Why Earth is better than Middle-Earth

I recognize there might be a danger in titling this blog thusly.  I’m hoping I don’t find an angry group of LOTR fans armed with swords and bow & arrows in my driveway tomorrow morning as I leave for work.

Note: I’ve written this blog based mostly on the storyline from the movies.  I have a tiny bit of background knowledge of the Silmarillion and books, mostly from friends who read the series and loved it.  But this blog is nearly all based on the New Line Cinema movies, which I know about.

As crazy a fan as I was when the LOTR series came out by New Line Cinema, and as much importance as the movies had in my life, there was something that always bothered me about the third movie.  Because I am usually an extremist in what I like–and used to be even more so–I wanted the movies to be totally perfect.  But there was something about the ending in the third that I could never exactly resolve to perfection in my mind.  As though there were rows and rows of check-off boxes for everything I liked about the movie, there was this important box that I could never successfully check off.  When I tried, it always came back to bother me later on.

It was something about Frodo and the ship.  Something about him sailing away always bothered me.  It was a let-down to me.  I always wanted a different ending.  It wasn’t that Frodo had to live, but sailing off in a ship for the Undying Lands (the ‘heavens’ of Middle Earth to me, though there is another heaven Tolkien readers will know about that more ordinary ?good? beings get to go to) just didn’t seem right to me.  There was something frustrating about it, something that seemed defeatist in his giving up of life, but also a disturbing, What are the heavens of Middle Earth question, or, to be more pointed, What is the Middle Earth Heaven?

There was no satisfaction for me in him disappearing in a land far away with very little, if any description–but it has become more than that.  Before today I could never have phrased it, but it is, What, exactly, did Frodo do to earn Heaven?

But before we try to answer that . . let’s try to answer the opposite of that question by looking at the most vile, malevolent creatures of Middle-Earth.  Do they go to the Undying Lands (or any heaven at all)?  Well, surely not.

As Elrond boards the ship, he doesn’t say he hopes the orcs won’t be so bothersome in Heaven.  They aren’t planning for more war.

Everyone that I know assumes certain characters will not make it to the Middle Earth Heaven, such as: Sauron, Saurumon, the orcs, the urak-hai, the goblins, etc.  And, to be honest, I doubt anyone thinks Gollum or Grima make it, either.

So let’s try to answer the opposite of the question we first posed, which is, What did (Sauron, Saurumon, the orcs, Urak-hai, Gollum, Grima) do to NOT earn Heaven?

I think Sauron is an obvious one.  He doesn’t make it because he’s the whole initial cause of the evil.  He’s the instigator.  All right, fair enough.  Let’s move on.

Who’s the next most evil character?  Well, that depends on who is measuring evil and what their objective measure of evil is.  To me, subjectively, the next most evil would have to be the Goblin-King (of the Hobbit) and the Mouth of Sauron.  Looking at the Mouth of Sauron (since he’s truly in the series and the Goblin-King is only in the prequel), why do I think he wouldn’t make it to Heaven?

Most of all, because he talks about enjoying the torture (although it is a lie) of Frodo.  For that reason, I’d say he doesn’t get to heaven of any sort.

What about the next tier of evil characters?  I’d say probably (and subjectively), for different reasons, the Wraiths, Saruman, Gothmog, and the orcs who torture Gollum.  The Wraiths, especially the Witch-King, are black magic ghouls of horror.  Saruman really should know better than to be so evil, as Tree-Beard points out.  He has so much knowledge of good, and yet he sells out for wickedness and he kills children.  Gothmog (the orc leader in the underground invasion of Gondor) cuts off the humans’ heads and throws them over the city wall.  The orcs who torture Gollum are doing it at the bidding of their master, but still, it’s awful.

The next tier down?  Grishnakh (the orc who wants to eat Merry and Pippin’s legs), Lurtz (the Uruk-hai who keeps shooting the wounded Boromir), the weird orc with the skull on top of his head, etc.

Now, I could go on and on, but here’s the point I want to make.  At some tier down, however far down, you have to include evil characters who you might be less comfortable including, such as: the innkeeper who tells the wraiths which room the hobbits are lodging, Frodo who betrays Sam and gives in to corruption by the ring, Boromir who tries to kill Frodo, and, actually, all the hobbits, men, elves, ents, and dwarves who sit complacently while a bloody war goes on outside their doors.

And, actually, if you keep going, what about Pippin, whose foolishness and carelessness cost Gandalf greatly and places the quest in peril more than once, and Merry who is kind-of a goof-off though most of the series, and King Theoden who doesn’t always act humbly or wisely, and Aragorn who shirks his responsibility as royalty for so long, and Legolas and Gimli who both have unjust prejudice against the other, and Faramir who places the quest in peril through his wrong motives, and . .

So where exactly do you draw the line?

Someone might say, “You are being ridiculous!  How could you compare Frodo’s giving in to temptation after he bravely fights it for so long to, for example, Gothmog?”

But wait a minute, wait a minute.

