DEEPER HOPE

Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

I did not grow up a church-boy. After becoming a Christian I wandered through backyard Bible studies, late night prayer meetings in odd places, and lived my Christian life among strange, semi-cultic fellowships of networked home churches. I was baptized by a college kid, who dunked me into a suburban swimming pool just after midnight. One of the people who got baptized that night shouted, “Hold me under a long time--I’ve got a lot to die for!”

I must have been 25 years old before I ever saw a proper church baptism. When I did, I was fascinated with the phrase repeated over and over again, “Arise to walk in newness of life.” The words rang with freshness and truth. They also sounded vaguely familiar, so I used my New American Standard Bible and tracked down the words to Romans, chapter 6: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

It’s an amazing assertion: that the born-again experience produced an entirely new creation, a new order of being. My amazement, though, gave way to an observation: these words were too good to be true. Most of us gently changed the meaning to something easier to grasp. “I’ve been clean-up by God,” or, “My sins have been washed away,” or, ”My past has been forgiven.” All these things are true, but they are something very different from a new creation. Eventually I began to wonder, what good is it to have your past forgiven, if you are essentially the same person? When someone is only forgiven--merely forgiven--the recidivism rate for sin is sure to be 100%. We will do it again.

But imagine a new creature, something--someone--born from another realm, with different desires, different needs. Someone who feeds on different food, breathes different air, and drinks from an entirely different fountain. Imagine that the change is wrought inside-out, so that the outer appearance is unchanged, but the spiritual body chemistry is other-worldly. What if we could be redeemed versions of the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers?

It’s worth meditation: what if newness of life actually meant a life of another kind? But that would be too weird, right?

I Like To Hide

Let me share with you the deepest and most beautiful problem I have ever faced. Approaching this challenge has filled me with vulnerability and risk. Working through this wonderful problem has yielded life and peace.

I like to hide. You won’t hear what I’m thinking right away. Some thoughts you will never hear. I craft the image I want you to see, and live in fear you will see through the hologram I offer. Hidden in my deepest space is the driving fear, if you really knew me, you wouldn’t like what you see. You may tell me you admire transparency, but I know the truth: you will be repulsed if I let you in all the way. And yet, this is not the problem.

The problem is: the one who knows me best loves me the most. God. God is the problem; all my defenses are useless before him. And it fills me with terror.

Enough about me. Other people have had this problem. David, the forgotten-shepherd-boy-turned-king, had the same fears:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:1-6)

It is no surprise to me that David wants to run: in verse seven he asks the same question I would ask:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?

By the end of the Psalm David presents the fruit of his struggle. He surrenders. God wins, and David opens the secret places to the One who has already been there all along:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

David invites the Creator into the violent places hidden deep within his heart. In these places God will discover David’s longings, lusts, and insecurities as well. Am I willing to make the same invitation?

And this is only half the problem. Because the Great Invader of my most secret places—the very God who is holy, holy, holy—loves me despite the tempest raging in my secret place. Not only has God not been fooled by the hologram I have perfected, he loves the confused mess that is the reality of my heart. And I hate this. His love, too, causes me to want to run.

In my pride I resent that there is someone so great, so kind, so condescending as to look beyond my faults. In my shame I writhe under the pain caused by the fact his love for me is greater than my self-love—not only greater, but deeper, more pure, and altogether clean. My insecurities tempt me to reduce the Heavenly Father’s eternal love to just another human love that will disappoint in the end.

You’re asking, “What could be so wrong with being loved?” Yet this is precisely where the challenge lives. Do I dare believe such love exists, and that I am the focus of such love? To make peace with this invasive love means the end of my pride, my self-love, my shame and my insecurities. It means (as I said at the beginning) risk and vulnerability because it means absolute surrender to the Other.

If you’ve never tried to work through the implications of being loved perfectly, you have a journey yet to take. Anyone can accept a gift—even eternal life—without receiving perfect love. The discovery of the Father’s boundless love is an invitation to strip away every other crutch we use to prop up our self worth. Submitting to perfect love means we lose ourselves in him. Are you ready for that kind of loss? Our pride, the shame to which we cling, and our insecurities all whisper, “Take Care! You can never return if you start down this road.”

And they are right.

Discipled By The Resurrection

From Gandalf the Grey to Harry the Potter, resurrection is all the rage. Anyone can do it, as long as you’re a fictional character.
 
Reality is another matter: God became man: daring, but commonplace among the gods of the ancient world. God suffered the shame and agony of a torturous death: more scandalous, because when the gods become men they usually stack the deck in their favor. But God--risen from the dead? Still fully Man and fully God? That’s off the charts.
 
There is a Man seated on the throne of heaven: born of a woman, toiled in sweat, bled and died, risen in body, seated on the throne, and still human, always divine. God begot himself, and he sits enthroned, surrounded by humanity worshipping the image of God in a Man, because that Man is God.
 
