Friday, 11 May 2012

The Trinitarian God Part 5: Our mind-blowing salvation

This is the last post on my series on the Trinity, although I hope it is not my last on this subject!

In the last post I talked about the wrath of God being the response of His love to evil. I also started to talk about how out of His abounding love God does not leave us in the mess we've made, but has made a way out. He paid the price of our sin, bore the consequences, and offers us salvation freely. This is the Gospel - good news. However, a lot of people might be able to regurgitate the idea that Jesus died for our sins, to forgive us. So let's go a bit deeper into what's going on - the Trinity reveals something truly amazing.

First, consider what happens when Jesus comes to earth. He is God, He has been part of the intimacy and security of the Father-Son-Spirit loving family for all eternity, yet He 'contracts Himself to a span' and becomes one of His created beings - that's so mind-stretching, I can't really think of a great way to describe it. The idea of the one who created the world (see John 1) becoming a suffering, limited human being is beyond words.
But more than that, He came, the immortal, eternal, God the Son to die. He knew why He came, He knew the purpose of His coming - He came to do what no other 'god' has ever done willingly - to die. All His life, He lived, knowing His fate, and He chose it.
Our sins nailed Him to the Cross - but it is at the Cross that He won our salvation. Source here.
Now think about what happens at the Cross. The Father and the Son have been defined by their love for one another for eternity, and yet at this one point in our history, the relationship is broken, the Father turns His love away, and treats the Son, not as His obedient Son, but as an enemy - as one of those who has ruined everything - think how that must feel. I guess the closest you can get is to imagine how you would feel if the person who showed you the must love throughout your life, who had loved you unconditionally for the 70 years of your life, who you had also acted towards with nothing but selflessness and kindness turned on you and attacked you and insulted you and treated you like you had ruined their life - only much much worse. And yet that was the plan, the Son who had done nothing but obey the Father was treated like an enemy, in the exact moment He was being most obedient. And that is what it took to bring us back to God - that is what it required to make us clean and new and good. That's what your God did for you.
But it gets better than that. It's not just the extraordinary act of sacrifice to forgive us, it is the fact that now the Bible says we have been adopted into God's family. We are children of God. You know how God the Son is called God the Son? Well, the Bible says we are in God's family, 'in Christ' - which means that through Christ, we are also in the Trinity. We are no longer enemies, but we have been invited into the overflowing love of the Trinity through Jesus - we are a part of that now. Ever wonder how much God loves you? That's how much. That's also how secure you are, Christian. You are bound as tightly to God as the persons of God are to each other - God will never let you go.

No other belief in the world offers you such a God - a God who created you to love you, who is so selfless that He comes to save you, forgives you, suffers for you, does it all for you, and then invites you to share in the relationship that is part of His very being. That is why the god that philosophy and popular culture thinks of is not the God of the Bible at all. Only this God is worth worshipping, worth following, and boy does He give us a million reasons to. Wow, just wow.

Well, thank you for following this series, I hope it was encouraging. If you want more of that, phrased more eloquently than my splurging, read Denise's transcripts of or (even better) listen to these talks on the Trinity by Mike Reeves. If you read nothing else ever, outside the Bible, read these, please. I'll even beg if it helps:
The Heart-Winning God
The Loving Father
The Beautiful Son
The Heart-Melting Spirit

Prince Charles does the weather

Looks like he's inherited some of his dad's sense of humour too.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Avengers Awesomble

So Denise and I went to see the Avengers last night, and I have to say it was everything I expected it to be. If I had any criticisms it would be that they could have taken more advantage of 3D and they could have made it 3 hours long; I wanted more. Which I guess means they got it right.

The first thing they did right was getting Joss Whedon on board. He is perhaps best known for his creation of Buffy and Firefly, and is clearly someone who understands what is important in a superhero movie. His screenplay was spot on, full of clever lines, and making room for enough vs battles to satisfy a Marvel version of Tekken.

The heroes themselves are perfectly cast, and are, thankfully, continuations of the characters from their respective solo movies, and haven't been reduced to generic heroes. Mark Ruffalo is no second fiddle to Eric Norton as Dr Banner, and it's nice to see that no hero outshines the others. They have been given their roles and each gets their fair share of good lines and impressive moments. Special mention also goes to Tom Hiddlestone for turning in a more nuanced performance as antagonist Loki - his lingering jealousy adds a bit of depth to the classic 'bent on world domination' thing.

