Inside-Out God – Doug Pagitt

Tree Triplets

I wanted to live with God directly and passionately. I did not want God to be some distant being that I needed to please. I didn’t want to access God only through a system of faith or religion. I didn’t want God to be distant at all. But for so long that seemed like a prerequisite for being Christian. You had to begin by believing that God is Other, and then you would follow certain steps to bridge the gap.

I was welcomed into the Christian faith with the understanding that God could live in your heart. I resonated with the personal nature of this: God was as close as my heart. But that was not the full story. I was told I had to adhere to a set of rules if I wanted to make my heart God’s home.

But the Flip allowed me to consider that we live in the heart of God rather than the other way around. It took time for me to get comfortable with this understanding. Flips don’t immediately settle in and start to feel normal. It takes a while.

This notion of our living in the heart of God may not immediately draw you in. While I am now convinced that it lies at the heart of Jesus’s message and even that of the early apostles, I suspect these ideas might make many people nervous. They certainly did me.

It is not essential that anyone immediately embrace a Flip. It is far more important to give it serious consideration. In the weeks following the San Diego conference, I remembered verses I had memorized in my early days of faith. These words from the Bible suddenly were saying so much more than I had noticed before. Flips not only open new pathways, but they also help us re-consider what we have become comfortable with.

One of the Bible passages that kept coming back to me was actually a song sung by first-century followers of Jesus. It’s recorded in Colossians.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
both in the heavens and on the earth,
the things that are visible and the things that

are invisible.
Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities,

all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
and all things are held together in him.

He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning,

the one who is firstborn from among the dead

so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,

and he reconciled all things to himself through him

whether things on earth or in the heavens. He brought peace through the blood

of his cross.

From the start of the Jesus story, people were saying and singing, “All things were created through him and for him. He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him.”

Like me, the early followers of Jesus were trying to live beyond the idea that God is in some places but not in others, in some people but not in other people, in some times but not in other times. Rather, all that exists is In God. All things are held together In God. And all of creation is being reconciled or seeking to live harmoniously with God.

Over time a passage from the apostle Paul has become one of my favorite constructs for understanding this. Paul said in one of his most famous sermons: “In God we live, move, and exist.” I have a lot more to say about this in the pages of Flipped, but for now let that idea resonate in you.

In God.
In.
We are In God.
What a Flip.

God is not a separate subject that we talk about or relate to through belief, behavior, faith, or practice. Much better than that, God is the very existence of all things. We are called to live congruently within the existence that holds all things together. This notion resonates with beauty, intrigue, majesty, and mystery.

When we are In God and not simply relating to God or serving God or walking with God, we are able to find not only our lives but all parts of our lives in the story of God.

Recently I was talking with some people for whom this was a new idea. Katelyn said, “This reminds me of a conversation I had the other day with a friend who is a Buddhist. She told me the reason she is a Buddhist is that Buddhism has a way to include pain and suffering. I feel like understanding ourselves In God also makes room for that. It seems like nothing is left out.”

Katelyn asked several questions about all this, maybe questions similar to ones you have. She said, “I like this idea, but is it really ‘allowed’?” I knew right where she was coming from—I have asked myself that same question.

I have come to believe that not only is it okay, it is the primary understanding of God that we learn from Jesus, Paul, and others. For me, it’s the only way this journey makes sense.

In my book, I invite you to consider a Flip that makes it possible to live in the heart of God. It can change your understanding of God and the way you live. I’m not suggesting a one-time shift in how you understand a theological idea. Rather, it is a journey of experiencing life In God. I have not yet worked out all the nuances and implications of this Flip. But I have great faith that there is as much to be gained by the act of Flipping as there is to sticking the landing.

When we open ourselves to a Flip, we enter a process of change. We can live, move, and exist as people empowered by the constancy of the love, care, and life of God. That might help explain why Jesus introduced so many of his Flips with the phrase “You have heard that it was said . . .” He was reminding us that, in the past, we were taught to think about God in a certain way.

