The array of dates, milestones, and events in history that contribute to the story of Humankind and Christianity for good or for bad are more than I could ever recount or would ever want to. I do not claim to be a historian of any measure in that way, but I do have enough of an understanding at this point to for me to excavate proper groundwork for what it means to be a follower of Jesus in relation to our history in the human story.
Like many other followers of Jesus, the way that I have to approach my/our own heritage in history is recognizing that in order to account for the positives in history as well as for the abuses in history, we have to do our best to understand History from the perspective of God.
If that sounds too lofty, let me explain.
Part of understanding history from God’s perspective is to understand that there are several forces or several wills at work in the story of humanity since the beginning of time, and the ramifications of each of those wills within the history of mankind are unique and have had tremendous effect on our story.
From the perspective of the Bible, one of those wills at work is God’s will, where He is performing His own mighty works according to His own plan, motivations and reason.
His design for the creation of the world and of humans is an example of His will being carried out, where He is actively moving His hand in order to produce life and beauty and goodness on our behalf. As Genesis explains, God said that “it was good.” Yep, that means you, and me, and the natural world around us, is good!
The mandate in that ‘goodness’ was to go and have sex (to multiply), to create, to build, to steward the earth, to nurture, to build culture, to develop infrastructure, and best of all (in my opinion) to harness beauty and weave it all throughout the details of our lives. This was Eden, and this was God’s plan.
But the point at which man decided that he knew what was best for himself and for the world, better than God did, we took what was ‘good,’ and tainted it by forcing it down the throat of our own will an dout of its original context and intention. In their original state, ALL things were good!
We make good things into messy things when we remove(d) God from the story. It’s not, “all things in moderation”; we flat out ruin what is sacred when we force our will and forget the original design and nature of the ‘good’ thing. That has been the crux of the human story since the beginning of time. I recognize that is highly arguable through the lens of alternative worldviews, but time history also speaks of this truth. It is plain to us in what we witness around the world and in our own cities and homes.
Outside of God’s direct will played out in the human story in the world, He is also acting by ‘moving His hand,‘ if you will, as a result of prayer that aligns with His good and perfect will. Christians believe prayer unlocks God’s hand to move in and act to answer the prayers of His people, and that prayer has the ability to change the course of reality when prayers are made in line with His will. The Bible is chalk full of promises regarding praying in faith. I personally would love to share the numerous answers to prayers that have occurred in my lifetime that are beyond explanation outside of God simply answering the cries of His daughter.
Answered prayer does not always look or seem like the specific way that we prayed, but the Bible is clear that He hears the prayers of His people and will act on their behalf according to His will on matters that they bring to Him in prayer. With that being said, some events in history we believe are a direct result of God acting on behalf of those whose prayer aligned with His will, and would only have happened through His deliberate act to answer the prayer. More on prayer in this manner later.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, God is able to accomplish His will in and through His people who are willing and actively inviting God into the many facets of their lives, their words, their relationships, and their behavior in order to fulfill the calling of Jesus, which is summed up in loving God & loving others.
The work that is done by the Holy Spirit in the lives of those that have faith in Jesus is always directly in line with the will of God, but it is still our choice to listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in our life and act on them instead of acting on our own will in the moment where those choices are presented.
The idea is that God is Holy, and will never ask His people to act outside or beyond the will of God, which will always be tempered with love, justice mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, and love. It’s a reliable calling, and a trustworthy purpose.
There are other forces or wills at work in the human story as well that add to the total story that is history.
The second is us.
People, who on our own whims (or as a result of our own will) make choices that effect ourselves, others, the environment, and the world around us for good or for bad simply by thinking and acting on our own desires.
For better of for worse, the decisions that people make down to even the slightest choice always effect someone or something else. When those choices or behaviors do not fall in line with love (the way of Jesus), the result is that damage, hurt, betrayal, disaster, jealousy, pride, addiction, etc etc can take their toll in the story.
Wounded people wound other people, and the toxic behaviors are often passed down generationally, culturally, politically and otherwise. For that reason, it wreaks havoc on people’s lives unless something is powerful enough to break the cycle. That is God’s fuerté, redeeming what is broken and making beauty where there was none.