The special effects are also excellent, but whilst big, somehow never overwhelm the characters themselves. It's also nice to see responsible Captain America worrying about potential civilian casualties - usually ordinary people get forgotten in massive city-trashing action scenes.

This movie goes to show that people aren't tired of big loud special effects action films - but you need more than that to make a good film. By rigorously enforcing continuity through multi-film contracts, Marvel have constructed a believable universe with characters that we actually care about, and that makes all the difference. Michael Bay take note.

It'll be a tough act for the various sequels to follow, but Marvel have shown a sure hand so far. I just hope they can tie up some loose ends by getting Spiderman on board too, although I fear not.

Perhaps DC will get the message as well, and we'll one day see a Justice League of America movie. We can but hope.

What did you think? Have you seen it, what was your favourite part (try to avoid spoilers). Can The Dark Knight Rises top it?

Thor: Be careful what you say, Loki is my brother.
Black Widow: He killed 80 people in two days.
Thor: He's adopted.
(Seriously, I've never heard a cinema laugh that much in an action movie).

The Trinitarian God Part 4: God's wrath is good

This post is part 4 in my series on the Trinity - don't worry, we're nearly there! I hope it's as helpful to you reading as it is to me writing.

You may be wondering about the title of this post. God's wrath is often an uncomfortable subject - and I think rightly so. It's a terrible thing to be on the receiving end of. The temptation these days is often to play down the notion of God's wrath and play up God's love when we tell people about the Gospel. The problem, of course, is if we leave out wrath people don't know what they need saving from, and we end up with this sense of disconnection between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. This simply comes from misunderstanding God, and misunderstanding the nature of love.

So I've said a lot about God being lovely, beautiful, loving, selfless and you may well be wondering how God's wrath fits into that, is it a contradiction? Sometimes people say 'God is loving, but He's also holy' (I explained in the last post why that's a tautology), or 'God is loving, but He's also just', as if God's wrath is a flip side to God - that you might get Loving God, but you might also get Angry God. But if we apply what we've already learnt - that God is love, we can see that God's wrath is a consequence of His love. If that doesn't make sense, consider again what we've already looked at. God created the universe to spread love and goodness and beauty - so when He sets Adam and Eve up in the Garden of Eden, that's the idea. So when they reject God by disobeying Him, what are they doing? They are rejecting love, goodness and beauty. But it's not just them that are affected, it's everything. Everything is ruined by sin. Sin is best characterised by acts born from selfishness and pride - rebellion against God, and therefore rejection of goodness. Sin is evil and rips the world apart. Sin is not fun and freedom, it's slavery and death.

So God's wrath is the response of love to evil. True love does nothing else. He has created a beautiful universe, and evil has ruined it and harms those who live there. Evil done by us. So God is wrathful against those who are bent on bringing evil into the world He has made - those bent on ruining it and hurting those He loves. Don Carson has pointed out that there are no repentant people in Hell - those in Hell are bent on rebellion, bent on rejecting the love of God - bent on ruining the world. If you want love without wrath, you have no love at all. If that still doesn't make sense, think for a moment about your family (children, parents, girlfriend, spouse etc.) and friends - think how you'd feel if someone threatened them, attacked them, harmed them and was determined to keep doing so - would you say 'I don't mind, that's alright, live with us anyway?' - if you did, I think you could not claim to love your family! God is ready and waiting to forgive all those who ask for it, and to make them good - but those who are determined to reject Him and ruin His world and hurt His Family - they are the ones He displays His wrath against.

God's wrath against Christ displays His love to us. Source here.
The consequence of this is that judgement is actually what we deserve - we are all rebellious and are all ruining the world. We deserve to be discarded like a burnt cake, given up as a bad lot. But because God is loving in such an amazing, spectacular way, He doesn't simply respond to our rebellion with anger - He offers us forgiveness, He offers us restoration, He offers us peace and a way back to Him and invites us into His new world of love and beauty - He offers us a way to be saved, freely, so that we don't have to have the Hell we deserve. Nno works are required, simply acknowledging that we have sinned and have made a mess of His world, and wanting to live a life of love and goodness instead - He has done all the hard work.

