I want to focus on the following statements Paul made in his letter to the Romans:
“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i]itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so….
“[C]reation was subjected[ii]to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….”
Romans 8: 20-21
Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.
But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away (1 John 2:17), even from the moment it was created! That’s what science (the second law of thermodynamics) tells us also. The world has been has been “winding down” since the “Big Bang”.
Paul’s statement about the “futility” to which the world has been subjected suggests that futility is part of God’s ultimate plan, because it was done “in hope”.
If that doesn’t add up for you, I don’t think you are alone. I have been puzzling on it for awhile. What possibly could be the plan?
The trite response that “God’s ways are not our ways” falls short. We want to know, though perhaps it’s true that we may never completely understand. Still, I have some ideas that are informed by Scripture that I will try to lay out in this article.
Joel Furches recently posted the following on social media:
“The Aesop’s Fable I have come to most appreciate over the years is ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ If you’re not familiar, it’s about a scorpion who asks a frog to swim him across the water. The frog doesn’t want to, because he’s afraid of getting stung. The scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both drown. So the frog swims him, the scorpion stings the frog, and they both drown. Why? Because it is the nature of scorpions to sting.
“The moral: things act out of their nature, even at the expense of their self-interest. Or as my dad used to say, ‘a person will never do something that person wouldn’t do.’ Which, I suppose, could be rephrased, ‘A person’s always going to do what that person does.’ (My dad would say ‘peoples are peoples’)”
A more modern phrase that conveys the same idea might be: “the tiger cannot change its stripes”; or “the leopard cannot change its spots”. The idea is that a person cannot change his or her essential nature or character.
My “take” on the frog and scorpion fable is that we shouldn’t expect people to be anything other than who they really are. Despite what the scorpions tells you, the scorpion IS going to sting you. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.
Fables are meant to teach life lessons. The wise, theoretically, learn from them without having to experience those lessons firsthand. In reality though, it seems most of us have to learn our life lessons from experience.
These fables are still helpful by allowing us to crystallize those hard learned lessons in graphic ways that we can remember and pass on – if only people would listen. Right?
But what is the lesson? We might “walk away” the next time someone hurts us with a lie swearing under our breath, “Once a liar, always a liar! I will never trust him or her again!”
Fables teach us something about human nature, but fables don’t always give us specific guidance tailored to our own dilemmas. We still need wisdom to apply the lessons in our particular circumstances. “A word to the wise” requires wisdom for its application in our own lives.
“Truth is truth” (wherever it may be found) is a “truism” I like to repeat. Aesop may have been a very wise man (if there really was an Aesop), and Aesop’s fables carry with them the ring of truth, but truth is often more complicated than we like to think it is.
Just when you think you understand the laws of physics, quantum mechanics comes along and turns everything upside down. Further, the wisdom needed to address our particular circumstances doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.
The Frog and Scorpion fable rings true, but Scripture gives us a different angle on the truth of this fable and guidance that we need to deal with the scorpions in our lives. That lesson may not be immediately clear if we limit ourselves to the fable, itself.
I am starting a new Bible reading plan for the year, and so I am back to Genesis. Reading through the rich text of Genesis 1 again I am seeing some things I hadn’t really noticed before. Consider the following (with my emphasis added):
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruitafter their kindwith seed in them‘; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seedafter their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
“God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’“
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind‘; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.”
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….'”
I color-coded the various provisions that form the pattern that informs my thinking today. The provisions in each color correspond with the other provisions of the same color.
Now, let me see if I can put all my thoughts together in a coherent whole.
First of all, God ordered (in the sense of designed) all living beings to multiply after they own kind. We see this everywhere in nature: apple trees bear seeds that grow into new apple trees; asparagus plants bear seeds that grow into new asparagus plants; lions beget lions; polar bears beget polar bears; yellow polka dotted salamanders beget yellow polka dotted salamanders; bluefin tuna beget bluefin tuna; and purple finches beget purple finches.
This is the order of living things. Not only that, but we now know that something (call it evolution or something else) works powerfully within living beings to reproduce and even to adapt with changes over time.
Every living thing bears seed or otherwise reproduces more of its kind. Human beings included, but only humans are made in the image of God. (Hold that thought.)
God “blessed” the living things He created, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply” and fill the earth. (Gen. 1:22) He also blessed man who He made in His own image, and gave similar orders: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….” (Gen. 1:28)
Note that God “ordered” (as in designed) the living things He created to reproduce after their kinds and to be fruitful and multiply, but God ordered (as in not only designed, but commanded) man to do the same. The difference is an important key to understanding what God is doing.
Unlike the other living creatures which are designed to reproduce and multiply after their kinds, humans have some agency in the matter. God designed them for the same purpose, but He also commanded them to do it because humans are created in the image of God who has agency – the ability to exercise will and to do (or not do) things.
Humans, of course, had no choice in their creation, but they do have choice in whether to “participate in God’s design” and how they would participate in God’s design. This choice was demonstrated in the one tree in the garden that was forbidden to them.
It was a real choice, and it had real consequences. It had to have real consequences or it wouldn’t have been a real choice. That choice was part of what it meant to be made in the image of God. Without the ability to choose, humans would have been just like the other living things God created. The ability to choose set humans apart.
As the story goes, humans ate the fruit of the one tree that was forbidden.
