Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Emmanuel, God With Us... forsaken

"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46. This is without a doubt one of the most important and most puzzling passages concerning our Christian faith. I've just finished writing 4,000+ word paper on this one phrase, these few words. In this post, I want to relate some of what I've learned and been thinking about.

The Hebrew word for God here is 'ēl, which by its very nature refers to the strong, acting God who is mighty to save. In this question, Christ is saying, "My God, you are strong, and you do not abandon your people... and yet you have abandoned me!" It is extremely important to note that Christ has not lost his faith. He cries out to his God, twice affirming his faith in this mighty God. But he is absolutely terrified. His God and Father, with whom he's had the closest communion possible through his entire life on earth, is gone.

Christ, the Son of God, most likely spent his entire life in close communion and fellowship with his Father. In fact, this passage in Matthew is the only time when Christ does not address God has "Father." Christ was accustomed to the Father's tangible, felt presence. When Christ was baptized, God the Father opened up the heavens and said "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Later on in Matthew, when Christ was transfigured, God again speaks, this time from a bright cloud, and says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." And now, when Christ has been beaten, and whipped, and hung on a cross, he searches for his Father, and he finds nothing. Terrified, he cries out with a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And there is no answer.

Can you imagine? All your life, you've been able to feel your Father's presence. Whenever you ask him something, he hears you and grants your request. Twice he has visibly affirmed your status as his beloved Son. And now, after three hours of total darkness, when you can hardly think for the pain from the whips, the staff, the crown of thorns, the nails through your wrists and feet, and you are slowly suffocating, finding it harder and harder to breathe as you hang on this cross... you search for your Father, who has always been there–and there is nothing there. You scream out to God, pleading with him to come back... and there is no answer. You cry out to your mighty Father, knowing that he could save you, he could come back to you and comfort you... but there is nothing. Where is the bright cloud? Where is the voice from heaven? All is darkness, and out of the darkness comes the mocking laughter of the very ones you came to save, are dying to save.

And yet this passage, so terrifying and horrifying for Christ, is one of the greatest passages of our faith. This passage is the great apologetic for Christianity. In this moment, in refusing to answer Christ, God answers the world. The world asks how a loving God can allow suffering in the world and is made silent by the cry of "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani" echoing through the ages. The world says, "God is far from me, I suffer, I am lost in the darkness, it isn't fair." All of their objections are met with this same cry from the cross. In this cry, God says, "I, too, have suffered."

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Death of the Living One

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades."
Revelation 1:12-18

I love this passage. When I read it and take the time to really think on it, to meditate on it, it sends shivers down my spine. Easter is coming up, and churches are going to be focusing on the gospel narrative, and that's totally cool and awesome, but I think this verse, specifically the words of Christ in 17-18, really gets to the heart of one of the most amazing aspects of Easter, the greatest contradiction of all time, the "stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles"–the death of the Living One.

So, I'm trying to picture what's going through John's mind right now. He's just chilling on Patmos, probably meditating, "in the Spirit," and suddenly he starts having this vision, and a voice tells him to grab his notepad and write stuff down. He turns to see who is speaking to him and he sees something he has only seen once before, when Christ was transfigured in Matthew 17 (Note: I'm not totally sure about this, but there are some interesting correlations, so I don't think it's too much of a stretch). He sees this person who, from the description, was probably shining so brightly that it hurt to look at him and, as he did the last time he saw Christ like this, falls down on his face "as though dead." This is not a surprising reaction. It would, for example, be much more surprising if he stayed standing, said, "Hey, Jesus, long time no see," maybe stepped in for a man-hug. But I digress.

So, he falls down on his face as though dead, probably under the impression that he is, or soon will be, literally dead, because of the glory that he is beholding. Then something amazing happens–this shining, burning, gloriously holy "one like a son of man" places his hand on John and says "Do not be afraid." This is crazy. Here is John, prostrating himself before the Son of God, and Christ places his right hand on him, possibly drawing him back up, but at any case demonstrating an astonishing familiarity and intimacy never before seen between God, in His glory, and man. The first and the last, the living one (referencing the multiple times God is called "the Living God."), is intimate with his people.

I apologize. I meant for this post to be solely about this next section, but I got caught up. I hope you don't mind. Anyway, on to the next bit.

"I... am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore." Amazing. Just... mind-blowing. Is he serious? This person, with a voice like the roar of many waters and a face like the sun shining in full strength, couldn't really have died, right? And that's the amazing bit. He did die. The living one, the Living God of Israel, died. That is half of what we remember when we celebrate Easter. We remember this great contradiction in terms, the high humility of the Son of God as he reconciles a sinful world to his holy self. But, as I said, this is only half of what we remember.

