Does it really matter what you believe about God’s Creation?

God of the ages-
You have seen fit to bless us with the coming of a new year.
May you receive the offering of our joy for it.
Even as your Spirit offers us the sobriety
Of knowing this day may be our last.

In this new year I have again reset my Bible reading odometer. Once again, I am reading one chapter from 10 different books. On day one, as I read the first chapters of Genesis, John, and Romans, I was impressed at the importance of creation.

The Bible begins with an explanation of man’s existence- not God’s. God is not “properly” introduced, or explained: he is simply there. God is presented as the one who by his Word (Genesis 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24) and through his Spirit (Genesis 1:2) brings all things into being. The existence of the universe, and man who inhabits it, is attributed to a God able to bring said universe into existence.

If such a God is powerful enough to create all that exists, do you suppose he would also be intelligent enough to communicate to others how he brought all things into being? Is he so powerful that he is unable to communicate simply? If such a God really exists; and if he did what Genesis 1 says he did; can Genesis 1 be trusted to tell us how he did it? Is God powerful enough to create all things instantaneously?

If God used, or needed, billions of years to accomplish creation I can only come to one of these conclusions: God is not as powerful as his word seems to indicate; or God is not a very good communicator.

John 1 brings the Trinitarian allusions in Genesis 1 into sharper focus. The Word through whom all things were made is Jesus (John 1:3). You cannot keep your doctrine of creation and your doctrine of Christ separate. For better or worse, whatever you say and believe about God’s creation in Genesis is going to affect what you say and believe about Jesus. Did Jesus make a man named Adam? Did that Adam’s sin bring death into the world? Did Jesus enter into his creation to obliterate the results of that Adam’s sin?

Does it really matter how I answer these questions? According to Romans 1 it does: at least, eventually. The exit ramp for the road to perdition is clearly marked: “Deny Creation.” Man takes his first step away from God by denying the testimony of creation (Rom. 1:20). Thinking of previous questions, should we take anything from the assertion that those who deny God’s power in creation are “without excuse”? Does Romans 1:20 indicate anything about the understandability of Genesis 1? Does Genesis 1 have a meaning that God hid from his people for over 6,000 years? Was mankind in the dark about Genesis 1 until Darwin came along and shed his light on the matter? If so, how could pre-Darwinian man be “without excuse”?

Does your understanding of creation matter? I guess only if your understanding of Christ matters. I guess only if eternal salvation matters.

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Funeral Sermon from John 14

This is the meditation I delivered at the graveside service for my grandma on May 22, 2012.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6

The words come at us like a punch in the gut. Or, more precisely, a slap in the face. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” We are not sure if these are the words of a Buddhist monk preaching detachment from all things; or a druggie whose brain was long ago turned to tepid pudding. What words are these? “Don’t worry about it”?  They do not comfort. These words cannot be for someone grieving death. Or they are from someone who has never grieved death.

But Jesus has grieved death. Not more than a few months before saying these words, Jesus Himself attended a funeral. And in John 11:35 we read 2 of the most comforting words in Scripture: Jesus wept. Jesus wept at the funeral of a man he was about to raise from the dead. Jesus wept for the grief and sorrow that death caused. Jesus wept in the knowledge that all men must die for all have sinned. So these words “Let not your hearts be troubled” do not come from some disassociated mountain-top guru. These words do not tell us not to mourn. But they do tell us how not to mourn.

We are told that time heals all wounds. But that is a bitter cure. It is a placebo. Time only heals the wound because we chose not to think about it any longer. We do not remember. We do not love. We do not cherish. And eventually, we do not care. Or hurt. Or feel. I want nothing of this healing for it will only leave me a worse person. The way to honor Grandma’s memory is not to gradually just stop thinking about her.

I need a medicine for the soul stronger than pain; fiercer than grief. This is the medicine that Jesus speaks of. It is the strong medicine of belief. It is the effectual medicine of hope. For you see, we do not defeat grief by waiting it out. We defeat grief by relentlessly pursuing, by tenaciously grasping onto something stronger: hope in a savior who has conquered death and promises life.

