Why doubt that body shall rise again from body? Grain is sown, grain comes up again: fruit is sown, fruit comes up again; but the grain is clothed with blossom and husk. "And this mortal must put on immortality, and this corruptible must put on incorruption." The blossom of the resurrection is immortality, the blossom of the resurrection is incorruption. For what is more fruitful than perpetual rest? what supplied with richer store than everlasting security? Here is that abundant fruit, by whose increase man's nature shoots forth more abundantly after death.
Ambrose, 337-397 AD, On Belief in the Resurrection, Book II, 54 (translated by Rev. H. De Romestin, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. X, p. 182)
What does it mean that the resurrected body is as plant to seed? How does this affect our understanding of it?
I have mentioned before that the civil law has only limited ability to effect change. Martin Luther likened it to a muzzle on a wild beast. It cannot change the nature of the beast, but it keeps it from biting you. But we do need to inquire regarding the spirit with which the civil law should be enforced. There are those who favor strict enforcement and making sure every criminal is severely punished. There are others who seem opposed to punishing anyone, frequently based on the idea that none of us are really responsible for our actions but are slaves of our environment. I am not convinced either of these represents a Christian point of view.
There is need for governments to enforce laws (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13,14; Deuteronomy 25:1). But God is a God of mercy and requires us to show mercy (James 2:13; 1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Samuel 14:14). Also, we must remember that we are ourselves sinners and should not look down on others (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Further, while no human court is perfect, we need to make every effort to avoid condemning the innocent (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15-19; Exodus 23:6). This can often be a difficult balance to reach, but we must make the effort.
There are some perspectives that can help us avoid the extremes. We need to start by believing people are responsible for their actions. As C. S. Lewis wrote, while it might seem to be more merciful to see people as not responsible for their actions, it ends up changing them from human beings to be held to account into mere cases to be worked on. And it can result in people being imprisoned until those in charge conclude they are cured. I am not against doing what can be done to rehabilitate prisoners and help them be integrated back into society. But we must remember that people have wills and cannot be forced to change against them. Even worse is seeing punishment only as deterrence. This can lead to making punishment extreme in order to deter. I do believe just punishment can serve a deterrent function. But seeing this as the only function leads to extreme overkill. The protection of society is also legitimate, in its context. But taking it as the sole purpose leads to the same extremes. If my only goal is protection of society, then why not leave people imprisoned for as long as possible to protect others from them? I am convinced the only appropriate basis for punishment is justice tempered by mercy. For if people do not deserve it, how go we justify punishing them at all? And if there is no idea of desert involved, what is to prevent the government from interfering with the life of any person at any time, even if they have done nothing to deserve it.
Peace, like joy, is a fruit of the Spirit that is generally considered as desirable by all. It also, like joy, is something that can, if taken the wrong way, be a source of guilt and discouragement. If I become convinced that I must have some perfect state of tranquility and that if I do not, I am not following Christ, it can lead to a state of mind that is anything but peaceful. True peace of mind is therefore rooted in peace with God, knowing we are saved by Him and He hears our prayers (Romans 5:1,2; Colossians 1:20; Philippians 4:6,7). This results in our being able to grow into a peace that is not artificial or worked up, but flows out of knowing God and who He is (John 14:27; 16:33; Romans 14:17). And based on that, we are able to be those who make peace with others (Romans 14:19; Ephesians 2:14-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:13). Now not everything that appears to be peace necessarily is the peace of God (Ezekiel 13:10; Matthew 10:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:3). But we should be those who make every effort to cultivate peace (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; Ephesians 4:3). And this flows from having peace in ourselves so we are not constantly looking to others to provide the peace that can only be found in Christ. For these expectations become fuel for fights and quarrels (James 4:1-3; Galatians 5:15; Philippians 2:1-11).
Scripture pictures the spiritual life as walking, putting one foot ahead of the other (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:15; Romans 6:4). The Christian life is also pictured as a race (Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 2:5), a battle (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Timothy 2:3,4; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6), an exercise regimen (1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:14; 1 Corinthians 9:27). This implies a long process of growth, where we have not yet arrived at who we should be (Philippians 3:12-16; 1:6; 1 John 1:8-10). But nonetheless, we are not to remain infants, but press on toward growth in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-13; 1 Peter 2:1,2). We are therefore left with the picture of a gradual, sometimes halting, progress from who we are to who we will be.
