Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Papa's Touch Revisited

Thanks to all of you for your responses to my last blog, including my dad and son, and his friend C. N. I had no idea that it would stir up so much reflection. Mark’s comments, of course, were particularly pointed and raise a series of rather huge questions.

Papa has revealed his heart and will for the entire human race, and indeed the cosmos, in Jesus. Immanuel is not a theory, but a divine-human fact. Jesus Christ has embraced us all in his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension, lifted us up and established a real relationship with us in our darkness, sin and brokenness. In establishing a real relationship with us he has included us in his own relationship with his Father and his own relationship with the Holy Spirit—adoption. So in Jesus we see not a second plan or a half-time adjustment, or just another idea of God, but the one, eternal will and plan of Papa. Before creation Papa set his heart upon us all and determined that we would be brought into real and abiding relationship with Him through Jesus, His only son, so that we could experience life in His embrace.

The gospel is not the news that we can receive an absent Jesus into our lives, but the stunning news that Jesus has received us into his. We do not make Jesus Christ part of our worlds. He is the creator. He has given us a place in his cosmos. And even as we rejected our place in the great rebellion, he refused our rejection, came in person to bear our scorn, and reestablished real relationship with us, thus giving the fallen world a place in his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. It is here that I am sometimes labeled a universalist because I will not budge on the fact that the Father’s Son has included us all, thus fulfilling his Father’s dream and will for us. What Jesus has made real in his own person through life, death, resurrection and ascension is the real world, the rest is what we bring to his table in our darkness.

I will deal again at another time with the problem of universalism (see The Great Dance and Across All Worlds, and just about everything I have ever written or spoken). Suffice it to say here that the universal inclusion of the human race in Jesus and in his relationship with Papa and the Holy Spirit is both great news and exposing news. It declares to the world who God is and why the Lord created this universe and humanity within it. And it declares to us who we are and why we are here and what is going on in our lives. The news of what Jesus has made of his creation in himself is fantastic news, full of hope for us all, but it is also news which exposes our utter blindness and brokenness. So it is in the light of Jesus Christ and of what he has made of us that we get a glimpse of where this is all heading and of what we should be experiencing in our lives. And it is in this light that we, at last, can see that there is a real and serious problem. Our salvation in Jesus Christ reveals we are all profoundly blind and destructive. We just don’t get it, don’t see it, don’t believe it to be true at all, and our unbelief has traumatic consequences.

Given that Papa has embraced us all in Jesus—and I do not mean the ‘good’ us, I mean the broken, blind, sinful us, for that is what happened when we rejected and cursed Jesus and he bore it without retaliation—we should see Papa’s touch everyday, all day long. And we should see personal, relational and international healing and wholeness emerging. For we are all included in the life and wholeness and beauty of the blessed Trinity. So when Mark asks his great question, ‘does God give moments like this to starving orphans in third world countries?’ my answer is, of course, all day long, every day. For Papa has embraced us in Jesus in real and personal relationship, and He does not live as if it is not true. It is not a question of whether or not Papa is present in all tenderness and care and love, for in the light of Jesus we have solid ground for knowing that He is so forever. It is a question of what we see and do not see, and of what we do to ourselves, to others and to creation in our blindness.

Let me put this another way. When we meet Jesus and see him as he is, I don’t think we will say, ‘Jesus, forgive me, for I overestimated your place and significance in the world. I gave you too much credit.’ And I don’t think we will ask Papa, ‘where were you?’ or accuse the Holy Spirit of dereliction of duty. For when we meet Jesus and see who he is and thus who we are and what is happening in this world, we will see both his presence in our lives and that we have been terribly and profoundly blind. Moreover, we will see that we have imposed our blindness upon Jesus’ world and people with devastating, if not traumatic consequences (check out our own marriages!). Then we will see how the Father, Son and Spirit embraced us in our sin, and even used us and our brokenness to break through not only our own blindness, but that of other’s as well. The Holy Spirit is a redeeming genius. In the light of Jesus we will see how and when and where the love and life, the care and burden of the Triune God was at work within us and in our lives.