Then Jesus would introduce a Flip: “But I say to you . . .”

The Flip of embracing an All-in-all God, if you take it to heart, can change your life by changing the way you understand God.

See also: Doug Pagitt’s God Beyond Boredom

Doug Pagitt August 5, 2012.  (Courtney Perry)Doug Pagitt is an author, idea-leader, and speaker, the founder of Solomon’s Porch, a faith community in Minneapolis that focuses on addressing human needs in the neighboring community and facilitating a more personal encounter with God. He is also host of Doug Pagitt Radio and the author of several books, including BodyPrayerReimagining Spiritual Formation, and Community in the Inventive Age. Pagitt and his wife, Shelley, live in Minneapolis. This post is based on Doug’s newest book, Flipped: The Provocative Truth That Changes Everything We Know About God.

Elements of Fulfillment: New Jerusalem, Garden City

Rewilding CIty

As we’ve continued this series of re-imagining biblical eschatology along lines intelligible to and resonant with those who produced it, we’ve come to see that whatever existed in a tangible form in Israel under the Law paradigm finds its counterpart in spiritual form in the in-breaking Gospel paradigm.

It should be of no surprise, then, to find two Jerusalems in the Bible.

These two cities are contrasted in Paul’s allegory, in Galatians 4. It is stated that Hagar, the bondwoman, represents the covenant from Mt. Sinai, corresponding to Jerusalem in Palestine; the city that Paul said was at that time in bondage with her children.

However, there was another Jerusalem, of whom Sarah through the New Covenant was representative – this Jerusalem is the one above, the heavenly Jerusalem of Hebrews 12:22:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…

This city, according to Revelation 21, contains the elements of Eden: the Tree and River of Life, gold and precious stones. And yet it is a city, with buildings and measurements, depicting a creative union of the earthy Divine with the spiritual human. Rather than being in one particular place, though, Scripture envisions this New Jerusalem as being a way of seeing a renewed earth, descending from heavenly places.

Many cannot admit the presence of the heavenly Jerusalem now because they entertain a literal concept of this city. But the writer of Hebrews did not say, “you will” come to the heavenly Jerusalem, but rather “you have” come to it. This is a statement of a present fact, and not a future prospect. The heavenly Jerusalem is not a future prospect anymore than the church, Christ, his blood, or the New Covenant listed in this same context are future prospects. A rejection of one in a present state results in a rejection of all. Humanity has either come to all, or we have come to none.

The purpose of the writer, therefore, is to show the spiritual nature of those things enumerated in the text belong to the kingdom of Christ here and now. The heavenly Jerusalem exists in marked contrast to the literal Jerusalem of the Mosaic paradigm. The qualification for admission into this city is spiritual, not temporal and barrier-driven. It is a matter of spiritual character, not of physical circumstances. We must be born of Abraham’s spiritual seed as represented in Isaac, and not of his temporal seed as represented in Ishmael.

To demand a literal New Jerusalem would be in opposition to everything in relation to it. In Spirit and Reality, the fact of a spiritual tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifice, temple, throne, seed, Israel and mountain has already been established. Why oppose having a city that corresponds – by nature – to the things that belong to it? A spiritual tabernacle, temple or throne would not fit in a literal city. Surely it is obvious to the thoughtful person that Christ came to lead us from the limitations of the temporal, with its prejudices and barriers, to the spiritual, which is boundless and welcomes all.

As this year unfolds, we’re going to continue seeing how the Hebrew Bible, teachings of Jesus, and writings of the New Testament support moving beyond the parochial concerns of religion-as-such into a spirituality that supports an open-ended trajectory of becoming co-creators with God. With renewed vision, we’ll see a new heaven and earth, swords transformed into plowshares, re-wilding our hardened cities until they reflect God’s garden city, the New Jerusalem, found at every address on the planet.

Let us therefore maintain a worship that is in harmony with this city, which has been hiding in plain sight:

The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Next week we’ll examine the nature of Land as depicted in biblical prophecy.

