Tuesday, January 26, 2021
The Grief of Our God
If anyone knows me, you know I have a thing for words. I like to read. I like languages. I like etymology (how words originate). One thing I have noticed as I am growing older is how words have very little meaning anymore. Love, in its richest agape form of God’s sacrificial love is used in the same way as my description of dessert: “I love ice cream.” Describing the One who upholds the universe as “awesome” is cheapened when I use the same word to describe last night’s meal. Examples go on and on: “depression” when perhaps it’s a run in with the “blues”; “anxiety” when perhaps it is just “annoying, bothersome overthinking”. The way we use words should mean something—especially when we read the words God uses in His Word.
Genesis 6:6 states that “the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” We need to sit up and pay attention to the words of this passage, to the emotions of this passage.
Grief. Did this text just say that God experienced grief? Does God regret things? What does this mean? One definition of grief is: deep and poignant distress. It is more than just sadness. It’s different than just being really, really upset. It is affliction where the result is great anguish. It is usually associated with the death of someone. I have not lost a spouse, child or parent, so I probably have less experience with real grief than most people. Sadness? Yes. Distress? Yes. Sorrow and lament? You bet. But when I hear of the very poignant, real, and sometimes even physical pain of grief, I am quieted. If grief is the anguish experienced after significant loss, then we need to pause and ask ourselves, “What did God lose?” What was His loss?
Neil Plantiga in his book on sin stresses that because of sin, the world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” This applies to every aspect of the created order. In Genesis 6:5, “the LORD saw” that the wickedness of man was great in the earth. Doesn’t this “the LORD saw” sound like the earlier chapters of Genesis where God confidently stated, “and God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good!” (1:31) Wow, have things changed in a few chapters! God’s loss, His grief, is bound up in all that is not “the way it’s supposed to be”.
The description of God’s grief reminds us that our God is an emotional God. He is vested in His creation. He is bound up in it, and He has emotions. In fact, the Bible frequently ascribes emotions to God. At various times He is said to be grieved (Psalm 78:40), angry (Deuteronomy 1:37), pleased (I Kings 3:10), joyful (Zephaniah 3:17), and moved by pity (Judges 2:18). But who can really understand the emotions of a God Who is infinite? If God is infinite, then how far is it to the depth of His heart? How big is His heart? How much grief would it take to fill God’s heart?
Understood this way, it is hard to imagine why the Lord expresses love and mercy to the very creation that has grieved Him so. Join us in worship this week as we explore that very thing.
As you prepare, read Genesis 6 (especially verses 5-8).
1. Verse 5 describes how God saw the wickedness of mankind. How do the previous verses (1-4) help attest to that wickedness?
2. “Every intention of his heart was only evil”—is that an exaggeration? If so, what is the Bible trying to say? If not, how can we possibly understand it?
3. Were people inherently more wicked in Noah’s time than they are now? Is that why the Bible can say “every intention is evil”? Because we certainly know that not every intention today is evil… can’t we?
4. When we use the term “regret” with God, what might we mean? Given His omniscience (knowing all things), can He really have “regret”?
5. In verse 7, God proclaims His judgement upon the earth. Why does He include the animals, etc., in His judgement?
6. What does it mean that Noah “found favor” in the eyes of God? Was he an exception to the evaluation of verse 5 that “every heart is evil”?
7. All this is prelude to the flood. So, what is the main point of the flood story for the Bible reader? What does God intend to communicate?
Monday, January 18, 2021
The Spiral of Death
On my fiftieth birthday (fading away in the rear view mirror) my family took me on a whirlwind weekend getaway. We spent one day at an amusement park (where I watched everyone else enjoy the rides), one day on a long bike trip (which my bottom still remembers), and one day at a water park (took me days to dry out). I think I most enjoyed the water park ride where you come down a slide and are dumped into a huge funnel. After spinning around and around you get dropped through the bottom into a pool. A lot of the fun is to see how many times you can spin around before you end up getting dumped. But, one thing is for sure, no matter how many swirls you do, in the end, you will for sure get dumped.
When we began our study of Genesis, Doug made the point that nearly all the key teachings of the Bible find their “genesis” in Genesis; the root of so many spiritual truths are found in the opening chapters of the Scripture. This is certainly true of the biblical teaching about the nature and extent of sin.
The Bible’s portrayal of sin is brutal—it describes sin in stark terms, giving examples of rebellion, wickedness, and rejection. We see sin dominating King David, overtaking Moses, infecting Abraham, poisoning God’s people at every step. And, of course, the ultimate expression of the power and influence of sin is the cost God Himself had to pay to conquer its consequences. Jesus’ death on the cross manifests the depth of our sin.