They exercised the choice God gave them. In eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humans opened up their world to all the ways they might choose to go against the order of creation.
Throughout Genesis 1, we read over and over again that what God did “was good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). If what God designed was good, choosing to operate counter to that design would be evil (the opposite of good).
None of this is very revelatory so far, but I am getting there.
Genesis 1 reminds me of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul says:
God gives [all living things] a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
1 Corinthians 15:38-39
The order/design of life – of reality – is immutable. Life is ordered the way God created it, though humans have some choice (within limits) of whether to align with God’s design or to buck against it. Indeed, the story of the fall is the story of humans exercising that choice and of an adaptation that God built into His design to accomplish His ultimate plan.
A couple of stories in the Gospel of John illustrate the dichotomy of the natural world and the spiritual world. These are two of the most iconic stories in the New Testament, and they happened in close proximity in time to each other: the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and the story of Nicodemus.
In this blog post, I want to focus on the encounter of Jesus with and Nicodemus, the Pharisee. Nicodemus was a religious leader of some prominence in the community. Many religious leaders of the time felt threatened by Jesus, but not Nicodemus.
He sought Jesus out to ask him some questions, going to Jesus at night, which suggests that his visit might not have been viewed favorably by his fellow Pharisees. He acknowledged the “credentials” Jesus demonstrated, the miracles that he had done, indicating an openness to what Jesus would say. Without waiting for a question, Jesus initiated the following dialogue:
“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?'”
(John 3:1-4 ESV)
I think was an honest question. The context suggests that Nicodemus wasn’t challenging what Jesus said. He just wasn’t following.
We see by his approach to Jesus that he was open, but he didn’t understand what Jesus was getting at. “What was Jesus trying to say?”
It’s ironic, perhaps, that some Christians who say they take the Bible literally, don’t recognize the ubiquitous use of figurative (non-literal) language and ideas in the Bible. We can’t approach Scripture in a wooden way and hope to understand the depth of it.
If you have wondered what it means to be born again, let’s take a look at what Jesus said to Nicodemus and how Paul applies those concepts after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But first, Jesus continued:
“[U]nless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'”
Jesus obviously didn’t mean that a man must re-enter his mother’s womb and be physically born again. He also doesn’t literally mean that man must be born of water, like out of a lake or something. He does seem to be saying literally, though, that man must be born (again) of Spirit or he cannot enter the kingdom of God, so let’s dig into it and try to flesh out what he means.
I dare say that Kanye West will likely do more for North American Christianity than Donald Trump will. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who is found than over the 99, and the kingdom impact may be even more profound.
I don’t know where Donald Trump is in his spiritual walk, if he has one. The fruit isn’t apparent to me (not that I am the one to measure it). Kanye West, on the other hand, has come out of his cocoon with big, bright butterfly wings that have all the markings of a man who is born again.
He just recently announced that he will never sing his old songs (as they are) again. One Facebooker commented that Kanye West will lose millions of dollars if he does that! That is the mark of a man who has been changed by the Holy Spirt, who has traded earthly treasure for a heavenly one.
From “I am God” to “Jesus is King”
From “I am God” to “Jesus is King”, the title of his new album, the transformation is extreme. It strikes me that Kanye West is not a person to do things halfway or halfheartedly. How many of us would dare to proclaim publicly, “I am God?”
Yet everyone who refuses God’s love, who ignores that God is God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, is essentially “saying” the same thing. We might not dare to say it out loud for fear that someone will think we are nuts, but we live as if we are little gods when we do not acknowledge and honor God as God.
We have watched Kanye West live out his extravagant and extreme life in the most public of ways. He is a cultural icon, one of the biggest idols of our time, but he is just a person like you and I. God is no respecter of persons.
On the other hand, God knows the innermost thoughts and intents of Kanye West’s heart, like He knows ours. God knows us all intimately. The good and the bad.
Though he once proclaimed he is God, Kanye West was not too far gone for God to reach him, to redeem him, to wash him white as snow and to set him free from the delusions and blindness that afflict us all (though maybe not as publicly). Until the scales fall from our eyes, our hearts are softened like flesh and we humbly receive God’s gift of life that no one in this world can earn, we are just as “gone” as Kanye West was.
I do fear that Kanye West has a rough road ahead. He was doing 120 mph the other way. Every fiber of his being is in the habit of going in a different direction. The wealthy and the famous are like camels trying to thread through the eyes of needles. It won’t be easy.
But, with God, all things are possible. This was the message Jesus gave us. Though it may be that difficult, God can do in Kanye West what He has done in countless men and women who have responded to that knock on the door, opened it and invited Jesus in.
Donald Trump may be seen as the savior of Evangelical power in the American political system, but I know for a fact that the impact of one sinner saved is greater than all the political power in this country and on earth. Perhaps, CS Lewis said it best:
“… Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. . . . And immortality makes this other difference…. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of the state or civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 74-75
The salvation of Kanye West is of incomparable importance to the kingdom of God over things like the political and cultural influence of people like Donald Trump (or Kanye West for that matter) in this present world. Such temporary influence as a presidency or all of western civilization, itself, cannot compare to the unfathomable glory of the kingdom of God filled with mortal beings changed in the twinkling of an eye fully and finally into immortal, immutable children of the Living God – you, me and Kanye West included.