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A New Day Dawns

April 13, 2009

The day after Easter, the disciples know that Jesus has risen. Some have even seen him and for those that have not, the unimaginable has reached their ears. They have heard and they have seen. We too have an opportunity to live into the promise and reality of Easter’s celebration. Everything changed in Christ’s death and resurrection. Even today we continue to come to terms with what it means to have new life in Christ.

Therefore it is quite appropriate that we reconnect ourselves to the covenantal dream of God. We first learn of it in the garden, “in the beginning.”

Genesis 1:26-28 “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”

My understanding for many years was from the lens that in subdue and dominion were the meaning of “use for my own purposes.” I don’t think I exaggerate the point to say that we continue to struggle with this incorrect outlook. But there it is and I believe that it influences our understanding of atonement as well as our understanding of human relationships. I recognize I have just “thrown something” out there without the due process it deserves. However by the end of the road (of this blog study) what I have just said will be addressed.

There is something quite obvious – it is something so obvious that we perhaps have missed it. I know I did for many years. Evident in the garden is relationship. There is relationship between humankind and the animals – after all who named them? Would something be named if you were not in relationship with it? God is in relationship with humankind. In the garden is the revelation – the knowledge of what our relationship with God was designed for—what it was to be—the potential that even now exists. Christ not only demonstrated this for us, but He provided the means and opportunity for us.

And there is relationship between man and woman – both created by God.

Before we begin to look at this relationship I want to take a few moments to remind us that God has never given up on His idea (it certainly wasn’t our idea) to be God’s partners. There is something quite amazing that God entered into covenant relationship with humans. It’s there in the garden – in the very purpose in creation and extended to Noah (Genesis 9:1-19). God revealed his design and purpose to Abraham in Genesis 12, verse 2-3: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” I know that that we can easily misread these words or to stop after “I will bless you and make your name great.” I have to be honest it fits with my pursuit as if my happiness is my right. Or to read the text to say that those I curse, God will curse. But it doesn’t say that or imply that.

God tells Abram that he will bless him, but even in this the focus is not on “self.” The focus of the passage is squarely on the larger landscape —in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. God’s intent for his relationship with Abram is communicated in the beginning of relationship. It shaped everything that was to follow.

God did not let go of His dream –purpose or intent anchored in restoring and renewing the relationship between humankind and God. He takes it up again with Moses and the children, eventually the nation, of Israel. And it is announced loud and clear for us by Christ in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament by its writers.

For much of my Christian life the message had been framed by the understanding that I had missed the mark and sinned, that I was capable of nothing good (cue the Caedmon’s Call song, “Thankful” – “There is none who seek God. No not one, no not one. I am thankful that I’m incapable of doing any good on my own”[1]). Don’t get me wrong it is necessary and important for us to come face to face with our sin and its impact. But this is what has changed, I no longer hold to the prevailing viewpoint of Christ’s atonement as solely focused on appeasing God’s wrath aimed at us because of sin and therefore God sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins. Stated another way it is no longer the frame from which I understand my relationship with God. It has taken its rightful place as part of the picture, in the picture. It is no longer the frame.

My understanding of sin has broadened to recognize that sin thwarts God’s intention for us. It affects our relationship with God, others and creation.[2] Stanley Grenz explains it in terms we readily understand,

“God’s intention is that the growing human develop wholesome, healthy attitudes that balance personal independence and a sense of self-worth with a full awareness of an interdependence with creation, other humans, and ultimately the Creator.”[3]

Perhaps one of the tragic consequences of sin is that we have lost the sense of balance between personal independence and interdependence. In losing full awareness of our interdependence with creation, others, and God have we also lost our sense of community?

Is that why we look so intently to see structure and order within human relationships and within God purposed community (the Body of Christ)? If we have a dominant framework from which we understand sin and atonement does that put all other relationships within that framework? What happens when we realize that the “alienating effects of sin reach into our personal existence. We do not fulfill God’s design for us.”[4]

What if we began to see sin from the standpoint of God’s design for us, rather than seeing sin through the standpoint of sin?

Our understanding of atonement affects not only our understanding of sin and redemption, it also affects our understanding of who we are and what God had in mind in creation. Todd Hunter helps us make the connection by reminding us that when we have made a commitment we hold each other to that commitment. We may well fail (in fact we probably will more times than we want to), but we aren’t kicked off the team instead in response to our sorrow and repentance we are invited to get back into the game. That’s what God has done with us. God has invited us to join with God in God’s purposes and intent, “God’s story is about being the cooperative friends of Jesus, creatively seeking to do good for the sake of others through the power of the Holy Spirit.”[5]

As Christians if we give ourselves to this calling, this purpose, then we will find a way forward that will give us a willingness to seek what God had in mind for man and woman in creation, what God has committed to renew and what we are obligated in covenant relationship to follow. This is indeed freeing.

Personal reflection:

· If the focus of “why” Christ came has been on individual salvation how has this affected your relationship with God? Others? Creation?

· In what ways do you recognize that we are alienated from our “true selves”? With others? With creation?

· Does it change anything if God story’s is about being cooperative friends of Jesus creatively seeking to do good for the sake of others through the power of the Holy Spirit?” If so, what changes?

Looking ahead…what is your definition of “a helper”? The answer to that question might surprise you. Until next time.

[1] Derek Webb, “Thankful” New Spring Publishing/Niphon Music © 1999. By the way Caedmon’s Call is one of my favorite groups.

[2] Stanley J. Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998], page 99.

[3] Ibid., page 98.

[4] Ibid., page 100.

[5] Todd Hunter, Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009], page 28.


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