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Category: Evangelical

Where God Fills All Things

I’ve been reading biblical genealogies: Genesis 5, 10, 11, 22, 25, 36, and 46; Numbers 3 and 26; Ruth 4; Matthew 1; Luke 3.

I’ve noticed a pattern.

It’s a line. A man penetrates a woman (usually unnamed), and another man emerges, grows up, and goes on to penetrate another woman. Another man emerges –

Each son is a new man, and in a certain sense, a replacement for the man who came before.

I see a similar pattern in the rise and fall of civilizations, as illustrated in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

I see a similar pattern in much of white, American Christianity, and I think it is because we do not believe in resurrection.

Christianity without resurrection isn’t just focused on the death of Jesus. Christianity without resurrection requires death. Any religion requiring death brings death.

In order to survive, Christianity without resurrection needs for its “competition” to be utterly annihilated (or erased through conversion and assimilation). Christianity without resurrection seeks the end of the world so that it might escape the world. Christianity without resurrection functions on earth as a system of violation, of oppression, of destruction, and of murder.

This pattern is the pattern of human history, and we find that this is an ancient pattern, present in all our systems, evident even in creation. But this is not the only pattern.

Each morning the sun penetrates our world, breaking into our consciousness as it rises above the eastern horizon. Each evening the sun penetrates the underworld, sinking down through the western horizon, leaving behind – at least for a time – its gentle afterglow. Every day, it is the same sun.

God also rises and sinks, penetrating both what is above as well as what is below.

“Therefore it is said,

“‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’

“(When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)”

I’ve read that last line several times. If God fills all things, then God doesn’t need to delete anything in order for there to be space enough for God. The very existence of God disrupts our efforts to conquer and vanquish.

God even interrupts human genealogies. God penetrates a woman’s womb. God emerges from the same womb.

This, then, must be why it is that the Roman centurion – a living representative of the empire that has penetrated the Promised Land – is also the eyewitness as darkness comes over the whole land. As the sun’s light fails. As the curtain of the temple is torn in two.

God breaks into the world. God also breaks out. And God returns: in the garden, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, on a beach cooking fish over charcoals.

The line of domination is broken. And we are called, not to destroy hell, but to break in. We are seeds, nurtured in the belly of the earth, growing up into trees large enough that the birds of the air might come and make nests in our branches.

Then, as the morning sun penetrates our world from the eastern horizon and slowly but surely climbs the sky, all people might gather together beneath our branches, where God fills all things.

To Be Human

08

I read an essay not so long ago, written by a woman who received a Facebook friend request from a man who 13 years earlier had raped her. Although she never accepted the request, she did call him. Opened her woundedness. Asked him to talk about what he did and why. She writes that this “hour-long phone conversation with the man who raped me . . . was more helpful than 1,000 hours of therapy.”

It was a compelling piece of writing, and the author handled her subject both honestly and carefully. It was refreshing because – frankly – we live in a culture that can’t talk about sex. Not without a sneer, a snide comment, a joke, or some kind of sotto voce complicity (as though the discussion itself is suspect).

That’s what I find so refreshing in the Bible’s Song of Solomon. There is no shame. Instead, there is honesty, vulnerability, passion – even the passion that will continue to pursue in spite of cultural boundaries (implied by the beating received at the hands of those “sentinels of the walls” who “took away my mantle”).

And that’s what I find so frustrating in some of the early church fathers, such as Origen, who seems convinced of the evil of “fleshly desires.” He writes that only those “free of the vexations of flesh and blood . . . withdrawn from the desire for corporeal nature” may read this Old Testament book. And that’s what I find so frustrating in Bernard of Clairvaux’s insistence, likewise, that perceiving the message of the Song with “any shadow of corporeal substances” is nothing more than an “evil suggestion[s] . . . forced upon us by the bad angels.”

If Jesus was fully human, then we should be free to be the same, opening our woundedness and our longings, discussing with honesty and passion what it is to want.

If Jesus was fully human, then we should be free to be the same

Anti-World

03

I’m convinced that most streams of Christianity come across as anti-world, no matter what their claimed intentions. Conservatives want to take over the world, so they can fix it. Liberals strive for relevance to the needs of the world, so they can transform it. Many of the rest of us simply avoid the world, defining ourselves by what we’re against.

But what if we joined with the world rather than criticizing or fighting? What if we learned to see God reflected by and active in? What if we learned to love?

What if we learned to love?

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