An elementary truth claim of Christianity is that God is a “Person”. Not a thing. Not a principal of reason or intangible construct, and not a feeling.
But what does that mean?
We may smirk at the practice of people in the Bronze Age who constructed gods out of hand-made objects and worshiped them. This was the ubiquitous practice of the people in the Old Testament. We may (or may not) laugh at primitive people who worshiped the sun, moon, mountains and trees.
We are not much different from them, really, when we approach God as if God is an intellectual construct or feeling that we can conceive or conjure up. We are walking in the footsteps of our primitive ancestors when we see God as something indistinct from the universe. Our concepts may be more sophisticated, but only in degree.
The same is true when we view God as an abstract idea. An abstract idea, or ideal, is still a thing. Not a thing made of human hands, but a thing constructed by human intellect.
When we construct a god, whether by our hands or in our minds, or conceive of God as indistinct from the universe, we are not perceiving God in the way He is revealed in the Bible. These are “idols” that are poor substitutes for the Person of God.
I think many Christians, most of them, look a bit skeptically at the charismatic element of the Church universal. We conjure up images of the prosperity Gospel and “holy rollers”. The New Testament, though, reads like a charismatic diary.
The dispensationalists will say that God worked like that only for a time, only until the New Testament was “codified” into a cannon. Now we don’t need God to speak to people directly through prophetic words and such. We don’t need signs and wonders because we have the Bible now.
They might be right, but maybe not. God doesn’t fit into the boxes we prepare for Him.
I have come to view all the movements in the history of the Church as various times in which God emphasized specific things to His people for specific purposes. The move to get the Bible in print in plain language for the masses enabled worldwide, grassroots growth of the Gospel. The move to emphasize that salvation is by God’s grace that we receive through faith was necessary to counter error in the notion of how salvation works.
In my view, denominations formed around these movements as people put down tent stakes and tried to camp on those things God was emphasizing at particular times, but God is always doing a new thing.
Not that God changes, or that the truth changes. We change, and the flow of history changes. God is always working through it all to accomplish the ends that He has planned from the beginning.
I think we can never go wrong asking the question: What is God doing now? What does God intend for a time such as this? What is God saying in these times?
So, I am open to the possibility, which I think is a probability, that God is still “speaking” in these times through people to whom God is willing to entrust His voice. There are disparate voices, of course, even in the Church, but it’s always been like that.
I don’t believe God will say anything that contradicts what He has said in the past, but He might be saying things that contradict what we believed in the past. God might be calling us to new ways of doing things.
When God became flesh and lived among the people to whom He had intimately and directly revealed Himself, they didn’t recognize Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were amazed as Jesus opened the Scripture to them to reveal all the ways it spoke of Him. They didn’t see it until He opened it up to them.
In the same way, we need to have the humility to recognize that we might have wrong ideas about things. Maybe they aren’t “wrong”, but they just aren’t effective any longer in this time. The last thing that I want is to remain standing still when God is moving.
We need to be open to God showing us “new things” that we didn’t previously understand or appreciate. We have to consider the possibility that we might not recognize God when He is speaking today in the same way that God became flesh, came to His own people, and His own people didn’t recognize Him.
NT Wright commented to Justin Brierley in the 39th episode of Ask NT Wright Anything, “We live in a world in which Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing that he was going to raise him from the dead.”
Jesus was able to identify with and feel the crushing sorrow and the intense grief that the family and friends of Lazarus felt. When Jesus saw Mary, the sister of Lazarus weeping, he wept too. (John 11:32-33) Jesus felt her grief, and it moved him to tears.
Jesus weeping at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, of course, reveals his humanity, his empathy and the fact that he felt the range of human emotions that we feel in our own lives. Imagine God taking on our form and experiencing what we experience!
The most remarkable aspect of this story, for me, is that Jesus felt the grief of the loss of a loved one and was moved to tears even though he knew he was going to raise him from the dead. He wept with grief though he know that joy would follow the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
In this way, we see that God doesn’t minimize our grief and suffering. He is able to identify with it because he felt the crush of it as we feel it.
He felt the crush of human grief even though he knew the miracle he was about to perform.
Perhaps, Jesus was weeping for all the people who feel grief without assurance or confidence or hope. Surely, Jesus had more than merely hope. He knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he also realized that his friends, the friends and family of Lazarus, didn’t know or appreciate what he was about to do.
