Archive for February, 2007

The Dancing God

February 26, 2007

Once again, I find that C.S. Lewis put his finger on things that I didn’t realize he had.

The words “God is Love” have no real meaning unless that one person contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.

I came across this idea first in the writings of Norman Grubb. I’m sure the realization didn’t originate with either of these two British gents.

What both of them are saying is that if God is Love, then He must be plural. He must be a community of at least two. One person alone cannot be Love, because there must be an object for His affection other than Himself. As it turns out, our scriptures describe three persons of God. The Father and the Son we understand (sort of). But this third Person evades description. Trying to describe our God strains our language beyond what it can handle, because even our concept of a “person” leaves some things unexplained here. Lewis goes on to say:

God is not a static thing–not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person.

A dance. Now that’s beautiful. My apologies to all the old school Southern Baptists out there. But this is a truly charming and illustrative image. So much of my confusion cleared up once this idea got a hold of me.

It works for understanding the union of the Trinity, as my theology professors once pointed out. When they said it, they had to use a fancy Latin word for it (circumincessio) so that they wouldn’t feel irreverent. Everything feels more legitimate once it’s put in Latin, you know. Circumincessio indicates a kind of mutual enfolding which expands and contracts, so that they are one, and two, and one again. As if one Latin term doesn’t cut it, my professors felt the need to bolster this concept with a second, Greek term (perichoresis), which essentially means the same thing. But now it’s in both Latin and Greek, so it’s gotta be okay to believe, right?

But the Dance extends beyond the inner relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus said that we would come to know the same kind of relationship (it’s at the end of John 17, I’m not making this up). We are becoming one with God in the same way that He is already one with Himself (!)

If you think about it, this explains a lot. I have always gotten confused about whether I am separate from God or one with Him. Sometimes I pray to Him. Other times I feel like He is praying through me. But which is right? Which is better?

It’s a dance. You get what I’m saying? Watch two people dancing. They are two, then they are one. Then they are two again. Back and forth. Around and around. In front of, behind, between, above, below, apart, and together again. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? When two are joined in a dance, something arises between them that is more than simply the sum of two parts.

And that is what’s happening with us and God. Christ is in us, then He is above us. He is our every breath and heartbeat, then we turn and address Him as if He were with us instead of in us. We are meant to enjoy and preserve both. Sometimes we lose consciousness of His separateness from us, because we are so one. But then He comes to us and gets our attention as if He were introducing some side of Himself that we’ve never seen before.

There will always be more. His dance has spins and steps you’ve never seen. But always He brings us back into who He is, so that folks looking on will hardly be able to tell where He ends and we begin.

It’s a Dance.


A Really Good Meeting

February 20, 2007

Do you know what it looks like when the body of Christ builds itself up in love? Have you ever seen the church grow (in quality, not necessarily in quantity) by what each joint and ligament supplies? Well I saw it happen this past weekend and I wanna tell you about it.

The brothers in our church recently received invitations to attend a get-together done by the sisters in our fellowship. The invitations themselves were fantastic, with little burnt-looking edges and nice lettering. They gave us our invitations after treating us to an amusing skit, featuring camouflaged scouts surveying the promised land in the days of Joshua and Caleb. They gushed as they reported the size of the grapes in the new land and encouraged us to see for ourselves what the Lord has given us in that land. Because we’re not new at this, each of us in the room understood that the land was always a picture of Christ. It was an object lesson in finding our every need fulfilled in Christ. They were speaking of land, milk, and honey, but we knew they were really talking about the Lord.

Then Saturday night we showed up at the appointed time to a home that was partially hidden behind a veil. Our beautiful greeters made sure we noticed that the veil had been ripped open, so that we could go in and see what awaited us inside. We were hungry and ready to see what was in store for us.

Before we went in, each of us was given a new name which would be ours for the remainder of the night. Those who greeted us inside knew our new names and seated us in front of well-made placecards with our new names on them. One of us became Righteousness, another Sanctification. One of us was Truth, and another Glory. Each name sounded far better than we deserved but they persisted in calling us those names for the duration of the evening.

We sat under a beautifully-lit canopy (inside the house!) , eating a deliciously grilled meal on fine china. We were served wine (optional) and cheese and bread and steak and fish and rice and vegetables. Each of us had on his plate exactly what he would have ordered if he had been asked, only none of us had to ask. The brother across the table from me, himself a vegan, had tofu instead of meat along with his veggies. The meal itself was exquisite and it just kept coming until we were FULL.

All throughout the meal, we were serenaded by the lovely women of our fellowship. They sang a selection of our songs which speak of Christ as our food, and of Him as our fertile land. They even rewrote a song that had needed a good rewrite for some time, and it was beautiful! A blog just won’t do it justice, so you’ll have to just imagine why we were moved to tears as we ate. We had several choices for dessert (mine was very chocolatey) and they were delicious.

They served us like we were royalty and spoke such encouraging words of how they see us in the Lord. Now let me assure you, each of us has had one reason or another to think poorly of himself over the last year or so. Our intentions have always been good, but we would not have to work hard to catalogue the ways in which each of us feels that we have failed as brothers in the church. There are so many things that we wish we did, but never seem to pull off.