Here is a great example. When Mark spoke of his ‘lying awake at night staring at the ceiling, thinking about those I know who are profoundly struggling, let alone all those around the world who need a meal or a safe place to sleep,’ I could not hear those words as Mark’s at all. Those are the words of Jesus himself—present, not absent. This is Jesus’ burden being shared with Mark and with us. For Jesus has included us in his life. Immanuel is not a theory. It is not a doctrine waiting for us to apply to our lives. Immanuel is the real world, Jesus Christ is present with us in our terrible blindness. As Jesus shares himself with us, we feel his joy and his burden, and we have moments when Papa’s presence breaks through our blindness.

We should see more of Papa’s presence and care everywhere, and we should be burdened when we don’t. For the Jesus within us knows his Father and His presence, shares Papa’s heart with us in our blindness, and shares our pain when his presence is violated in our lives.

When Mark cited Frederick Buechner’s description of compassion as "the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it's like to live in somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too," I could only here Jesus again speaking to us all. For he is the only one who has suffered the fatal capacity of feeling what it is like to live in somebody else’s skin. And he did so because he committed himself to us before the foundation of the world, and he will not rest until we too feel his peace and joy, and until the cosmos is expressing his own relationship with Papa and the Holy Spirit.

“Does that little girl who's never heard the name of Jesus, cowering in a corner dreading another night of abuse, does she get to feel Papa's touch?” What we know about this little girl is that she is included, that Jesus (who has suffered the fatal capacity of feeling what it is like to live in somebody else’s skin) is with and in her sharing her terror whether she has heard of his name or not, that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with her spirit that she is included and loved, that in Jesus Papa is present, and that she is living in a terrifying hell, which is the real world she experiences and wars against the witness of the Holy Spirit. And I would hazard a guess that she is getting a load of religious crap as well. She is in desperate need of embodied love and truth, for the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus Christ not merely to her, but in her (as happened to Saul of Tarsus, Galatians 1:16). There is no hope for this little girl (or for Saul of Tarsus, or any of us) if Jesus Christ is not already in her, meeting her in her trauma and sharing himself and all that he is and has with her. And Jesus is not absent.

This little girl, I suspect, is a picture of the human race suffering abuse from all forms of darkness. Jesus has established a real relationship with us in our traumatic existence, and his presence in our hell is our hope. Having suffered from our hands the worst abuse imaginable, he is able to share himself with us in our pain. His presence commands us and frees us to see Papa everywhere, and to cry out for the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see. And his freeing presence in our darkness burdens us for those who don’t see. We live in the joy and burden of Jesus himself, sharing his burden for the starving orphans around the world, and for fat materialists, and for those who tar Papa’s face with the brush of their own angst and create a religion to go with it, for those who have been abused and abuse, for those who hurt and feel ashamed of themselves, and for those who live as if they are the answer.

Paul’s prayer is universally relevant, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe” Ephesians 1:17-19).

And the declaration of Jesus, “I am the light of the cosmos; the one who follows Me shall never walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

May the Holy Spirit reveal Jesus in us, and give us the courage to take baby steps against the way we see things. And may he continue to apply his redemptive genius to our lives and use us to help others know the truth.


Pastor Paul said...

Baxter, this is a great post. you have portrayed Jesus in the forever presence in ALL humans lives. We may not understand just how He is when we see the human atrocities committed by one human against another, but How bad would it really be IF Jesus were not present comforting and continually saving and touching the lives of all humans in any way He so chooses. You make it so beautiful.

Paul Kurts

Anonymous said...

Earlier today I penned these words in The Shack Forum in a vain attempt to communicate the unconditional love our Triune God has for us:
I just think both stances (Arminianism and Calvinism) underestimate the love, forgiveness, mercy and effectiveness of our Triune God (Father, Son and Spirit).

