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Biblical Reflection 3: The Holy Spirit

The biblical understanding of mystery is that which is in the plan of God and which is unfolded in the course of time. It is the working out of the economy of God. It is not the positing of an unknowable realm. We cannot know God fully, and God is not in any place – but the world is created, directed and transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit . The work of the Spirit is not to underplay the created order, but to intensify it and bring it to it to resolution. The outcome of all things is in God’s hands – that is what the nature of the mystery is all about. We cannot manipulate God to be an object of our plans. God will always be one step ahead of us: the Father calling us, the Son going before as the pioneer and first fruits, and the Holy Spirit opening up new opportunities. As Abraham Kuyper states:

“The Father brings forth, the Son disposes and arranges, the Holy Spirit perfects.”[1]

There is a close link between the redemption of the universe and the resurrection of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.[2] In the pre-incarnate Son, the universe is made through the power of the Holy Spirit, so also though the resurrection of Jesus by the same Holy Spirit; the universe is restored and brought to its future potential through the adoption of the redeemed ones as the children of God. Romans 8 is a prime source for this:

RO 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as childreren, the redemption of our bodies.

The Resurrection above all represented an irreversible development in the history of the world: from that point it could not but proceed to the end. The End has been brought into history through the resurrection of Jesus, the culmination of his proclamation of the Kingdom and his death in fulfilment of the judgment brought upon fallen humanity. This is not to say that that it was not part of the unfolding economy of God from the beginning. But from the point of the Resurrection, what was previously promised was now made actual.

The vision of global peace, when the earth shall be full of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea [Isa 11:9 Hab 2:14] is a result of this manifold work of God in the world through the diversity of human relations. This vision is based on the nations coming to know God, and the end of all things as they are consummated in the return of Christ.

The new heavens and the new earth are the result of the transformation, not the destruction, of the present order (2 Peter 3:10 which refers to the heavens and earth being burned up, refers not to their destruction but to their being refined[3]). What is anticipated in Scripture is a transformation of heaven and earth, of our own bodies – the whole of our being and the our known environment will be made anew (not a new universe but the present one changed not beyond all recognition, but transcending the pains and sorrows of the present giving them a previously only dimly longed for and only imperfectly at best foreseen, weight and significance. This is beautifully brought out by C.S. Lewis in his book The Great Divorce, where the water is so solid that it can be walked upon.

Through the Spirit new possibilities are opened up, not in a random way (although it may seem so at the time), but in a way that creates new possibilities for the future as the Holy Spirit moves all things forward to the Sabbath of all things; the goal of all creation.

Jeremy Ive

New International Version (NIV)

Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society


[1] Vol I. Chapter 2 The Work of the Holy Spirit VI. The Host of Heaven and of Earth.

[2] See Rom. 1:4.

[3] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK, 2003), p. 462. See also Al Wolters, “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10”, Westminster Theological Journal, 49:405-13.

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February 9, 2009 Posted by | Christian Worldview | Leave a comment

Biblical Reflection 2: Jesus the Son of God

In that we know Jesus, we know the one through whom all things were created and for whom all things are designed.

The focus in John’s Gospel with regard to who Jesus is on his activity in the world at one with God and humanity: as creator, redeemer and lord. His identity, as presented in the Gospel is a dynamic one, not one that can be presented in static terms; but it is not a dynamic which begins with the Incarnation – it is one which overarches and sustains the entire drama of creation, redemption and glorification. Jesus, the one born among us is the one who was before all things, and the one in whom all history takes its meaning and end. This is not something new in John’s Gospel, but John draws upon the OT, and develops an account strongly complementary to the Synoptic tradition. Far from setting his account of the distinctiveness and pre-incarnate history of Christ over against the history and traditions of the Jews, John in his Gospel is asserting that in Jesus, and only in Jesus, all the central traditions of the OT find their fulfilment.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with the divine man in the Old Testament, and in Matthew, where Peter similarly encounters Jesus walking on the water. In both cases (if we take the latter encounter to presage Peter’s confession at Caesarea a Philipi), there is a change of name involved: something which can only properly come from an encounter with God by whom we are named.

