Facing God

February 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

Is there anything better than a joyful reunion with someone you love? Maybe it’s an old friend you’ve lost track of over the years, or a long lost parent you’ve reconciled with that you’ve welcomed back into your life. Or maybe it’s the thrill of meeting a celebrity, or your favorite rock star, author, or rock-star author. We’ve all experienced the anticipation and excitement of that face-to-face meeting. I look forward to seeing my dad again in heaven. A grieving friend of mine recently spoke of two miscarried children she will meet in eternity. These are the reasons Christians mourn the loss of their brothers and sisters in the Lord differently than the world does.

3-bright-light-flash-xlOne Day, we will see the face of God. Take a break from this screen a moment and really think about that meeting. What do you think that will be like? Will you be thinking about your other relationships? Will you remember your joys or trials, your victories or losses? Will you laugh at or cry about the way you spent your time in this life? Or will you be lost in His gaze? Will anything else matter at that moment?

As mortal human beings, a look at God in His full glory would literally kill us. God, hidden in a pillar of cloud, answered Moses’ request to see His glory in Exodus 33:20: “No one may see me and live.” 1 Timothy 6:16 describes a God “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12 also tell us that “No one has ever seen God” except God’s Son. What about seeing God’s full glory, His “unapproachable light”, would kill us? (A bug zapper comes to mind. Well, my mind. You can decide how well that analogy fits).

Jonathan Edwards wrote: “God is arrayed with an infinite brightness, a brightness that doesn’t create pain as the light of the sun pains the eyes to behold it, but rather fills with excess of joy and delight. Indeed, no man can see God and live, because the sight of such glory would overpower nature, . . . ’tis because the joy and pleasure in beholding would be too strong for a frail nature.”

As far as a medical cause of death, we’re probably talking about cardiac arrest here, which can occur in cases of extreme pleasure. I’m certain there are other views on what aspects of God’s glory is so overwhelming, or the ways God might physically and sensorily manifest His full glory (and what a portion of that glory really looked like to Moses)—but it’s clear from Scripture that it’s simply too much for human beings to behold.

God did allow certain people to get a glimpse of Him in a subdued form. There was a cloud as mentioned above, or a pillar of fire, a burning bush, a sanitized vision or dream, an angelic messenger, and of course Jesus Christ. Jesus retained His deity but was fully man too, His glory concealed in a wrapping of humanity. He did this so that He could die in our place and so that we could relate to Him and live. Much of who God is was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, but as far as the the “unapproachable light” of God, there were only brief glimpses in Jesus (i.e. the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:2).

prayer-of-moses-after-the-israelites-go-through-the-black-sea-1861In Exodus 33, God acquiesces to Moses’ request for a taste of His glory. He gets a glimpse of His back as God passes by. This particular narrative ends before we find out how Moses’ reacted to seeing the backside (usually regarded as the worst side of anything) of God Himself, but in the next chapter “the skin of Moses’ face was shining” when he returned from the encounter (Ex. 34:29-35). Sort of a divine sunburn?

As mortal beings we can’t handle the full brunt of God’s glory, but what does a glimpse of Him typically bring? Although we don’t see Moses’ immediate reaction to seeing God’s back in Ex. 33, in the next chapter he is on his face in worship and repentence at God’s next cloud-masked appearance (Ex. 34:8-9). Other encounters with a glimpse of God in scripture reveal a similar penetant reaction. After Job heard and saw as much of God as he could handle, Job despised himself and repented immediately (Job 42:5-6). When God appeared to the prophet Isaiah in a vision, he declared “Woe is me!” as he lamented his own sin (Isaiah 6:5). Jesus’ disciple John, who walked with Jesus years earlier, saw a vision of Him in fuller (but not full) glory on the Island of Patmos and “fell at His feet as though dead.” (Rev. 1:17).

No doubt there was terror and awe in seeing just a part of God’s glory, but there is something about Him that made people want to also repent. When we are faced with God’s perfect holiness and righteousness, we can also see how far short we come to it. Repentance is an appropriate posture. This is part of what distinguishes the fear of man or monsters from a healthy fear of God (Matt. 10:28).

Francis Chan thought enough about our meeting God that he writes a great deal about it in a book that is supposed to be about marriage. On page 24 of You and Me Forever, Chan says, “Oddly, I meet very few people who think about that moment. Is it because we don’t really believe it’s going to happen? We think about upcoming vacations and imagine how much fun we will have. We think about upcoming trials and worry about how difficult they will be, Why don’t we think about seeing God for the first time?”

sunglassesThe moment we see God, no other relationship, not even our marriages, will come to mind. In fact the only relationship that matters in light of eternity is the one between you and Jesus Christ. And we could see Him at any moment. Any moment! That should change everything. Are you ready?

Everyone will see the face of God one day. We will be outside of the limitations of our physical body when we do, so we will not be able to “die” in His presence. If our sins are covered by the blood of Christ, we will be looking at the Savior. If we are still in our sin, we will be looking at our Judge. But “one day every knee will bow” (Rom. 14:11, Phil. 2:10), and we would all benefit from thinking about finally gazing upon His face. Especially if the realization of who He is (holy) and who we are (sinners) brings our repentance.

