The Puzzle of Humanity

 by Dr. John Yates

Personal Matters

Being human is a struggle. Looking back over my life I can see three phases of inner wrestling. When I was an unbeliever I nearly went crazy, especially when drunk, turning over and over in my mind whether life had meaning.

Coming to Jesus resolved that issue; but another intense dilemma soon emerged.

It has been poignantly said,

The longest distance in the world is between head and heart.
This distance between my doctrinal affirmations and my actual experiences tormented me for some years until I stopped looking at myself.

As a more Christ-centred believer another acute tension surfaced, the one which still so often troubles me and from which there seems to be no deliverance. This is a tension generated by the massive difference between who I know Jesus to be and the outworking of this in and around me through the Church.

Is this a special prophetic burden that comes through discerning the difference between a present condition and a future state (Zech 12:1; Mal 1:1)?

If a spiritual gift is at the source of my inner tensions then the generally apathetic Aussie Church needs a revelation of Jesus as the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8; 1 Pet 1:13). God can shift our lukewarm spirituality, but only if we seek the depths of “the love of Christ that leaves us no choice” (1 Cor 2:10; 2 Cor 5:14; Rev 3:16).

To possess biblical wisdom about who we are not we must go back to our beginning.

Made for Glory

Adam and Eve were made in the image and glory of God but knowing that they could die made them acutely aware they were radically incomplete (Gen 2:17; 3:4-5). This awareness of imperfection was part of a larger divine plan; “God…has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Eccl 3:11).

The first couple must have longed for an eternal marriage, but the divinely imposed shadow of death presented itself as an impenetrable barrier to endless marital joy.

Knowing there were things only God knew about good-and-evil proved to be an intolerable tension, one which they tried to solve by reaching out for personal immortality (Rom 1:20, 23). The result was a terrible Fall; instead of ascending to perfection humanity fell short of the glory which God had always designed for us (Rom 3:23).

This loss of glory is experienced as shame, an unbearable sensation everyone tries to over with the substitutes of religion, money, sex, power, family, knowledge, work and so on (Gen 3:7; Jer 2:11; Acts 17:29; Rom 1:23). Such idolatries actually satisfy some people, even those thought to be enlightened. “Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being.” (Ghandi) By God’s grace however such satisfaction always eluded the pre-Christian me.

My serious efforts to “kill” my inner puzzlements about life through attachment to the pure materialistic determinism of behaviourist psychology only intensified my sense that something drastic was missing inside.

This severe discontentment, for which I now thank God, was a necessary stimulus in moving me towards Jesus. In this “lucky country” however we face a powerful social taboo against confessing despair over life itself. Adopt this attitude and expect to quickly be hit with some demeaning psychiatric label to explain away your “confusions”. 

Praise God he is working to a plan for our restoration to glory and Jesus is its absolute centre (1 Cor 2:7).

Showing the Glory

The history of salvation moves forward through bursts of the revelation of glory; “the God of glory appeared to…Abraham”, Isaiah has a vision of the glory of God “filling the whole earth”, Jesus’ “manifested his glory” at the wedding in Cana moving his disciples to “believe in him”, Saul is struck down by an epiphany of Jesus on the road to Damascus, John sees the glorified Son of Man so that he is equipped to receive the visions filling Revelation (Isaiah 6:1-6; Acts 7:2; 9:1-9; John 2:11; Rev 1:12ff.).

Manifestations like these shake our humanity to its foundations, not simply because of the vast gulf between divine glory and fallen human wretchedness, but because they are revelations of the glory of God in the humanity of Jesus.

The scriptures teach that even the Old Testament saints and prophets had a vision of Jesus; Christ said Abraham, “rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.”, likewise John tells us that Isaiah’s vision of the Lord was a vision of Jesus (John 8:56; 12:41)! If the glory of God is concentrated in the face of Jesus why are our churches so preoccupied with our healing, salvation, deliverance and prosperity (2 Cor 4:6)? It is because we cannot bear to embrace the broken glory of Christ’s cross.