This must be seen from the perspective that those who have put their faith in Christ have been declared righteous before God based on Christ's work (Romans 3:21,22; 8:32,33; Titus 3:5,6). Also, Christ has promised to bring us victorious through this world to dwell with Him forever (Romans 3:87; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 5:11-13). But even now we have God working in us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:3; Philippians 2:13), though it is not always an easy or a quick process. Nor is this is something we tackle alone but with the help of others in our life (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Galatians 6:1-5), for we are part of a larger body (Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 2:19; Romans 12:4,5).
What I am left with, after all this is considered, is a long trek through life in pursuit of becoming like Christ. I am left with a reluctance either to sit in judgment on or too highly commend myself or others (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12). There is still room for the correction that I (Proverbs 28:13; Psalms 19:12,13; 139:23,24) and others (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Matthew 18:15) need. All of this is done with the realization I still have a long way to go. Also, I am able to deal with things one step at a time. I do not have to fool myself into believing I have attained near perfection. I can deal with each issue on the issues involved rather than being forced to use some one-size-fits-all spiritual gimmick. And when I fail, I can get back up and into the fight rather than being devastated by every setback. I can continue in spite of repeated failures, trusting in the power of God to ultimately pull me through. For it is only as we see who we really are that we can begin to change.
For in no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man. For no other being had the power of revealing to us the things of the Father, except His own proper Word. For what other person “knew the mind of the Lord,” or who else “has become His counsellor?” Again, we could have learned in no other way than by seeing our Teacher, and hearing His voice with our own ears, that, having become imitators of His works as well as doers of His words, we may have communion with Him, receiving increase from the perfect One, and from Him who is prior to all creation.
Irenaeus, 125-202 AD, Against All Heresies, Book V, Chapter I, 1, (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Phillip Schaff, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001, p.764)
Is this the right attitude toward Jesus Christ? How does it affect our lives?
There is a step that goes even beyond positive thinking. It is the idea that the universe is absurd, but I can define what is true for me. Related to this is the idea that the universe is absurd, but we need to choose something, regardless of what it is, or somehow define ourselves. While positive thinking claims to be able to restructure the world to fit our will, this claims there is nothing meaningful to restructure, but I am going to believe there is anyway. It is more of a game of let's pretend. But I am forced to ask, if the universe is absurd, what difference does it make what is true for me or if I choose something? And I can no more define myself than I can pull myself up by my bootstraps when my boots do not exist. A related idea is that the universe is absurd, but we must face it bravely. But if the universe is absurd, what difference does it make if I face it bravely or cowering in the corner?
The truth is, this wants to sneak truth and even morality in the backdoor. For if the universe is completely absurd, then the words "true for me," "choose," "define yourself," and "courage" are mere empty syllables. And I am forced to ask, if the universe is absurd, why does it seem to make sense? Now I want to be careful about about what I mean by "make sense." I am not making any claim to be able to understand everything or see the total overarching purpose. Much less am I claiming to be able to explain all pain and suffering. Rather, I am claiming it makes sense on the most basic level. That I can put letters on this page and you can understand them. That 2 + 2 = 4 and that I am currently sitting in Salt Lake City, Utah. It any of these things is true, then the universe is not absolutely absurd. And if no such things are true, then any thought or action is simply meaningless. As for pain and suffering, to even define them implies a clear concept of truth and even of morality. So if pain and suffering exist, the universe cannot be completely absurd in the sense required here. The truth is, if the universe is meaningless, we are unable to distinguish between any of these things. And therefore we must conclude that whatever the universe is like, it is not this.
I have found that one of the great road blocks to real community among Christians is unrealistic expectations. We want to find a perfect or community to be part of. Now God does call us to cultivate community (Hebrews 10:24,25; Philippians 2:1,2; Colossians 3:12-14). But we must remember we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) saved by God's grace (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). Also, while God is at work within us to change us, we are still people in process and have a long way to go to reach perfection (Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18). And unrealistic expectations can be the greatest destroyer of community. So we need to help each other along, rather than standing in judgment when people fall short of perfection (Hebrews 12:12,13; Romans 15:1,2; Galatians 6:1-5). For we all still have a long way to go.