Even though Jesus told the friends of Lazarus that he was doing “to wake him up” (John 11:11), and he told Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” they didn’t fully understand or appreciate what Jesus was saying. (John 11:23) They didn’t feel the assurance or confidence or hope that Jesus had.
I imagine Jesus also thought in those moments of all the people in the world who mourn without assurance, confidence or hope in the face of death. This is the human condition, and Jesus fully embraced it. He fully felt the weight of it, and it caused him to weep with them.
A person asked N.T Wright, “If my body decays, and goes on to become reconstituted into plants and animals and things, what remains? What is essentially me?” NT Wright responded to say that Tertullian and Origen discussed that question in the 2nd and 3rd century, and much later, CS Lewis picks up the same theme in his book, Miracles.
CS Lewis who observed that fingernails and hair and skin and the entire the human body is always in a condition of flux. “Bodies change their entire molecular kit once about every 7 years”, Wright summarized.
I am not the same person physically that I was when I was born, or graduated from college at age 22, or graduated from law school at age 31 or when my last child was born when I was 39. I am not the same person, physically in this sense, at 60 as I was when I was 39.
All of the molecules in my body have switched out many times over those years, yet I am still recognizably me. Maybe a bit larger, with gray hair and visibly aged from my mid-twenties, but I am still me even though none of the same molecules make up my 60-year body.
NT Wright posed the question differently: If a ship goes into a port and then, one year later, after all parts of it have been replaced, goes into port again, is it the same ship? If my grandfather has a spade, and replaces the blade and handle several times, is it the still the same spade?
I don’t know, but I know that I am still me even I don’t have a single molecule left over from my 22-year old self. I have more experiences, which are, themselves, now memories. They aren’t physical things I can show anyone, but I can describe them.
They are undeniably “part” of “me” – things I have picked up along the way in my physical existence over the years, along with the extra weight.
CS Lewis says that people are like the curve in a waterfall. There is continuity of form but discontinuity of matter. Matter pours through us.
On this day six (6) years ago, Facebook informs me that I posted this quotation from CS Lewis:
“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”
I don’t know if CS Lewis is exactly right, but he is getting at the same idea – that we are something more than our physical selves. We aren’t reducible to our physical selves. Our physical selves aren’t even made up of the same molecules they once were. Not one molecule remains from my 22-year old self.
God will give us new bodies that are appropriate for us, and we will be recognizable but more fully us then we were before hearing it’s like the person who comments about someone who is sick time a that they are just a shadow of themselves. In fact, we are just a shadow now of what we will become. Wright says there is a real you that use much more like you then you are now that is vividly more like you.
Getting around to attempt an answer to the question posed, NT Wright says, “Nowhere in the New Testament does it describe a soul leaving a body and going to heaven.”
I am going off my beaten path here today, though music is certainly a beat I follow. Music is a universal language. Music is a creative gift from our Creator who made us in His image. We reflect Him, therefore, in the creation of music.
Music is mathematical and linguistic, even in its essence. I didn’t previously know, for instance, that drumming has an “alphabet” of 26 rhythms. I did know that drummers in the Civil War (and I assume previous wars) played a key role in their battalions. They weren’t just there to boost moral; they were the communicators on the battlefield, signalling the orders from the generals and commanders to their troops in the heat of the battle.
These things are discussed in the video embedded below on the originals of the shuffle – a type of pattern that mimics a train passing by on a track, and a basic backbone of most modern music. Marcus Petruska takes time in this video to talk about “the debt we all owe to the Civil War drummers”.
He goes into some detail about how drums (and bugles) were used to communicate commands in the fog of war to the troops in the battle. Those various beats used to communicate to troops in war became the percussion vocabulary that informs modern music – the 26 rudiments of drumming. It’s a bit mind blowing to think that we have the Civil War to thank for modern rock music!
These two subjects, music and the Civil War, meeting at the confluence of drumming resonate deeply with me because my great great grandfather was a drummer in the Civil War. He enlisted with the 40th Illinois Infantry that was organized by Stephen G. Hicks, a lawyer in Salem, Marion County, Illinois, and commissioned on July 24, 1861. He was part of Company “F” from Franklin County, Illinois, comprised primarily of farmers.
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