The same free will that He gives us that enables us to serve a Holy and loving God with our minds as well as our hearts, is the same free will that He gives us that allows us to serve our own purposes and flesh. There would be no real freedom and no real love without the choice. As we know, freedom is so often abused and the story of humankind echoes the casym between.
The third active force in history is that of the natural world, natural disasters or phenomenas.
Nature is a beast, and performs some of the most eloquent performances as well as some of the most horrific destruction. Rainstorms, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods etc are all elements of ongoing natural history and life as we know it that may be (in part) a result of the impact that humankind has had on the earth. Sin brings death and destruction, hell on earth if you will. The earth is at the mercy of us and our ability or inability to steward it well. On top of that, the other side of that coin is simply that the universe is acting in accordance with its own laws, systems, and cycles. Within the rhythms of the universal laws at work, the product can be natural disaster. But who can govern the storm or impose their will on the laws of the universe?
Science can certainly explain how and why these various phenomenons occur, but it is nonetheless so difficult to understand personal implication where we cannot help but as the “why,” questions when these phenomenons occur. When human life comes at the expense of the natural disaster, it is difficult to envision a good God who would allow that to happen. In the same breath, on the whole, we rarely (some of us never) acknowledge the presence of God in our lives when things are good and when blessings abound, until tragedy strikes. Then we need to be able to blame something in order to make sense of it all. The question is still critical however and worthy of inspection to be sure.
I think at times the church has offered very poor, inadequate reasoning for catastrophic incidences like this, when sometimes the most real and honest way to answer is not to pretend that we have it all figured out, but simply admit that we don’t have all of the answers. And that is okay.
To insist that we have the total picture from the perspective of God is ludacris. There is so much to this theologically, philosophically as well as emotionally, but the good news is as in all matters, God can handle our honest questions, our anger, our confusion, and our need for truth to make sense of Him and the world around us. In fact, He invites us into that intimacy and dialogue with Him.
I’ll definitely touch on that topic more down the road with the help of some incredibly helpful scholarly assistance. It needs exhaustive dissection, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of it by offering a half-explanation.
Lastly, the fourth will at work in the world is what Christians would call evil, and what the Bible refers to as demonic forces. The spiritual realm is very real. Just as you cannot see the wind but it is very powerful, so is this reality. The Bible speaks over and over again of its nature and the way that evil is personified in the world.
The battle between good and evil, the heavenly and evil spirits which are at odds in a realm we cannot see, are both on a mission to act on behalf of and at the command of good (God) and on the behalf of evil. This unseen spiritual realm is active, and just as influential in the story of humanity as the visual world. To doubt the existence or presence of evil in the world begs some fascinating questions that are so worthy of examination because the origin of evil is actually the question that it boils down to. People know that there is something “off” in the world, and there is a source where the hate, violence, and devastation originates. Otherwise, in the logic of the most common aggregate worldview, wouldn’t natural selection have weeded evil out of us by now? To deny the reality of an evil force in the world is to deny the very real reality that millions of people experience every single day of their lives.
The original sin, or the Biblical account of the Fall, was bound up and released in the moment that the human’s will set out to intentionally go against the will of God.
God the Father had been walking with Adam and Eve in the garden, living with them in the fullness and brilliance of His plan for them, enjoying the work of His hands in the splendor of His creation. This is much like when we are out in the wilderness, under the banner of the stars, in awe of the peace and the tranquility. No city lights, no cell phones.
When we are present within this kind of beauty, the void that all of us feel when we are finally quiet enough is suddenly is so filled and rejuvenated within us. That is because we experience God in His creation, and we feel the most at home in His presence within that. However, when we exit the wilderness and back into our busy & hectic lives, we forget God all over again, the high is gone and gradually the void returns. And we wonder why we feel so anxious as a nation, depressed, and empty, and searching for meaning in all the wrong places…
God’s original intent and design was to walk with us, to be with us in creation in its untainted glory and goodness. But God can have no part with sin (when we reject Him) because it is contrary to His nature.
However. However. However.
The Bible is so darn clean, and thank God for the precision of this epic interceding of God, which is that God never ceases to pursue us in love. No matter what we do, no matter how far off the deep end we go, He is ready, patiently awaiting the opportunity to hold us, nourish us, and restore our lives to the full. The lives in our history who have that in common, who have experienced God in that life-altering way, live differently, and hopefully their lives speak to the humility and the power that come with the second chance.
