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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

All Turned Around

Have you ever noticed how, over and over again, God seems to turn things around? What I mean is that God seems to have a penchant for taking what we know or "how it ought to be" and turning it around to ... how it is.

Take, for instance, Paul's commentary in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians.
Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Cor 1:17-21)
See? Turned around. We think that "eloquent wisdom" is the approach that will save and Paul says it isn't. We think that the wise are the ones needed and Paul says they aren't. We believe that an erudite discussion of the merits of the case will bring people to Christ and Paul calls it "folly" that we preach. Turned all around. It is truth, but it's turned around from what we might expect.

How about the cross? If you wanted to start a movement -- to build a following -- you surely wouldn't do it with an executed Savior. God did. Beyond that, however, we all classify death as "the end". You live, you die, end of story. But Christ came, died, and rose again. The world -- even His disciples -- didn't see that coming. Yet His certainly unexpected resurrection makes all the difference (e.g., Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Acts 26:23; Rom 6:4; Rom 7:4; 1 Thess 4:14; 1 Cor 6:14; 1 Cor 15:20-28; 2 Cor 4:14; Eph 2:6; Col 2:12; 1 Peter 1:21). All turned around.

Every other religion on the planet and, in fact, most of those not particularly religious see the means by which we get to "a better place" after we die as a process of being more good than bad. It makes sense. You earn your way. Reasonable ... and wrong. Christianity alone preaches a salvation not of works. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). We are saved apart from works (Rom 3:28; Rom 4:6). This is not reasonable to the majority, but it is right. All turned around.

Jesus gives a strange call to His followers. "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Mark 8:34) "What's that you say? Take up a cross?" Yes. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt 11:29) "Take up your yoke and find rest?" Makes no sense. It doesn't seem reasonable. It's all turned around.

One thing we know for sure: we chose Christ. We came to Him in faith. We repented. We chose Him. So why did He tell His disciples, "You didn't choose Me, but I chose you" (John 15:16)? Who chose whom? Now, to be fair, we did come to Him in faith and we did repent, but Scripture talks about faith as a gift (Rom 12:3; Phil 1:29) and repentance as something granted (2 Tim 2:25). That is He is the first cause. And that's all turned around from our normal way of seeing things.

One of the most difficult things for me to grasp is the twist God puts on what I can only refer to as His sovereignty. In more than one place the Bible uses the imagery of a potter to describe what God does with humans. Isaiah writes, "Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, 'He did not make me'; or the thing formed say of Him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isa 29:16) Paul writes, "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" (Rom 9:21) The Word speaks of God as making humans as He wishes, and sometimes it's not ... what we would consider nice or fair. I mean, when the Potter can opt to make a person for "dishonorable use", that doesn't seem fair to our ears. But the Scriptures claim that "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble." (Prov 16:4) Now, we know that God doesn't cause sin (James 1:13), so we won't go there, but it seems equally clear that He expects it and uses it (e.g. Gen 50:20; Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:26-28). God doesn't cause it, but He ordains it. And that is so twisted from what we expect. It's all turned around.

Truth be told, despite the fact that my point is that God often tends to turn things around from what we might expect, this is exactly what we might expect if God is God. That is, if God is indeed infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, holy, holy, holy, and good -- if it is true that God holds, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa 55:8-9) -- then we would necessarily expect God's ways to be other than ours and God's thoughts higher than ours.

Two conclusions, then. First, if you are going to allow the Author of all to define reality, you may find that you need to rearrange your understanding of reality to more closely align with His ideas rather than vice versa. Second, if your notion is that how you understand the world defines what God does, you can be quite sure that you'll be wrong most of the time. Your view of God is too small. Human reason is not the answer here. God -- our God -- is, above all, an "other" God and human reason falls short. His own Word ought to help bridge that gap.

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