Archives For Redemption

AppleI spent this weekend closely observing some of the effects of the fall of humanity. During our family vacation at my parents’ house, 6 out of 14 of us took ill (the youngest cousin started it all a couple days earlier). It wasn’t quite Vomigeddon, which involved my extended family in a tight cabin as all but 4 out of a group of 30+ got violently ill simultaneously. But this weekend was still awful—holding listless children, seeing my tough-as-nails mother and father brought down, and comforting my daughters as their once-eaten meals could no longer be tolerated by their upset stomachs.

As I sat holding my two year old, I started reflecting on the evils on the fall. Humanity chose sin over God, and every aspect of our world has suffered from the curse ever since. Thorns and thistles, animosity and illness, injury and death. As I held my bright and fun loving daughter, now miserable and mostly lifeless, I kept thinking: this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

God made a good world. No suffering, no pain, no sin, no brokenness. He promises to remake our world into a glorious new creation: death will be no more, he will wipe every tear away, he will dwell directly with us, replacing even the light of the sun and moon. God’s intention for this world is wholeness, peace, shalom. And yet every day of our existence between the Garden of Eden and the new heavens and new earth is touched by brokenness.

Yet even in the midst of this brokenness there is grace. As I held my girl, feeling her feverish body breathing in and out, I was comforted to think that her little body was fighting back. In a perfect world, there is no need for an immune system. Yet God has equipped us to live amidst the curse. We suffer, yes—sometimes more deeply than we could imagine. But my daughters breathed in and out, they suffered quietly, and God used their little bodies to fight against the illness and to bring them back to health.

Our experience of this world is altered by the curse, but this is not the way it’s supposed to be. Sin is a stain we see all around us, but it’s not the fabric itself. And God has not left this world to disintegrate. He is still fighting the sin, working against our self-destruction, transforming hearts and putting us to work in his fight against sin and its destruction. He entered this fight decisively when he died to give us life. He sent his Spirit to empower us for this ongoing battle. In big and small ways, God is taking this broken world and restoring wholeness.

God does not promise us health in this life. The most tragic stories end in debilitation and death. There are no words for those times when the fall takes those we love so dearly (and the fall takes everyone in the end). The hope we cling to in these moments is in Jesus’ resurrection, and the resurrection he promises to those who love him.

But as I held my daughters yesterday and saw the effects of their immune systems overcoming their illness, I was thankful for the grace of God. Thank God he has not left us in our mess. Thank God that “he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Ultimately, God tells us that this world is crying out, desperately longing to partake in the redemption—the renewed wholeness—that he will ultimately bring as he removes the curse and recreates the world:

“…he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now…” (Romans 8:19–22)

Yesterday I said that everything in this world is important because of the kingdom of God. If God’s righteous reign is to spread into every aspect of this world, then we need to take everything seriously. This is God’s world, and we should love every inch of it and long to see it redeemed (Rom. 8:19–25).

One of the major reasons we have trouble thinking highly of this world is the reality of sin. Our world is soaked in sin. Sin is responsible for everything from thistles to headaches to rude customers to cancer to death itself. So when we look at the world, we see sin. It’s unavoidable.

So let’s burn the place to the ground! Right? When the milk in my fridge gets corrupted, I plug my nose and pour it down the drain. There’s nothing lovely about spoiled milk.

But our world is different. Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew use a helpful analogy here. They explain that sin is like a stain. It’s messy, it taints what it touches, but it’s different than the fabric itself. There is still good fabric underneath the stain. If I love my favorite shirt enough, I don’t throw it out with my every coffee spill.

Here’s where I’ll carry the analogy a bit too far and into some cheesy territory. I do everything I can to clean my shirt. Very often, I can get the stain out. If that doesn’t work, I can always take it to the cleaners. And lucky for us (brace yourself for the cheesiness), we know the ultimate Cleaner who at the end of all things will bring us back our once-stained world, sparkling clean, renewed, reinvigorated, and—because our Cleaner is also the Master Tailor—made even better than before.

Cheesiness aside, I hope the point is coming across. This exercise would be so helpful for all of us: read Genesis 1 and 2, then skip ahead to Revelation 21 and 22. These are the bookends of Scripture and the parallels are stunning.