Not everyone thinks so. Consider theologian Marcus Borg: What would it mean to say that the risen Jesus is a physical/bodily reality? That he continues to be a molecular, protoplasmic, corpuscular being existing somewhere? Does that make any sense? How can the risen and living Jesus be all around us and with us, present everywhere, if he is bodily and physical?” I’m not fit to carry Dr. Borg’s theology books, but yes, Marcus, it makes sense to me.
 
Perhaps you’ve never taken time to consider the possibility: there’s a Man on the throne of heaven because a Man was raised from the dead. He is the Last Adam and the firstborn over all creation. He completes the work of creation in the Garden, and begins the work of the New Creation, anticipating the day when there is a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, filled with people, each born of woman, each worshipping their Older Brother. This means that Easter is not only about the Father has done in Jesus Christ, it is also about what awaits us.
 
The Apostle Paul riffs on this very idea in First Corinthians: 
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. ~ 1 Corinthians 15: 20-22

Anticipating Mr. T by nineteen centuries, Paul pities the fool who only follows Jesus in this life, without hope for a life to come--a literal, physical, “corpuscular” life in the next age. He assures us that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not only Jesus’ victory over sin and death, but also the Father’s promise that we, too, will be raised up in the same manner as Jesus: that is, in a corpuscular body. (In my disagreement with Marcus Borg I’m grateful that he has taught me a new word. I learned, too, that some of us are more corpuscular than others. And it’s fun to say. Try it: “corpuscular.”)

In this resurrection chapter Paul teaches us that every kind of body has a “splendor.” Animals, birds, fish, and men had splendorous bodies. But the world has only gotten a short preview of the most splendorous body of all: the body of  Jesus, the risen Lord. It is an amphibious body, capable of operating in this age and the age to come. The body of the risen Jesus could walk, talk, eat, and drink, yet it was not constrained by bothersome things such as doors and locks. The body of the risen Jesus was frightening, beautiful, and strangely unrecognizable--until he spoke your name or broke the bread of life, after which you wonder why you didn’t know it was him from the start. It is a body that can be seen with human eyes, hugged by human arms and touched with human hands.
 
The body of the risen Jesus exerts dominion over sickness and death, yet strangely bears the scars of its earlier existence. I have marveled at this for decades: the Father raised the body of Jesus to life, but chose to leave the scars of crucifixion in place. It tells me that we will carry the memories of our suffering from the past into our resurrected life, but the pain will be gone. In fact, the scars will become part of our testimony to the greatness of God. There is hope for every suffering person that their pain will be fuel to burn with testimony for Jesus.
 
Paul tells us that the good news of the Resurrection is first about Jesus and the glory of God, but that good news teaches us that we, too, will have a splendor and glory of our own, which we can offer to him in the age to come.

The Hard Work of Inspiration

Storytellers, poets, songwriters, historians, correspondents, legal scholars, apocalyptic dreamers. Perhaps it’s blindingly obvious: the books of the Bible were written by . . . writers. The Holy Spirit breathed upon each one, opened their hearts and ears and eyes to the spiritual realities around them. But they were still writers. They struggled to capture the inspired moment of clarity and present a finished work capable of blessing generations to come.

Peter described it this way: “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10-11) Even though the Spirit was their guide, they searched intently. It was an inspired collaboration.

The prophet Habakkuk (that discontent whining wondering man who in turn inspired the Apostle Paul) recorded the process of capturing a flash of divine inspiration. Although the scripture is complete, inspiration still flashes today. Since we carry the inspired good news, Habakkuk’s words are a lesson for us as well:

"I will stand at my watch 
and station myself on the ramparts; 
I will look to see what he will say to me,
 and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the Lord replied: 
 Write down the revelation
 and make it plain on tablets
 so that a herald may run with it. 
 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; 
it speaks of the end 
and will not prove false. 
Though it linger, wait for it; 
 it will certainly come
 and will not delay." (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

Here are four observations capable of making us partners with the Spirit’s inspiration:

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts . . .” We ourselves create the space to receive revelation. Habakkuk purposefully took up the position of watchman: he was alone and vigilant, eager and confident that the Lord would speak to him. He was not disappointed; he had prepared himself for when the moment came. When we create space for the Spirit to come, he willingly accepts the invitation.

Make it plain . . . “ God favors clarity. Beauty and art flow from inspiration, but we must make it plain. Our part is the clear expression of what he illuminates. There is a time to scatter rose petals among our words, but first comes content. Our words should carry a meaning clear enough that others may run with the message.