True Glory

Approaching his “hour” of death Jesus prayed; ““Father, glorify your name…. glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,”” (John 12:28; 17:1). The full manifestation of the Father-Son glory for which Christ prayed comes only through Jesus immersion in our radical incompleteness. The cry “My God, my God, why have you….?”” (Mark 15:34) is a total identification with all our sin-laden puzzlements.

Unlike us however the bewildered Jesus never turns to idols to cover a place of shame but turns only towards the covenant God of Israel (Ps 22:1). Whilst the glory of the cross is hidden to natural eyes the resurrection of Christ “by the glory of the Father” testifies that God’s glory was perfected in the supreme weakness of his Son (Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 12:9).

Whilst the cross as God’s plan for our glory remains hidden from the “wise and understanding” by grace it is revealed to those who puzzle over their very existence (Matt 11:25; 1 Cor 1:18; 2:7).

For too long our churches have imbibed the self-confident spirit of an age which claims an answer to everything. We need immersion in the eternal Spirit who transited Jesus through the existential exasperation of the cross into his perfection as the glorified Son of God (Rom 1:4; Heb 9:14).

For the sake of moving us to seek his glory the Father will allow us to pass through periods of deep perplexity (2 Cor 1:8; 4:8).

For only those who know they do not hold the answers to life’s deepest puzzles can possibly live a truly Christ-centred existence.

Only in radical incompleteness are we driven again and again to the scriptures where we find that Jesus really is the answer to every question. He is the glory of what it means to be a human being, a spouse, a worker and one who knows God as Father (Gal 4:6; 1 Cor 11:7; 2 Cor 4:4; Heb 2:5-9). Only in Jesus can we sense our future glory; “when he appears we shall be like him, for we will see him as his is.” (1 John 3:2).

Conclusion

Until we meet the Lord face to face the radical incompleteness of human life will remain with us.
 «Yet our perpetual puzzlements are no barrier to the conquering grace of an all wise Father» (James 1:5).

The revelation of Jesus as the Lord of glory which us apathetic Aussies so desperately need will not come through the confident professionalism of the super-churches of our day but through unlikely candidates whose brokenness embeds them in constant humility (2 Cor 12:5-13). Such wise children are those who thank God that being human involves such a struggle, one that  moves us to turn again and again to the only person who truly understands us, Jesus our Lord (Matt 11:25; 1 Cor 2:7).

Apathetic

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by Dr. John Yates

24th Oct 2013

Personal Matters
At a conference I attended recently there was lengthy discussion about the Paul’s missionary methods. The question repeatedly arose as to how we communicate the gospel effectively today given the vast differences between ancient and modern cultures. The ancient world was saturated with deities. When Paul preached in Athens the Greek philosophers quipped, ““He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18 ESV).

They took it that “Jesus” and “resurrection” were names of two new gods that could be added to their existing set of deities. Controversy only broke out at the point when Paul preached a coming time of judgement through a resurrected man; “because he (God) has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31 ESV).

The notion of a Final Judgement and a glorified body was repugnant to popular Greek thought; but some “believed” (v.34). The problem the Australian Church faces today is not a polytheism[1]Polytheism is the worship or belief in multiple deities wikipedia which assimilates any deity but ingrained cultural indifference towards a Sovereign power.  In prayer about this situation I sensed that the Lord wanted to direct our attention to a deep point of contact between the gods of the Roman Empire and the religious climate in Australia today- the prevailing conviction that whatever God or gods may exist they are fundamentally apathetic to the human condition.

Apathy
According to the highest deliberations of ancient philosophy the supreme deity was unmoved by the state of humanity. To be affected by mortals was a defect. Whilst the ordinary gods and goddesses were passionate, the notion that they possessed an unconditional love that would cause them in any way to sacrifice themselves for humans was unthinkable.

In terms of practical spirituality we are at the same point today.

The dominant secular worldview of contemporary Australia has trampled underfoot the notion that God passionately loves and sacrifices himself for us.

The existence of a Creator and Judge is deemed irrelevant to everyday life so that our culture has become functionally atheistic. Much of the sociologically informed apologetic thrust of Evangelical Christianity aimed at altering the mindset of modern Australia misses the point.

Our core issue is not intellectual but spiritual.