Fathers spend their time preparing for their children to leave home; our Heavenly Father is preparing a place for us to come home (John 14:3). This truth should leave with us with both hope and urgency. Our hope is the assurance that although we may be completely unraveled by the sight of our Savior’s face, He will be welcoming us home. A sense of urgency should come from the fact that many do not have this hope. The days are fleeting and we have work to do (Matt. 28:16-20).

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Cor. 13:12). Wherever you are, think long and hard about seeing the face of God, and then decide what really matters.

Should Justice Scalia’s Convictions Surprise Us? You Be the Judge

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

480px-Antonin_Scalia_official_SCOTUS_portraitA bold worldview commitment in public figures is surprising these days. At least that’s the impression I got from a recent interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by New York Magazine’s Jennifer Senior. Scalia is a committed Catholic and Senior is an Atheist (how committed is uncertain).

CONSTITUTIONAL ORIGINALISM

Early in the interview the 27-year conservative judge talks about his ‘originalist’ approach to finding meaning in the U.S. Constitution. Originalism is “the belief that the United States Constitution should be interpreted in the way the authors originally intended it.”

Interviewer: Had you already arrived at originalism as a philosophy?

Scalia: I don’t know when I came to that view. I’ve always had it, as far as I know. Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change. I mean, the notion that the Constitution should simply, by decree of the Court, mean something that it didn’t mean when the people voted for it—frankly, you should ask the other side the question! How did they ever get there?

Interviewer: But as law students, they were taught that the Constitution evolved, right? You got that same message consistently in class, yet you had other ideas.

Scalia: I am something of a contrarian, I suppose. I feel less comfortable when everybody agrees with me. I say, “I better reexamine my position!” I probably believe that the worst opinions in my court have been unanimous. Because there’s nobody on the other side pointing out all the flaws.

Interviewer: Really? So if you had the chance to have eight other justices just like you, would you not want them to be your colleagues?

Scalia: No. Just six.

Interviewer: That was a serious question!

Scalia: What I do wish is that we were in agreement on the basic question of what we think we’re doing when we interpret the Constitution. I mean, that’s sort of rudimentary. It’s sort of an embarrassment, really, that we’re not. But some people think our job is to keep it up to date, give new meaning to whatever phrases it has. And others think it’s to give it the meaning the people ratified when they adopted it. Those are quite different views.

Constitutional Originalism and Biblical Literalism are not quite the same thing. The Constitution is a man-made document prone to moral error, even though our intent was to base it on Biblical moral principals. In some rulings, Scalia at one point wishes he had a stamp that reads: “Stupid, but Constitutional.” It’s not perfect. Biblical Literalism seeks the original meaning of God’s Word, which is perfect. There is a process for changing the Constitution; there is no such process for the Bible.

Christians can relate to the common principal of the two: seeking the original intent of the author. Modern liberalism embraces relativism, attempting to operate on the self-defeating principal that there are no immutable principals. If we are going to say the Constitution has authority, we can’t interpret based on the intent of the interpreters over and against the authors, unless through ratification we become additional authors. Some may want to ratify Scripture, but the best that can be done is to disregard its authority. Actually, that’s the worst thing we can do (Genesis 3), but a secularized society is surprised when people like Scalia show a regard for authority and truth, and that meaning matters.

THE POPE’S COMMENTS ON DIVISIVE ISSUES

Interviewer: I’m not inviting you to run down the pope. But what do you think of his recent comments, that the church ought to focus less on divisive issues and more on helping the poor?

Scalia: I think he’s absolutely right. I think the church ought to be more evangelistic.

Interviewer: But he also wanted to steer its emphasis away from homosexuality and abortion.

Scalia: Yeah. But he hasn’t backed off the view of the church on those issues. He’s just saying, “Don’t spend all our time talking about that stuff. Talk about Jesus Christ and evangelize.” I think there’s no indication whatever that he’s changing doctrinally.

I spent my junior year in Switzerland. On the way back home, I spent some time in England, and I remember going to Hyde Park Corner. And there was a Roman Catholic priest in his collar, standing on a soapbox, preaching the Catholic faith and being heckled by a group. And I thought, My goodness. I thought that was admirable. I have often bemoaned the fact that the Catholic church has sort of lost that evangelistic spirit. And if this pope brings it back, all the better.

Interviewer: The one thing I did think, as he said those somewhat welcoming things to gay men and women, is, ‘Huh, this really does show how much our world has changed.’ I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change.

Scalia: I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

Interviewer: Have any of them come out to you?

Scalia: No. No. Not that I know of.

Interviewer: Has your personal attitude softened some [toward homosexuality]?

Scalia: I don’t think I’ve softened. I don’t know what you mean by softened.

Interviewer: If you talk to your grandchildren, they have different opinions from you about this, right?

Scalia: I don’t know about my grandchildren. I know about my children. I don’t think they and I differ very much. But I’m not a hater of homosexuals at all. I still think it’s Catholic teaching that it’s wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other.

