What I Believe: Created Spirits

The Bible mentions a wide variety of created spirits. One problem we have in knowing more about spiritual creatures is that the writers of Scripture had to use physical categories to describe spiritual realities. Another, more actual, problem is that we normally have little experience with spiritual creatures and so when we may think we are in the presence of angels of light they may actually be demons.

One defining characteristic of Satan and his minions is that they are liars. This is why it is so important in our thinking about spiritual creatures and events to seek only to know what is true because truth only comes from God.

There is a fundamental division between those created spirits who have chosen to serve God and those who choose to follow Satan. The lower ranks of those who follow Satan we call demons. The New Testament also tells us of powerful beings, apparently produced by Satan, that are described as frogs, dragons, two beasts, a false prophet, and a reigning prostitute.

On God’s side, in addition to angels, there are archangels, elders and seraphim. Angels act as God’s messengers. Archangels also act to bring God’s messages to people. They also have a role in the destiny of nations and wage war against the satanic spirits. The elders lead worship in heaven and may have other roles. The seraphim, with their multitude of eyes, appear to have the job of overseeing God’s physical creation.

On earth, I believe we are in the midst of a vast spiritual warfare. Satan’s intent is not just to cause problems for people but to bring physical and spiritual death to as many humans as he can. Were it not for the purpose of the Father, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the obedience to God of the angels we all, without exception, would be doomed to eternal death.

Advertisements

What I Believe: The Person of Jesus Christ

Angels came from heaven to sing of the glory of Jesus’s coming to earth. Shepherds came in from the fields to worship the new-born-child. Eight days later Jesus was taken to the Temple for the ritual required by the Law. Two or three years later the Wise Men showed up to provide the means for the Holy Family to live in exile until the danger from Herod and his sons had passed.

When Jesus was twelve years he went to Jerusalem with his family and then stayed to talk theology with the priests and rabbis. This was not normal but it was natural for someone coming into their identity as the Son of God.

About eighteen years later, Jesus knows who he is and what he has come to do. He is the second person of the Trinity, truly God and truly human. He has the same power as created the world and he knows he is to fulfill all the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. I believe Jesus is fully God—of one being with the Father and Holy Spirit as one person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus used providential opportunities given him to show his power to perform miracles and thus demonstrate both his nature as deity and God’s care for his creatures. I like the account of the raising from the dead of the son of a widow just outside the Town of Nain (Luke 7:11-15). Jesus is moved by the sorrow of the widow and so does what he can do in the situation. Can you imagine her son sitting up and yelling, “Get me out of this shroud”! Awe followed and the news spread but the event was not a publicity stunt. It was a showing of Jesus as who he is.

It took an intricate weaving of events to get the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled. I started with Jesus’ birth but the fulfillment began nine months before that and lasted until Jesus died on the cross, and then was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. In this time frame Jesus fully demonstrated he was the one described in Isaiah 9:6-7. Jesus was the child born who by the end of his life on earth could lay claim to being Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace whose power would have no end.

Jesus also used his time of earthly ministry to teach his disciples, and the crowds, about himself, about the Father and Holy Spirit, and about their human natures. In addition he spoke often of the kingdom of heaven (kingdom of God) that was soon to arrive. I think that soon was in human time and not “God time.” In other words, some of the people he was speaking to would experience its arrival. I believe the kingdom of heaven came to us at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit inaugurated a body of believers who would live, starting with their rebirth, forever. We start on earth and then continue our existence in heaven.

We need to remember that the human nature of Christ was fully present in him during his time on earth. When he obeyed the Father, as we must, in seeking baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon him and made his human spirit immortal. This is a picture of our redemption and was necessary so that Christ would be first among his brothers and sisters.

When Jesus was tempted in the desert, Satan’s offers of food, acclamation by the world, and earthly power were directed at his human nature. They were not an attack on his divine nature but directed at a person in a redeemed condition like ours. That is, he had trust in God and had faith in what was written in Scripture but nonetheless he was susceptible to the possibility of sin. It was a real test. Needless to say, but I will write it anyway, Jesus passed this test and overcame all the other temptations that came his way.

Jesus was one with us in his human nature and he is the One who is making us like him in that nature so I believe he should always be recognized as at the center of our Christianity.

Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

I think I am going to use the same conceptual approach to the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ that Frederick Buechner did in his book Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. My ideas will differ from his as he was writing to preachers and I am writing to everybody, Christian or non-Christian. Buechner’s categories stuck me as strange at first but as I read his book I realized he was writing what I wanted to say in a different idiom than that to which I was accustomed.

The Good News as Tragedy

The central tragedy in the good news of Jesus Christ is his crucifixion. Never has a human being suffered more in the way of injustice, humiliation, physical pain, and psychological agony, and in the end God his Father turns his face away from him. It is fashionable among people who do not believe in God to cite the crucifixion as an example of God’s cruelty. How would they know, since they know nothing of God? Not even that that he exists. If they had looked up the verse in the New Testament John 3:16  that frequently shows up at sporting events, they would see that the Apostle John, who was there when it happened, came to regard the crucifixion as the ultimate sign of God’s love for humanity.

