Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Life for the Ages

Growing up in fundamentalist church, the message I got about the future was this:

Christians have to try as hard as they can to keep the world from getting really bad. 

You won't be successful because at some point, God will get so disgusted, He will rapture the Christians out and leave the world to be plunged into a "tribulation" that will be increasingly terrible over a period of 7 years.  But don't worry, because if you are a Christian, you won't have to live through that. 

So your job is to try to get as many people as possible to believe you about the coming judgement 
and the only possible escape from it.  

Side note. Since it will all burn anyway, things that are related to life on earth shouldn't be enjoyed too much because Heaven is wonderful place so conversely, everything here is second rate. 

And this, confusingly, was often referred to as The Gospel.  Or good news.

South American Folk Art Painting - Coming to Etsy soon

There are a lot of reasons I don't see the world and the future and the gospel and my life here that way anymore.  And here is one of them.

In John 5, Jesus is once again in a fight with the religious leaders of his day.  This time, the question is about what right he has to challenge their rules about what people could and couldn't do on the day of rest.  Jesus goes on to explain that God the father has turned over two things to him:  The authority to be the judge of people and the authority to give them eternal life.

The word "eternal" in greek is not really about the future.  It's about a quality of life in the now.  It's the same idea as "an ageless beauty"  or a "life for the ages."   It's a word that is unconcerned about time.  Jesus taught that when people heard his words (the words of a fellow human)  and believed they were an accurate expression about and from the Father (the Divine) then Jesus gave them this eternal life.. a life of quality and great dimension.

vintage iris painting - Coming to Etsy soon
Jewish people then and now had a concern for the here and now.  They did not have a teaching of certitude about what happens after life.  They referred to it as "hidden."  What did matter was how you lived your life now.  If you were to someday go to God, it would be best to spend your time preparing to be with God, much like you might prepare to visit a foreign country, by acquainting yourself with the culture of that place.

What Jesus said to them was strange to them then and strange to us now.  He suggested that the best preparation could be made by believing that He was the embodiment of that future culture and the best communication about it.  He was telling them that all their guesses about how to prepare could be answered by the boss, the founder, the owner, the author, the inventor, the President, the genius behind the whole thing. They just had to believe it was really Him

Dogs playing poker - vintage magazine clipping - found in a book 


For us it is a struggle is to believe that Jesus would affect our here and now, not just our future. The old cliche is that we Christians didn't mind his divinity, but we struggle with his humanity ...and maybe his appreciation for it.  He gives this life to whoever he wants... not necessarily people who say a certain prayer, walk an aisle or profess a certain creed that is agreed upon by the larger group.  Jesus is the way, but the way people understand, communicate, and place trust in Jesus can be very different.  What we know is that Jesus gives life. Eternal life.

This life is a gift and the only sensible reaction to a gift is gratitude.

I know a lady here in NWA who is more than 80 years old, and for the last decade or so, she has seen everything through the lens of gratitude.  She gets up every day and walks a prayer labyrinth and expresses gratitude.  She is a potter and every piece she makes now has the word "gratitude" on it.  Even in the face of true injustice and disappointment, she has a sweet curiosity for life. She is not a follower of Jesus, but I think she is on to something transformative.  As Jesus followers, imagine believing that the lives we are living are a gift right here and right now, not in some future perfect situation, but right now are in fact.... "Your kingdom come"  "on earth as it is in heaven."

Believing this way allows me to see the good that God spoke of over and over again in the first chapters of Genesis.  There is something satisfying and sweet about life on this good planet.  Of course it is flawed by un-health and a competing decay.  But it is also a world on track for redemption and the lives of Jesus followers are somehow tied to that future good.   We live in what theologians have refereed to as "the already/not yet."
a recent painting by my daughter - inquire for availability 

I have a more optimistic view of the future now.  And I deeply enjoy life.  I grieve the sad things that are very real and very painful about human existence. The Kingdom of God is not fully in place, so terrible things still happen. But I approach each day with a sense of gratitude for what is.  I don't deny the negative, but I don't deny the positives either.  There are many things that are good and wonderful to enjoy here and now.  Eternal life is now.  It's a life for the ages.

disclaimer: this is a summary of a recent sermon.  My theology is still in process and I do not have time to invest in arguments.  I write only to process my thoughts and share ideas with those who might be interested. There are lots of ways to see things, just like there are lots of ways to express creativity through art.  

1 comment:

Rebeckah Leatherman said...

Gratitude changes people magnificently. I hope your friend comes to know Jesus soon.

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