So when you think of God's wrath, don't just think in legal terms - as if we have broken some arbitrary laws and offended an emotionally fragile deity. Think of the God who is love, and think of the ways that humanity brings ruin and hurt to this world and to those living in it. Then think of a God who loves enough to protect those He loves from evil.

But don't stop there either, in the next post I'll talk more about the glorious, amazing redemption He offers us  freely. Why? Because He loves us.

The Trinitarian God Part 3: Selfish narcissism? No, selfless love.

This is part 3 in my series on the Trinity - I hope you will get to see how amazing God really is when you think about Him as the Bible describes Him.

In the last post I talked about God creating the universe out of a desire to share his overflowing love. I should also add something that people will often tell you in Christian circles: God created the world for His glory. So have I just contradicted myself? Is God actually less selfless than I suggested? I think when we understand God's glory correctly, then we will also understand that these two ideas are actually very very similar.

I don't know about you, but unless properly defined, the phrase God acting for 'His own glory' rings a bit false to me. It makes me think of a superbeing standing at the top of the universe shouting 'look at me, I'm magnificent'. Now, a being with the power to create the universe has that right perhaps, because he is magnificent - but it doesn't ring true with what we see Jesus is like, what God tells us to be like, and, well, the idea that God is loveable. The God that I read about in the Bible (revealed by Jesus, John 14:8-11) serves others and is humble and tells us to be the same. And one thing we know is that God is not a hypocrite. This is the consequence of, again, defining God without 'Trinity', as a single person - the god of philosophy tends to come across as either selfish or needy - either needing or demanding our praise to build up his inadequate ego.

Mike Reeves (again!) puts us straight on what God's glory is and what glorifying God means. First, an important point, glorifying God does not mean 'making God more glorious', as if He needs a reputation boost from us - He's not that desperate. Glorifying God means making His existing glory known. So what is His glory? It is His holiness - and that is what makes God who He is.
The problem here though, is that we don't really appreciate how lovely true holiness is. Holiness is often pictured in our thoughts as being austere, defined more by what we aren't and what we don't do than what we are. We often fall into the trap of thinking holiness means 'not doing x sins'. Not so.
If the Heavens declare the glory of God - does it not make sense that He is beautiful? Source here.

I'll let Reeves do the work (seriously, just read that post, he is very eloquent):
Our God is, his holiness is that he is sweet and pleasant, a fountain of overflowing love. And real godliness means becoming just like that. Knowing God we become ever more attractive, ever more warm, loving, kind, generous.
So God is holy because He is loving, beautiful, overflowing in love, in fact. It makes Him different to us, because He has none of our selfishness and viciousness. So when we seek to glorify God, we aren't boosting His ego, we are simply becoming more like Him, sharing the love that defines Him with those around us. Glorifying God is fundamentally a selfless thing for us and God. With a God like that, why would you not want His glory to be made widely known - when His glory is abounding love! (See also Colossians 3:12-14Ephesians 4:32-5:2).

Now that makes sense - it means that instead of 'mean God, nice Jesus', we have 'lovely Father, Jesus the exact image and likeness of God the Father'. If you ever think that Jesus seems nicer than God, you've got God wrong. When you look at Jesus, see Him washing His disciples' feet, dying on the Cross - you are seeing what God is truly like.

So when God works for His glory, it's not selfish because it means that God is working to show His love forth.

But it goes further than this, because maybe that phrase 'God glorifying Himself' still sounds a bit selfish to you. Read this article on Glen Scrivener's blog, and perhaps think about it a little differently. The thing you notice about the Trinity is that they never act out of self interest. The Son always acts to glorify the Father, never Himself; the Father is always acting to glorify the Son, not Himself. The Father is the great planner of the Trinity, but He doesn't plan to increase His own reputation - when I say the universe was created for the glory of God, I mean, the Father planned the whole course of history, and the course of salvation history particularly, so that we would have the opportunity to see how amazing and loving the Son is. So God doesn't flip the rules around and say 'you guys be humble cos you're created, but I'm going to be different because I'm the best', He says 'be humble, be selfless, be loving, because I am, and that's good'. Jesus is humble and selfless, not because He's acting nice because He's a man on earth, He's like that because that's what He's like. But if your god isn't Trinitarian, he can't do that - god glorifying god is selfish unless it is other-centred - and only in the Trinity is that possible.

So God is selfless and loving - next we'll see how that works out when we mess it all up.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Trinitarian God Part 2: The Loving Creator

This is part 2 in my series on a vital and distinctive Christian teaching: the Trinity.