The crucifixion of Jesus was the first step in providing a remedy for another tragedy, the almost entire absence of communication with God. This second step occurred on the third day after the crucifixion. It was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his talking with his disciples on that first Easter. Ever since Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden communication between people and God was rare and awkward. When God sent angels to speak to people, the first words of the angels are always “Do not be afraid.” When God talked face-to-face with special people such as Moses and Elijah, mountains shook. Since that first day of Jesus’ new life, the lines of communication between God and believers in Christ have been open.

Full-bore atheists and happy hedonists may be content with the absence of communication with God. To tell the truth, most of the rest of us, Christians included, are somewhat comfortable with the absence of direct messages from God. We prefer to have the message mediated by a religious institution. But this is just part of the tragedy of the good news. Most of humanity will not accept the offer of a partial return to the days of Eden and the loving relationship with God that existed way back when. God offers us the ability to be brothers and sisters of Christ and share in the love of God the Father for God the Son and yet most people reject the offer. It is an ever-growing tragedy that most people will live and die without ever experiencing the good news of Jesus Christ as a personal experience.

The Good News as Comedy

Buechner tells us tragedy is inevitable, even though we wish it were not. On the other hand he writes that comedy is the unforeseen. We are not used to finding comedy in the good news of Jesus Christ but it is there. This is because much of what Jesus did and taught during his three years of ministry was 180 degrees away from the common thinking of the Jewish people. And much of his thinking is still radical, though not in the way many people think. Jesus told Pilate his kingdom was not of this world, so all the attempts to turn him into a political leader or social activist fail to encompass the spiritual reality of his commandments to us to love God and other people.

Comedy results from turning normal things upside down. Jesus told us that in the kingdom of heaven the least of those who believed in him would be the greatest and the greatest would be the servants of all. This turns our world of status and position on its head and makes a joke of our ambitions and achievements. The underachievers who believe in him like little children are the ones who will receive the most from their faith, and will be still joyful at the end of their lives, while the high achievers, who have the most from this world, will learn at their final breath that everything in this world is nothing.

At first the reactions to the things Jesus said was shock and then, I think, came laughter. Think of the reaction when Jesus told the people walking with him through a grain field that the Sabbath was made for people and not people for the Sabbath. Fifteen hundred years of Sabbath rule-making was turned on its head so that Sabbath observance could be a joy and not a burden. Some of the people whose lives were made freer by his teaching must have laughed at the joke.

Not all comedy provokes laughter. Think of the woman with her “female problem” working her way through the crowd so she could touch Jesus’ cloak and be healed. Think of her faith, think of her persistence, think of her shyness, think of her embarrassment when Jesus turned and said, “Who touched me?” It is a funny story—of the kind that can bring tears. Perhaps most of the stories of the people who come to true faith in Jesus Christ are stories much like this. They are stories of hesitation, resistance, discomfort, of coming closer and drawing back, until finally the voice of Jesus speaks and the healing comes.

The Good News as Fairy Tale

The new life that comes to us through faith in Jesus is like the kind of transformation that comes in fairy tales. The frog does not just become a better, happier frog; he is transformed into a prince, an entirely different kind of creature. Buechner uses the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as one of his illustrations. The wardrobe is the doorway to a different existence. Jesus used an earthy image to convey the same idea. He told Nicodemas that to get into the kingdom of heaven he would have to be born again. Nicodemas was shocked but did not laugh. Instead he raised a logical objection. “How can I return to my mother’s womb?” It was then that Jesus told him the beginning of the good news as fairy tale. He would have to be blown into a new life by the breath of the Holy Spirit.

Fairy tales tell of both personal transformations and of entries into different realms. The good news tells the same kind of story. In fairy tales a powerful extra-human person typically provides the transformation. New worlds are entered through various types of portals, such as Alice’s looking glass. The inhabitants of the new place are like humans but not quite. Fairy tales only have the power to energize our imaginations. The good news has the power to make us immortal beings. That is why it is not wise to regard the good news of Jesus Christ as something people have invented, even though Buechner and I have opened that option in trying to describe things outside our normal existence.

In fairy tales someone takes notice of somebody. The good news tells us that the God who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will, if we seek him, take note of us and bring us into a new form of existence and eventually to a new place where we will live in bliss forever. This is not the situation if we only have the universe as our home. Buechner uses a short poem that Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage, wrote in 1899 to illustrate what it is like for people without the good news of Jesus Christ. It goes as follows: A man said to the universe:/“Sir, I exist!”/”However,” replied the universe,/”The fact has not created in me/A sense of obligation.”

It is better for us to accept the love shown in the reality of the fairy tale God has written for us than to accept ideologies that exclude God. All they can promise us is a short life that at its best is filled with an emptiness that only the good news can fill and at its worst is nasty and brutish. It is far better for us to receive the new life Jesus spoke about with Nicodemus. As we seek it, it will come to us through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Then we can live forever in the good news of Jesus Christ.