These words give such strong hope because the words are bold. They are strength and power. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

These are not the words of a good man. These are not the sayings of a wise teacher.  A good man does not say to other men, believe in me and you will have no reason to fear death. A wise teacher does not say to fellow man “I am the only way of eternal salvation.” I good man does not say, “I am God.” These words give no room to neutrality. No one ever left after hearing Jesus and said, “Well that was a nice talk.” People were amazed when Jesus spoke. People were angry when Jesus spoke. But people were not indifferent. And we must not think that anyone can be so today.

Jesus is the only way to eternal life. It is this belief, this hope that gives comfort and conquers grief. And it is belief. Jesus does not say do good work for me. He does not say live a life of self-sacrifice for me. He does not say withdraw from society and spend all your days in prayer and meditation. He says simply, believe in me.

Now the thoughtful cynic will say, “So what’s the difference. One man handles his grief by gradually putting death out of his mind. You cope with grief by thinking about Jesus. Either way, the answer seems to be just forgetting about it.” And if we are not careful he would be right. I am not saying we should just turn our eyes upon Jesus and forget about grandma, I am saying we should have faith that this word from Jesus is true about Grandma.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we know this passage as true. By faith we know that it is true about Grandma. Everything we see and sense says that Grandma is dead. The coffin, the grave, the stone. But these words tell us that Grandma is more alive now than she ever was before.

I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself. We do not forget grandma, rather, by faith we see her as she really is. By faith in these words of Jesus our hearts are flooded with joy and wonder. When we read those glimpses of heavenly worship in Hebrews 12:22-23- that speak of coming to the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect- we are reading about Grandma. And when we read in Revelation 5 & 7 about all of heaven joining in to worship God and Jesus Christ- the Lamb slain for the sins of man- we are reading about God’s fulfilled promise to Grandma. And when we read in John 14 about an infinite house with glorious rooms, we are reading about the Lord’s fulfilled promise to Grandma.

 

There is joy in these words. Faith that Jesus is true and joy that grandma has certainly found him to be true. Now is the time we cling to these promises in faith. Grandma has gone to the Father through Christ. The Lord has finished the good work of salvation he begun in her. In faith of this promise our grief is suffocated. In faith of this promise regret, bitterness, anger, and despondency find no place. In joy and gratitude our hearts cry out to the Lord: Thank you Jesus for being a faithful savior. Thank you Jesus for keeping your word. Thank you Jesus for presenting my grandma to your Holy Father as one of your own.

On May 19, Jesus finished getting Grandma’s room ready for her. So now, where he is, she is: enraptured in worship and adoration of the savior who died for her that she might live. Now we count these promises true in the life of Kate Metzler: a sinner saved, daughter of God, dweller in heaven. And as I dwell on her experience of God’s faithfulness to her, I find the power of these words: Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. I find power to rejoice with great joy.

 

Wilhelmus á Brakel on the vehement love of God

Oh wondrous love! God, who is love, sets his infinite love in motion to cherish with love such persons who in themselves are hateful, despicable, and condemnable. This love is not generated by the desirability of the object, but it originates within Himself, being desirous to love and to love specific individuals. Observe the following concerning this love: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3); “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). This love is so great, vehement, and incomprehensible that the Lord Himself exclaimed in amazement, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Love was the origin of eternal election;
love sent Jesus into the world to be their Surety;
love drew them out of the world to Him, translating them into the kingdom His love;
love radiates continually upon them;
love preserves them;
love brings them to glory;
and love engenders a perfect union with, and love for, Him.