Do you ever ask yourself what God was like before He created the world? Do you ever wonder why God created the world? A lot of the times when we explain the Gospel we do it in a law-centred way: 'we've broken the law and we deserve punishment', but this means that we end up talking about God as being first and foremost the law-maker. This means you end up with a god not unlike a speed camera - he enforces the law, and you may be grateful if he lets you off, but it's hard to really love him (Mike Reeves' illustration not mine!). So if God is not first the law-maker, what is He like?

Mike Reeves describes the conclusion we must draw from a singular god creating being that he is lonely! Kinda obvious when you think about it - a god who is just himself throughout all eternity doesn't actually know how to love - except maybe himself (which is called selfishness). So when he creates something he either does it because he's lonely, or because he wants to indulge himself and create a bunch of people that will be suitably impressed by his power and will therefore worship him and do what he says. He's all about self-gratification. Not a particularly attractive prospect! Yet this is the god that many people think of as being the Christian god, the Bible god. No wonder people become atheists! This is the god you get when you define god without the Trinity, the Father without the Son, without the Spirit. When atheists criticise god for being egotistical - they're often thinking of this singular idea of god and they're absolutely right. In actual fact the Bible does describe a singular being who exists to promote himself most of all - that's right, the Devil.
God creates not to show off His power, but to share His love. Source here.
Thankfully, the Bible doesn't ask us to believe in that God. The Bible asks us to believe in the Trinitarian God. That means that we don't have a lonely God, a God who doesn't know what love truly is. Rather, we have a God who has been loving from eternity past - the three persons of the Trinity love each other and serve each other - they are selfless - they're not ignorant about love, they're perfect at it! So that means that God doesn't create the world out of inadequacy or narcissism - He creates the universe out of love. In the same way that the ideal circumstance for conceiving a child is a married couple who love each other so much that they want to shower their love on another, the three persons of the Trinity love each other, if anything, too much - so they unite together out of an overflow of love and create the universe, and within the universe human beings in their image that they can relate to and love. So why did God create us? To love us. Think about that for a minute!

So God is not first and foremost a rule-maker, a cosmic dictator. God is first and foremost a lover, and He wants us to share in the happiness He enjoys. Now that's a God you can love!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

God is not the 'god' of philosophy Part 2: The Trinity

I originally posted an article of about 3000 words that I realised that only a few people would have the inclination to read. So, obeying a rule of blogging, I'm going to repost it in more manageable chunks. This is the introduction, more to follow.

In my earlier post on the way western Philosophy approaches the question of God, I talked about the problem of starting with ourselves as the ultimate authority rather than finding out what God is like from Him. The consequence is that we don't know truly who God. He has to tell us. This means that we don't get the most important and distinctive teaching of Christianity and the vital implications of it.

These posts will talk about the Trinity. This is the teaching of the Bible that God is not a singular entity, but three persons - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons who are distinct in their roles and yet equal and completely united by love and united in their purpose. Not one lump of 'god stuff' that appears in three different ways (that's called 'modalism'), but three persons. The best analogy is marriage as the Bible describes it - the idea of two people who come together as 'one flesh'. Deuteronomy 6:4 says 'the Lord is one' - but this is not 'one' meaning 'single', but 'one' meaning 'united'.

The three states of water analogy - that's modalism Source here.

This isn't polytheism either (belief in multiple gods - e.g. ancient Greece and Rome), note that the persons of the Trinity are named by their relationship to each other. God the Father is not like Zeus - Zeus would get on without the others because they are independent beings - the persons of God are more inter-dependent. If it seems hard to understand, don't worry - humans aren't trinitarian beings, so if you think you've totally got it, you probably haven't quite and a lot of erroneous understandings of the Trinity come from trying to bring it within human understanding too much. But that doesn't mean we can't get blown away by the implications of the Trinity.

You may be wondering at this point what makes this particular teaching so amazing, interesting maybe, but not setting your soul on fire (maybe it is already). Well, there are several things about God being trinitarian that makes Him absolutely wonderful, and will make you realise you never want to settle for anything less. I'll address them in each of the following posts, and hopefully you'll see how the Trinity impacts the way we think about everything in Christianity and why it is (apart from understanding salvation by Christ alone) the truth that has had the single biggest impact in my own Christian life.