Revelation


There are times in our lives when God can seem quiet and far off.  These periods of time are desparate and lonely.  We may pray and feel like we are not getting any answers.  Then we grow discouraged and often drift further away from God.    We may find ourselves getting angry with him and frustrated.  We may blame him for our feelings, emotions and struggles.  We may even call out, “GOD WHERE ARE YOU?”  We have all been there even though there are some around us who may put-on as though they haven’t.  You know those Christians who act as though they always have it right and are perfectly in-tune with God.  But I think the truth of the matter is life is filled with different experiences that cause us to interact and experience God in different ways. 

The Psalmist offers some perfect examples of these moments of dispair and wondering where God is.  Psalms has several psalms that Walter Brueggemann has labeled “psalms of disorientation.”  These are psalms where the psalmist feels…well, disoriented.  He feels lost, dispair, and even confusion.  One person once told me, in an attempt to shine a positive light on these psalms, that they always end with the psalmist correcting himself or repenting of his doubts and complaints.  Though this is true sometimes, it is not even usually the case.  A prime example is Psalm 88.

1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
   when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
   incline your ear to my cry.

3 For my soul is full of troubles,
   and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
   I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
   like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
   for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
   in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
   and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
          Selah

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
   you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9   my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
   I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
   Do the shades rise up to praise you?
          Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
   or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
   or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
   in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
   Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
   I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.*
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
   your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
   from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
   my companions are in darkness (NRSV).”

As you can see, this psalmist has no closure and the reader is left wondering what is the outcome of this distraught person.  This person is obviously angry at God and even blames Him for his sufferings.  Our theology and experience of God could indeed end at this point and we would be left with a God who always ignores us and seems to enjoys our suffering.  Such a theology reminds me of being a young boy.  My confession goes like this: I used to be the “ant bully.”  That’s right.  I used to drown them with frigid cold water, or boiling hot water.  I used to crush them with large stones and do aerial assaults on their villages.  Kind of like the U.S. bombing the snot out of impoverished nations then puffing out our chest as though we abtained some daring feat of heroism. 

Is God like this?  Does he enjoy and get entertainment out of our suffering?  Is he the equivalent of an “ant bully?”  I don’t think so.  Yet often times, we interpret our negative experiences as being God.  Now let me qualify my thoughts.  I do believe in judgment.  I do believe we live in a world where bad things happen to good people as well.  I believe that God can take those situations we are experiencing, rather good or bad, and use them for our benefit.  However, I do not believe everything that happens to us is God trying to test us or teach us lessons.   But I do believe that in all things, at all times we need to draw closer to God.

But why does God seem quiet at times?  Why does he seem far off?  Well, there are many answers.  It could be sin.  It coud be our experiences.  It could be bad theology.  It could be us not paying any attention to him except when we need something.  But I think it could also be God trying to get us to come find him. 

 Is this possible?  What is this some type of game? 

I have two beautiful children and they love to play hide and seek.  However, they don’t usually play the traditional way.  It often begins with my daughter saying, “Daddy, we’ll hide and you count and come find us.” 

So I begin to count and my daughter says, “Ok I’m gonna go hide in my room Daddy and you come find us.” 

They run off to her room and I finish counting.  I make my way to her room, pretending I don’t know where she is.  So I peak in the other rooms and I will hear a little voice say, “No Daddy I am in MY ROOM!” 

So I get to her room and she will either say, “Daddy I am in the closet.”  Or she will come running out yelling, “Here I am!!!”

I wonder if this is how God is.  He may be quiet sometimes to get our attention.  We may find ourselves saying, “Where’s God?”  Hopefully, we begin looking for him in those moments. 

I am reminded of Deuteronomy 4:29 “From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.” 

And Acts 17:26-28

From one ancestor* he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God* and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For “In him we live and move and have our being”;

This idea of searching and groping is much like hide and seek.  Why doesn’t God just jump out and show himself.  He is more like my daughter in that little voice calling out, “I am over here.”  “This is where I am, come find me.”  We are encouraged by the words of Jesus to “seek and you will find.” 

Although God may seem hidden, he is calling us to seek, search, grope after him.  As we do we are told that we WILL find him.  I am learning in this life that there are many people who are not finding God because they are not even looking for him.  God has initiated relationship by grace but we are called to react and respond to the grace by seeking after him.  It is not a game.  It is not a game that God plays to torture us while all along not planning to reveal himself.  He does want to reveal himself, and he will even more as we look for him.

