Christianity 201

March 18, 2019

Videoing God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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…and Videoing Ourselves

Seven years ago we visited the website Glory to God for All Things written from an Orthodox perspective by Fr. Stephen Freeman. Somehow we lost track of Father Stephen in the intervening years, but today we catch up. I believe that our Orthodox friends have much to teach us in many different areas. You’re encouraged to click the header below in order to read this at source.

Facing Up to God

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor. 3:18

Among the most striking of all images in St. Paul’s writing is his description of beholding the glory of God with an unveiled face. It’s a very difficult passage to translate. The word rendered “beholding” in the translation quoted above is actually “to see something as in a mirror” (κατοπτριζόμενοι). One commentary describes this as a mirror making something visible that would otherwise be invisible. This is, in fact, Christ Himself, who is the “glory of God.” In Christ, we see God Himself. It is equally striking that St. Paul describes this “seeing” as transformative. How is it that merely gazing at something, we are changed into its very image?

This question takes us into the heart of Biblical and Orthodox understanding. The Greek word for knowing, is related to the word for seeing. Indeed, it has the same root as our word “video.” It imagines a form of seeing, a depth of seeing, that is often absent in our conversations. It is there to a certain extent in our phrase, “Do you see what I mean?” There is an assumption that truly seeing, truly understanding, and truly knowing are one and the same act. We hear this echoed in St. John:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He [Christ] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2

Of course, a key in all of this is found in the word “truly.” Its implications are found in Christ’s saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” When read in the light of St. Paul’s “beholding as in a mirror,” this is revealed to be an ongoing, reciprocal action. As we see, we become pure. As we become pure, we see more clearly.

This same action could be described as a “refining fire.” What we see (of God) also reveals the truth of ourselves. The sight of that truth, when compared with the sight of God, “burns.” This burning, refining image is the only true mirror of the soul. It is this aspect of seeing God that often causes us to turn away.

It is a very rare thing to have an accurate glimpse of ourselves. The amount of debris and dissonance that shroud the soul make it difficult clouds our vision. We look for the self, but see shame. And though we imagine that clarity of sight would merely be a matter of the will, it is not that simple. The life of the soul has a great complexity and is not obedient to the whims of what we imagine to be the “will.” Our “willing” is largely the work of the “gnomic will” (when we’re not merely obeying our passions and calling that “willing”). This is a distortion of the true will (the “natural will”). To see the truth, even of ourselves, does not belong to those things we have at our demand.

The Tradition is filled with a different language regarding the heart. We pray, “Open to me the gates of repentance,” and “create in me a clean heart,” and “grant me an image of repentance,” and so forth. The “will” is evident in the offering of such prayers, but it is not in our power (alone) to make it so.

I once heard it said that if we were to see the true depth of our sin and brokenness in a single moment, we would not be able to bear it. I have also heard it said that if we were to see the truth of our existence in the image and likeness of God, we would be overwhelmed by the beauty and imagine that we had seen God Himself. Both are true and neither are to be taken lightly or deemed a minor matter. In plain speech, we’re not ready for such truth.

In the Scriptures, Simon Peter does not see the truth of himself. The first intimation is a revelation of glory – Christ names him, “the rock.” Another revelation comes when he is rebuked by Christ who says, “Get behind me Satan!” He is warned of his impending failure when he will deny Christ and is told that “the devil has desired to sift you like wheat.” A deeper and greater moment comes, following his denial, when he “went out and wept bitterly.” His restoration after the resurrection begins to reveal yet more. He sees both the failure of his love, as well as Christ’s steadfastness. He is told to “feed my sheep.” Lastly, we are told in a veiled manner of the final test and revelation of Peter who will end his life in martyrdom – having become the rock that is the truth of his being. It is the story of a lifetime.

St. Peter’s story points to the very character of our salvation. The journey towards the true vision of God is lifelong. It is as much or more the outworking of God’s providence than the outcome of some long chain of excellent choices on our part. What we see of St. Peter is a guide for us. He remained loyal to Christ. When he fell, he returned. When he returned and the questions became difficult, he remained. When his last trial of martyrdom came, he finally resisted the temptation to flee and journeyed to the place that Christ Himself was leading him.

