becoming what she desired to achieve by inadequate means; she was already made in the “image of God.” She was, as Lewis writes, “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

Redemption through Christ is the reverse of this tragic deviation. It is an act of, once again, becoming and declaring. Our new self, ontologically, is crafted after the image of God (Ephesians 3:24). And our new life is a constant declaration of “Thy kingdom come,” once again declaring what is good to be “good”.

Why Eschatology Matters

When I think of the issues in eschatology that are important for the church, I do not think about the rapture or restoration of the state of Israel. While there are many who think about these things faithfully and sober-mindedly, the eschatomania associated with them has, I believe, caused many to be disgruntled with eschatology. As Trevin Wax said in a recent blog, “Left Behind was perhaps the best and worst thing to ever happen to Dispensationalism. The books popularized it for the masses and made it a punchline for the next generation.” Perhaps I am a product of that “next generation.” Perhaps the appeal that Amillennialism has to me is partly due to my embarrassment with contemporary Premillennialism. I want to say, however, that the appeal is primarily that, when I read the Bible, I do not see that Left Behind brand of prophecy as the hope that the church is to long for. Here are some of the eschatologically matters that I think are of primary importance for the church.

The first principle is judgment. This seems, on the surface, to be the issue that many people hate the most. When reflected upon, however, I think we would all agree that it is necessary, and even glorious. Without the justice of God, we cannot deal with the injustice in this world. One reads the news and one cannot help but ask “why,” and cry out, “Lord, intervene!” Christians know that he will. In fact, this is part of the biblical basis for the ability to resist vengeance. Paul writes, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Rom. 12:19). Tim Keller quotes Miroslav Volf speaks powerfully on this:

If God were not angry at injustice, that God would not be worthy of worship. The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that judgment is legitimate only when it comes from God. My Thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many, but it takes the quiet of a suburban home to believe that human nonviolence results from the belief in God’s refusal to judge. In a land soaked in the blood of the innocent it will invariably die with all the pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

The second eschatological principle, almost paradoxically, shines sweetly up against the scales of justice: future grace. As the Apostles’ Creed, the earliest of known Christian confessions, states, “I believe in…the forgiveness of sins.” It is foundational to the Christian hope. Without this hope, we find ourselves amidst the aforementioned judged. With this hope we find ourselves acquitted, both presently and, ultimately, in the future. On this doctrine the church stands or falls. Just as the church cannot cease retaliation if judgment is not the Lord’s, the church cannot help but show mercy when mercy has been received (Mat. 21:31-35; cf. Mat. 5:7; 6:14-15).

The last words of the great creed state, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” The solid hope on which the church stands is the hope of the our bodily redemption (Rom. 8:23-24) and of the redemption of the cosmos (Rom. 8:19-22). “For it is in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:24a) (notice the solid past-tense amidst the glorious future realities). This is what gets the church through hardship. We all groan. We all reach points – some of us more than daily – where we feel that we cannot bear this world. The Christian shouldn’t despair in these moments, but know that they share in the groanings of every saint, along with all the cosmos. The Bride of Christ should allow these longings to look to the future and deepen her desire for her Bridegroom, praying that he will come like a thief in the night.

Nagging Discontentment and the Redemption of the Cosmos

It’s not always (in fact, not usually) the tragic issues that test our faith. It is usually the subtle suffering: unfilfillment, insecurity, boredom, disappointment, low self-esteem, headaches, weariness, strained relationships, mundane routine, small prayers that seem unanswered, depression, social anxiety, and you add to the list. There are big moments that rattle us, but these things, unchecked, can where at us like decay. Because, while we are souls, we are embodied souls, and our Christians lives have no other stage but the one shared with these struggles.

I have been in a state of self-analysis lately as to the effect of these kinds of minute suffering on my own psyche, and it has been my desire to learn to submit these to the lordship of Christ. How do I be a light for Christ at work when I am tired and don’t feel like interacting with others? How do I give my future over to God when it seems uncertain and I can’t help but doubt? How do I have joy when I feel melancholy?

One thing that I have noticed in my study of Scripture is that the Bible does not leaves these things unaddressed. In fact, it embraces these issues head-on. Most of the Psalm’s are written from a state of agony. Paul’s gospel hope was expressed from a platform of being “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

The biblical worldview exists in the context of suffering. Nearly every chapter of the Bible deals with suffering. That is because the Christian faith is one of redemption. Christians shouldn’t be taken unaware by the problem of evil. The gospel mandate assumes it. Our theism gives us a basis by which we can label it a problem and our Savior gives us a solution.

The redemption found in Christ is the answer to our daily suffering both big and small. We can deal with our suffering by aligning our minds with the thoughts of the inspired biblical writers.

I’ll give one example of what I mean: Personally, my pessimism is most prevalent when I first wake up. My alarm goes off, interrupting my sleep cycle and some kind of disturbing dream. I stand in front of my dresser as all of my discouragements come immediately to mind. I feel worn down in mind, body, and emotions. I begin to recite the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” I take our dog outside and it is cold. As the wind blows on my face, I speak to God with honesty: “Father, I am discouraged. Help me.” By God’s grace, Romans 8:18-21 (ESV) comes to mind:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subject to futility, no willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself might be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

I am reminded that the creation will not always be this way. The coldness on my skin is both temporary and redeemable. There will be a day (thanks be to God!) when I will not be tired, cold, or discouraged. The suffering sets my heart longing, and my longing sets my heart to worship.