It can even be said another way according to Matthew 5.  “Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled.”  Hungry and thirsty people go looking for food and drink.  We are all aware of the fact that if we don’t go into the kitchen and LOOK for something to eat it isn’t just going to come to us.  If we do, we are going to die of starvation and dehydration which many people are doing spiritually.  Nor can we wait for someone else to do the looking for us.  I know that my wife will often fix meals for the family so that we all don’t have to go fend for ourselves.  If I just sat in the living room, watching TV and waiting to be served–I would go to bed very hungry many nights. 

The Lord may seem hidden but he is always present but waiting often time for us to find him.  After all, the Psalmist says elsewhere that there is nowhere he can go to escape the presence of the Lord.

 Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139:7-12).

Therefore I suggest, if you find yourselves wondering where God is or even questioning if he exists…start looking for him and I promise…you WILL find Him. He will jump out like my daughter saying., “HERE I AM!”

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“… and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” –Nietsche (I am indebted to my sister for reminding me of this quote.  I must add I am aware of Nietsche’s philosophies and the irony of using him as a quote for my article.  The irony here though is…I don’t think Nietsche could hear the music either).

                How do we Christians stand against the attacks of the world, particular the reason of the “New Athiests?”  They say our God is not real and doesn’t exist.  To that I say, “We are dancing to music they just can’t hear.” If they could only experience the power of the over whelming love our hearts experience when he touches us with his gentle hands.  If they could only experience the perfect peace we have amidst the worst storms of life.  If they could only experience the impregnable joy we have when we have no reason to laugh or rejoice.  If they could only experience the belonging to a community of believers when we have every reason to feel alone.  If they could only experience the closeness we feel to a father, friend, companion, shepherd, and king when we are in the presence of the God they can’t see. 

                 What do we say to those who can not hear the music we are dancing to?  What do we say to those who have not felt the touch of the Master’s hand?  What do we say to those who have become so calloused toward the idea of God?  What do we say to those who have not experienced the power that we have experienced?  It’s that experience of God that has caused us to entrust ourselves to him; that experience that has allowed us to know that there is a God who loves us in a way that no outsider could possibly understand with all their human faculties; that experience that has evolved into a relationship that is deeper and more real than any relationship we have ever had or will ever know in this life or the next?  I don’t know what to say sometimes, except “Come. Come. Come and meet the Lord I have come to know and love; this new life; this joy; this peace; this deep, deep love.  Hear the music.  Hear the music and dance!”

 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift (Revelation 22:17 NRSV).

In the past week I have had several conversations with Christians about violence, particularly our involvement with it.  There are three possible scenarios that seem to surface during these conversations.  They are: self-defense, war, and capital punishment.  One of the conversations I had was with a friend of mine who I had already known is by no means a pacifist.  If anything he is the complete opposite.  So when he defends his position I am not surprised with the rhetoric he uses.  However, the second conversation was in the middle of a seminary class with a professor of mine.  As we discussed the Sinaitic Covenant and therefore the Law, I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about all the death and violence God demands of his people. 

In Exod. 21:15 for instance, it says “Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.”  Now this law is followed by several more such commands.  It seems to me that this is not “an eye for an eye or tooth for tooth.”  This seems a bit too extreme.  Now my professor, to my surprise, is also by no means a pacifist and proudly claimed so in class.  In fact, I should set him and my buddy up for coffee so they can talk about their blood-lust.  Okay maybe that’s extreme but I can’t help but wonder why they are so proud of their stance on violence.

Let me summarize my professor’s argument.  In short, he said that the laws had the clause of death so that the people understood that obedience to God was a matter of life and death.  Secondly, he said that we could only sit and theorize about our role in violence as Christians because of those who went on before us and died for our freedom to do so.  Third, he has a hard time buying questions about violence in the bible when we live in a country that is so far removed from threats of violence but also watches violent movies and plays violent video games.  Fourth, he attempted to point out that Jesus was only one person of the trinity but also tried to point out how Jesus was not a pacifist.  His example of this was Jesus reaction to the tower of Siloam falling on people and killing them (Luke 13:4).

Here’s my response to such arguments which I shared in part with him during the class but also afterwards.  To the first point, I understand his thought about communicating the seriousness of obedience as a matter of life and death.  However, if God wants to punish and poor out wrath why doesn’t he do it himself instead of having those of us whom he has also commanded not to kill do it?  Why do we have to do the dirty work?  Maybe he figured this part out by the time he got to the invasions of Israel (722 B.C.) and of Judah (587 B.C.).  Instead of using the faithful remnant to exact judgment he used exterior forces such as the Assyrians and Babylonians.  I understand God’s sovereign right to punish the disobedient but as Christians are we still that tool of death?

