Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Glory-maker (overcoming the flesh, part deux)

Paul was convinced that God put His glory in everything He made, which was a very Jewish way of looking at creation. A good God created everything and declared it was good—everything in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. Evil does not exist by its own will. Evil cannot create anything. The only way evil can exist is to pervert what God has made. Paul’s pagan neighbors, on the other hand, didn’t see it that way. Some things exist because evil powers have created them. Good gods and evil gods were locked in eternal battle over dominion of the whole world. Evil gods created sinister beings for their purposes; good gods created flawed humans for their purposes. Therefore, Greeks and Romans believed this cosmic battle between the forces of evil and good would never end. So, what are we to do? What is our human fate? Some sought the virtuous life to overcome the destructive vices of the flesh. Others gave into the human condition: eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.

This put Paul in a difficult spot with his pagan converts. Who could be opposed to the virtuous life? Wisdom, honor, self-control, and fortitude were desirable qualities, especially when overcoming human depravity. But Paul believed there was a higher power. Who could deny the simplest of human pleasures? Eating and drinking were as much a part of the good life as any other noble pursuit. But Paul believed in a higher purpose. In fact, whenever Paul tried to expose the impotence of virtue (man can’t save himself!), he appeared to support the revelers. And, every time he tried to rein in the epicureans (all things are not profitable!), the moralists were vindicated. The problem, of course, was that Paul didn’t share the dualistic “worldview” of his converts. He believed that God made everything good, and that baser appetites can fulfill evil purposes. Of course, he got both ideas from the foundational story of Israel’s faith—creation and the fall of man (Gen. 1:1-3:24).

Creation reflects God’s glory. The art reveals the artist. Since humans are made in His image, they are able to reflect His glory in what is seen and heard. In other words, the way Paul and his Jewish kinsmen saw it, human capacity to see the glory of creation is a divine attribute—we are able to see God in what He has made because we are made in His image. God creates because He is creator. Creation is beautiful because God is beauty. Therefore, whatever He creates is embedded with His glory. Why did He do it? Because He is good, He couldn’t help but create what is good. Even God reflected on the glory of creation with the affirmation, “this is good.” After six days, God marked the seventh day for reflection—a time when all creation would reflect the glory of God by glorifying God. That is to say, God put His glory in everything so that we would seek to know the Glory-maker, worship the Creator of all things, glorify the God in whose image we are made.

This is why we are inspired by magnificent sunsets. This is why we are enchanted by the animal kingdom. This is why an overwhelming joy comes to first-time parents when they hold their newborn baby in their arms. This is why weddings are happy occasions. This is why the simple act of sharing table with friends makes time stand still. This is why food tastes good. God put His glory in everything He created, invented, planned, and shared. He thought that we, after taking in such glorious sites and sounds—waterfalls crashing, mountains imposing, birds migrating, puppy dogs playing, children laughing, lovers cuddling, friendships lasting—that we would want to know the One who made life so glorious. We were supposed to “taste and see that the LORD is good.” He did this. He made this. He shared this. This breath-taking, inspiration-making, mouth gaping open-celebrating of life we’ve been freely given by a very generous God—because of this grace—it was all supposed to compel us to give Him glory, recognizing the source of every good gift. He knew we would need to give Him glory because He is a glorious God.

This may sound crass, but that’s why God made sex feel so good. The joy of sex between a husband and wife should compel them to say, “thank God.” Indeed, God created us to reflect Him when we create so that we would find our purpose in glorifying God. Even though we know “where babies come from,” all of us know God is the One who gives life. I didn’t become a father because of sex. God, my heavenly father, made me a father. I knew that better than anyone the day Andrew, Emma, and Grace were born. Giddy with the pure joy of God-given life (in all three cases, I did some pretty strange things, like ordering a whopper late at night in the drive through at McDonalds. My stupid grin convinced the attendant I was playing a joke. All I said was, “I’m sorry. My daughter was born a few hours ago.” Then I giggled and drove off. I kept laughing even as I scarfed down the burger at midnight). Indeed, God made food taste good so that we would use the same tongues to give glory to a God who shared his power with us—to get dominion over the whole earth, planting gardens, drinking wine, sharing the bounty of what God has made. In celebrating life we are giving glory to God.

But, here’s where we’ve missed the whole point. Made just enough in His image—we are powerful creatures—we tend to believe all of this comes from us. We create children. We make our own food. We dominate the world. We seek our own glory. We think we’re god. The Bible calls this “idolatry,” and we’re eaten up with it.


Darryl Schafer said...

Good stuff. As always.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these posts. When I finally began to recognize all the "graces" in life, it helped me so much. It is the key to contentment. And you are right, it is designed to bring us back to the realization that it is all from Him.

Even through the very difficult times of this past year, He has allowed us to experience His grace that reflects who He is and how He loves us. I think it makes us love this earth less even though there is joy in it. It puts our focus on the giver of the gifts rather than just the gifts - a reminder that it's not us! Thanks for posting so that we can still be blessed and challenged by you!

By the way, I'm writing to you as Robbie is out on a bike ride! Talk about grace!

Rev. Spike said...

It astounds me that some consider that pantheism. I am often reminded of Quohelet's appraisal that when a man sits down for a steak that is God's gift to him (5:19, 9:7).

We easily see GOd in the spectacular, but forget that the undewhelming aspects of life are from His hand as well.

It all points us to Him.

I suppose the job of pastors and professors (and believers in general) is to point them to the "Fount of Every Blessing".

Thanks for the encouragement.

jesnicole said...

Dr. Reeves, I always learn from your writings.

Yesterday Dylan asked me, "So, Mommy, if God created everything, did He create all the bad things, too?".......All I could think of to answer his question was,
"No, baby. God created everything and called it good!! We are the ones who take something good and make it bad."

He's a deep thinker. Haha.