Criss-Cross

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

We ended last time in a depressing predicament. Humanity had crossed the great boundary established when God created the universe: the distinction between the Uncreated God, and all created things. From the beginning we strove to be like God, we committed idolatry.

This crossing, the worst of all transgressions, seemed to have doomed the human race to futility and failure. Instead of rejoicing in the presence of God, we hide from the blessings our Creator appointed for us to enjoy. (Genesis 3:8) Instead of eternal joy and life, our sin earns for us condemnation and death. (Ephesians 2:3)

What a terrible mess we’ve made of God’s world. He created it beautiful, purposeful, orderly. We shattered the goodness God created and turned order into chaos, life into death, purpose into futility.

Would God annihilate his ruined creation, or is there hope of rescue and restoration? The answer lies in this secret: the boundary between God and creation is asymmetrical. When we cross God’s boundaries it is sin; but when God crosses, it is grace. And salvation. We cross divine boundaries, but God criss-crosses them.

We can thank God that he did cross over. This is how it happened: one of the three divine Persons of the Trinity took on a human nature—and so this Person is now both fully divine and fully human. That’s Jesus. He is God (John 1:1), who became flesh, i.e. human (John 1:14). Jesus came to earth to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and to reconcile our broken relationship with God. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29 (NIV)

Jesus effected what we must call the great crossing: dying by crucifixion on Good Friday, Jesus criss-crossed death and returned to life on Easter. Consider what had to happen for this to come true. As we saw in the last blog, God cannot not exist (God cannot die), but because Jesus possesses a human nature he can die.

On the other hand, no human being could pay for the sins of the world—only the infinite love of God can accomplish that task, but because Jesus possesses a divine nature he can pay for all of our sins. Jesus alone possesses both a divine and human nature, which makes Jesus unique. This is why Jesus is the only Savior provided by God for the whole human race. (Acts 4:12)

So Jesus, his physical body (first on the cross, then risen and now ascended), is the instrument of divine mercy. In order to receive God’s mercy we must receive Jesus.

Only through Jesus can we cross the great divide between sinner and saint. The first step of that journey is the forgiveness of our sins. By faith in Jesus, we allow his Spirit to begin the work of transformation within us, that changes us from sinner to saint.

This doesn’t mean we become perfectly good—far from it. History proves that Christians remain sinners as long as we live in this world. What we become is not perfectly good, but perfectly forgiven. Forgiven so completely, so fully, that nothing we have done in the past and nothing we will do in the future, can separate us from God’s love in Jesus. (John 3:16; Romans 8:38-39)

In Christ God spans the gulf created by our sin via the Incarnation (Christmas) and completes that wonderful criss-cross through what we call the Resurrection (Easter).

As I finish this blog, it occurs to me that I’ve left out a step. For awhile now, I repeated the claim that to sin, to transgress boundaries established by God, inevitably breaks our relationship with God and leaves us in a state of condemnation and judgment. But I didn’t address the question, Why must God judge and condemn sin? Why can’t God just forgive us? We’ll answer that question next time.

Next Time: Living in the Land Beyond Love

The Greatest Boundary of All

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (NIV) 

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. Exodus 20:4 (NIV)

In the last blog we encountered God as a powerfully creative intelligence. This time we consider what must be the most mysterious, even inconceivable of all the attributes or characteristics of God.

We human beings have some degree of power, creativity and intelligence. To be sure, we can’t imagine the full scope of divine omnipotence and omniscience, but those basic qualities: power, creativity and intellect—at least they aren’t completely alien to our natures. Several blogs ago we contemplated what it means to say, “God is love.” While the ocean depth of divine love remains unfathomable to human hearts, love is not alien to us—in fact God created us to receive his love.

The most mysterious and inconceivable aspect of the divine Being must be found elsewhere. Nothing about God, not even his Triune nature, is more alien to our existence, more profoundly separate and distinct from the entire created order than this: God is Uncreated. God exists without beginning and without end. God cannot not exist—he is. All else that does exist receives the property of existence from God.

God exists not merely as an immaterial spirit (i.e. God has no body)—he must exist outside the boundaries of time and space, because God created time and space. How can we even begin to think of such a Being, who exists in the absence of time and space? It’s literally inconceivable!

This quality of God, the uncreated Being, goes by the name “transcendence”. God’s transcendence doesn’t mean he’s in a high and far away place. Rather, it means God is totally other than us. Divine transcendence refers to the vast gulf separating the Uncreated from all that is created, forming a deep and profound boundary. God is the Creator—all else is created. (Genesis 1:1)

This must be the greatest, most fundamental boundary of all: the immeasurable distance between the uncreated Creator and his creation. God himself is unbounded, unlimited, infinite, while everything created by God is, by nature, limited in power and time and space. Limits and boundaries define existence for creatures who are not the Creator. This is the most fundamental distinction, the greatest boundary of all.