So if our will is, as it was then in the garden, to be in direct opposition to God’s will or to forget Him, He cannot abide with us in that. Separation has to exist in order for God to remain Holy and in order for us to remain free to chose to live without Him. It’s the only honest way for God to be God, and for us to choose what we wish.
The Fall created a separation from God and forced God to pull His hand of protection from over His creation and the earth.
God will not force His love on anyone. He aches for connection with His people, that is evident all over the scriptures. The scriptures do show however where there is simply a point where God essentially says, “Okay, have it your way.” He lifts His hand of protection, and let’s us be the kind of free that we demand, meaning to live as if there is no God. At that point which happens in scripture ONLY after His patience has endured, He has waited eagerly for us, and in the language of the New Testament, He has been “long-suffering” towards us. It is only THEN that He finally lifts His hand off of our story and allows us to be and do whatever we please, and live as if God is not omnipresent (all around us).
This is His “passive will” being enacted, in that instead of “doing” something about rebellion towards Him, He simply removes His hand of protection because He is just. He cannot go against His own nature. And yet He remains the God who, just as a good Father would, patiently and eagerly awaits the repentance and arrival home of His children with no questions asked because He is merciful. In that return to Him, He calls us children of God, He dignifies us, and calls us worthy.
He is both just and merciful, and fully God in both characteristics.
The human soul will forever reap the consequences of the choice to live outside of the will and the covering of God. Our human nature is what dictates our lives unless we allow the Holy Spirit through the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross, to make us into a new creation with a brand new heart and a renewed mind, that willingly and actively bends our will to line up with the way of Jesus; to walk in love and serve others.
Love doesn’t trump Hate. Jesus trumps Hate.
He is the only means that enables love to actually be powerful enough to transform us from the inside out which in turn, transforms every thing about us. When you open yourself up to actually encounter the God of the Bible in this way, He will meet you there, wherever you are in your life. He will call you by name, and will welcome you into the kingdom of grace. You can never walk away as the same person because you’ve stared into the eyes of love for the. very. first. time.
The enemy of God and of our souls is who the Bible deems responsible for carrying out his evil devices and tactical efforts to keep us from God’s will, and to act independently as well on his own evil schemes. For one extreme example, rape is never in line with the will of God. If we know that it is not in line with the will of God because we know that God is love and that God is just, how else do we explain the ability of one human to that to another if we do not call ‘it’ by it’s name, evil?
It is evil personified in the world that wreaks the havoc that we see every day on the news. It’s an evil spirit that is manipulating and leveraging the will of man to hurt another. Yet it remains that for the sake of freedom, in the same way that we have the free will to help others, we have the free will to hurt others. It is an intense and powerful force behind the mind of a person that carries out devastating hurt an pain of that magnitude: a demonic spirit of evil. That is the Bible’s answer to why is there evil in the world, and the Bible’s counter-oppression tactic is the word of God and the Holy Spirit.
Through the power of death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we are given complete authority over the forces of evil. Through the power of His name we are able to put the power of evil in our thoughts and lives at bay through the Holy Spirit working within us, which was given to us in the moment our faith begins. It is warfare that transpires in our minds and hearts. God is warrior on our behalf, but I feel that battle in my soul every single day.
Every time that it ‘feels’ like I would be justified to lash out at my husband because of (fill in the blank); or every time that I hear people near me gossiping about another female in our group of friends, and I ‘feel’ like I could easily pipe up and offer something awe-worthy to the conversation. Those instances are a dime a dozen in my average day, and every time that I choose to acquiesce those ‘feelings,’ the Spirit in me is burdened because I did not choose love and He cannot exist with me in that moment where I grieve Him and give love (Christ) a bad name.
All of those things do nothing but wound another person, and more so, draw me away from a heart orientation that thrives only when I submit those things to love and to God.
I become a catalyst for evil and hurt in the world just as much as anyone else when I am careless with my own thoughts, my behavior, and in my own spirit. You have to think about what you think about because it’s out of your thoughts that your behavior flows. I know to keep my spiritual guard up in my life because my nature is weak and my tongue is fierce, and typically the cost is at the expense of someone I love.