If the idea of an apologist has become dubious in recent times, the idea of a contender for the faith has fallen into even more disrepute. Such a person is frequently characterized, whether fairly or unfairly, as a heresy-hunter. Often there have been those who have gone overboard, being caustic and critical and arguing over minor details. But there is a clear basis in Scripture for dealing with those in doctrinal error, though with an attitude of gentleness (Jude 3; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; Romans 16:17). And if the Christian faith means anything that someone wants it to mean, it will soon mean nothing.
Irenaeus is an early example of someone fulfilling this function, though there were earlier people, including the apostles, who were involved in this. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. He goes through the various doctrinal contentions of his time and speaks in response to them. He is not caustic, though he is occasionally pointed. He shows evidence of trying to carefully study and understand those he was speaking against. (It may be argued whether he represented them completely fairly. It is difficult to tell at this point. But he did try to understand where they came from.) He also does not argue over minor issues and defends Polycarp, who opposed Victor, bishop of Rome, because he wanted to legislate the date of Easter.
Irenaeus strongly argues for the truth that Jesus was both God and Man against those who would deny it. In upholding this, he overdid a few things, such as claiming that Jesus must have died as an old man to identify with humans of every age. It is claimed he held unusual ideas regarding the atonement, but I believe this is reading in, though it was unclear in his time whether the ransom should be considered as paid to God or Satan. He defends there being only four genuine gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and gives a detailed description of their content and those of the books of Acts and Romans. He also mentions other New Testament books as authoritative. I am convinced his great error came from trying to make things simple, especially for the unlearned. He argued that the faith had been passed down from the apostles, and therefore the faith that had been passed down in the church that descended from the apostles must be the correct one. This has some justice, as one thing to consider when somebody is bringing in something new out of left field. But it became, over time, the idea that the teaching passed down historically by the church leadership was true and must not be questioned. Other than that, I am convinced Irenaeus did a great service by defending the Christian faith in a competent and reasonable way.
The Holy Ghost, then, always existed, and exists, and always will exist. He neither has a beginning, nor will He have an end; but He was everlastingly ranged with and numbered with the Father and the Son. For it was not ever fitting that either the Son should be wanting to the Father, or the Spirit to the Son.
Gregory of Nazianzen, 330-390 AD, Oration XLI, On Pentecost, IX, (translated by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Phillip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, Second Series, Volume VII, p. 382)
What does it mean that the Holy Spirit is God? How does it affect our lives?
One of the clearest conflicts between Christian morals and the culture around us is on the subject of sex. Christianity says that the ideal is one man and one woman for life or else a life of abstinence (Matthew 5:31,32; 1 Corinthians 7:1-7; Romans 7:1-3). Now in a sin-cursed world, it does not always work out that way, and it is disputed whether acceptable grounds exist for breaking a relationship. Certainly there is a place for forgiveness and restoration for those involved in wrong relationships (John 4:15-26; 8:1-11; Ephesians 1:7). But the ideal should be maintained. And this runs against the grain of what is generally preached by our culture and media. Rather, we are sold at every corner an ideal of casual sex, with no commitment or consequences. Nor is this always a disinterested position. Many businesses make money by promoting sexual products or using sex to sell other items. What can we say in response to this?
The Christian ideal provides stability for society and a source of companionship for those involved. It provides a context for bringing children into the world and for raising them to be responsible adults to carry out their roles in society, including their sexual roles. It fits with the way the sexual apparatus is designed to work. On another level, it is intended to picture the relationship of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:7-9; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Behind this there is an idea of intentionality, that God designed us and our bodies to work a certain way (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25; Matthew 19:3-6). But on the deeper level, it reflects a particular concept of love, one that is based on commitment, responsibility, and putting others before ourselves (1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Philippians 2:1-11; Luke 10:25-37).
However, our current culture sees love as a subjective feeling that, left to itself, rarely lasts. Then it wants to see the lack of this feeling as a basis for breaking the relationship. It then encourages people simply to follow their impulses wherever they lead. And where this leads is to a context where few, if any, types of relationships are considered off limits. Ultimately, it produces an atmosphere dominated by selfishness, where people are willing to trample anyone or anything to obtain their desires. This also leads to a situation where it is more difficult to make a committed relationship work. The claim is then made that such a relationship cannot work.
