Monday, May 26, 2008

A Dead Man Speaks

Wouldn’t you like to talk with someone who died, and then was brought back to life after 4 days? I know I would. Of course, these days we hear of such things fairly often, and who knows what to believe? But to me, it is striking that John does not interview Lazarus after his 4 days in the grave and his astonishing resurrection. So many of our questions could have been answered, and fairly quickly, if John would have recorded for us the conversation Lazarus surely had with Mary and Martha. John is strangely quiet here. How could a man such as John miss such an opportunity? But his silence, I suspect, is intentional, very intentional. Think about it. Jesus calls a dead man back to life. John’s silence, with respect to the dead man’s experience, speaks volumes. Personally I don’t think it ever crossed John’s mind to interview Lazarus. Why? Because the One who is himself the resurrection and the life is standing right in front of him!

What happens when we die? What do we encounter? Where do we wake up, and in what condition? I think John’s answer is that we meet Jesus—who is our life. And meeting Jesus as our life is both the gospel and exposing judgment at the same time.

I suspect at least 3 things happen when we meet Jesus in death and resurrection. (1) We come to know (not simply to believe, but to know) that we do not have the power of existence. We discover in death—in an irrefutable way—that Jesus Christ is the living one, and that we are not. This is not the conclusion of our intellect after a convincing philosophical debate. It is the fruit of losing every semblance of power, of coming to an absolute end of ourselves, and then meeting the One who holds our very being in the palm of his hands, so to speak.

(2) Meeting Jesus—as the source of our life—reveals to us that our entire existence, from conception to our death has been a participation in his life. Our loves, our sacrifices, our ideas and burdens, our joys and sorrows, our beauty and courage, our laughter and creativity have all had their origin, not in us, but in Jesus and his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. For there is only one circle of love in this universe, the circle of life shared by the Father, Son and Spirit. In meeting Jesus we come to know as we are known. We see ourselves as we truly are, people who are not, and never have been, separated from God, people who are eternally loved by the Father, Son and Spirit, and have been made joint-heirs with Jesus himself, adopted, included in the Trinitarian life in Christ. We see our lives as the long process whereby the Trinitarian life, shared with us in Jesus, has been emerging, through the Spirit, in us, and in our relationships with one another and the whole creation.

(3) Such a revelation is the most thrilling news in the world, but it is also withering. For to meet Jesus as our life, to see the Father’s love for us, to know that we are included in Jesus’ own anointing in the Holy Spirit shows us our real life, and it inevitably reveals that we have been a long way from living it. Only in the light of Jesus Christ—and of who we truly are in him—do we understand how far we have fallen short of living in the glory of the Triune God. The mess we have made of ourselves and our lives reveals, not that we do not belong to the Father, Son and Spirit, but that we have been participating in a terrible and terrifying darkness. We have followed, not the Spirit of truth and of adoption, but the spirit of error and separation. We have lived in and out of profound confusion. We have been terribly wrong. The great darkness, and our believing its lies, created pain, and while the Holy Spirit was a work within us leading us to believe in Jesus and to participate in the Trinitarian life, we were at work believing in ourselves and in our home-made pain remedies. Seeing ourselves included in Jesus and in his life, reveals that we have been proud, self-centered pricks, whose lives have been more a form of hiding and self-justification, sadness and pain management, than open-souled fellowship and simple joy. In meeting Jesus, as the real truth of our life, we come face to face with how we have hurt ourselves, and others, and creation in the great darkness, with how we have ignored the Holy Spirit himself and preferred our own judgment, and with the brutal, yet liberating, fact that we do not have a clue about life and living it.