This would not be credible if God Himself had not said this. Since God does say this, however, we now wish to believe and acknowledge this, rejoice in this, and be engaged in adoration. We wish to give Him glory, and being ignited by His love, to love Him in return. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Devotions for Advent Week 3 Friday Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8 John 5:33-36

Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8

You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.  He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.
John 5:33-36

During Advent we sing of joy, hope, and peace. Yet for many people it can be the darkest time of the year. Such darkness and depression often comes from focusing on one’s own life circumstances. The foreigner mourns his nationality. The Eunuch bewails his physiology. Even John the Baptist’s forerunner Elijah suffered depression- believing he was the only servant of the Lord remaining.[1]

In each situation the remedy of the Lord is the same. In each case one must exchange the morbidity of self-centeredness for the medicine of God’s perspective. The foreigner must realize he is accepted in God’s kingdom. The eunuch must embrace the eternal family gathered in from all outcasts. Elijah needed to get busy with the work God gave him to do.

Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward. His life is 70 years of toil, misery, and let downs and then he dies. As long as his focus is on all the things wrong inside of him that are outside of his control, his misery will only increase. Like John, all of God’s people have a witness and a testimony. Like John, our light is only found in Christ and is only seen as we point others to Christ. Christ has come into the world as the Sunrise from on high. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

We are commanded to rejoice in everything. We are not commanded to be fake. As long as your focus is on the multitude of excuses you have to be miserable you will be miserable. When you take your eyes off of what God has not done for you and instead focus on what he has done for you in Christ, light will begin to shine.


[1] 1 Kings 19

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 12 The equality of the Son and Father; the church as fountain of youth

In sermon his twelfth and final sermon On the Incomprehensible Nature of God John Chrysostom ends by once again focusing on one text of Scripture. In his final confrontation with the Anomoeans the preacher expounds the text of John 5 and the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda.

After noting how the power of Jesus is greater than that of angels (8-10),[1] marveling at the resolve of the paralytic (12-14), and explaining the rationale for Christ’s questionings of the man (15-23), Chrysostom gives three reasons for Christ’s command to take up the bed (24-31). Chrysostom uses this command as the catalyst of the narrative. By healing on the Sabbath and by commanding another man to break the Sabbath, Christ was demonstrating his glory. Jesus knew that doing such things would raise the ire of the religious leaders. But in doing so we only see Psalm 76:20 confirmed: Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.

This miracle demonstrates at least two core truths about Jesus. First, he is sinless.

If he transgressed the law, he sinned. But if he sinned, he would not have so much power. Where there is sin, there can be no manifestation of power. But he did show his power. Therefore, he did not transgress the law and did not sin. (32)

Secondly, he is God. Chrysostom zeroes in on Christ’s statement, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (43-52). Such a statement demands one of two options: Christ is God, or Christ is increasing his guilt. Jesus gave this response when the Jews questioned his healing on the Sabbath. The import of the saying is: I am doing this because this is what God does. To bring Chrysostom’s illustrations into our day: what if someone snatched out of the Oval Office said, “But this is where the President works.” Or what if a man went around letting people out jail saying, “This is the authority the President has.” If such a man were not, in fact, the President, he would be in for quite a rude awakening.

This is precisely what the statement of Jesus means. And the Jews realized it: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”[2] One wonders how many Christians would realize the true meaning of this statement if John had not given us the Jew’s reaction to it. Throughout this series of sermons Chrysostom has shown this strength: bringing out the true force of Scriptural sayings.

The preacher closes out the sermon in the typical fashion with a pastoral exhortation to the congregation (53-59). Once again he exhorts them to faithful attendance at the services of the church:

Spiritual beauty cannot be developed perfectly anywhere else except in this marvelous and divine stronghold of the church. Here the apostles and prophets wipe clean and beautify the face, they strip away the marks of senility left by sin, they apply the bloom of youth, they get rid of every wrinkle, stain, and blemish from our souls. Therefore, let us all, men and women, be eager to implant this beauty in ourselves.(57)


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984). It is noted that Chrysostom’s text of Scripture included John 5:4: a verse excluded to the margin by some modern translations.

