Restless But Hopeful

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions Book I, Chapter 1.[1]

The Uncanny Nature of Existence

There is something uncanny about being human. Something so peculiar that we can’t exactly place our finger on it. Whether in the sweetest or most painful moments there is always a dull sensation in the back of our mind that we are not at home, we are restless. We are eager to be home, to find our rest.

When we look at our surroundings, we find free spirited individuals living on park benches, campsites, or squatter communities. We recognize this because they are living in a place that is not their natural habitat. And yet we seem to miss that fact that we are also living like fish out of water.

Parks are wonderful to visit, but in the long term cannot fully sustain our life. The requisites of a home are those things that fully lead to human flourishing. Whether our sweetest or saddest moment, we are left with the nagging twinge that there must be more to life than this. There has to be something that is our true home.

Signposts of Home

Our human experiences are signposts pointing us to something fundamentally other than ourselves. These experiences are comforting to us because they remind us of home, even though we feel as though we are not. This deep sense of “not-at-homeness” was encapsulated in the book by Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. He used the word, uncanny, or in German unheimlich. He put it this way.

Unheimlich is the fundamental groundlessness of our existence, this profoundly felt sense of not-being-at-home, wherever one would be.

Being and Time – Heidegger 1962, 214.

Far from finding this concept foreign to the Bible, the writer of Hebrews describes this very feeling and tells us where this homelessness, this unheimlich, points.

Heb. 11:8   By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Finding our Home

We are all seeking a community and friendship that will last. We honestly don’t know what we actually are looking for, but when Jesus finds us we can finally say, “This is what I have been looking for all my life.”

We only discover this home, this rest, when we discover the greatness of God. He is the one whom we desire and truly seek. We will spend our lives in this uncanny existence seeing beautiful sunsets, wonderful beaches. families, friends and jobs whispering to us, flirting with us. They will promise only what they can point to, not what they really are. They are signposts and appetizers to the true beauty, the true home the true satisfaction that God is.

CS Lewis put it wonderfully, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.”[2]

God invites us into this rest not in here after, but in the here and now. Find your rest in Him.

[1] cor nostrum inquietum est donec requiescat in Te.

[2] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity book three, chapter ten

Darklands and Light

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In the 4th century Scotland was not know for its enlightenment. In fact the Romans referred to it as Scotti  or the ones living in darkness. Centuries later Scotland would have missionaries such Eric Liddell and theologians such as John Knox. God’s Light is best shone in the darkness.

Rome had running water, extensive roadworks and infrastructure, and even a highly developed legislative system. The word scot comes from the means darkness in Greek. This is the same word that John uses to speak of us. It is into this darkness that Christ comes to shine.

With the advent of the Romans, the British Isles had their first running water. Some archaeologists believe that it was not until the 18th century that England was finally able to meet the same standard of plumbing.

The stunning truth of Jesus’ life is that the very Light that spoke and said, “Let there be light.” Has spoken into the very history of the world.

This is the glorious light of the Gospel that missionaries brought throughout the world.

He casts out darkness by the glorious light of his presence. His arrival breaks the darkness of our sin and ushers in the light of his life. Our darkness was not one of simple lack of civilization or knowledge. It was the darkness and chaos of self-rule. This light of life ushers in life, light, peace and joy.

 

Advent and Disruptive Events

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

advent |ˈadˌvent|

  • noun [in sing. ]
  • the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event : the advent of television.
  • • ( Advent) the first season of the church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.
  • • ( Advent) Christian Theology the coming or second coming of Christ.
  • ORIGIN Old English , from Latin adventus arrival, from advenire, from ad- to + venire come.

There are things that disrupt the way we live, relate or work. The arrival of new things are disruptive. The advent of the telegraph. This ushered in long distance communication while shortening the time that was needed for the travel of the message. Then came the radio. We no longer had to run wires to communicate long distance. Then we developed television. Now we could send information, audio and video. The arrival of these things is disruptive because it fundamentally changes the nature and mode of long distance communication.

John uses this same analogy of communication or “word” to give us an abstract illustration about the nature of Jesus’ advent and His incarnation. Advent has forever changed our mode and way of understanding and relating to God. What was veiled in metaphor and symbol. What was prophets of old communicating far off oracles has now changed. In a small stable of Bethlehem the very author writes himself into the story. His advent is the most disruptive event in the history of the universe. The Author has become the Word in his very own story. Let advent be the disruptive event God designed it to be.

“…My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not” – CS Lewis in “A Grief Observed”

Awesome Indeed

What is it in the human heart that attracts many to extreme sports? We all desire an awesome feeling of fear. Inside every single one of us is a desire to feel truly alive.