From a biblical point of view the reality of God is unavoidable, men and women constantly and wickedly “suppress the truth” of God’s “eternal power and divine nature” by their “unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18-20).

Whilst our unbelieving friends are consciously apathetic towards a “God” whom they believe is apathetic towards them in reality they are objects of the divine wrath (John 3:36; Rom 1:18; Eph 2:3)!

If we seek the blessing of God on our evangelistic strategies we must get inside the guts of the great missionaries of scripture and history if this spiritually drastic state of affairs is ever to change.

Intercession
All successful mission springs from empathetic intercession as a style of life that actualises revelation in spiritually lethargic communities. God becomes real to the lost through hurting believers.

The Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would, “make intercession for the transgressors” (Isa 53:12).  It is the “loud cries and tears” of Gethsemane and Calvary on our behalf which the Father heard and answered by outpoured mercy (Heb 5:7). In union with Christ Paul has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart” for the unsaved (Rom 9:2).

The “methodology” that God will always bless with his powerful presence is the very opposite of the apathy that strangles societies ancient and modern. It was said of the great evangelist George Whitfield[2]George Whitfield wikipedia that whenever he spoke of judgement he wept profusely.

Mission pioneer William Carey[3]William Carey wikipedia was a man of tears. When some of William Booth’s[4]William Booth wikipedia Salvation Army officers pleaded for his advice in breaking through to a particularly hardened group he wrote back, Try tears”.When his soldiers were broken before God over the condition of the lost a revival followed.

What are we Missing?
My lack of empathy and relative tearlessness over the condition of the lost has moved me to considerable prayer over the last few days. The sort of concern needed to bring spiritual openness in Australia must come from Christ, and not self effort. In prayer with others the other day that the Spirit shed new light on a familiar passage.

Approaching the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus Jesus “groaned in spirit” and “wept” (John 11:33, 35, 38).  As he sensed the glory lost to the Father through humanity’s Fall under the power of sin, Satan and death sent a shock wave of trauma went through Christ’s spirit. This proved to be the foundation for the flow of resurrection power (John 11: 41-44 cf. Luke 8:46).

Many pray for signs, wonders and mighty works, but the connection most of us are missing is one of a broken heart. We need to be in touch with the travailing heart of God over lost children deprived of his glory.

When this happens our lives will surely be shaped by a level of empathy, identification and intercession that will dethrone those spirits of apathy that blind the minds of the unbelieving culture which surrounds us (cf. Gal 4:19; 2 Cor 4:4).

Then Australian Christianity will no longer be known for its negativity and judgementalism but its soft hearted compassion and visible sacrificial service to the broken. People will see Jesus!

What Must we Do?
This is a trick question because it points us away from sharing in Christ’s own experience. I am however reminded of a moving story told by Christian psychiatrist and author John White[5]John White (Christian author) wikipedia. During the years of trouble in Northern Ireland a believer from there visited California and shared at a Vineyard Church.

Then in place of an expository sermon the leader, John Wimber[6]John Wimber wikipedia, said, “I believe the Holy Spirit wants to share God’s heart towards Northern Ireland with us.”

Weeping and intercession broke out all over the auditorium. Surely this supernatural outpouring was part of the Lord’s bringing peace and healing to that land. Conformity to the image of God in Christ is a painful experience but worth it for the sake of the glory of God and the salvation of lost Australians.

Conclusion
God speaks to us disturbingly through the prophet, “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” (Ezek 22:30).

Eventually God did find a man to stand in the God, Jesus. The Spirit’s call is for all of us to stand in the gap for the lost in fellowship with Jesus. I am not greatly motivated to do this, and experience teaches me that there are relatively few Aussie Christians who are. Perhaps however we can pray for one another to receive a revelation of God’s empathetic interceding heart.

If such prayers become our style of life even a nation as spiritually apathetic as ours can be transformed by the love of God.

References

1 Polytheism is the worship or belief in multiple deities wikipedia
2 George Whitfield wikipedia
3 William Carey wikipedia
4 William Booth wikipedia
5 John White (Christian author) wikipedia
6 John Wimber wikipedia