God Beyond Boredom – Doug Pagitt

God Beyond Boredom

In God we live, move, and exist.
Paul, the apostle

Perhaps it has happened to you. You are making your way through life and suddenly find yourself upended by an idea. It’s the kind of idea that stays with you and eventually makes a home in your thinking. Over time you can’t imagine life without it.

I call this a Flip.

The Flip at the center of my life is one that turned me around as a minister and writer as well as in my personal life and faith. I was sideswiped by a notion that caused me to realize God isn’t who I thought God was. It’s very possible that God is not who you have always assumed God to be. The realization comes to us in different ways.

For me, the Flip came when I was in a hotel room in San Diego and talking with a man I barely knew. My assumptions about the world and how it works were upended.

Sometimes Flips are impossible to ignore. At other times they are so subtle you could easily miss them. You spend the rest of your life trying to understand all that this change means for you and for others. The Flip can take you from being dead certain about an idea or a person or a story to a place where you aren’t certain what you believe anymore.

The Flip that hit me in San Diego was like a wasabi shot to the brain.

I should explain that I love wasabi. A lot. Wasabi is a paste made from the stem of a horseradish-like plant. The paste most often is served with sushi, and there is good reason for the combination. The nearly medicinal benefit of the plant is thought to kill bacteria. It goes perfectly with the uncooked fish often served in sushi. My love of wasabi is not for its health benefits, though; it’s for the kick. Not just any kick, but a head-snapping, nasal- clearing, eye-widening kick.

While the Flip didn’t make my eyes water or my nose run, it did leave me feeling cleaned out, tossed around, and even a little stung. It was as if a direct path connected what I heard to all of my ideas of God, humanity, and what life is all about. I had known before that I didn’t have it all straight, but never did I dream that an encounter with a guy in a hotel room would bring such clarity.

Looking Beyond Our Thinking

It was 2004 and I was one of the organizers of a national pastors’ conference. It might seem that life-changing conversations about God would be common in this setting, but these events seem to involve a lot more mundane chitchat than life-altering conversation. In situations where so many people are committed to the religion industry, most conversations stay well inside the bound- aries of what we already think. No pastor wants to risk his or her job by crossing too many lines.

But I’m not interested in boundaries. I’d rather see what is possible just outside of what we all think. Curiosity is far more important to our faith than the false security of established certainty.

That might be one reason I liked LeRon almost immediately. He was a respected theologian and one of the presenters at the conference. I sensed he had a lively, curious mind. I was walking by when I heard him say, “And that’s when I stopped thinking of God as a separate single subject.”

Wait. God is not a separate single subject? God is not separated and removed from humanity? That means . . . And so the Flip began.

It was almost as if I heard one of those Laurel and Hardy double “whoopee” sounds in my head.

God is not a separate single subject. This idea may not strike you with the power it did me. And if I had heard it at another time it might have slid by me without notice. But on this night it hit me hard. It danced with other thoughts that were important to me but seemed out of rhythm with so many of my assumptions about God, humanity, and life.

That’s the thing about Flips: once they start, they are almost impossible to stop.

I realized I could think of God in bigger, more integrated, more expansive ways than I had before. I had always felt bound by the more classic descriptions of God. I don’t mean the “chummy big guy upstairs” image or the “old man with a white beard” caricature. It was something far more crucial than that.

Prior to this, I had only heard God described in terms of difference and distinction from humanity and creation. The central understanding of God was that God is different. It was as if the important thing about God was that we have absolutely nothing in common with God.

There is this scene in the feel-good movie Rudy where Rudy is trying to figure out his life’s call. His priest says, “Son, in thirty- five years of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two hard, in- controvertible facts. There is a God, and I’m not Him.” In my past understanding of God, the vast distance between God and human- ity was almost a point of pride.