Jesus said, and says: “I am the light of the cosmos, the one who follows me, shall never, ever walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Thursday, May 8, 2008


In John chapter 5, Jesus is in the thick of things with the Jewish leadership. He has just healed a man who had been sick for 38 years, which the Jewish leaders completely overlooked, because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, thus breaking one of their rules. As they attacked Jesus for ‘breaking the Sabbath,’ he defended his healing by appealing to the fact that he was only participating in what his Father was doing (v. 17). At this the leadership’s attack on Jesus moves from ‘persecution’ to an intense desire to ‘kill’ him, "because he not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18). And so begins an argument, at the heart of which is an unstated question from Jesus, ‘who is really making themselves out to be equal to God here?’ In Jesus’ mind, he is only doing what he sees his Father doing, and thus living his life in submission to the Father. The Pharisees, however, have not heard the voice of the Father (v. 37), do not have His word abiding in them (v. 38), are unwilling to come to Jesus to have life (v. 40), do not have the love of God in themselves (v. 42), receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that is from the one, true God (v. 44), and do not even believe in Moses, the one in whom they have placed their hope (v. 46). It is a classic Jesus flip. He turns the accusation of the Jews back upon themselves, with withering, and hopefully, liberating exposure of the fact that they have no interest whatever in submitting to God. So who is making themselves out to be God?

In the midst of this storm there is a fascinating sequence on judgment. First, Jesus lays down a shocker—one that many people today cannot believe he actually said. “For not even the Father judges any one, but He has given all judgment to the Son” (v. 22). Relinquishing His own right to judgment, the Father has given all judgment to Jesus. I think this is related to v. 27: “And He gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” It is as if the Father is saying, ‘look, Jesus, you are in the trenches here. I trust you completely. Whatever you say goes, in heaven and on earth.’ So much for hierarchy. The implicit point to the Jewish leadership is clear. ‘Be careful, boys, I don’t think you know who you are dealing with here, but you will.’

There is a play in Jesus’ words on two of the Greek words which we translate judge or judgment. One word is krino, which means to separate, discern, consider, or evaluate or to decide. The other is krisis, from which we derive the English word crisis. Jesus is saying, the Father judges (krino) no one, but has given all judgment (krisis) into the hands of His Son. Jesus has the authority to execute crisis, because he is personally present, and his personal presence means crisis (nowhere to hide exposure) for all in darkness, including religious darkness.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his (Jesus’) voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good, to a resurrection of life, those who did the bad, to a resurrection of judgment (krisis)” vv. 28-29. Jesus, of course, is not saying that salvation comes by works. He is saying, to the Jewish leadership, ‘the day is coming when the ones who gave themselves to participate in life will get what they wanted—life, the Father himself. And the ones who opposed life and participated in darkness (did not seek the glory of the one, true God) will rise to a rude awakening, a crisis, for they will rise and meet Me—again. I, the Father’s Son, the way, the truth and the life, the savior and salvation itself, will be standing on the other side of the end of all God-playing, religious nonsense.’ Jesus is the judgment.

It is “appointed for men to die once, and after this comes krisis” (Hebrews 9:27).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Note on the Gospel

From all eternity, God lives as Father, Son and Spirit in a rich and glorious and abounding fellowship. There is no emptiness in this circle, no depression or fear or angst. The Trinitarian life is a life of unchained communion and intimacy, fired by passionate, other-centered, self-giving love and mutual delight. Such love, giving rise to such togetherness and fellowship, is the womb of the universe and of human existence within it.

The gospel begins here with this God and with this divine life, and its unbounded fellowship and joy. Before time dawned and space was called to be, before the heavens were stretched out and filled with a sea of stars, before the earth was summoned and filled with people and life and endless beauty, before there was anything, there was the Father, Son and Spirit and the great dance of Trinitarian life. The stunning truth is that this Triune God, in amazing and lavish love, determined to open the circle and share the Trinitarian life with others. This is the one, eternal and abiding reason for the creation of the world and of human life. There is no other God, no other will of God, no second plan, no hidden agenda for human beings. From the beginning, God is Father, Son and Spirit, and from the beginning, this God has determined not to live without us (as Karl Barth said).

