Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Desire of God

Today in my Bible class (they are a patient lot), we were speaking of the changes in Old Testament spirituality between the time of the Tabernacle and the Temple. One of the themes that connects both of those "eras," as it were, is that of Divine intimacy (a phrase I owe to my professor and now colleague Dr. Byron Curtis). That is, God's goal, His desire, is to dwell with His people: "I will be their God and they shall be My people" being an oft repeated phrase. When this way of considering God's desire is fully imbibed, it can change the way we read the entire Bible.

Why does God call Israel? Because He wants to create the conditions necessary for His dwelling with men. What does that mean? The world has been infected by sin and death, from which it must be cleansed for God's holy Presence to abide there. Hence the sacrificial system: it is not there primarily as an means of God's wrath, but as a means of His great grace. The dwelling place, whether Tabernacle or Temple, must be coated in life ("the life of the flesh is in the blood" as Leviticus tells us), so that God's holiness, which is Life itself, may dwell there and so that the people may find life there as well (the Dwelling was the pre-incarnation icon of Christ's gift of the Holy Spirit). If OT Israel acts faithfully as God's priestly-kingdom, they will bring cleansing to the entire world, thereby restoring the Edenic conditions necessary for God to walk "in the cool of the day" with His image-bearers, man and woman. However, we see that this does not happen. Israel is too mired in sin and death, too mired in the corrupt state brought about by Adam in the Garden, to faithfully bring this task about. The Dwelling becomes more about privilege and magic (Is. 1:12-15 comes to mind here), where once sin and death are vaunted above God, all that is needed is a few hocus-pocus words, a substitute death, and -- voila! -- Israel is back on top. Israel, the new Adam, the ones who were to mediate God's Life to the nations, are no different than the goyim and must be cast out of the Sanctuary, lest they pollute it so much that God can no longer dwell there. And yet...

God travels with His exiles (this is the brunt of Ezekiel 1 and 8-10) into exile, continuing to show them that His goal is not judgment, but mercy (as James tells us, mercy triumphs over judgment -- Hallelujah!), not wrath, but intimacy.

This helps us to understand, if only partially (as it must always be with such a profound mystery), the Incarnation. God takes to Himself human nature, in the tightest intimacy possible, so that all human nature might be healed and set free from sin and death, from the corruption that effectively blocks full Divine intimacy. This makes the death of Christ not necessarily a "divine child-abuse," but rather the full healing of creation through sin and death doing their worst to the very Creator of the universe. Now Christ triumphs over them, for death cannot in the end snuff out Life (this can be seen in all Christ's miracles and seems to be their main import -- Life triumphs over uncleanness, sin, corruption, and death) and gives us of God's very Life, the Holy Spirit, so that we might live with the same quality of life that Jesus has (what we call "eternal" -- but the time referent is not the dominant idea here, rather the enduring quality of that life: this is also what makes Hell so heinous, it is "eternal" as well, an enduring quality of death).

This should change how we view the atonement that Christ has effected for God's creation: substitutionary atonement, in this view, sits comfortably side by side with more patristic views of Christus Victor, etc. God's love, not His wrath or justice, is the driving motivation and fully grounds wrath and justice: God implacably hates that which brings sin, corruption, and death and is willing to take them on in the Incarnation and Cross so that they eventually might be eliminated. This also affects our view of the Church: it is the place where the Life of God is to be most manifest -- what does the Life of God look like practically? Forgiveness of enemies, reconciliation, caring for the weak and vulnerable (here is where God's justice is fully expressed), and sharing in full communion with one another and with the Lord Christ who has given himself body and soul for our incorporation into the Life of God.

Hallelujah, for the Lord Christ reigns.

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