If we are to turn this around, we must work to change people's opinions on the subject. This will require persuasion and will be helped by modeling the right kind of relationship. It will mean standing firm against the current direction of our culture and riding out the current wave of opposition. We will need to pick our fights and to approach them with love and kindness. And we need to extent a hand of help and forgiveness to those caught up in our culture's values. But we must stand firm on the principle.
One of the ways to minimize Satan and his minions is to deny their existence, but another is to claim they are currently off the scene. However, Scripture pictures Christians in continual battle against such foes (Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8,9; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Now it says the demonic powers were defeated at the cross (Colossians 2:15), but that does not mean they are not active. The cross was a definitive victory, but its final results are yet future. Satan's falling from heaven like lighting and being bound seem to refer to the immediate results of Jesus' and the disciples' ministry, not a permanent change of condition (Luke 10:18; Matthew 12:29). Now there are a couple of highly contested prophetic passages that come to play here. 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10 seems to refer to a specific limitation on a specific entity, the man of sin. I have considered both sides of the issue on Revelation 20:1-10, but I am convinced the most straightforward way to understand it is as something future, after the Second Coming. But if it is applied to the present time, I am convinced that whatever limitations are put on Satan here must be very qualified if they are to fit in with the rest of Scripture, which is one problem with that interpretation of this passage. It is clear that Satan's actions are to some extent limited in the present time (Job 1,2). But he is obviously not off the scene.
God may be a God who intervenes, but is He really able to help us with the problems we face? The answer may seem obvious, but when we are in trouble or simply look at the troubles of the world, we can ask this. We can ask if God is somehow unable to deal with things. Of maybe if God is just not interested. Or if He is too busy running the universe to care. Now there is a serious mystery here. But I do not think the solution is to limit God's ability.
God is able to do anything (Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:25,26; Luke 1:37). Now this does not mean God can do things contrary to His own nature (Hebrews 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:13; James 1:13). Therefore, questions such as, "Can God make an object so big He cannot lift it?" are meaningless. But God is not limited by simple lack of ability. He also knows all things (Psalms 139:1-4; 1 John 3:20; Hebrews 4:13), including all the minor details (Matthew 10:29,30; 6:8; Isaiah 44:28). And that means He is not so busy administering the universe that He has no time for us. Also, He is everywhere (Psalms 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23,24; Acts 17:27,28), and He is particularly present with those who are His people (Matthew 28:20; 18:20; 1 Corinthians 3:16).
But if we trust Jesus as our Savior (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9) and God is in control of the world (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28, Isaiah 43:13), why do we not always get what we want (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; James 4:3: Luke 22:41,42)? Simply making God unable to accomplish this does not help. It merely causes us to ask who it is that is bigger than God from whom these things come. Rather, God has a plan to use even suffering to accomplish His will. Sometimes this plan involves purposes that go beyond what we happen to want. God can use suffering to help people grow into the people they should be (2 Corinthians 4:17,18; James 1:2-4; Romans 8:29) or to allow individuals to help others through their suffering (Mark 10:45; Colossians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7). How God deals with a world in rebellion against His will is often complicated and mysterious. We need to trust in Him even if we do not necessarily see His purpose in every event (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; 46:10). But the issue is not a lack of power or a lack of concern.
But there are some people, nevertheless - and I am one of them - who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them.
G. K. Chesterton, 1876-1936, Heretics, Chapter 1 (Barnes and Noble, 1905, p.3)
Is this the correct approach to life? How would it affect how we live?
Doctor Norman rolled his eyes as he walked by the protester. His sign said, "Human Beings Are Worth Preserving." He represented an archaic and hopefully vanishing attitude. The kind of attitude he had worked so hard against in establishing the committee. Humans were just another animal, and not always the most useful kind, and there were too many of them anyway. Why should society be burdened with carrying the burden of the imperfect and unfit and unwanted? Why should we, as a people, be required to pay the money required for treating the unlikely to be healed or training those unlikely to be normal? But the committee decided who should receive treatment and who, in a kind and merciful way, should be put to sleep.
"So you are out here protesting the committee," he stated to the protester. When he received merely a hostile stare, he continued, "Surely you must realize you are putting yourself on the wrong side of history."
"When history is going the wrong direction, it must be turned around," returned the protester. "And seeing human beings, who God made, as simply disposable is the wrong direction.We have no right to play God."
"So you believe in some mythical being who controls the world," the doctor retorted. "Do you not see that we are nothing but the products of nature? Mere matter and energy."
"If our thoughts are nothing more than the results of the atoms bouncing around in our brains," replied the protester, "how can we expect to know anything reliably, including that we are just matter and energy? But if we are creations of God, we cannot be treated as merely disposable."
The doctor turned away, shaking his head, murmuring under his breath, "Sentimentalism."
As approached the front door, a disheveled-looking young man jumped from the shadows. "Are you Doctor Norman?" he shouted.
"Yes," the doctor mumbled, taken aback.
"You are the architect of the committee," he shouted even louder. "You killed my wife!"
"Now, calm down," the doctor muttered, "let's discuss this."
"There is nothing to discuss. She would have lived even after the accident. I was willing to take care of her. But your committee killed her."
The distressed young man drew a blaster from his pocket. But as he fired, the protestor came running at him from the side, knocking him away. The blaster fired, but its aim was off, hitting the wall behind the doctor. The wall exploded, sending a mass of bricks falling down on him. As a brick hit him on the head, he lost consciousness.
He woke up on a hospital bed, his friend Doctor Lyman looking down over him and his wife hovering in the background. He tried to sit up, but his arms would not obey his will. "What happened," he croaked.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your spinal cord was damaged when the bricks fell on you," said Doctor Lyman in his best medicinal voice. "I am afraid you have been paralyzed from the neck down."
He sat for a minute in shock. What good was a surgeon without his hands? But he still had his medical knowledge.
"It will be all right," he said, his eyes fixed on his wife, "I can retrain. I will be as good a doctor as I am now. Maybe even better."
His wife turned away, tears filling her eyes. "I am sorry," said Doctor Lyman, maintaining his medicinal voice, "but the committee has already made its decision. It is really what is best for all involved."
If we are to avoid simply promoting the church organization rather than following God, we have to ask who is in charge in the church. The answer is Christ (Colossians 1:18; 2:19; Ephesians 1:22,23). The church is Christ's body, His visible manifestation in the world (1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:15,16), and He is working through it to accomplish His purposes (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7). And everything we accomplish is through His power (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:29; Philippians 2:13). God has not left us on our own to figure out how to do His work. Much less has He left us to use His church to accomplish our purposes. Rather, every decision we make should be made with the conscious awareness that it is Christ who is really in charge, and our goal is to be His people, doing His will.
Much of the struggle in the Christian church comes from people trying to exert their power over others. We see leaders versus congregations, one leader against another, factions striving against against one another. Realizing that Christ is in charge is not a magic formula for harmony. We can convince ourselves that our plans are Christ's plans. But it is the necessary first step. Leaders are meant to be followed (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; Ephesians 4:11-14), but also meant to be servants (Matthew 20:24-28; Luke 22:24-27; 1 Peter 5:1-4). It is important to test everything (Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8,9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21,22), but also to realize we do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; 4:3-5). But most fundamentally, we must learn to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-11; Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8-10).
One thing that stands in the way of this is the search for the silver bullet to fix all the problems of the church. Because if I am convinced I have that quick fix, I will be tempted to use any means to make it happen. If I am a leader, I will bend every effort to make things go my way. If I am a member of the congregation, I will attempt to prevent the leaders from straying from the path or look for new leaders. It does not matter whether this panacea is a new thing we are trying to introduce or an old thing we are trying to preserve. But if we recognize there is no such magic formula, it makes a difference. There will still be certain boundaries we will not cross and certain positions we will not accept. But we are will be less likely to make mountains out of minor differences. And even major differences can be faced in a matter-of-fact manner. For if I recognize that Christ is at work in His church, I will still feel it is my obligation to work for what is best. But I will be less likely to take the whole fate of the church on my shoulders, with disastrous results.