Theologians often capture this essence of sin with the phrase “Total Depravity”. “Depravity” describes so well the destruction, the loss, the wrongness of sin; “total”, not in terms of “as-bad-as-possible”, but meaning, “distorting every part of the human being”. If you are at all self-reflective, you’ll recognize these characteristics in your own life—and in the lives of those around you. But, how did we get this way? OK, Genesis 3 shows the entrance of sin into the world, but how do we go from eating forbidden fruit to Total Depravity?
Sin, like the water park slide, is a death-spiral—eventually, it leads us all to the bottom. It doesn’t always seem that way as you start, sometimes it’s even hard to imagine things ending as poorly as they do. But the downward spiral accompanies sin at every turn. And Genesis 4 shows exactly that downward fall. Chapter 3 has forbidden fruit. Chapter 4 begins with anger, moves through murder, and ends with the threat of unrestrained genocide. Sin is not a passive thing. It is not a simplistic thing. It is not an easy thing. Sin “crouches at the door”; sin “desires to have you”; sin “casts us out of God’s Presence”. This is the devolution of sin into “total depravity” that is marked by Genesis 4.
But (and, as always with our God, there is a “but”), but Genesis 4 does not end there. The story of sin’s downward spiral into death does not end with our getting dumped into Hell. Genesis 4 ends with the birth of Seth, the ancestor of Abraham, the ancestor of David, the ancestor of Jesus… the Gift of Grace.
As you prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 4.
1. How do you explain Eve’s comments after giving birth to Cain? Just saying that God helped her through the delivery? What more might she be saying?
2. Why was Cain’s offering rejected and Abel’s accepted? What is it about the offerings, or the individuals, that leads to this different reaction?
3. Why is Cain angry once his offering is rejected? Who might he be angry at, and why?
4. What different ways might you understand the phrase “if you do well…” in verse 7?
5. How is sin pictured here in verse 7? What images are conjured up? What does that tell you about our interactions with sin?
6. What is the expected answer to Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What answer does Cain expect? What answer might God expect?
7. How does the story of Lamech magnify the story of sin earlier in the chapter?
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
For 2 days, 2 hours, and 10 minutes in August 2006 a Croatian named Veljko Rogosic swam, without stopping, 139.8 miles across the Adriatic Sea from Grado, Italy, to Riccione. It was the longest distance ever swum without flippers in the open sea. When he finished they gave him an appropriate nickname, “King of Cold Water”.
Years ago, before I left my 40s, I played basketball every Thursday night at a local elementary school. For 3 years, every week, I was known as Doug. I had total anonymity beyond the basketball court. Then it happened. One night one guy said to another, “You know who he is? He’s the senior pastor of Hebron Church.” However, by that time, my identity as “one of the guys” was finally fixed, so there was no shunning or raised eyebrows. But I did begin noticing some minor differences.
One night, a guy came into the gym having just heard of an arrest in the upper Midwest. The news reported that the authorities had been tracking the killer for months. They had suspected him of a series of murders, but when they arrested him they were shocked to find more victims than they had previously suspected. Under the floorboards of his house, were a number of mutilated bodies wrapped in plastic bags.
As my fellow hoopster was putting on his sneakers, he looked at me and said, “How could such a thing ever happen? What would cause a guy to do something like that?” The continuity of his stare made it clear that these weren’t rhetorical questions. He wanted an answer. So I said to him, “Are you shocked by this news?” He said, “You bet I am. I can’t believe someone could do this!” I said, “Well, frankly, I’m surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.” He was stunned. “What are you talking about?” he said. I said, “The human heart is deceitful and corrupt beyond all things, to the point that none of us can ever really know what’s in our hearts. The truth is, without the grace of God, any one of us is capable of everything that guy did and more. That’s why Jesus says, ‘It’s not what goes into a man that corrupts him, but what comes out of his heart.’ You see, without God’s grace, common and particular, every one of us could be that guy. I know I could.” As I spoke he just stared at me. When I finished he said, “That’s deep, man, really deep.” I said, “It’s true, man, really true.”
Now why could I say that? On what grounds could I turn the tables on him, saying, in effect, your surprise is misplaced? Genesis 3. We live in a world that assumes grace. We live in a world that believes that everybody’s good, except for a few bad actors. Nothing could be further from the truth and Genesis 3 tells us so. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 3:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
No one understands;
No one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
No one does good,
Not even one.”
