Monday, August 31, 2015

Only God Reveals God's Mission

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” —Hebrews 1:3

God is only known by us if God himself reveals himself to us. I do not have the ability to see God rightly from within the way that I see the world. Left to myself, I am stuck in a closed loop, like a race car perpetually racing around the same track. Every new thought, every new perception is simply an incremental advance upon what is already known.

In other words, when it comes to God and my understanding of God, my "looped" way limits, dulls and even prevents me from seeing what God is really like. Therefore I project my experience in my loop of life upon God. I cannot not do this.

This has in fact shaped much of the history of various conceptions of god. We need not go beyond Greek mythology to see how the gods were projections from life that we can experience on earth onto the life that could not be experienced. The experience of earth was cast upon the experience of heaven, just in a supposedly perfected way. If life experienced in a human culture deems power to be of utmost importance, then god is a perfection or ultimate expression of that power. And if the ultimate power in the land looks like a violent monarch who gets his way by inflicting fear, then ultimate power of the universe is simply a perfected version of such a monarch.

This approach to understanding God has continued in many different streams of thought, even within Christianity. We could talk in terms of systematic theology, but I'd like to explore this in terms of our spiritual theology. We read the Bible and see that God is called Father. For some this is a good thing because they have or had good, faithful fathers. For many others, however, this is a hopeless expression. The name Father does not stir up positive images. Their experience here on earth has looped them into a perpetually limited understanding of what it means for God to be Father.

Only if God redefines Father according to the way that the Father is Father can we understand who God the Father is. Only if God breaks into our loop from the outside can we see God for who God is. This applies to both those with good earthly fathers and those with horrible father experiences. God's Fatherhood is analogous to faithful fatherhood in this life, but it is as different as life on the moon would be from life on earth.

Only when something outside this closed loop of earth enters into that loop and introduces a new way can we catch a glimpse of God's way of being God.

When we dive into the truth that only God can reveal God—as the Church Father, Hilary put it, "God cannot be apprehended except through himself"—then we see that we are not left to ourselves to figure out who God is. Jesus broke into our looped way of thinking about God to set us on a new course. As the "exact representation of [God's] being," we must allow the image of Jesus to be burned into our imaginations.

This applies to God's mission and our participation in God's mission as much as anything else. We are not left to ourselves to figure out God's mission in the world. 

The work of the mission of Jesus was a revelation that broke into the looped life of this world. Jesus broke into the Jewish world of messianic expectations. The Christ was the Jewish Messiah, the one who would deliver the Jews from foreign oppression by driving out the Romans, rebuild Jerusalem to it's royal glory and restore the majesty of the Temple. In other words, the Messiah would be the greatest of all rulers in the world as defined by worldly rulers.

But that's not the way God entered into the loop. God came in weakness, as a servant of all servants, revealing true power, demonstrating the surprising impact of love, and turning the world up on its end.

The way that God works in the world can only be revealed by God. The work of God today does not, cannot and must not diverge from the way of the work of Jesus.

God defines what the work of God looks like. The work of God today does not, cannot and must diverge from the way of the work of Jesus looked two thousand years ago. It's far too easy for us to say that God worked through Jesus in that way then but he is leading us to do the work of God in a different way now.

The work of Jesus then is a marker, a paradigm definer, of what the mission of God looks like today. Left to ourselves we will project out good ideas of mission upon what we think God wants us to do. We will try to do God's mission within the loop of our life experience. 

I want to explore this more. I just wonder how much of the conversation about the mission of the church has been shaped by this looped life experience. How much are we "doing" mission without God revealing his mission? 

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