The people I talked to about God in seminary and afterward were convinced that God is, quite simply, Other. But here was LeRon, a Christian theologian, suggesting that is not the only way to think about God. And, boy, did I want that to be true. Flips don’t force us to think in a new way. Rather, they conspire with thoughts that already are in our heads.

I jumped on the idea that if God were not a separate being from all things in the cosmos, then we need not simply say God exists. We can say that God is existence. All is In God.

Doug Pagitt August 5, 2012.  (Courtney Perry)Doug Pagitt is an author, idea-leader, and speaker, the founder of Solomon’s Porch, a faith community in Minneapolis that focuses on addressing human needs in the neighboring community and facilitating a more personal encounter with God. He is also host of Doug Pagitt Radio and the author of several books, including BodyPrayer, Reimagining Spiritual Formation, and Community in the Inventive Age. Pagitt and his wife, Shelley, live in Minneapolis. This post is based on Doug’s newest book, Flipped: The Provocative Truth That Changes Everything We Know About God.

Moving Mountains

Uncompahgre Sunset

One of the most striking depictions of Law and Fulfillment is pictured in the contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, the sources of law and government for the Mosaic and Christian dispensations.

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… (Hebrews 12:18, 22).

The nature of the Mosaic dispensation inaugurated at Mount Sinai is reflected in the nature and character of the mountain itself, especially in the scenes of events that transpired at the giving of the Law. Sinai is described as “a mount that might be touched” –a tangible, palpable site of external regulations, suggestive of the form-shaped nature of the old economy. In contrast to this is the spiritual nature of the new economy as represented by Mount Zion. The former appealed primarily to the physical senses, consisting of ceremonious externals. The latter appeals to an inside-out experience, consisting of a spiritual process designed to cleanse the heart and purify the soul.

The flip-side of external commands is external punishment. Mount Sinai’s prohibitions carry the punishment of bondage, darkness, severity and death; Mount Zion’s inside-out emphasis symbolizes love, freedom, light, grace and life. As a tangible mountain, Sinai was a temporary type and shadow, subject to decay (Hebrews 8:13). It was elemental because it was elementary (Galatians 3:24; 4:3).

Those who insist on a return of Christ to Palestine to rule over temporal Israel fail to see the spiritual fullness of the Christian economy as represented by Mount Zion. Today’s seeker of God has not come to Mount Sinai, but Mount Zion. God has removed the things that were shaken, and in their place has given us a kingdom that cannot be moved (Hebrews 12:26-28). The movables were the physical elements of Judaism made at Sinai (the tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices, etc.), and these were the tangible things that were shaken and removed when the saints came to Zion. The tangible nature of religion was only a scaffolding set up temporarily with a view to the erection of the lasting architecture of the New Jerusalem, embodied in spirituality itself.

All that was ever typified by the law or prophesied by the prophets has been fulfilled – God kept these divine promises. In Christ is fullness; there is nothing more to give, or nothing more to be received. Humanity’s spiritual inheritance is full and complete, and nowhere in the entire Bible is the promise that one shall ever return to the limitations of external, temporal form. Having come to a Mount Zion that cannot be shaken or moved, we should be content to dwell there throughout eternity. Now, saints are children of the free woman, not of the bondwoman. I’ll let the first-century apostle, Paul, have the final word here:

Tell me—those of you who want to be under the Law—don’t you listen to the Law? It’s written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. The son by the slave woman was conceived the normal way, but the son by the free woman was conceived through a promise. These things are an allegory: the women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, which gives birth to slave children; this is Hagar. Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and she corresponds to the present-day Jerusalem, because the city is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. It’s written:

Rejoice, barren woman, you who have not given birth.
Break out with a shout, you who have not suffered labor pains;
because the woman who has been deserted will have many more children
than the woman who has a husband.

Brothers and sisters, you are children of the promise like Isaac.

(Galatians 4:21-28, CEB)

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Next week we’ll examine the nature of of Israel’s different dimensions as depicted in biblical prophecy.