To the second point, I told the professor that his answer sound s too America.  Although he uses this answer to honor those men who “sacrificed”, it doesn’t give us permission as Christians the right to partake in war and kill.  Is this how we are to spread the kingdom of God—by warfare?  I think our love affair with democracy muddies the water of our responsibility as Christians.  We are to be radically counter-cultural and just because our democratic government beats the war drum it doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for us to get in line.  If Jesus was so concerned about freedom and liberty from the world’s perspective, then why didn’t he lead a revolt against Rome?  I will tell you.  He didn’t lead a rebellion because he came to teach us that the answer to the oppression in the world is not to launch a war against evil by the means of carnal weapons against enemies of flesh and blood.  For Jesus, the kingdom of God was spread by living counter-culturally.  That means, doing the opposite of what the world expects, like “turn the other cheek.”  May I also add, “vengence is mine, I will repay (Romans 12:19; Heb. 10:30)”?

To the third point, playing Mortal Combat or Call of Duty is a tad bit different than actually picking up a stone and whipping it at the head of a woman who may or may not have been wrongly accused of adultery.  “Cast the first stone”?

Fourth, I think a person looking for the violence of Jesus is far more hard-pressed for evidence than the pacifist.  Though Jesus believed in the judgment of God, he by no means, anywhere, encouraged his disciples to partake in violence.  Even when you come to the violence in Revelation, it is only the two-prophets that will exact any sort of wrath (Rev. 11:5).  Yet this passage is so enigmatic that it is neither an explicit or implicit encouragement to do violence.  No, we are commanded to pray for or enemies and overcome evil with good (Matt. 5:43-48; Romans 12:21).

It may come as a shock, but I am not a pacifist, yet.  However, I am tired of Christians being so cold and arrogant to proudly say “can you tell I am not a pacifist” without a hint of humility or concern in their voice.  If I ever have to kill a man for threatening my family, I will do it reluctantly and with fear and trembling.  I would also be remorseful and grieved for the rest of my life over the matter.  If we are ever pressed into a situation of violence, I pray it will be with the utmost hesitancy as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was when he chose to resist Hitler.  Yet the responsible Christian must note, he resisted after deep contemplation and even then resisted with utmost humility.  There may be situations where we need to act quickly without the time to think.  However, the Christian should live a life of much contemplation in these areas so that our actions are not mindless.  Have the mind of Christ I pray.

On Monday nights at our church I co-teach a course that is focused on providing Christian education for individuals at all different points in their faith journey.  Recently, I taught on the subject of “the Word of God.”  I spent a good deal of the class unpacking what the different nuances of this topic contain but was able to summarize it loosely in one word—REVELATION.  Now don’t get all weird on me.  I do believe in dreams, visions, God speaking to us today, and even prophesy (but not an obsession with it).  However I am boldly against an unhealthy obsession with a constant need for hype and experiential signs and wonders.  Although I believe these are to be very present in the Church, I get the sense that many Christians are more focused on the entertainment aspect than of relationship with, knowledge of, and even suffering for/of Christ.

When I speak of revelation I mainly speak of how God has chosen to reveal himself to humanity through scripture.  I wish I had mastered the art of creating diagrams and pictures on the computer but I haven’t, so I will describe this in words.  I taught the class that God desired/desires to reveal himself to us.  He wanted to reveal his nature, attributes, plans, and promises to humanity.  How was he going to do this?  By speaking to men and women called prophets;  a selected group of individuals that he could trust to reveal his message/revelation.  Men like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Haggai, etc. 

Then something extraordinary occurred.  God chose to reveal himself through the man—Christ Jesus.  John 1 refers to Jesus as the Word who took on flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus lived out the revelation of God himself.  Hebrews 1 says that Jesus is the “direct image of God.”  Jesus is the Word incarnate.   When we read about and see Jesus in the Gospels we are seeing God himself among us and his will, plans, and promises lived out.  We further see God revealed in the letters and writings of the Apostles and canonized by our brothers in Christ less than 2000 years ago (most scholars and historians agree that the canon we have today was “closed” by the mid-fourth century a.d.).

During this class however I passed around a handout.  It was a pie chart that had percantile divisions of the diverse genres in the Bible.  Can you guess what the biggest section of the pie was?  Well, it went like this: prophecy=20%; Epistles=7%; Wisdom literature=6%; Poetry=5%; Apocalyptic=2%.  Have you guessed the biggest section yet?

