Thursday, August 08, 2013

“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth?"


It's common today to think that either there isn't a God, if there is then that God wouldn't want to be in relationship with us and certainly not be involved in anything dirty and physical...  and hence Richard Dawkins ridicules the idea of a god interested in what we do with our genitals.

GOD with HUMANITY on EARTH.

This kind of God whose story the Bible tells. A God who is irrevocably interested in living with people on this earth.

It's the thread running through the opening chapters of the Bible, chapters that are often considered controversial because they clash with scientific inquiry (I'm not sure they do particularly), tell a story of the God who forms and fills a Temple for himself - the land/earth... in which he wants to live with his people. The story builds as he spreads goodness around and creates a life filled place, puts man to work in a temple-garden at the centre of it. Then in Genesis 3v8 God himself, the Word of the LORD, comes walking on earth.

And so the story unfolds as this God continually seeks to live with people, even though the world has fallen and been frustrated, evil spreads where goodness should. But, those who walk with the LORD have the opportunity to join God in the renewal of all things... (the following are hardly distinct categories...),
  • As they rejoice in the good things, making music and enjoying the colours and tastes of the world, educators and artists and writers and musicians and coffee drinkers... fascinated people who know that everything is interesting. We need education, formation, that can stretch our imagination and cultivate creativity.
  • To resist the decay and curse and frustration, dentists, midwives and bin men, town planners... big-hearted people who ensure that though everything is tainted by sin this isn't the worst of all worlds.
  • And as they recognise the image of God in people and treat them well, those in the service and hospitality industries, psychologists, happy people who sell from call centres, entrepreneurs and manufacturers who enhance the quality of life. 
OneLife suggest seven spheres of life: Arts and entertainment, Business, Education, Family, Government, Media and Religion.

I long to see University students with a huge vision of the life ahead of them and the study they're doing. And to see church youth work inspiring teenagers to study the world and arrive at University with holy ambition to join in the renewal of the world. I appreciate I'm not expert in youth work and that it's a struggle enough just to get teens to church and hit some basic holy living... but perhaps the thing is to aim higher and wider? In the same way that a church that makes a big deal of global mission tends to be better at reaching it's own city, those with a large vision of life might hit the "basics" more. Something generous there, something God-shaped.

Dorothy Sayers resonates: How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?

Few become world-changers but all can have an effect in their sphere of influence, wherever it may be - at home, with family and neighbours, at work...

All of them impacting lives and intriguing those they meet to ask for the reason for the hope that they have. Sadly they often fail, showing that not only the world as a whole but each and every person who lives here need to be renewed by the God who seeks us.

It's worth noting here that the essence of walking with the LORD then isn't just private piety and avoiding certain taboo sins, but it's a positive direction of life that is fully engaged in this world, that makes time for people and politics, that values work as good and important. That doesn't just teach teenage boys to avoid p0rn but does so by envisioning them with a high view of people made in God's image to be served and honoured rather than objectified and showing them that there is so much in this world to captivate them that's better than a few pixels on a screen. And it extends to think of ministry as what church ministers equip the church to do, not so much what the ministers themselves do, that wont retreat from the public square but can't help but having a bearing on all of life.

Famously, the newly converted William Wilberforce asked his vicar friend John Newton (former slave trader of Amazing Grace writing fame) whether he should leave politics and become a pastor. Newton insisted he stay in the workplace and we live in the good of that. Some are called out to equip others, but the Biblical norm is for people to stay right where they are, though almost inevitably those who follow Jesus tend to become more upwardly mobile as they catch a bigger vision of life, of people, of work (though in a broken world some will equally fall back because they wont compromise and wont act unjustly.)

There's a global temple to be built, and it was foreshadowed three thousand years ago and King Solomon completed a major construction project in Jerusalem. He built a model of the world which showed how God and man can dwell together, and the world was intrigued and came to see. Anguished and hopeful he asked if it was really possible that God and humanity might live together on this earth! (2 Chronicles 6:18) And it is and it was. For a time, until Solmon's people persisted in ruining themselves and others rather than letting rivers of life flow from this micro-temple to renew the rest of the world. God moved out and kicked them out of the land. And the land breathed a sigh of relief.

"Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood?"

In Roman occupied First Century Palestine, the Word again walked on earth - as he had on many previous occasions - this time in a physical body, as one of Adam's helpless race - up close and personal with us.

God with bones and blood. With taste and sight. A beating heart and dusty feet. With eyes to see the beauty of landscapes and buildings and art and people. With ears to hear music and a mouth to join in the song.

God come to once and for all put the fallen world to death and begin a resurrection culture, a new humanity led by him. Subsequently he sent the Holy Spirit to live in people in every culture and ethnicity who can join him in the renewal of all things. 

A project that will finally be completed when he at last returns to make the whole of creation his temple as it was meant to be, and in a sense there will then be no Temple because the dwelling of God will be with man forever on earth....  ensuring that this world isn't just a house but a home, a grand design. Til then this is a good place to live, forming and filling, spreading goodness, to make a home in which God and humanity can live.

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