And if I am in error for believing God is too loving, too forgiving, too merciful and Jesus too successful, well I will gladly suffer His admonition when someday we meet face to face.

My heart fairly leaped when I read your sentence about giving Jesus to much credit.

Maybe I am not as much a heretic as some say....

Anonymous said...

Hi Baxter,

Thank you so much for this revisit of Papa’s touch. And it has prompted me to play the “old minister” card.

You see, I have been in ministry for about 40 years now, and over that time I have observed that everyone naturally walks around in great darkness and that everyone carries around a load of crap as well. We typically don’t see this reality as we develop self-deceptions to allow ourselves to bang around in our mess with some degree of “comfort.” But the baseline is that everyone suffers in their mess.

However, Jesus is always there. And for some, He becomes visible now within. And for all, He will become visible. This does not necessarily do away with our suffering now. But His presence does give us a Grand Companion to walk with us into eternal realms. And I have seen many, who see this Grand Companion at least in part, handle their messes with great hope and relief.

The best to you always.

J. Richard Parker

Anonymous said...

After a lifetime of terrifying fear of the God posited by fundamentalist Christianity, is it any wonder that some of us are leery? Sorry, I just can't buy this image of God. If it were true then he should have made it plain in the Bible. But he didn't. He didn't.

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Anonymous said,

'After a lifetime of terrifying fear of the God posited by fundamentalist Christianity, is it any wonder that some of us are leery? Sorry, I just can't buy this image of God. If it were true then he should have made it plain in the Bible. But he didn't. He didn't.

I truly feel your heart. I grew up with a vison of God that was anything but consistent with the Lord Jesus. My question to you is simply, who has defined God for you, the church or Jesus himself, or your force-fed interpretation of the Bible from the 'church?' For my money, Jesus statement, 'If you have seen me, you have seen the Father' rocked my world and called into question all my fundamentalists notions. Crisis! My solution: Reckon on Jesus as the one who knows and reveals the Father. As to why he did not make it plain, I can only say, He did. Chunk the residual crap that we all inherited and listen to Jesus.

Anonymous said...

From one anonymous to another:

I feel greatly for you, and felt some understanding with what you said. I come from a similar background.
Out of curiousity (foolish or not), I wanted to know if there was anything AT ALL to the things I had heard/experienced. I set my mind to challenging every word, action and nuance that had been set up as the 'presence/be-ing' of Christ/God, etc. In other words, "Would the real Jesus (if any) please stand (the ****) up."

It requires a bit of insanity and obsessive compulsive-ness to stand up to the monsters of your mind, but the only way to dissolve the shadows in a room is to turn the light on INSIDE THAT VERY ROOM. Else it just haunts you.
It's a wretched journey, but good luck to you. Above all else, I hope you have a safe place of rest in your Self where you can simply BE -- no strings attached. ox

Anonymous said...

Hi there!

Yes, it is a bit of a journey to get that light turned on in the room of the self. For me, I was able to get that light on when, after some struggle, I saw that we, when we believe, are under the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant.

I also, had to address what I call the Synoptic Problem. This problem, which is huge and which I address on my blogsite, causes a great deal of grief in the lives of so many seekers of God.

My point is that there is light in the darkness. It can be troubling to find. But once it is found, Jesus stands there looking back at us with great love and concern.

The best to you always!

J. Richard Parker

Anonymous said...

I am a recovering Western Dualist raised in one of the most legalistic churches my parents could have stumbled upon. My vision of God was so marred by, not the theology, but the mythology of the Greek Philosophized Western Tradition that on the day of my baptism I told my best friend, "I hope I drown on the way up." I thought that the instant after baptism would be the only time in my life that I'd ever be "clean" enough to qualify for God's love. Thank God the Trinity for men like Baxter, TF and JB Torrance, Bob Capon, Andrew Purves, Bert Gary and others that have taught me to live in the love of the Father. I once was "as lost as my own Tee Shot" but I am coming to know more and more that Jesus IS in His Father and I am in Jesus and He is in me!
I am a FREE man!