Both Jacob/Israel’s and Simon/Peter’s encounters are temporally specific – that are about a critical event. The encounter has significance beyond that particular moment: Jacob and Simon cannot be the same again, again. But that does not involve their abstraction from history, since they are renamed for God’s purposes in history: Jacob as the patriarch of the patriarchs in the calling of Israel as the bearer of God’s promised in the Old Testament, and Peter, as the disciples, who become the apostles, the chief witnesses to the resurrected Jesus and the foundation, upon Christ, for the covenantal community which Jesus brings into being.

It is in the fully human Jesus that the personality of God is known, and the personality of Jesus is none other than the personality of God. The Son is the one in whom all things cohere (Col. 1:15; see also 1 Cor. 8:6b and John 1:1) It is on this basis that Christ is Lord of all creation. It has been put famously by Abraham Kuyper:

‘…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”’

This is a powerful vision of Christ as the ascended Lord, who rules not only with the authority of the Father but also by virtue of his own status as the one in whom and through whom all things were created. For Kuyper, the general principle of Calvinism involves what he calls ‘the cosmological significance of Christ’. In speaking of Christ’s ‘cosmological significance’, Kuyper has Christ’s redemptive role in view here, as well as his prior creative one. Christ is redeemer of all creation because he is creator of all. For this reason, Christ’s work includes the restoration of the entire cosmos not simply the redemption of individual sinners.

Jeremy Ive

New International Version (NIV)

Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Christian Worldview | 2 Comments

Biblical Reflection 1: The Father

 

A basic philosophical problem is “how is individuality possible”? How can who I am make any sense against the vast panorama of time and eternity?

On the one hand, there are universals that make sense of the world by providing generally intelligible reference point but which lack the identification of the particular. Relationships then take the form of a contract that is then concluded according to the mutual self-interest of the contracting parties. This paradoxically reduces or removes the possibility of individual uniqueness, since the individual then just becomes an atom in a mechanically constructed matrix, and in which the possibility for relationship, other than tangential encounter, is reduced and finally excluded. As human beings, we are historically specific, whether we like it or not.

On the other hand, if individuals are particulars, they have local reference, but lack the universal application Post-modernism is, ironically, a form of localism. Any attempt to define a universal “self” is deconstructed. A local identity is constructed artificially with a disclaimer of any attempt at universal relevance. Post-modernism in this respect is the modern form of ancient Cynicism, where anything of universal significance was disclaimed.

It is only as the role of the Father is the life of the world is distinguished and recognised, can individuality – the respect accorded to each unique entity can properly be understood.

In the encounter of Jesus with his opponents in Mark 11:28-29 we see these elements being worked out:

MK 11:27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?" Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!" 31 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, `From heaven,’ he will ask, `Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, `From men’ . . . ." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) 33 So they answered Jesus, "We don’t know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things." 12:1 He then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard…..

Jesus indicates that he is not coming in his own authority but in the authority of the Father. Because he comes in the authority of the Father, this is something that his hearers cannot ignore. They cannot be neutral. Either they reject Jesus’ claim to be speaking on behalf or with the authority of the Father, or else they accept the full import of what Jesus is saying for themselves and their lives. Jesus claims for himself the Father’s glory on the basis of his having glorified the Father (John 17:4, 5: Philippians 2:8,9).

Knowledge of by what authority Jesus was acting would lead to responsibility of the hearers to act on their knowledge (i.e. to believe in Jesus) and so respond to the Father’s calling of Jesus and by the same token to the Father’s calling of them.

Here we see the close relationship between authority and authenticity: by accepting the authority of the Father and acting truly on it from the heart, only so are we acting authentically. This is the new heart of Deuteronomy 30:14 and Jeremiah 31:33.

The challenge of the Father cuts deep into us – strips way pretence and excuses. Through the acknowledgement of our relationship with the Father and our acting out of it, our stance becomes prophetic. The prophetic stance is that which authentically (i.e. which stands in full consciousness of the calling of the Father and responsibility to him) addresses the truth and hope of the situation which we are placed.

Jeremy Ive

New International Version (NIV)

Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Christian Worldview | Leave a comment