Elements of Fulfillment: The “Everywhere Israel”

All Families

The scope of God’s promise to Abraham was universal in its blessing power:

All the families on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3b)

This leads us naturally to the question: Was this universal blessing (all families on earth) meant to be contained to Abraham’s physical descendants – temporal Israel – for all eternity? Or does a fulfilled narrative fulfill God’s promise to bless all families?

Our reflection on the nature of seeds last week leads us to a consideration of the two Israels said to be born of the two kinds of seed mentioned. An element of confusion in prophecy is our interpretative inability to see two Israels born of Abraham. In biblical terminology, there is an Israel “after the flesh” (or temporal), and an Israel after the Spirit – which is to say, not limited to locality, but universally accessible (see Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman in John 4:19-24).

This is clearly illustrated in the allegory of Ishmael and Isaac (Galatians 4:21-31). Both were born into the household of Abraham, but one (Ishmael) is said to be born after the flesh, and of the other (Isaac) born after the Spirit. Inspiration uses these events to advance the concept of a fleshly (temporal) and spiritual (ubiquitous) Israel.

The first Israel, typified by Ishmael, was born of Abraham and Sarah’s human initiative, and was propagated and preserved under the Law of Moses (See Genesis 16). Concerning them Paul said,

For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,

who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;

of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen (Romans 9:3-5)

The second Israel, typified by Isaac, was born of Abraham’s promised seed (Christ – see Galatians 3:16), and is constituted of everyone who walks not after “the flesh” (the Law paradigm), but after the Spirit (the faith of Christ, or the good news – see Romans 8:1-3). Concerning the distinctions of Isreal, Paul said,

For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,

nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”

That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed (Romans 9:6-9)

The meaning of this passage is obscure until studied in view of the two Israels as set forth in Ishmael and Isaac. The promised Israel of God in whom Abrahamic promises are fulfilled is constituted of those who trusted in Christ – Jewish and Gentile alike, temporally speaking.

Hoping for a return of Christ to the physical city of Jerusalem at some point in the future to bring literal fulfillment and blessings to a fleshly seed of Abraham is false hope:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (Galatians 6:15-16).

Instead, the scope of God’s vision is much wider and more generous than that – not excluding the historic Jewish children of the promise in any way, but widening the scope to include Gentiles. The God of temporal Israel is revealed to be the God of spiritual Israel – which is another way of saying “The Lord of Heaven and Earth!”

May we dare to open our hearts to this indiscriminately loving God, thus

…acting as true children of your Father in heaven, [who] gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, sending rain on the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45)

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Next week we’ll examine the nature of of Israel’s different dimensions as depicted in biblical prophecy.

The Coming of God: War and Peace – Riley O’Brien Powell

Siege on Jerusalem

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29-30)

Notice that Jesus is quoting from Isaiah here. Jesus is speaking of a coming of God that brings about covenantal changes and realities. He is not saying that the planet will be shaken; he’s saying that the powers of the Old Covenant, Israel, and the way of being God’s people through the Law of Moses will be shaken. They will give way to a new way of being God’s people through Christ.

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud. On the cloud was seated someone who looked like the Human One. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand…Then the winepress was trampled outside the city, and the blood came out of the winepress as high as the horses’ bridles for almost two hundred miles. (Revelation 14:14, 20, CEB. ‘Son of Man’ can also be rendered ‘Human One.’)

Jesus’ coming to judge came to pass in Jerusalem, in 70AD. Jesus taught his Way of peacemaking and reconciliation; many ‘common people’ rejoiced but those in power – Jewish and Roman – felt threatened; Jesus wept because Jerusalem would not accept the ‘narrow way’ of escape from the inevitable violence of their own cyclical impulses. And so, Jesus’ paradoxical presence was made known as Jerusalem was given over to its own violent strategies via Rome in AD 70, having ignored Jesus’ Way of Peace (See Luke 13:34-35).

Out of the rubble of this tragedy came the first-fruits of genuinely good news for humanity: As the Temple fell, “the end” of the Old Covenant era of a particular people relating to God via Law and sacrifice has strikingly, visually passed away for those seeking something more.