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest…

21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (Heb 12:18-22)

Over the last few decades we have commercialized this deep desire in us all. Jumping out of airplanes, scuba diving, roller coaster riding, or name any other thrill seeking adventure is a pursuit of this elusive tremedous mystery we call “thrill.”

We seek the excitement of fear. Fear, we hope, will make us feel the risk and joy of feeling truly alive.

Rudolf Otto called it, “Mysterium tremendum et fascinans”  or the fearful and fascinating mystery. The encounter with the beyond that is both terrifyingly awesome yet stunningly fascinating.

A very good way to describe this fascinating mystery is the word numinous. C.S. Lewis described it as a feeling utterly different than fear. Fear he said is the feeling we get when we are told that the adjacent room with the door ajar contains a tiger. Numinous is the feeling we get when we are told that there is ghost or spirit in the room next door.

Let’s recover the wonder of fear as we tremble before the majesty of divinity. It is this quivering that is not fearful, only awesome. True wonder inspired fear will make us feel truly alive. The encounter will be awesome indeed. We need Someone other than ourselves to breathe life into us. That is why Jesus breathed on his disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”(John 20:22)

How Low Can You Go

A year ago my little daughter discovered the game limbo. She found it fascinating. Whoever could get lowest and most limber, this one would win. The main reason for liking the game was not the flexibility or testing the limits of our core strength and gravity. No, the game of limbo is fascinating because we find it humorous to see the great lengths that people will go to win. They are willing to look ridiculous just to win a prize. How low can you go?

One of the attributes that we often overlook about God is that of humility. If anyone has the right or prerogative to make use of rank or privilege it is God (v6). We are reminded of what an exalted God we have, that he did not consider humility as a trait beneath his station.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:5-7)

Often we read these verses and see them as a goal to emulate. We would miss the whole thrust of this passage if we thought it were just about playing spiritual limbo. God does not want us to perform a version of limbo in which we debase ourselves. This would still be a subtly arrogant way of earning our way to God. Jesus did not come to show us a new way of life, but to give us new live.

Paul tells us to do nothing out of selfish ambition, conceit or vainglory (kenodoxia), but to have Christ’s attitude of humility. We humans suffer from “empty glory.” We are living off borrowed glory and are still grasping at it, clinging to it. Jesus who had every prerogative, did not exercise his divine right, but rather emptied himself (heauton ekenosen). Paul masterfully illustrates this by a beautiful play on words.

Striving to live a humble life is still very proud. Laying aside what is rightfully yours is absolutely humble.

God’s solution to our empty glory (kenodoxia) is his self-emptying (ekenosen).

Reliable

A boss of mine once commented, “The only thing constant in life is change.” Life is full of its ups and downs. Seasons come and go. Situations change. People change. Feelings change. Our experience would tell us that life in general is very fluid. There is much truth in this statement. At the same time it does not altogether fit with how we wish reality would look. Scripture sometimes describes God using abstract words. Other times, God reveals himself hiding behind metaphors. One of the metaphors scripture uses to describe constancy is that of a rock. God is as reliable and steadfast as a rock.

“There is none holy like the LORD:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.”
1Sam. 2:2

Rocks weather and are buffeted by the wind and sand. They are beautifully formed and changed by their surrounding conditions. Not so our God, He is our firm foundation who weathers the storms of life. The idea of changelessness is called immutability. Seeing God as immutable helps us identify when we base our lives on other things that do in fact change. Regardless of our present situation emotionally, financially, physically, seeing God as immutable gives us the ability to weather all the storms of life.

“For I am the LORD, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”
Mal. 3:6

The beauty of constancy is that we are not subject to capricious whims and desires of an ever-changing God. This constant God undoes the effects of the fall and their ever-changing notion of decay. In the midst of the sandstorms of life there stands our Rock, our tested Rock, our precious cornerstone.

“as it is written,
‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Rom. 9:33

 We see Jesus, the unfailing and constant God, who weathers the ultimate storm of the cross to place our feet on firm ground. God’s love for you is a constant and solemn promise, “GOD has taken a solemn oath, an oath he means to keep.” Is. 62:8.  God’s love is reliable. 

Good of You

“It was good of you to look for Quentin.”
“Good!” she exclaimed. “Good! O Anthony!”
“Well, so it was,” he answered. “Or good in you.
How accurate one has to be with one’s prepositions! Perhaps it was a preposition wrong that set the whole world awry.”
CHARLES WILLIAMS
The Place of the Lion

Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, a group of Oxford friends which included J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He illustrates a very important point about God. God is different than us in degree, in character and in being. There is a view that is very different than Providence known as pantheism.  This is the belief that God is not really separate from his Creation. He dies not oversee it, but rather is part and parcel of the fabric of creation. Creator and creature are virtually indistinguishable.  When Anthony, one of Charles Williams’ characters, remarks that was good of you, he is subtly blending creator with creature and “perhaps it was a preposition that set the whole world awry.”