Without the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and lives directing and guiding our minds, we would are chained to the easy sin in our natures, and left so vulnerable to the opposing ‘wills’ present and active in our lives.
The fact is that we do not always do the will of the Father and we blow it all the time. The gospel means that forgiveness is the precious gift that is available to us through this full-of-mercy kind of God we serve.
Even though we are forgiven our choices ultimately will still always effect something in our lives. We are made right with God through forgiveness and can stand righteously before Him because of His work on the cross, but sin still carries weight on this earth. For example, a man could cheat on his wife and end up completely repentant and deeply sorry for what he had done; and He is forgiven the very moment he asks God for it because God is good. However, we still live in the gap between heaven and earth where the repercussion for sin while on earth still takes some sort of shape. It could be that his wife may decide that even though he is sorry, she is not able to remain married to him and he loses everything. It could mean that he contracted some sort of STD as a result of his infidelity. Or it could mean that his wife stays with him, he contracts no STD, but the devastating psychological effects that his deviation from his marriage has caused his wife becomes an element of constant frustration and insecurity.
The direction we choose, not our intentions, determines our destination.
That is exactly how history is made, for better or for worse. People making choices in their mind, and acting on them.
The point is that everything has an effect on something else. That being known, the aim and the pilgrimage for the followers of Jesus then, is to be humble enough to allow our souls to be deeply touched and effected by the grace and forgiveness available to us, and that it renders a heart that is desperate for more of God and a life that reflects that claim.
In that place, our lives are set in a trajectory that no longer submits to the self-seeking ‘everything,’ and instead actively welcomes the Holy Spirit to work in and through us, weeding out our older rotten & subtly divisive ways that are contrary to the will of God. This is for our benefit, the benefit of those around us, and more importantly for the sake of love and obedience to a heavenly father who is eager to bless His child.
Over time, this decision of the heart to submit our lives to the way of Jesus is met by God’s transforming power. It’s real, and when the results of that goodness show up in your life, people recognize that there is something different about you. It is God who deserves the credit and all of the glory.
Every one of us is prone to behavior and thinking that stands opposed to Gods, whether it be of our own will, our inherent nature, or whether our wills are manipulated by others or in the spiritual realm. Regardless the point is not to make a lifestyle out of sin. The mess-ups will happen, a lot, but God is not after militant obedience just for the sake of it. He is after the condition of our hearts.
A humble and tender heart is affected when we miss the mark. That is a healthy response to sin, and God meets us right there in the pain of it, in the thick of it, with his mind-bending grace, affection and love reminding us of our infinite worth and value to Him, right in the midst of our messy journey.
Without the Holy Spirit, we are at the hands of our own ungoverned free will, which sounds wildly liberating until you take an honest look at the history of the world and recognize how that kind of freedom has been abused at such a high cost. That freedom has not always been used to do what we ought to do but instead to do whatever we want! It makes it worse that God’s name has been used in vain for what were actually self-benefitting crusades all throughout history. There is no excuse for that because it gives misuses the real message of the Bible and of the cross, but more importantly, it defiles the name of Jesus. When people’s lives are the casualty of it unloving and unbiblical behavior, it pierces the heart of our creator God. That’s the real offense of sin.
The Good News
The same power that Christ had to defeat death on the cross through His resurrection, is the exact same resurrection power that we have to retrieve our lives out of the grave that we so often dig for ourselves. The story of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection are not just historical dates; these are epic moments in history where God’s reached down and was active at work with us in the world, setting things right so that we are not hopelessly separated from God. We now have a way back into true connection and relationship with Him. Jesus carved out the way, and all that is required to inherit that gift is faith.
With four differing wills and forces at play, all ongoing in each and every moment in the day for all of history since the beginning of the earth, many events have taken place that are not good, and fall outside what God wants for his creation. We know this.
In the same way, there is so much good that has and will take place because although contrary forces are at work against the goodness and holiness of God, Jesus is still King. We know the end of the story and that gives us hope. He comes back and sets all things right again. He crushers evil under his heel for the very last time, and ushers in the New Kingdom with a new heaven and a new earth.
There will be no more tears…
…to be continued in Part 2