The Kingdom of God is here! And it is coming into the world evermore so through us now. Jesus’ coming, therefore, is not something that is going to happen “to us” in the future. Rather, God’s life, light, love and presence is coming to the world through us – right now.

The great mystery to us physically-minded earthlings is coming to understand how Jesus is more truly present here with us now than he ever was while he walked the earth. Spiritually, God lives in us, in untold numbers of us at once. And we see him ceaselessly visiting those awakened to this reality, blessing and healing the world.

So there is no justification for Christians to preach a fear-based message of “Repent now because Jesus may be coming soon to end the world and you don’t want to be left behind!” However well-intentioned this may be, it’s little more than fear-mongering. Instead, when you finally see that Jesus did what he said he would do, and came when he said he would come, you can share the story of the great faithfulness of God in Jesus, of his reliability and trustworthiness, of how he spoke accurately and authentically from God.

Jesus did not fail to keep his promise to come to his disciples in their generation and to resurrect them to life anew in the body of Christ, even though we may have massively missed the point in understanding what his coming to consummate God’s Kingdom on earth would look like. I hope this reflection on the symbolic, revealing power of prophetic language gives you a fresh lens through which to consider the content, timing, and trajectory of God’s prophetic promises.

The empowerment in this message is that we can be a part of God’s story of renewal and rebirth in the world. God has chosen to work through us in the world, as co-creators of a Great Kingdom.

What I’d like you to consider from this explorations of the comings of God in history:

  • We are not here alone awaiting rescue from a “fallen” world.
  • The God who redeemed the world is here – now – working through us.
  • Jesus’ invitation to a life of active peace-making and reconciliation is still an open one. What the religion and empire of Jesus’ day rejected, we can embrace, co-creating a future of abundance with the God who keeps divine promises.
  • As God’s waking-up vessels, we can participate in channeling God’s love, blessing and healing to the world.
  • Jesus’ coming, therefore, is not something that is going to happen “to us” in the future. Rather, Jesus’ life, light, love and presence – revealing God as our All-in-all Source – is coming into the world – through us, in us, and as us.

The Coming of God by Riley O’Brien Powell – Complete Series:

Coming of God
The Coming of God: Like Father, Like Son
Comings of God in History
Comings of God in Exile

 

RileyRiley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blogs, at Living the Question and Mostly Raw Mom.

Integral Theology and Structures of the Mind – Part I

Brain

What is “form”? Where is humanity going? How does God develop our thinking from entrenched mindsets to more generative possibilities? Doug King offers a unique perspective on our personal and cultural growth in part one of this two-part series!

Elements of Fulfillment: Seed

Seed
In archetypal language, Scripture depicts two kinds of seeds – temporal (or in biblical language, fleshly) and spiritual. God promises Abraham a great nation through his temporal seed (or offspring), which was fulfilled by Abraham’s biological descendants:

The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse;
all the families of the earth
will be blessed because of you.
(Genesis 12:1-3)

But the greater and higher promise of this Genesis blessing finds its fulfillment through Abraham’s spiritual seed, which is Christ.

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘and to your Seed,’ who is Christ.
(Galatians 3:16).

In the New Creation ecology, one is not constituted a child of God by temporal birth of the descent of Abraham, but by birth of the incorruptible seed:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29).

Peter continues this theme of Abraham’s trajectory, “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pet. 1:23).

The tragic misunderstanding among the first-century Jewish community was their failure to see Christ as the promised seed of Abraham, through whom the Abrahamic promises and blessings were to be realized. Their vision was clouded with the veil of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:13-16) inasmuch as they anticipated a Messiah whose work would be a literal restitution of the temporal system born of Moses. They could not see beyond Moses to Abraham, and grasp the spiritual significance of the promised seed, which extended above and beyond the types and shadows of the Law. They continually assured themselves of future blessings on the basis that “we are Abraham’s seed” (John 8:33), not realizing that in the New Creation sprouting in their midst, the children of Abraham would be born of Christ – his promised seed (Roman 4:13).