[2] John 5:18

John Chrysostom On The Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 5: Only the Trinity knows the Trinity

Sermon 5 is the longest sermon in the series of 12 sermons On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, but like the previous two sermons Chrysostom has lengthy conclusion that has little to do with the stated thesis of the series as the final third of the sermon deals with the subject of prayer (43-62). [1]

Chrysostom deals intricately with the texts of John 1:18 and 6:46, “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, himself declared him. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God, he has seen the Father.” The fact that “no one” has seen the Father except the Son is not meant to exclude the Holy Spirit, but all created beings (5-6). For support, Chrysostom turns to Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 2:11, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (7). This is certainly delicate reasoning, but it is sound. “No one” cannot exclude the Spirit in John or the Son in 1 Corinthians. Because we know God’s word is true and his testimony concerning himself is trustworthy, John 1:18; 6:46; and 1 Cor. 2:11 must all be true. So “no one” must indeed refer to all creatures outside of the Trinitarian communion.

Chrysostom then enters into a discussion that is, frankly, an amazing display of exegesis. The preacher turns his attention to 1 Corinthians 8:6, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” As “no one” separates the Trinity from all creation, so “one” separates the Trinity to itself. To prove the equality of the Son and Father Chrysostom demonstrates that “God” and “Lord” are used interchangeably of the Father and Son. Paragraph 12 offers a concise summary,

 Some names are common to several; others are proper to one. There are common names to show that the essence is exactly the same; there are proper names to characterize what is proper to the personal realities. The names “Father” and “Son” characterize what is proper to the personal realities; the names “God” and “Lord” show what is common. Therefore, after Paul set down the common name of “one God,” he had to use the proper name so that you might know of whom he was speaking. He did this to prevent us from falling into the madness of Sabellius.

The preacher then goes through Old and New Testament Scriptures demonstrating that the Father and Son are each called Lord and God (13-24). Returning to his main text, Chrysostom again asserts that knowledge necessitates identity. As men do not know the essence of angels, so neither angels nor men know the essence of God. The preacher goes even further in an amusing fashion. Not only are men incapable of knowing the essence of angels or God, they are incapable of knowing their own essence:

 And why should I speak of what kind of essence the soul has? It is not even possible to say how it exists in the body. What answer could anyone give to this question? That it is extended throughout the bulk of the body? But that is absurd. To exist that way is proper only to bodies. That this is not the way that the soul exists in the body is clear from this example. If a man’s hands and feet are amputated, the soul remains whole and entire and is in no way mutilated by the maiming of the body.
Then it does not exist in the whole body but has it been gathered together in some part of the body? If that is true, the rest of the parts must be dead, because whatever lacks a soul is altogether dead. But we cannot say that. What we must say is that we know not that the soul is in our bodies but that we do not know how it is there. God has shut us off from this knowledge of the soul for a reason. So that, out of his great superiority, he might curb our tongues, hold us in check, and persuade us to remain on earth and not to meddle out of curiosity with matters which are beyond us. (28-29)

This also points to an important conclusion to be made plain before Chrysostom turns his attention to prayer. There is something inherently off-putting to the statement that a person cannot comprehend God. Even when time is taken to explain weight of “comprehend”; even when it is acknowledged that things can be truly known of God; for some it is hard to hear that God cannot be known in his essence. Chrysostom has a helpful analogy:

 Tell me this. Suppose that two men are obstinately arguing with each other about whether they can know how large the sky is. Suppose that one of them says that it is impossible for the human eye to encompass it, and the other would contend that it was possible for a man to measure the entire sky by using the span of his hand. Which of these two would we say would know the size of the sky? Would it be the one who argues how many spans wide the sky is? Or would it be the one who admits that he does not know? Surely the man who admits he does not know the size of the sky when he sees its magnitude will have a better understanding of how large the sky is. When it is a question of God, will we not use the same discretion? Would it not be the ultimate madness if we failed to do so? (39)

Underlying the sermons of Chrysostom is a trust in the word of Scripture. This trust underlies his philosophy and epistemology too. It is not adventurous, brave, or noble, to go beyond the bounds of Scripture. It is folly and madness. Neither is it weak or ignoble to rest content in the knowledge that Scripture does provide. To stay within the bounds of Scripture is true security, it is full sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).