The faint lie that pantheism echoes is the idea that creation does not have a real, distinct existence in itself, but is only part of God. This robs God of his Glory, and humanity of their identity. Providence teaches that though God is actively related to and involved in the creation at each moment, creation is distinct from him.

The whole world was set awry by pride as we humans took the place of God. The whole world is set aright by humility as God takes the place humanity. This is Providence, to provide an atoning sacrifice and cover our pride with grace and love.

Take Care – Providence

The English language has a variety of ways of saying see you later. One of the ways in which we say Good Bye  is with two simple words “take care.” Sometimes we say this genuinely interested in the other’s well being, other times it is simply used to say good bye and I am done. Providence says that God will take care of creation from the moment of inception to the moment of consummation.

Providence does not just mean that God is creator, he is also the sustainer. The belief in God’s Providence stands as a bulwark against absenteeism or in theological terms “deism.”

Deism is the belief that God started the whole process, but is not involved in any real or meaningful way with our lives. Deism sees God as the first principle, the initial action for all reactions. Providence stands in contrast. He is the first principle, and the second the third, and the last (Rev 22:13). Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:1-4). The picture afforded by deism is one of a God who is not powerful or capable enough to maintain a couple of spinning plates. The picture afforded by Providence is that God has enough power in just one word to sustain the whole universe.

There is more power in one syllable uttered by God, than all the words which describe the very forces of fusion powering the Sun. When God said, “I would like some light.” One little word, “light” unleashed the very origins of the universe.

The doctrine of Providence comforts us by reassuring us of God’s care: He is both all-Powerful and all-caring.

Continual Exercise – Providence

Growing up, I used to love winding a spinning top as tightly as I could and send it careening on to the pavement. The tighter I wound it and the harder spun it, the longer it would stay in motion. Slowly, but surely, the spinning top would begin to teeter and in the end it would fall and come to a complete stop. Everyday we interact in a subtle, imperceptible and stunning way with God. The universe functions and flourishes because of God’s continual exercise of power and love.

Everyday we encounter God’s Providence. In the same way that God is independent from creation, it is this very attribute of independence that shows His providence. He is ever sustaining, ever reigning. Providence teaches that God did not create the universe and then abandon it.

The word “providence” derives from the Latin providentia, the noun from the verb providere “take thought for,” “look ahead.” As a philosophical or religious concept, Providence denotes the care of God for his creatures. Providence means that God is the personal, sentient first principle. Providence assures us that all actions come from a loving, personal agent.

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. – Westminster Confession V.i

Providence lets us know that we are ever loved and ever cared for. God does not just wind up creation and then take step back to watch the show. Take a step back and drink deeply of Providence today and see His hidden hand caring for you. Interact subtly, intimately, and imperceptibly as you enjoy his Providence.

Independence

Children sometimes ask, ‘Who made God?’ the clearest answer is that God never needed to be made, because he was always there. He exists in a different way from us: we, his creatures, exist in a dependent, derived, finite, fragile way, but our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way – necessary, that is, in the sense that God does not have it in him to go out of existence, just as we do not have it in us to live for ever. We necessarily age and die, because it is our present nature to do that; God necessarily continues for ever unchanged, because it is his eternal nature to do that. This is one of many contrasts between creature and Creator.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. Is. 40:28
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases Is. 40:29

God’s independence is defined as follows: God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him [p. 161] joy. This attribute of God is sometimes called his self-existence or his aseity (from the Latin words a se which mean “from himself “).

God’s being is also something totally unique. It is not just that God does not need the creation for anything; God could not need the creation for anything. The difference between the creature and the Creator is an immensely vast difference, for God exists in a fundamentally different order of being. It is not just that we exist and God has always existed; it is also that God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, more excellent way. The difference between God’s being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic ice cap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God’s being is qualitatively different. No limitation or imperfection in creation should be projected onto our thought of God. He is the Creator; all else is creaturely. All else can pass away in an instant; he necessarily exists forever.

In theology, endless mistakes result from supposing that the conditions, bounds, and limits of our own finite existence apply to God. The doctrine of his aseity stands as a bulwark against such mistakes. In our life of faith, we easily impoverish ourselves by embracing an idea of God that is too limited and small, and again the doctrine of God’s aseity stands as a bulwark to stop this happening It is vital for spiritual health to believe that God is great (cf. Ps. 95:1-7), and grasping the truth of his aseity is the first step on the road to doing this.

God does not need us for anything, yet it is the amazing fact of our existence that he chooses to delight in us and to allow us to bring joy to his heart. This is the basis for personal significance in the lives of all God’s people: to be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.