But this night, we were spoken to as men who had fulfilled every expectation. They reminded us that we no longer judge one another according to the flesh, and they set about demonstrating for us what that looks and sounds like. They read out what they had written about each of us, calling us by name, and we sat and (a few of us) cried as we heard such high things said of us by our precious sisters. They ministered to us. I don’t know any other way to put it. We feasted on their words and their love. We basked in their music and their warmth.

I think it was a healing time for some of us, if not all of us. Thank you, sisters, for your example of how to love the Lord and His church. You are a precious gift.

The Imitation of Christ…(not)

February 6, 2007

Since I am not greatly bothered by movies that are “dark,” I happen to like a movie called The Game, starring Michael Douglas. In this movie, a mysterious business establishment provides their clients with carefully-staged situations that push them to their personal limits. It’s called “The Game,” and it freaks Douglas out. It’s like they know everything he is going to do before he does it. Before the game begins, they study their clients so thoroughly that they can predict with astounding accuracy what they will do under any imaginable circumstance. In a sense, they can control every detail of his or her life for a time, but without ever actually tampering with their ability to choose what they will.

Phillip Yancey once said that a master chess player can determine the outcome of a match by knowing his opponent so well that he can anticipate his next move. Yancey suggests that this may help explain how a God who is technically “supposed to” avoid tampering with our free wills could make all things work according to His will anyway. He’s smart enough to know exactly what we would do in any situation, and therefore can lead us where He will without actually “making” us do anything.

Of course, the whole “foreknowledge” thing is just a human idea anyway, since time means little to a God who is both Alpha and Omega. He could just as well be working backwards from the end. All of our causal relationships (that’s causal, not casual) presuppose time. This thing happens first, so then this thing happens next. But what if you lived life backwards, like Merlin on The Sword in the Stone? You’d get mixed up about what “causes” what after all.

But I suppose, to some degree, God’s timelessness helps us understand how He can do what he does. If you’ve ever seen Groundhog Day, you may remember the scene where Phil can tell Rita everything about everyone in Punxsutawney.

Rita: Is this some kind of trick?

Phil: Maybe the real God uses tricks. Maybe He’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long, He knows everything.

I love it. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. And it’s not dark. Phil uses his knowledge of people to accomplish just about everything he can imagine. That’s a powerful position to be in.

But we’ve got more than a God who can just predict our every move. We have a God who comes to indwell us. Like my wife who has a little someone indwelling her right now πŸ™‚ (Carter #4) Over time it gets difficult to say what’s happening because she wants it and what’s happening because the baby wants it. The two are mixed together for a time so that whatever happens to one happens to the other. She’s not just being “indwelt;” their lives are joined together. It’s really a beautiful thing.

Now for my C.S. Lewis quote of the day:

You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together…. But this way of thinking breaks down. God is not like that. He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it.

It won’t stop us from trying to explain it though. As Norman Grubb used to say, we’ve got God within and without. That pretty much puts Him on the throne.

And it should caution us against trying too hard to figure out whether our actions are our own or God’s. In the end, they both look the same. They even feel the same most of the time. About the only difference is that Life results from His activity in and through us. If Life comes out of what we did, you can bet He was hiding in there somewhere.

With all due respect to Thomas a Kempis, never mind the imitation of Christ. This is better than that… It’s Christ’s imitation of you.

Rumors of Another World

February 5, 2007

Here’s my Lewis quote for the day:

A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

I like Phillip Yancey’s writing because it’s laced with the same idea. I’ve got a book by him called I Was Just Wondering, in which he comments on how strange it is that we are uncomfortable with so many things that are natural to all living creatures. Things like nakedness, dying, sex, and defecation strike us as funny. In fact, take away those four things and you’ll eliminate 97% of all jokes and curse words. Yancey asks, “Why is that?” He explains what he calls the theology of dirty jokes.

Can you imagine a cow being embarrassed about “relieving itself” out in the field in front of the other cows? Only people would show shame over something like that. I laughed when Sam the Eagle on the Muppet Show realized for the first time that he was naked. I was probably six years old, but I got the irony. So why is it that only human beings blush at these things?

Yancey suggests that maybe we feel uncomfortable about our own excrement because we somehow feel that we were made for better things. Somehow the creatures we were created to be shouldn’t produce something like that. And somehow we were never meant to feel nakedness, or witness death. So we make light of it. We cut jokes about it. We find each of these things intrinsically funny, because irony is the root of all humor.

Yeah, I think they’re on to something.

Nothing New

February 1, 2007

There really is nothing new under the sun. Every time I think I’ve said something clever, or maybe even something that nobody’s thought of before, I come across someone who beat me to it. Truth is, I probably got it from them and just forgot. Flipping through my well-marked copy of Mere Christianity, I keep spotting statements by Lewis that I thought were my ideas. Or maybe I just forgot that he seems to have discovered the same things that the rest of us have been discovering.

I’ve just finished writing the first draft of a book (which I hope to title Christ in Y’all). And since I’m kind of “writing-ed out” for now, I think for the next few days I’d like to post some Lewis quotes that I’ve come across. Today I think I’ll start with this one:

…the very moment you wake up each morning…All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day.” (Beyond Personality, Chapter Eight)

Walter Hooper tells a story that in 1954, Bob Jones, founder of the fundamentalist university by the same name, once met Lewis and had a long private conversation. When asked later for his opinion of Lewis, Jones is said to have replied, “That man smokes a pipe, and that man drinks liquor β€” but I do believe he’s a Christian.”

That man was high-church, too. But I like ‘im.