Before the blueprints for creation were drawn up, the Father, Son and Spirit set their abounding love upon us and determined that we would be adopted, that we would be given a place inside their circle of life, and made participants in the very fellowship and joy and glory of the Triune God. There and then, before creation, it was decided that the Son would cross every chasm between God and humanity and establish a real and abiding relationship—union. He was predestined to be the mediator, the one in and through whom the very life of the Triune God would enter human existence and human existence would be lifted up to share in the Trinitarian life.

The gospel is the good news that this stunning plan of the Triune God has now become eternal fact in Jesus Christ. In his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension, he laid hold of the human race, took us down in his death, recreated us in his resurrection, and lifted us up into the embrace of the Father in his ascension. The Holy Spirit was then poured out upon the world, with the singular mission of revealing Jesus Christ (and who we are in him) to humanity in its darkness. The Holy Spirit comes to lead us to know the truth, so that the reality of our adoption in Christ can come to full and abiding and personal expression in us, and in our relationships with one another, and in our relationship with all creation.

Come, Holy Spirit

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Dwelling in the Father's love

Brandon and Dwell, I have finally had time to sit down and read your discussion. I am thrilled for both of you. Brandon, your 3-D illustration is a gem, as is your point about the chair, and I love your heart. Dwell, you are obviously a careful and sensitive thinker, and know your way around the larger gospel discussion. So my hat is off to both of you. It seems to me that what you are wrestling with is the reality of relationship, not simply a position, or a title, or a fact, but a relationship. I hope all without exception come to know Abba and experience his love in Jesus to the uttermost. Like George MacDonald and Thomas Erskine, two of my heroes, it makes no sense to think that the Father’s love will not win every heart. Unlike those two giants, I cannot make a doctrine out of our hope. To be a universalist (doctrinally speaking) would be, for me, to deny the reality of our distinction within Christ’s relationship with us, and that would be to deny the authenticity of our personhood, which is one of my beefs with the Calvinists.

In the last 2 chapters of my book, The Great Dance, I do the best that I can to sort through Christ’s union with us and our real distinction. Come to think of it, towards the end of most of what I write I come around to this issue, except in Across All Worlds—the whole book is about Christ relating to us in our darkness.

Dwell, you said, “But with the official Perichoresis message it seems to me that although it is better on the surface - ie We are all justified, and sit at the right hand of the Father in Jesus etc.....The bottom line is that WE still have the burden of deciding our destiny.”

The statement, “the burden of deciding our destiny” strikes me as odd in the context of the stunning news that we have been included in Jesus’ own relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. I cannot imagine hearing my wife say “I love you” and hearing that as a burden. “I love you” is a declaration that I am a real person and I am in a relationship where I am called to love and to be loved. It is an invitation to love and relationship. The gospel declares to us that we are included in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and as such calls us be loved, to let the Father love us, as my friend Bruce Wauchope so beautifully puts it. What is burdensome about letting the Father love us? Jesus declares the Father’s love to us and summons us to believe in his Father’s love. The object of faith is the fact of the Father’s love and acceptance, which means that we are real persons to the Father, that we are in a relationship with him, and are called to respond.

In the story of the prodigal and his brother, the Father’s love for both boys was endless, and because of his endless love, they were both called to respond.

Several points need to be isolated here. (1) The Father loves us. What we do or do not do cannot change, validate or nullify his love. We are loved—forever. (2) If we doubt, and we all do, we are to look to Jesus whose very existence reveals the Father’s endless love to us. The object of faith, and the ground of assurance, is the reality of the Father’s love and acceptance in Jesus—the fact that we are included. (3) The Father’s love calls us to let him love us. To deny the need to respond to the Father is to reduce us to non-persons and to pretend that this is not a relationship.

The gospel is the stunning declaration that we are included in the relationship that Jesus has with his Father and the Holy Spirit, and as such it is a declaration that rocks our illusions and doubts, and summons us to let the Father love us, as Bruce says, or to learn to live loved, as Paul Young says. Or perhaps we should say that the gospel summons us to dwell in the Father’s love.

Bless you all

For more of my thoughts on the way of trinitarian love, see my essay, “Bearing our Scorn: Jesus and the Way of Trinitarian Love.”