Yes, the living one died. But wait! Look! Behold! He is alive forevermore. The Living God of Israel died, and that is what the Jew stumbles over, what the Gentile sees as folly. But they forget the other part of it–that in dying, Christ defeated death, and is now alive forever. Not only is he alive, but he holds the keys to Death and Hades. He has been through death, and death has not overcome him. Hades cannot stand against him. He is first, before death, and he is last. He is the living one, who died but is alive forevermore.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rain pt. 2

So, time for another post. Don't worry, Easter is coming up, and then I'll have enough thoughts for two or three notes. Anyway, I wanted to continue my thoughts on rain. I talked about C.S. Lewis in my last post, and now I want to talk about G.K Chesterton.

If you have not read G.K. Chesterton, you should. If you have read him, but have not read his Orthodoxy, you should. Period. No arguing. Unfortunately, I don't have Orthodoxy here in front of me, so I might get a few things wrong, but here it goes.

It's difficult for me to explain what I want to say about Chesterton and the rain, especially without the book here in front of me. Basically, I want to repeat my assertion from my last post, that rain is, at its core, water falling from the sky. In my last post I said that the physical causes of rain do not detract from the original, divine cause of the rain, which the Israelite people recognized instantly and we have lost sight of. What I want to say now is that rain is a miracle.

In Orthodoxy, Chesterton says that when we are small, we view everything with wonder. We are thrilled by the fact that an apple is red and we are amazed that grass is green. The reason for this wonder is that we have not grown bored with it, we do not see a necessary correlation between apples and red, or grass and green–and indeed, Chesterton says, there is no necessary correlation. As we grow older, we lose this sense of wonder, and in an attempt to regain it we tell stories of apples that are golden, and grass that is blue, or red, or all the colors of the rainbow. Chesterton says that he attempts to look at things not as if they are how they are because that is how they must be (I know it's confusing, stay with me), but as if they are how they are because of some crazy, miraculous occurrence. And indeed, that is how the world actually is.

I can't say this as well as Chesterton can. When I say it, it sounds dumb. So I apologize, and once again urge you to read Orthodoxy. And so, in an attempt to tie this back to my original topic, rain, I want to say... rain is water falling from the sky. We have grown so used to this that we don't care, we find it boring and unnexciting, but I think that the only thing that makes water falling from the sky less miraculous than candy or anything else falling from the sky is that the former happens more often. Water only falls from the sky because God has decided that it should. This whole world only operates the way it does because God has decreed "Let it be so." Given that, I think there is cause for excitement in the fact that apples are red. The green-ness of grass is something amazing. And water falling from the sky is crazy-awesome. I don't want to lose sight of that.

Monday, March 1, 2010


So, haven't done a post in more than a week, time to get back to it. I was driving home last Friday, thinking about the rain that Biola had recently experienced, and also about C.S. Lewis and G.K Chesterton, and this note is the result of that train of thought.

I love the rain. If I'm walking to class in the rain, I won't put my hood up just because it feels like I'm missing out on the experience of the rain. As I was walking in the rain (and thinking about it later), I realized something- rain is water falling from the sky. Separate this from all scientific explanations and physical causes we've discovered, and try and see rain in the way that we used to see it–water falling from the sky. It's no wonder that in O.T. times, rain was clearly seen as an act of God. We, however, know better; we (by which I mean, people other than myself who know sciency stuff) know that this rain is the natural result of naturally occurring phenomena, like cold fronts and high pressure systems and stuff like that. The question I was thinking about on my way home was this: do these physical causes of an event make it any less an act of God?

This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his Screwtape Letters, he says, via the demon Screwtape, that if a prayer (for instance, a prayer about the weather) is answered, the human who prayed will undoubtedly be able to see some of the physical causes which led to this answered prayer, and therefore arrives at the conclusion that "it would have happened anyway." I think that this bears consideration. Do we do this? Do we ever make the mistake of thinking that, merely because we can see what physically caused an event to happen, that the event occurred independently of God? We shouldn't. Lewis says of this particular instance (the weather) that men's prayers today are one of innumerable coordinates by which God harmonizes the weather of tomorrow. Included in his explanation is a bunch of crazy-awesome stuff about eternity and time and the relationship between the two, which isn't really necessary to dwell on for this note.

Back to the point. Isn't that crazy? The point of this, and how it relates back to my original thoughts of rain, is that rain is water falling from the sky, an instance that was easily recognized by O.T. people as a miracle, an act of God. They were right in this recognition. It is we, with all of our knowledge, who are ignorant, and confuse the physical cause with the ultimate cause. Matthew 5:45 tells us that God sends the rain on the righteous and the wicked; the physical causes we have discovered and learned to recognize do not change this. And I thank God for sending the rain to all, because I am most definitely not righteous. And rain is something to be thankful for.