Monday, January 28, 2013

Mission of God's People - Chapter 3 - Part 3.4

I love to blog, I really do, as writing is one of my passions but I find that it too often takes a back seat to other priorities. Then when I am sidelined getting started again involves overcoming a basic law of physics - to overcome inertia requires more energy than keeping something in motion. I was sidelined  over the past 4-6 weeks with a hospital stay and then the flu, which naturally put me behind in other tasks, so I'm only now getting back to completing this 3rd Chapter of the Mission of God's People.  Would you pray that I remain healthy and on track to blog through this wonderful work in good order? Thanks. 

When last we met we were discussing creation care as fully alive human beings who ruled and subdued the planet we inhabit. We concluded last time with the statement that "We should not separate care for the “all things created” in him and for him (Colossians 1:16) from our mission as God’s people." We need to rethink how we see our world and we need to see our place in and responsibility toward the world as part the whole Gospel. 

I realize that this idea may raise some theological concern, given our a well entrenched Evangelical dualism that separate the world and the "spirit."  So I also introduced the Hebrew concept of Shalom which we will be developing as we go. Shalom means wholeness, not just peace. It is a return to the very good of God's original design, or as much as we can experience this side of the new creation. Understanding shalom should bring us to a perspective of the creation that honors God in all things and that begins with a proper understanding of our place in his created order. 

Renowned Conservative thinker,Thomas Sowell posits that "The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best." The creation narrative tells us that God alone knows what is best and he mandated that we care for his creation, with a proper respect for and understanding of whose creation it really is. The problem we have is we too often fall on one of two opposing sides in this world, with respect to how we view the creation. Either we fall on the side of human sovereignty, we can decide for ourselves to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Or, we think dominion means we can live any way we want as long as we're "rapture ready." 

On the former, those who eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, think they understand what needs to be done to "heal the planet." The problem is that the "eaters" assume the role of care-taker without the knowledge of who is ultimately in charge. Then they impose their will on others thinking they know what is best. On the other side, those who claim to know the Creator, we'll call them the "fleeters" (due to their  hope of vanishing) push back against the "eaters" but seldom offer a reasonable position on the care they have been charged with. But who gets to decide what is best? The answer for living sent today should be obvious - God and His Word does.

We cannot expect the "eaters" to change their viewpoint, without repenting of their eating of their choice tree. We can however rethink how we who claim to know the Creator view God's world. Wright points out that also requires repentance, which is simply a change of how we understand what is important to God. We need to align ourselves with a perspective of seeing the fullness of God in all that he has made. Wright quotes the Apostle Paul here at length: 
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant." (Colossians 1:15-23).
Take note of what Wright points out here: "Paul is talking about the whole creation...the whole of the created order - not just human beings...Paul includes creation in the saving power of the cross...the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, is the means of reconciliation of creation to God, not only sinners....the order of Paul's argument here is also revealing and runs counter to the way we tend to describe the gospel."  

Could it be one of the reason that we don't grasp the whole Gospel, the Gospel Paul preached to the Colossians, is we start from the wrong perspective? Wright points out that "our trajectory" with it's "built in dualism" is individual -> church -> world -> heaven. We start with ourselves and we look toward heaven as our destination, while the Church grows weaker and the world more corrupt. But Wright turns this around by observing that...
"Paul's gospel works in the exact opposite direction. God has a big plan indeed. Paul starts with creation - and relates that to Christ as creator and sustainer. Then he moves to the Church (v 18), which will be the people of the new creation, because they are in Christ, who is the firstborn of the new creation just as he is the firstborn of orginal creation. That is to say, the church belongs to Christ because all things belong to Chris, but also because the church is already, in this creation, the anticipation of the redeemed people of God in the new creation. Then, having spoken of all creation and of the whole Church, Paul sums up their totality in the reconciling work of the cross. Finally, having stretched the grand plan of God for the whole universe and emphasized the centrality of the cross within it, Paul adds - "oh yes, even you too ["and you" at the beginning of v. 21 is emphatic, you get to be part of this...reconciled through faith in this Gospel, which is now for everybody everywhere." 
Paul in fact turns the world upside, from our self-focus to a Christ-centered, Christ supremacy, Christ first focus. Paul's Gospel is Christ-> church -> world -> self thus inverting, or better reverting to, how we are to see our place in the world. Wright concludes, 
"So our care for creation is motivated not solely by the fact that it was created by God and we were commanded to look after it, but also by the fact that it has been redeemed by Christ, and we are to erect signposts towards its ultimate destiny of complete restoration in Christ. God's redemptive mission includes creation. Our mission involves participating in the redemptive work as agents of good news to creation, as well as people."
Pragmatically, doesn't that make sense? Creation was designed, in part, to sustain human life. It was created good to support the spread of the knowledge of the glory of God. If our only ambition is to get people to heaven and we bypass thinking rightly about creation, our Gospel comes up short of what Paul understood it to be. Then we miss the whole Gospel we are seeking.

It certainly may be easier to shorten the Gospel to salvation for humans only and await the new creation, however unBiblical that in fact is. But would it not be more glorious to have it said of us as we go and be the people of God in the world: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too." (Acts 17:6 - NKJV). The whole Gospel mandates that we be people who care for creation. Living sent today requires it. 

Q - What changes can you make in your life to embrace your creation care mandate?

Next time, we'll start Chapter 4 - People who are a Blessing to the Nation.


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