On this basis, John defends the believers in Christ from the charges of heresy and apostasy, showing that the “seed” remains in Christ, and therefore is not lost, but rather maintained by the transition from Law to fulfillment (1 John 3:6-9; Isaiah 66:22). It was this understanding that led Paul to give up the works of the Law, and seek justification by the faith of Christ (Galatians 2:16). Paul’s temporal good-standing in Israel was once a basis for confidence and pride, until he realized that the old must give way to the new, and that the inheritance promised to Abraham’s seed was not temporal, but heavenly or spiritual (1 Peter 1:3). Therefore, it could not come by the Law (Galatians 3:18; Romans 4:13).

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Next week we’ll examine the nature of of Israel’s different dimensions as depicted in biblical prophecy.

Comings of God in Exile – Riley O’Brien Powell

Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, The Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem. Courtesy of Deror avi, Wikimedia Commons.

Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, The Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem. Courtesy of Deror avi, Wikimedia Commons.

In this series, we’ve been exploring the Bible’s rich, haunting, and sometimes-confusing language of trumpets, clouds, darkening of the constellations, burning up of the heavens and shaking of the earth’s foundations.

What I’m suggesting is that just as Jesus’ “coming on the clouds” was a symbolic way of speaking about the spiritual meaning of first-century temporal events, so there are other recorded “cloud comings”of God in history following a similar pattern. These can shed valuable light on an often-overlooked aspect of biblical prophetic speech.

Last week we looked at several of these cosmic occurrences – predicted and fulfilled – in ancient Israel’s history. This week we’ll examine several more examples that take place during the time of Israel’s exile.

God Comes to Judge Egypt in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC

The day is near, even the day of the LORD is near; It will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. A sword will come upon Egypt, and anguish will be in Ethiopia; When the slain fall in Egypt…And they will know that I am the LORD, when I set a fire in Egypt…I will also make the hordes of Egypt cease by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He and his people with him, the most ruthless of the nations, will be brought in to destroy the land; and they will draw their swords against Egypt and fill the land with the slain. (Ezekiel 30:3-4,8, 10-11)

Notice the “Day of the Lord” mentioned here is a local judgment – or war – on Egypt. According to the author of Ezekiel, God says the acts of Nebuchadnezzar are really from him, and God intends to make his presence in that war known. The army is used as an instrument of judgment in God’s hand to judge Egypt, just as the Roman army was used to judge Jerusalem.

God Comes to Judge Edom in the Time of Nebuchadnezzar – 500s BC 

YHWH is enraged against all the nations, and angry with all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them…the stench of their dead bodies will come up; and the mountains will melt in their blood. All of the host of heaven will be dissolved. The heavens will be rolled up like a scroll, and all its armies will fade away, as a leaf fades from off a vine or a fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven. Behold, it will come down on Edom, and on the people of my curse, for judgment. Yahweh’s sword is filled with blood… a great slaughter in the land of Edom…For YHWH has a day of vengeance…From generation to generation, it will lie waste. No one will pass through it forever and ever. (Isaiah 34: 2-6, 8-10)

Notice that Jesus quotes from this passage in Isaiah when Jesus prophesies the Destruction of Jerusalem to his disciples in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Isaiah says that the whole host of heaven will be destroyed, the very sky will be rolled up like a scroll and God’s sword will be bathed with blood and in the sky. This is cosmic and universal-sounding language describing local events with spiritual implications.