As we saw last time, when creatures cross divinely appointed boundaries they sin. This is called “transgression”. Arguably the worst transgression, the most terrible sin in the Old Testament is idolatry. (Exodus 20:4) What makes idolatry so awful is that it seeks to merge and mix the divine with the created (by worshipping something from the created realm as if it were God), violat­ing that first, primeval distinction.

Idolatry ruptures the proper relationship between God and humanity. Instead of a relationship of loving communion, it becomes one of judgment and condemnation. Idolatry is the worst transgression because it crosses the greatest boundary: between the Creator and creation—introducing chaos into the foundations of the created order.

The temptation to cross the greatest boundary greeted humanity in the Garden of Eden, “you will be like God”, the serpent whispered. (Genesis 3:5) Sadly, we believed the ancient lie then, and so it has been ever since. Idolatry infects generation after generation. Each of which fails, succumbing to judgment and condemnation and death, instead of succeeding to the blessings of love and joy and eternal life that God created us for. Life ends in the futility of death.

Will the cycle of failure and futility ever end? Answering that question must wait until the next blog.

Next Time: Criss-Cross

The Artist

Scripture Reference:  Genesis 1:1 to 2:1 (NIV)

Artists are known by their artistic output. Whether in the graphic arts, sculpture, music, theater…great art reveals a distinctive vision, which educated patrons of the arts easily recognize. The ability to render a unique vision of reality with crystalline clarity distinguishes great art from the merely pedestrian.

We can legitimately think of God as “the Great Artist”. His work displays his grand vision. In this blog post and the next two I want to investigate God’s artistic output as God describes it, in the story of creation from Genesis chapter 1.

How does the Great Artist appear in Genesis 1? First, as powerfully creative on a massive scale: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” – Gen 1:1  God speaks into existence the entire universe in all its vast array. (Gen 1:3; 2:1)

In addition to raw power, we also see wonderfully intri­c­ate detail, revealing the divine wisdom by which God implements his boundless creativity. God creates sky and ocean and land (Gen 1:6-10), then God populates these spaces with a wonderful variety of plants, fish, birds, animals and finally human beings. (Gen 1:11-12, 20-28)  Amazingly the elements of creation fit together perfectly in a universe that is very good. (Gen 1:31)

The creation we find at the end of Genesis 1 is beautiful, purposeful and orderly. The careful development of a self-sustaining, life-producing universe through the seven day pattern reveals God as the master planner and designer, organizing creation according to principles that allow his intelligence and artistry to control his infinite power.

Knowing God to be a Triune Being, we can discern the most fundamental principle God employs to control his creative power. I’m thinking of unity and distinction. There is one God (unity) who exists as three divine Persons (who re­main distinct, not mixed together). So we are not surprised to find that God’s one, unified creation contains innumer­able distinctions—we perceive the nature of the Artist by closely observing his work.

God’s distinctions take the form of boundaries. Boundaries define proper relations, like the relational boundaries that have eternally distinguished the three divine Persons from each other. God groups related things (like land or sea or sky) and distinguishes them from other things by boundaries is the basic principle God uses to control the divine, creative power.

God created all things, each with its own set of proper relations. God made each thing to fulfill a specific purpose or role in creation, and it must be properly linked or related to other created things in order to accomplish its divinely ordained purpose or play its role. Day is not night; land is not sea; bird is not fish; male is not female. Boundaries distinguish each thing from all others, defining its purpose, yet each is related to the others in ways that allow the flourishing of God’s creation.

The relational boundaries distinguishing the three divine Persons can never be erased, mixed or merged—they remain eternally. This quality is reflected in the Great Artist’s creation: boundaries and distinctions established by God must not be crossed. Crossing a bounda­ry of God’s divine order is transgression. When things operate outside their purpose, their proper relations get twisted, distorted—and the purposes of God are perverted. That is sin.

By its nature sin fractures and mutilates proper relations by using created things for purposes or in roles other than those God intended. God made all things good (Gen 1:31), but precisely because all things God made have particular design purposes or roles, all can be perverted—used for other purposes, in other roles.

We learn from the Genesis 1 creation story that life without boundaries is chaos (Gen 1:2).  Only God is unlimited. We creatures are limited. We fulfill our divinely ordained destiny by honoring the relations God has appointed as proper for us.

 Next time: The Greatest Boundary of All