The revelation awaits an appointed time . . .” Even revelation requires timing. Strangely, the appointed time is seldom in the heat of battle. When social debate rages back and forth in public media we are exposed to the heat of passion, but not much light. The prophets spoke to their day, but the prophetic message carried eternal weight. Neither human emotion nor intellect equal divine revelation; it comes only from God, and it requires his timing.

Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come . . .” That's right: wait for it. Habakkuk stationed himself. He also waited. In the rush to say something important we often miss the opportunity to hear something eternal. Waiting is the discipline of writers who speak to generations. You can speak to the moment or you can speak to the ages; you can rarely do both.

I believe in the inspiration of the scripture, but I don’t believe the Holy Spirit used robots to mouth his words. We have a role to play, a role that compliments the word of the Spirit. Habakkuk shows us how it’s done.

Check Jesus at the Door, Please

A while back my friend attended a Christian university. He needed to fulfill a general education requirement in the social sciences, so he signed up to take a psychology course called “Mental Disorders.” Since it was a Christian Liberal Arts school he expected some consideration of the Christian view of the human psyche, but the very first day in class set him straight. “There are certain psychological problems,” the professor intoned, “That cannot be fixed by prayer. That’s what we will be talking about.” Prayer, Christianity, faith, the Bible, or Jesus were never mentioned again during the semester. In effect the professor said: “Enough with Christianity, let’s get down to how things really work.”

Poor Jesus. Each day, at workplaces all across North America, he gets checked at the door. I’ve begun to imagine high-rise office buildings where Christians can stash Jesus in the lobby cloakroom before getting on the elevator and heading up to their law offices, accounting practices, engineering firms, insurance companies, and investment bullpens.

In his essay, Jesus the Logician, Dallas Willard points out the separation between Jesus and the real world:

“There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron . . . How could we be his disciples at our work, take him seriously as our teacher there, if when we enter our fields of technical or professional competence we must leave him at the door?”

What about it? Is he the smartest guy ever, or what? And if he’s so smart, why wouldn’t he have something to say about how to get the job done? Yes, we nod and sigh: Jesus can remind us to tell the truth and be kind to small animals, but what does he know about estimating the raw materials required for this construction site?

But what if Dallas Willard is right? What if Jesus was—and is—the smartest guy ever? What will he say to us in the everyday stuff of life? Was the Apostle Paul merely engaging in flowery speech when spoke of Jesus, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3)?

The calling of a disciple is to make life application in Christ. Jesus was a carpenter, true—but what if he was a doctor? Jesus is looking for someone today to demonstrate the answer. What if Jesus was a marketing executive? Or a car salesman? Or a wife and mother? These are no idle questions. They go to the heart of our life in Christ and our calling to put him on display in the human situation. When my friend’s (Christian) psychology professor exempted the life of God from consideration of the human psyche, that professor set a course to ignore the surest reality in the field of psychology. Willard recommends the Christian faith because it helps you integrate with reality. After all, who created the human psyche?

This issue is significant for individual Christians but also for the church at large. Christian books pour forth daily, dealing with every conceivable life issue: marriage, family, business, personal discipline. Many of these well-meaning treatments look to “the latest” results of research, science or technology and attempt to baptize secular learning with Biblical window-dressing. If, in fact, all the treasures and wisdom of this age are hidden in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:3), shouldn’t he be the first place we look? Why do we turn to “objective” sources of research or academia only to apply a Christian wrapping paper after coming to our conclusions?

How can we make life-application in Christ? How can we discover the hidden treasures of wisdom in him?

§ Recognize Jesus the Wellspring: Jesus is our model. Not a “spiritual model,” or an “ethical model.” He is simply the source of all wisdom and knowledge. Those who recognize the Source will turn to him first and ask for revelation from him before examining other sources.

§ Trust the Biblical record: The downside of Biblical scholarship in our age has been distrust of the scripture’s inspiration. To recognize the God-breathed nature of the Bible does not limit the text to one and only one meaning, but instead opens it up to the possibility that the infinitely intelligent and creative God has placed more and more in the Bible for us to discover.

§ Look for the Living, Resurrected Lord: Jesus, the smartest guy who ever lived, is alive today. Not only alive, he is accessible: he promised that he shows up whenever two or three get together in his name. He—and his wisdom—are not remote. His treasure-trove of wisdom and knowledge is, among other things, mediated by his Spirit and found in the communion of the believers who assemble in his keeping.

§ Look for His witness in so-called “secular” wisdom: Proverbs depict Jesus as the Wisdom of God, dancing daily in the Father’s sight, rejoicing in the creation of the world (Proverbs 8). Jesus is Lady Wisdom in the marketplace. Jesus, the wisdom of God, delights in the Father’s creative genius whether that genius is discovered in worship or in Wall Street.

What we must not do is check Jesus at the door. He is, in fact, the Wellspring of wisdom and truth beyond our imaginations.