God Comes to Judge Israel at the Time of the Babylonian Exile – 500s BC

…I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face… All flesh shall see that I, YHWH, have kindled it…Thus says YHWH: Behold, I am against you, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked. …all flesh shall know that I, YHWH, have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath.
(Ezekiel 20:33-35,47-48; 21:3-5, emphasis mine)

Behold, [God] goes up like clouds
And his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined! Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, That you may be saved…I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void;
And to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
And all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness,
And all its cities were pulled down Before the LORD, before His fierce anger. For thus says the LORD, The whole land shall be a desolation,
Yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it. At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees;
They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; Every city is forsaken, And no man dwells in them. And you, O desolate one, what will you do?
(Jeremiah 4:13-14, 23-30)

Notice the references back to creation. Is the prophet saying that God is going to terraform the planet? No. This is poetic and apocalyptic language to describe a war – the end of the world as they knew it.

God Comes To Judge Ancient Babylon Using the Medes – 500s BC 

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame. See, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity…

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with no one to gather them, all will turn to their own people, and all will flee to their own lands. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished. See, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.
(Isaiah 13:6-11, 13,15-19, emphasis mine)

Is this verse saying that the earth was blasted with asteroids and falling stars? Were the sun, moon and stars all destroyed so that they wouldn’t shine anymore? Did the earth come out of its usual orbit and shake?

No.

This is apocalyptic and symbolic language describing the shaking of the political powers of a nation – specifically, the ramifications of the Medes on the social, political and religious order of Babylon. The ‘heaven and earth’ or ‘sun, moon and stars’ language here refers to the shaking political order of the nation itself, just like the symbols you see on a nation’s flag today – a red sun for Japan, an earth for Brazil, the crescent moon and star for Islam, the 50 stars for the States of America. All universally recognized national, political and religious symbols. This same use of symbols in language is present in Biblical times.

God Comes During the Maccabean Period

For I have bent Judah for me, I have filled the bow with Ephraim; and I will stir up your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and will make you as the sword of a mighty man. YHWH shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning; and the Lord YHWH will blow the trumpet, and will go with whirlwinds of the south. YHWH of Hosts will defend them; and they shall devour, and shall tread down the sling-stones; and they shall drink, and make a noise as through wine; and they shall be filled like bowls, like the corners of the altar. YHWH their God will save them in that day (Zechariah 9:13-16)

Bows and Arrows, Swords and Slings, Wine and Bowls, and altars. Battle meets ritual in this prophetic depiction of war.

I hope the biblical-language paradigm of using symbolic language to uncover the spiritual meaning of  this-worldly symbolic Divine appearings is plain now. Temporal events were interpreted according to their inner significance to the soul of a nation, in a way that their original hearers understood. This stands in marked contrast to the woodenly literal, endlessly-deferred, sci-fi interpretations that – through pious repetition – have lit up our airways, bookstores, and movie screens with tales of a highly abstract future woe.

Join me right here at the Presence blog next week as we return to the setting of Jesus and his first-century followers!

RileyRiley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blogs, at Living the Question and Mostly Raw Mom.

Doug King and Kurt Johnson: Spirituality & Science

Man with conceptual spiritual body artWhat does experiential spirituality have in common with experimental science?

How can both bring us along further in our common human journey?

Join Presence President Doug King as he sits down with Dr. Kurt Johnson to explore fresh contours of science and spirit in a world beyond dogma!

 

Kurt JohnsonDr. Kurt Johnson has worked in science and spirituality for over 40 years, his dual career detailed at Wikipedia. In science, Kurt’s PhD is in evolution, ecology, systematics and comparative biology.  Associated with the American Museum of Natural History (30 yrs.), Kurt has published 200+ articles on evolution and ecology, including the 2011 Harvard DNA sequence study vindicating Vladimir Nabokov’s views of evolution, published in the best-selling Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius, co-authored with The New York Times’ Steve Coates.

In spirituality, Kurt is co-author of the The Coming Interspiritual Age, with David Robert Ord, the Editorial Director of Namaste Publishing (publishers of spiritual teachers including Eckhart Tolle and Michael Brown). Kurt was originally a monk and founded, with Wayne Teasdale and others, the InterSpiritual Dialogue Association for exploration of contemplative experience across – and beyond – traditions. Kurt also works with The Contemplative Alliance,  Integral communities, and Forum 21, of which Presence is also a part.