Interviewer: There was something different about your DOMA opinion, I thought. It was really pungent, yes, but you seemed more focused on your colleagues’ jurisprudence. You didn’t talk about a gay lobby, or about the fact that people have the right to determine what they consider moral. In Lawrence v. Texas, you said Americans were within their rights in “protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.” 

Scalia: I would write that again. But that’s not saying that I personally think it’s destructive. Americans have a right to feel that way. They have a democratic right to do that, and if it is to change, it should change democratically, and not at the ukase [a mandate or decree] of a Supreme Court.

Interviewer: Whatever you think of the opinion, Justice ­Kennedy is now the Thurgood Marshall of gay rights. 

Scalia: [Nods.]

Interviewer: I don’t know how, by your lights, that’s going to be regarded in 50 years. 

Scalia: I don’t know either. And, frankly, I don’t care. Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it is a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.

With refreshing clarity, Scalia rightly reflects a Biblical view of homosexuality, separating the sin from the sinner, as well as that of the current law of the land: American citizens are not constitutionally obligated to accept homosexuality as normal. He is unashamed and unapologetic of this view, which is as he points out is nothing new in what the pope or his catholic church teaches. Popular opinion and the current “sea change” won’t change his conviction of unchanging truth.

HEAVEN, HELL, THE DEVIL AND JESUS

Interviewer: You believe in heaven and hell?

Scalia: Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

Interviewer: No.

Scalia: Oh, my.

Interviewer: Does that mean I’m not going?

Scalia: [Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Interviewer: Wait, to heaven or hell?

Scalia: It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

Interviewer: But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?

Scalia: Of course not!

Interviewer: Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.

Scalia: I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Interviewer: Can we talk about your drafting process—

Scalia: [Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

Interviewer: You do?

Scalia: Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Interviewer: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …

Scalia: If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Interviewer: Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?

Scalia: You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

Interviewer: No.

Scalia: It’s because he’s smart.

Interviewer: So what’s he doing now?

Scalia: What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

Interviewer: That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?

Scalia: I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Interviewer: Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?

Scalia: Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament. … He got wilier.

Interviewer: Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?

Scalia: You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

Interviewer: I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.

Religion aside (if that’s possible), even conservatism implies that there us something in our convictions worth conserving. Even progressives are conservative in this way. Here we have a Supreme Court judge frankly talking theology, and nothing new and groundbreaking at that. Scalia implies that “mainstream America” believes in the Devil, but I think that depends on which mainstream America he means. Regardless, he is relaying simple, historic Christianity. Truthfully speaking your worldview is certainly permitted and particularly Constitutional. But it’s just that kind of boldness, spoken not only on Sundays, but in the context of Scalia’s career, that Secularism finds surprising and weird.

That may be the thing about Christian worldview conviction that surprises atheists the most. From a secular viewpoint, religion is something that ought to be compartmentalized to one area of your life, if you choose to be religious at all. But committed believers like Justice Scalia and other committed believers don’t relegate religion to church on Sunday or the confines of their family gatherings. We see his candid religious honesty and boldness on the job. And not just any job, but in a very high-profile public position with the United States government, a place many feel should above all be bereft of religiosity. Scalia living out his faith in public shocks Secularists. This reveals Secularism itself as a religion, one that is practiced seven days a week by it’s devoted adherents. No doubt, if worldview matters, we will carry it with us wherever we go.

Fire Is Old News

June 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Fire has always been among the few basic elements of the universe in classical thought. Fire was part of God’s ideal creation, and in its ideal it gives light and heat to sustain life on earth (Gen. 1:14-18). But it’s also one of the oldest human fears.

We don’t know anything certain about man’s first use of it, but the earliest record of man’s exposure to fire was the “flaming sword” used to guard Adam and Eve’s re-entry into the Garden of Eden after they had sinned (Gen. 3:24).

Fire is God’s descriptive term of choice for passages about hell, Hades or Sheol—the realm of Satan and the place of eternal judgment of evil (Luke 16:19-31). Some scholars see Ezekiel 28:12-19 as at least one account of Satan’s fall from heaven to a place of consuming fire, even before human history.

Fire has a very long history as a force to be feared and respected. The headlines from Colorado are a reminder of how dangerous fire is and how powerless we are in the face of it, particularly on such a large scale. In many cases, firefighters can do little else but watch and citizens can do little else but run from it.

In Daniel 3, three Jews were sentenced to die in a fiery furnace because they refused to bow to the King of Babylon. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, with a relatively short history of faithful to go on, held by faith that their God would save them from the fire. When they were thrown into the raging flames, bystanders reported “four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed.” The fourth man looked like “a son of the gods.” (Dan. 3:25)

God’s son Jesus came to earth and endured the fire of the cross for us so that we could escape the fires of righteous judgment. The fire we endure in a world cursed by sin is not fire that those who know Christ go through alone. Someone walks through it with us.

Even in the presence of a threat as old as the hills that now burn, we are not outside of God’s protection. As small as these Colorado wildfires make us feel, when we pray for our neighbors in Colorado, we are praying to a God who is bigger and older than the flames trying to consume it.

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