Where does he get that? Genesis 3. You see, the problem we have is our standard of judgment. We like to compare ourselves to others, especially those we believe are inferior to us. But the Bible never allows that. God’s measure is not horizontal, it’s vertical. The difference in the condition of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3 is day and night.
Think of it. If Mr. Rogosic, the “King of Cold Water”, was dropped off in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and told to swim to safety, he could clearly go a lot further than you, but never far enough. He could never save himself. Neither can you. The testimony of Genesis 3 is that unless God does all the saving, from beginning to end, we’re sunk. Where do we see that for the first time? Genesis 3.
This Sunday, in a message entitled, “Forbidden Fruit”, we are going to dig in to all of this. In preparation you may wish to consider the following:
1. What is the heart of the serpent’s challenge in verse 1?
2. What does Eve affirm in verses 2 & 3?
3. What is the ground of the temptation in verses 4 & 5?
4. What did Eve’s heart tell her in verse 6?
5. What was it that they discovered in verse 7 that they didn’t know before that?
6. Why the fig leaves?
7. Why is their reaction to their condition the same as ours?
8. What do verses 15 and 21 tell us about our ability to undo what sin has done?
9. How is our sin like Satan’s sin? (See Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19)
10. How is Genesis 3 the heart of the Gospel?
See you Sunday!
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
I was 17 and over 600 miles from home when I saw them. It was my first day on campus, and they were hanging out the windows of dorms all around the quad. I turned to a guy I had just met and asked, “What’s with all the flags?” There was a Norwegian flag, a Swedish flag, an Italian flag, a German, among others. He frowned and said, “They’re making a statement. They want everyone to know who they are.” I said, “How about their name, isn’t that sufficient?” He said, “Don’t you care who you are?” I said, “Sure I do. I’m Doug. I’m an American just like them.”
Years ago, a friend of mine was in China on a university campus giving a lecture. After he was finished, he was asked to stay for a question-and-answer session. When he agreed, hands shot up all over the lecture hall. It seemed that more than a thousand Chinese students had questions. They all wanted to know the differences between Americans and Chinese. It was all about the differences in food, in tastes, in culture. Finally, after fielding more than a half dozen questions Ken said, “All you’ve asked me about are the differences between us. Let me tell you about the similarities. Every one of us in this room has two basic needs: to love and be loved, and to have a sense of worth. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or the color of your skin. Deep down we are all alike.” And from there he pointed to Jesus.
In 1782 the Great Seal of the United States was approved by an Act of Congress. In addition to the words, “annuit ”, Latin for “he approves the undertaking”, are the words E pluribus , Latin for, “Out of many, one”. The meaning of this last phrase originates from the concept that out of the union of the original thirteen colonies emerged a single nation. It’s emblazoned across the scroll and clenched in the eagle’s beak on the front of the United States. At the same time the metaphor of a “melting pot” was used to describe the fusion of different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures into a cohesive union. That was the dream America offered to the world. “Here”, wrote John de Crevecoeur, “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.” Crevecoeur was quite prescient, for the changes wrought by the United States over the past 200 years have caused world-wide changes.
But today we live at a time of identity politics when the opposite ethic is being propounded. Today the image of “melting pot” has been called outdated, even dangerous. Assimilation is seen as a threat to one’s identity and that of his/her group. Instead of E pluribus there is rising pressure to go the other way, toward the many, rather than the one. In 2016 David Victor Hansen wrote an article entitled, “America: History’s Exception". His last sentence reads: “We should remember that diversity is an ornament, but unity is our strength.”
So, what is our primary evidence of unity? What guide do we have in answering the question, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” Unlike so many modern-day sources, the Bible addresses that very topic in its first and second chapters. This Sunday, under the title, “The Mark of a Man”, we will examine Genesis 1:24-27 and 2:18-23 and get some answers.
In preparation for you may wish to consider the following:
1. Someone has said, “The root of all my struggles in life is knowing who I am.” Do you agree?
2. What is an identity crisis?
3. What are the more common ways of discovering one’s identity?
4. What is the image of God?
5. What does it mean to have been created in it?
6. How do you explain the pleural pronouns in 1:26?
7. What’s the difference between “image” and “likeness” in verse 26?
8. What does “dominion” mean?
9. What’s the significance of linking the image of God to gender in verse 27?
10. How does Jesus’ post-resurrection act in John 20:22, 23 relate to all of this?
See you Sunday!