So what do we do? We engage every aspect of our world with Christian fury. We look to politics, economics, education, childcare, and entertainment with a passion to see God’s will done in each of these spheres. Rather than turning away in disgust because these activities are too corrupt, we ask ourselves what it would mean for each of these spheres to come under the lordship of Christ and be transformed by his grace.

Of course, this task is difficult. Impossible even. But if God’s plan of redemption is indeed as wide as creation itself, then we will have to represent him across the board. We can’t be defeatist and give up simply because we can’t do the whole job by ourselves. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing even if we’re bound to fail. We labor to see God’s will done in and around us, and we trust him for the results.

Our world is stained by sin, but it’s worth fighting for. Let’s attack the stain but rescue the fabric.

Many of you noticed that our blog was hit by some sort of virus at the end of last week.[1] Google Chrome users travelled to our site only to find a very intimidating warning claiming that if they wanted to read about practical theology, their computers would be commandeered by the devil. Or something to that effect.

If you’ve never had something that you’ve poured so much of your heart into corrupted by a bunch of malevolent zeros and ones, let me assure you that it’s frustrating.  It got me thinking about why this kind of thing happens.

Everyone loves the world wide interwebs. Think of how much it allows us to do. Think of all the good it has done and continues to do for the kingdom of God. Think even of the ways that it makes our daily lives easier. How could something so potentially good be used for evil purposes?

Welcome to the fallen world. Here, people have evil intentions in their hearts (Jer. 17:(9). You’ve never met a “good person” in your life (Rom. 3:23). Everyone is tainted in their thinking, their actions, and their desires. And our world suffers dearly because of it.

Look around you. Literally everything you have ever seen in your entire life has been affected by sin. One man sinned a long time ago, and since then, all of God’s green earth has been wincing and groaning (Rom. 5:12; 8:22).

The corruption of sin does not stop with the visible world. Everything is subject to decay (Rom. 8:19–21). And everything bears the potential to be co-opted for some evil purpose. For example, words are good creations of God, yet they are often forced to serve someone or something other than their Creator. Look at the speeches of the atheist. Or the poem of Lamech (Gen. 4:23­–24, significantly, this is the first poem recorded in the Bible).

The same goes for the zeros and ones that make up every aspect of our computer programs. Something that should be good for everyone, that we all desire to use for good purposes, is vulnerable to misappropriation. Evil people (people with sinful hearts just like ours) lurk on the other side of our screens, trying to make our computing experiences less enjoyable, more harmful, and ultimately, trying to get some of our money or information or something.

If it existed, the New Technological Version of the Bible would quote Paul as saying, “Our computers (Macs and PCs) have been groaning together in the pains of childbirth…” (Rom. 8:22, NTV).

Computer viruses are one more important reminder that our world is stained by sin, and one more important goad calling us to long for the final day of redemption. Sin gets everywhere, even “in the computer” (in the words of Derek Zoolander).

Praise God that his great plan of redemption is as wide as creation itself. His healing spreads as far as the curse is found. Together we can long for that day when there are no more tears, no more pain, no more sickness, no more computer viruses.

 

 


[1] Or may have been. For those who are interested, Google Chrome is the only browser that seemed to care, and we’re still not convinced that anything bad happened with the site. Our “people” are diligently looking into it.

People watching is fascinating because each person is uniquely crafted by God and people bear the image of God. This is true of every person, whether they have been redeemed or not. While it’s true that sin taints every aspect of our existence and therefore causes us to resemble God less and less, humanity still bears the fingerprints of its Creator. Try as he might, man simply cannot re-create himself entirely—his very existence points to the God who formed him. And although after the fall man does not resemble God the way he should, he still bears the image of God (James 3:9).

But there is a side to humanity that makes people watching an incredibly God-honoring activity. When God breaks into a person’s life, the results are absolutely unbelievable.

When God reaches into the core of our being, removes the heart of stone, gives us a living, beating heart, and puts his very Spirit inside of us (see Ezek. 36:25-27), something beautiful is bound to break free in our lives. Something about us is going to look a little different.