This is a map for every day, as well as a lifetime. When you fall (and you will), get up. When the fall reveals more of yourself to you, don’t run, justify or pretend otherwise. Be steadfast and patient. You do not yet see as you will see – either of yourself or of God. But, we have a promise, when it is all said and done, we will see Him as He is, and we will be like Him.

In all faces is seen the Face of faces, veiled, and in a riddle; howbeit unveiled it is not seen, until above all faces a man enters into a certain secret and mystic silence where there is no knowledge or concept of a face. This mist, cloud, darkness or ignorance into which he that seeks Your face enters, when he goes beyond all knowledge or concept, is the state below which Your face cannot be found except veiled; but that very darkness reveals Your face to be there, beyond all veils. – Nicholas of Cusa, The Vision of God

 

February 3, 2017

The Shadow of Death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news (besorah), Who proclaims shalom, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, 
“Your God reigns!” – Isaiah 52:7 – New King James Version (NKJV)

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28  The Message

This article appeared at the blog of Rosh Pinah, a congregation which meets in downtown Toronto, Canada. It is one of many, many congregations in North America (and beyond) meeting on Friday nights (for a Sabbath or Shabbat service) which would come under the classification “Messianic Jewish” and in browsing their website I am reminded of how refreshing it is to see the besorah, בשרה – or the Good News of Yeshua – shared with others in its original Jewish context.

The verses quoted above are from a page about who they are, a page about their meetings is titled Some Assembly Required, an article about the Hebrew calendar is titled Do You Know What Time it Is, and a article about their services is titled Friday Night Live. Those meetings “are often very interactive as opposed to a more traditional ‘sermon.’ We like the Hebrew concept of d’rash (דרש) which actually means to seek out the meaning of the text.”

So that’s some background as to how today’s devotional came to us. A little longer than usual, perhaps but the devotional itself is shorter. Click the title below to read the article at source. If a group like this exists in a city near you, I strongly recommend you arrange to visit.

The Shadow of Death and the Image of God

The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the shadow of death (Heb צלמות Tzalmavet) Upon them a light has shined.
Isaiah 9:2 Written in the 8th century BCE (quoted in Matthew 4:16)

The expression “the shadow of death” appears many time in the Bible, the most well-known being Psalm 23 where the King David says about the Good Shepherd of Israel

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Heb צלמות/tzalmavet) I will fear no evil for You are with me”

What does this expression mean? Job describes it as “the place from which I shall not return…as dark as darkness itself….without any order” Job 10:21, 22.  And Jeremiah compares it to darkness which makes itself felt in a wild and uninhabited desert – Jeremiah 2:6.

It is into this death shadow that the prophet Isaiah 9:2 claims the light of God will shine.

The Light of God appeared on the first day of creation in the chaos and disorder of the universe Genesis 1:1.  This light cannot represent physical light because it was created without the sun, moon and stars. It represents a spiritual presence in the chaotic world — the possibility of material and spiritual redemption.

In Hebrew the death shadow and the God image are the same root word.

When the light of God begins to shine into the deepest darkness, it makes us become shadows that represent the image of a God who has no image. The invisible light allows the invisible God to be seen because of the shadow/image/צלם of him in which we are created.

Sometimes we find ourselves walking in the darkness, in a valley, a wilderness or a frozen forest. It is in these times that God’s light on us will create shadows of himself in the physical world, just as the prophet Isaiah foresees the day when the great light of redemption would shine on those in the shadow of death in the Galilee in Israel through a miraculous child to be born in the house of David.

 

June 20, 2015

The Father Image Jesus Wanted Us To Keep

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Two years ago, for Father’s Day — which happens Sunday here in North America — our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

Today, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross.

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

December 12, 2010

What’s Your Concept of God?

Today’s post is by Justin Buzzard, who pastors in the San Francisco area, and blogs at Buzzard Blog, where this post appeared under the title…

A Quote That Changed My Life

When I was 20 years old I read a sentence that changed my life. I still remember where I was sitting, how the book felt, and what started to happen in my heart.

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

-A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.

Anyone else changed by this sentence?

The book continues:

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow.