Convicting Words of Jesus

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from another and do not seek the glory from the one who alone is God?” (John 5:39-44 NRSV)

The words that Jesus speaks against the religious authorities of his time can be difficult in our own time. The temptation to use these words as ammunition against our theological enemies is all too real. There are Pharisees and Hypocrites around every corner if we go looking for them. It is frightening to think that if we shine the light back on ourselves we might find one. For all the efforts of the religious to build our own righteousness, it is quite disappointing for Jesus to inform us of our refusal to come to him and have life, as well as the lack of God’s love within us.

It is difficult to imagine ourselves as adversaries of Jesus. We usually reserve this role for those we disagree with. It is much easier that way, but in doing so we can easily become blind to our own need for repentance. While it may not be absolutely essential to be able to enter the Gospel narratives as the opponents of Jesus, it can be a deeply profound spiritual practice. Such a reading can help shed light on the ways in which we come up short as those who confess faith in Jesus, whatever our reasoning for this faith may be.

Jesus would not be a very good Savior if he did not challenge our faith and assumptions when they hold us back from his glory. We cannot simply assume that Jesus is always on our side by virtue of our confession of faith in him. We should expect to be challenged and resisted when our faith and our works do not bear fruit. To use another biblical metaphor, we should expect some pruning as we grow in the Lord. No matter how strong our faith may be, there are always ways in which we refuse to come to Jesus and have life, as well as ways in which the love of God does not fully permeate our being.

Words like these hit me the hardest during those times when I feel weak in my own faith and perhaps there are some cons to reading myself into the text in such a way. Maybe my own guilt can be crippling at times and to feel at odds with Jesus for whatever reason is holding me back as a disciple. At these times, I try to remind myself of God’s grace revealed through Jesus and that I do not have to be perfect in my walk. Yet, I cannot discount the convicting side of God’s Word in Scripture. I think the best that I can do is recognize that discomfort is a sign that the Holy Spirit is moving in my life in order to bring about repentance and regeneration.

Thanks be to God!

Big Question

Did humanity fall from perfection, or rise up out of innocence?

This is my big question at the moment, which emerges from the second creation myth (Gen. 2:5-4:24). It is difficult to get a sense of perfection in this account. It is all sort of messy. God forms the first human (Adam) out of the soil (Adamah), in order to tend to the garden of Eden. Again, no claim of perfection is made for this garden which God plants. Though, perhaps we can infer that God made it according to a plan, and it grew according to God’s intent. But the intent of God is not fully revealed here. We are not told whether Eden is to be Adam’s eternal home or merely a safe place for development before fulfilling a greater purpose.

Yet, we are told that God sets up boundaries. Adam may eat from any tree, except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The concept of innocence is not explicitly addressed here. This is also an inference. As long as Adam does not transgress the boundaries set up by God, guilt is not incurred, which would entail a loss of innocence. However, these concepts are not specifically addressed here. Innocence may not be the best term for the original state of Adam.

The process of finding a suitable companion for Adam creates some problems for the speculation of original perfection. God does not appear to get it right on the first try. None of the animals, which God forms out of the soil, is just right for Adam. God’s intent here is eventually fulfilled by the Woman that God forms from Adam’s rib. Together they are naked and unashamed. Again, we are not told if there is a greater intent for this couple, or if it is God’s desire for them to remain obedient garden dwellers for all of eternity.

Enter the serpent, one of God’s creatures. The serpent reveals a choice that these human beings did not even know they had. They can remain as they are in the garden, or they can eat and achieve a higher state of being, to become like God, knowing good and evil. What is neglected by these three (serpent, woman, and man) are the consequences of crossing boundaries. God proclaims curses on all three for their respective transgressions, but death is not immediate. There is mercy in the judgment and opportunity to face new challenges, which will also result in pain and hardship.

Perhaps the choice to eat represents the first flexing of the human will. The exercise of will comes with consequences. The fall is not so much a loss of perfection, as it is gravity catching up with willful action. Humanity rises and falls at the same time. This is the great paradox of human will, there are both good and evil results in its exercise. It is good that humanity rises from basic existence in the garden, but it is evil that pain, hardship, and even death are the consequences. (I can’t seem to avoid a major loose end in theodicy here. God appears to have a part, at least passively, in the creation of evil.)

Eventually, outright sin creeps into the picture as Cain murders his brother Abel. Murder is the ultimate transgression of the human will, effectively extinguishing the will of another. Yet, we again see God’s mercy in judgment. Cain is allowed to live and becomes the father of several nations. God’s guiding hand is always present no matter how far humanity falls.

My opening question remains unanswered, but perhaps the question of the original state of humanity is not the point. My brief tangent into human will and theodicy may also miss the mark of this ancient origin story. God’s mercy is readily apparent, even in the earliest events of salvation history. This is something that should not be overlooked. God’s saving action within history is as old as history itself and is a theme that is constantly reiterated in the Scriptures. We do well to draw this out of this text, whatever we may read into it.