"The Conversion of Saint Paul" by Luca Giordano

When a man sets out on a journey to kill those who follow Jesus, is confronted with the blinding light of Jesus in all his glory, and then persistently sacrifices every fiber of his being to see the message of Jesus embraced in every part of the world, it is a beautiful thing (see the book of Acts). When a spiritually dead person comes alive and begins to do the things that God has created her to do, we can’t help but take notice (see Eph. 2:1-10).

Most of the people around us exhibit what Paul calls “the works of the flesh” (see Gal. 5:19-21). Look around. How much envy, sensuality, division, rivalry, and sexual immorality do you see?

By contrast, God has placed his Spirit inside of his people. And the Spirit works in us to produce things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal. 5:22-23). These aren’t things that people can muster up by sheer will power. These are fruits of the Spirit.

So sit back and people watch. When you see a brother or sister in Christ exhibiting goodness, being supernaturally patient, or rejoicing in a difficult situation, you are seeing a clear example of God at work in the life of a once-broken human heart. When God’s unrelenting redemption enters the picture, people watching takes on a depth of beauty that we could never anticipate.

The simple fact is that people point to God. Sometimes this is in spite of their best efforts. In denying God’s existence with their words, atheists are making use of the brains, vocal cords, and rational thought process that have been crafted by the very God they are denying. Their message is therefore dissonant and ultimately retains its witness to the God who formed them.

But sometimes people point us to God more directly. Very often, the beauty and truth that finds its ultimate source in God himself breaks out in the lives of his people. So watch away. There is something unique about human beings (see Gen. 1-2, Ps. 8, or Heb. 2). People watching can help us see God in a way that we would never pick up from reading a book. Or reading a blog.

 

I think we can all agree that the Bourne films were some of the best movies ever made. I know they’ve been off the radar for awhile, but I was reminded of them again while watching the 2011 film Unknown, which was basically The Bourne Identity with a few of the minor details changed and a different cast. Not a bad movie, but still, it’s not Jason Bourne.

Maybe it’s because it’s been so long since I’ve watched the Bourne movies, but I had never thought critically about what they were portraying. You have a guy who was trained to be a ruthless killer. He was essentially dehumanized, reprogrammed like a computer, rebuilt like a machine. He had no freedom—he was part of a system that used him as a weapon to execute nefarious missions.

Then, through a catastrophic event in the midst of an assassination attempt, he loses all connection with his past and is set on a journey to overcome the beast he once was and live as a decent human being. Ultimately, the story is one of redemption, where an unexpected turn of events gives Jason Bourne an opportunity to change his identity, to become a new man.

Many of us are drawn to this story. From a human perspective, who isn’t looking for a second chance? Who isn’t battling the person they have become and longing for an opportunity to leave it all behind and become the person they’ve always wanted to be? This longing is confirmed by the 250,000 titles that an Amazon search for “self help” yields.

From a Christian perspective, this type of storyline is the basis of our hope. In many ways, Paul was the original Jason Bourne. His training and beliefs led him into some nefarious missions. In the midst of a mission to assassinate followers of Jesus, Paul was disconnected from his past through a catastrophic event (the appearance of Jesus). From there he was given a new identity (Paul vs. Saul), he was literally recreated (2 Cor. 5:17). He was a new man, given a new beginning, a new purpose.

As Christians, this is our story. Of course, the Bourne films are not a perfect analogy for the Christian life. But I think they reveal a longing that lies deep within every human heart. We know that something is wrong, we see the monsters that we have become, and we long for a break from our past. We know that it won’t come easily, but we believe that it’s worth fighting for. So we make movies that express this longing. And we watch movies that show us this drama played out in the lives of fictional characters.

In the final analysis, I am Jason Bourne. (I really wanted to write that sentence.) And so are you. We have been trained to be something other than human. But there is hope of change. It doesn’t come easily, and it certainly won’t come without outside intervention. But the death and resurrection of Jesus have provided the catastrophic event that gives us a second chance at life and a new identity.

So take a lesson from the life of Jason Bourne. And let’s hope that this summer’s release of The Bourne Legacy (sans Matt Damon) doesn’t let down the franchise.