That’s right—History/Narrative=60%.  Now this section includes all the history books of the OT but also the Gospels of Jesus and Acts in the NT.  What is the significance of this?  First let’s consider how some of the Church uses the Bible.  Much of the Church is using the Bible as a proof-text book.  That is, they often skim over the content to find what they agree with and like (often neglecting the context) and write it down so they can show that the Bible agrees with their opinion.  Example: “I believe God is a wrathful God”, one may say.  Therefore they find all of the verses where God is depicted as wrathful.  They then present their evidence and say, “Observe the wrath of God.  God as you can see is angry all the time.”  What is the problem with this approach?  They have neglected to read and consider the numerous other passages of scripture that speak of God’s mercy, love, compassion, and grace.  They have isolated a single perspective of God revealed in scripture.  Now I am not saying God is not angry.  What I am saying is there is a balance in scripture where God reveals himself as angry but full of love, constantly working to get us out of the way of his anger.  The Bible is not to be used this way.

Secondly, much of the Church uses the Bible as a magic book.  A book where I can look up what makes me feel good and if I follow certain formulas I will have things go exactly as I want them to go with no difficulties or challenges.  They see it as a book of spells, if you will.  A book where they can isolate particular verses, ignore the context, make it say what they want it to say and then speak it out repetitively thinking they will get what they want.  Now there is a degree of truth hidden away in this believe structure but it has often been abused and greatly exaggerated.  The Bible is not to be used this way either.

Third but certainly not last, is the attitude that the Bible is a collection of nice stories and literature but rather irrelevant for today.  It’s viewed as a sort of mythological volume collection from archaic folks in the Near East.  The Bible is thus put on the shelf along with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.   The Bible is not to be used this way either.

Though different approaches, all of these schools of thought mentioned above are greatly missing the nature and purpose of the Bible.  In the words of a theologian by the name of William Stacey Johnson, “The Bible is relentlessly theo-centric.”  That is, it has less to do with us and mostly to do with God.  God reveals himself through the Bible by focusing on himself.  Why?  Not because he is egotistical but because our only solution to our fallen-ness is to see God for who he is. 

So how does God reveal himself?  Not the way proof-texters would have.  They would have formulated a book that was a collection of isolated factual statements about God and reality with nothing in between to connect them.  Ironically, this is exactly what the Gnostics did in earlier centuries after the life of Jesus.  Neither is the Bible presented the way the other two groups see it. 

God chose to mainly reveal himself through STORIES.  He revealed himself through stories about the lives of individuals who struggled and also celebrated victories with God; stories of people who wept, cried, and even yelled at God but also laughed, smiled, and praised him; stories of people who were sick or healthy, poor or rich, married or widowed, barren or fertile, young or old, male or female, Jew or pagan etc.; stories of people who were very different than us but also very much the same.  Why did God reveal himself mainly through stories?  Because this is how we experience hi m in life.  Our lives are stories.  Think about how you respond when you go out for coffee with someone to get to know each other better.  When the other person asks you to tell them about yourself.  How do you tell them?  Usually in story form.  You are not like the proof-texter.  You don’t give them a list and say, “I am a husband, father, janitor, and an all around likable person.  I live in a house, have a car, wear clothes, and eat food.  I like to draw, read, take baths, and sleep.  I don’t like to pass out, get sick, or stub my toe.”  Usually it sounds more like this: “Hi, my name is Jeremy.  I was born in New York but moved to Ohio when I was six because my dad took a job to pastor a church in a Pentecostal denomination.  My parents raised me to love and serve the Lord from a very young age.  So I did, I was one of those odd kids who actually took his parents at their word and began to seek God.  I was never perfect or supremely holy (that’s not what I am trying to say—but this upbringing helped form the person I am today), but I hungered for God.  The first time I heard God speak to me was…”

Not only is it much more interesting but it truly reveals who I am and why I am the person I became.  It adds substance, context and relevance for who I am as a person.  Our story is part of who we are.  Likewise we understand and come to know God through stories.  Not just life stories of those humans who lived and died but stories of the life of God as we humans encountered him.  Don’t pull scriptures about God being a God who saves out of the stories.  Leave them intact.  Explore the context.  We need to hear not just that he is a Savior but how he saved a man like Paul who was once a wretch like me.

Learn to read through the Bible over and over and over again.  Read the stories to find the God who has revealed himself through them.  Don’t read solely to be entertained but read to find God through them and how other humans interacted with him.  Learn to tell your story looking for God in it and how he has revealed himself to you through your story.  Amen.