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Richard, I have and continue to appreciate encouragement and your comments, but I have a quibble with the way you worded your last one. You said, "...I was able to get that light on when, after some struggle, I saw that we, when we believe, are under the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant." My challenge to you is to put your hope not in your own faith or in any particular moment in your journey (powerful as such moments are to us), but to hope in the faith and faithfulness of Papa's son. The New Covenant and our inclusion in it was established by Jesus, the alpha and the omega, the author and finisher of our faith. Our hope of inclusion is that he did a great job, not that our faith qualifies us. Maybe this is a quibble of wording or perhaps a larger issue, but I wanted to be clear on where I stand. I have lived long enough to experience enough of the distractions of my own bullshit to absolutely glory in the faith and steadffastness of Jesus Christ standing on our side of the covenant. Hallelejuah blessed Jesus.

Unknown said...

Hi Baxter
Gave this blog to my 16 year old daughter to read who gave it a “Very positive”. We had gone through “The Shack” some time ago where I had found myself amazed how easily she also connected to it. There are glimpses in our darkness of “The hope of glory” in all of us.

So thank you for your heart enlightening writings. Personally in my journey in the here and now I continue and change my mind asking the Holy Spirit to slay my illusionary mythological Goliath’s that I have accepted as my own, especially in the arena of religion. I have great hope, for even when David slew Goliath, he hit him in the head from where he thinks, even cutting it off, and so Jesus, much more, has cleansed me from all my Goliath’s and cut off the head of the first Adam, so that I may come to live from His mindset and revel in His life, the new head of all. jg

Anonymous said...

Hi Baxter,

Yes, wording can be a problem. The baseline is that my approach is to "hope in the faith and faithfulness of Papa's son. The New Covenant and our inclusion in it was established by Jesus, the alpha and the omega, the author and finisher of our faith. Our hope of inclusion is that he did a great job, not that our faith qualifies us."

Please keep up your good work. Many are being helped by it. And the best to you always!

J. Richard Parker

Scott said...

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says it well addressing the warfare the battles within our minds or as anonymous says “stand up to the monsters of your mind”

“We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Holman Christian Standard Bible

“Tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.”
The Message Bible

After reading this several times slowly and letting it sink down deep I had the sense of being “built up in Christ” and “rooted and grounded in his love”. Thank You!

Pastor Paul said...

Baxter I just have to make a comment, as you know me and know I always shall.

These are beautiful comments and I love all of them you have received.

My grandson, Michael David, is now ten years old. But, I have to tell you the first words out of his mouth when he saw me. Me being his grandfather. He was about seven or so months old.

He was crawling aroung on the floor and he stopped and looked up and me and said, " PaPa". I will never foreget it. What "prophetic" implications that one word held. PaPa.

Love, acceptance, belief, communion, connection, Emmanuel, and all of the other words used to desribe our relationship with BIG
PAPA. How beautiful. I wish all of us could hear those words .

PaPa. I love you and I know you love me.

Thanks, Baxter.

Paul Kurts

thesentone said...

Hi Baxter,

I have just returned from Xining, Qinghai, and spoke to a mutual friend who works there with a Christian organisation. We spoke about Barth, Torrance and the good stuff and thought I should leave you a note that what you are doing has clearly influenced some to the corners of China!

I hope to read some of your posts/books sometime in the near future, and hope that we have some time to discuss some theology on the net or in person, if you ever go to China (and if I happen to be in that part of the city as well)!


Brian said...

Hi Baxter,
I was wondering what do you base your statement ~"the Holy Spirit is in the little girl"? The little girl who has never heard of Jesus and this can be applied to adults who have do not believe/worship Jesus. Would it not be more accurate to state that the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Jesus)is WITH the girl but not yet indwelling her? As I understand it, the Holy Spirit indwells believers and unites us to Christ. And the Holy Spirit is with everyone else drawing us all to Jesus. (This comes from Dr. Gary Deddo, your classmate)
We are connected to Jesus now in the same way we WERE connected to Adam. So that is why Jesus says that "whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me." I'd appreciate your comments. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to everyone who responded to my comments with such insight, understanding, and compassion. I am grateful for a safe place to wrestle.


Thanks for taking the time to graciously and firmly express these realities so thoughtfully and clearly. As I read "Papa's Touch Revisited" I felt a nudge to something I had forgotten that touched me 20 years ago from "The Hungering Dark" by Buechner:

The child born in the night among beasts. The sweet breath and steaming dung of beasts. And nothing is ever the same again.
Those who believe in God can never, in a way, be sure of Him again. Once they have seen Him in a stable, they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go, to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of man. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly or earthbound but that holiness can be present there too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place that we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from His power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where He seems most helpless that He is most strong, and just where we least expect Him that He comes most fully.
For those who believe in God, it means, this birth, that God Himself is never safe from us, and maybe that is the dark side of Christmas, the terror of the silence. He comes in such a way that we can always turn Him down, as we would crack the baby’s skull like an eggshell or nail Him up when He gets too big for that. God comes to us in the hungry man we do not have to feed, comes to us in the lonely man we do not have to comfort, comes to us in all the desperate human need of people everywhere that we are always free to turn our backs upon. It means that God puts Himself at our mercy not only in the sense of the suffering that we can cause Him by our blindness and coldness and cruelty, but the suffering that we can cause Him simply by suffering ourselves. Because that is the way love works, and when someone we love suffers, we suffer with him, and we would not have it otherwise because the suffering and the love are one, just as it is with God’s love for us.

I will not forget what you have shared in this post.
Grace and peace to you,

Anonymous said...

"the surpassing greatness of his power [is] toward us who believe”
Not toward those who refuse to believe.

Where you said "Papa has embraced us all in Jesus—and I do not mean the ‘good’ us, I mean the broken, blind, sinful us" you hit the nail on the head. All who depend on their own goodness are eternally lost because they depend on the 'good' in themselves. Only those who believe in the Father's Son's perfect life on our behalf and His perfect death to kill our sins can have the life that He wants to impart. The commenter who said he never felt good enough for Jesus never understood that the goodness must come from Jesus, not himself. Jesus is not in such a man, whether shameful or proud, because the man still depends on his own righteousness, not on the Righteousness of the Son of God imparted to him. He had legalistic religion, not a relationship with the Living Papa.

We are GIVEN the right to BECOME children of God. It does not happen unless we respond in belief. You claim to promote relationship with God but your teaching has nothing to do with relationship. Relationship requires response.

Universalism is heresy because it makes God's goodness no more than our own goodness. I would add to the label 'universalist' to say that your teachings are similar to gnosticism, since you imply only the intelligent elite such as yourself are enlightened and we ordinary Christians (who aren't universalists) are in darkness.

Truth is Who Jesus says He is, not who you wish He is like. The standard for all BELIEVERS to know the Truth is scripture - as He revealed Himself - not your own thoughts about who you think He should be. That is your imaginary friend, not Jesus. It is you, not mainstream Christianity, who has projected your own ideas to make an invented Jesus that fits your mold. In fact, you truly don't give Jesus much credit at all. You don't credit Him with being able to judge the man who rejects Him (no love for God) and then molests the little girl (no love for man). And then you don't credit the Holy Spirit for transmitting His word faithfully and faithfully interpreting it for all who have been GIVEN the right to BECOME His children.

Jesus called you to be a fisher of men. Instead you make lures with no hooks and tell the other fishermen that the fish in the water are already in the boat.

Universalism; gnosticism; elitism; heresy.

Unfortunately it's true that you did influence some in China, but we had a good talk with some of them and they realized the gross error of your teaching.