What if we asked Gothmog about that?

He could say, “Hey, I know I was evil, but I was raised that way!  I grew up abused and never knew any better.  What’s more, the whole reason I am an orc and not an elf is because my people were tricked by a wizard and after months of torture succumbed to evil.  My ancestors withstood a lot more than Frodo did before we gave in.  What’s more, if I didn’t act evil, my own kinfolk would have torn me to pieces and eaten me.  That’s the world in which I live.  And besides that, I was not as evil as I could have been.  I want to point out, for example, that when Gondor’s captain lay at my feet critically wounded, I could have done horrible things to him.  I didn’t.  I stabbed him straight through with a spear.  Sure, I did the dirty work, but Frodo caused just as many problems as me–and maybe more–and he had a beautiful childhood.  I would have given anything to have had even one person love me, and Frodo had a whole village.”

Do you realize you could do that exact same thing for nearly any two characters in LOTR?  Nearly all of them, to one degree or another, are fallen (which is another word for wicked).  Galadriel is obsessed with power, Gandalf is short-tempered, Elrond isn’t even sure he wants to engage in the war, Sam is bitter about and short-tempered with Gollum, Eowyn is hostile, and even Arwen falters in knowing what the right thing is to do.  The only characters who might be claimed to be innocent that I can think of are those who have little time in the movies and we get to see very little of their actual lives.

So, What, exactly, did Frodo do to earn heaven?

Why should Frodo go to heaven and Gollum not?  What separated them, but that one fell over the cliff into the lava and the other did not?  Why should Elrond go to Heaven and not Denethor?  What separated them, but that Elrond’s daughter made the right choice in spite of his unwise council and Boromir did not?  Even if Denethor is more responsible because of other poor decisions he made, that doesn’t excuse Elrond from even one poor decision he made.

If it’s a game of outweighing each other, then who makes it and who doesn’t?  Does Grima?  He caused the deaths of children, but he was Saruman’s pawn.  Should Grima make it and not Saruman?  But Saruman was Sauron’s pawn.  So should he make it, too?

The first reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

Heaven isn’t real in Middle-Earth; Heaven is real here.

Heaven can’t be real in Middle-Earth.  There is no reason to it.  The Heaven of Tolkien’s world is madness.  It rests on no foundation; when the characters sail away to it, we can have no assurance where they are going or who will be there when they get there.  Does Boromir get to be there, because he was sorry?  Denethor was sorry, too.  Should he be there, too?  What about the men from the southlands who, as Faramir point out, are deceived into going into war?  Do they make it?

As much as I have dearly loved the movies, I hate Tolkien’s Heaven.  I would have rather Frodo died in Mordor and have left it to the reader’s imagination what happened next.  A Heaven with no foundation is worse than no Heaven at all.  To think that you might get there, or might not, depending on who you are compared to–and depending on who is judging–and depending on just how much evil you are allowed to commit and still be there . . that is depressing.  No wonder the ships sail away and my heart sinks.

The second reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

Since there is no standard for Heaven in Middle-Earth, there is no reality of good or evil there, either.  But we have a standard for Heaven here, and a reality of good and evil.

In the end, Bilbo is just as culpable as Lurtz.  They certainly carry different burdens of guilt, but they are both guilty–and how can we say who is more guilty?  Bilbo had a life of experiencing goodness and a family and friends who loved him.  Lurtz certainly did not.  He was brought out of the mud in evil, and it was all he knew his whole life.  Maybe it is less evil that he killed Boromir than that Bilbo brought on the multiplication of millions of orcs, the torture of Gollum, the corruption of his own dear nephew, and, really, the death of hundreds of humans and elves, because he held onto his idolic ring without telling anyone for so many years.  He should have no more assurance he is sailing away to Heaven than Lurtz should have had the last moment of his life.

Really, if you carefully think about it, all the characters in Lord of the Rings should, for one reason or another, be punished for their actions, BUT

Because there is no involved Creator in the Lord of the Rings, ACTUALLY

ALL of the characters should experience the same fate.  There is no ultimate authority.  The only god ever mentioned in the movies is phony Grond, the god of the orcs.  If there is a real god, he is uninvolved and not present.

Without God’s presence, everything is ambiguous.

It may turn out that Sauron is just as heroic a character as Aragorn.  Like Hindi philosophy, Who is to say what is good or evil?  Do we go by Gandalf’s word about what is good or a cave troll’s?  (If it’s about the majority opinion winning, well, all Saruman needs to do is keep factory-birthing the Urak-Hai.)

The danger of the LOTR is that it strongly suggests themes of good and evil without having any right to do so, leading someone to believe that if you live a “relatively” “good” existence in Middle-Earth, you can get to Heaven . . which is exactly what many people believe in this world.  But what is relatively; where is the line?  And what is good, who decides?

If there was a Creator in Middle Earth, and he was a good Creator, he would not allow Frodo into Heaven.  His justice would not permit it.  In order for him to punish any evil, he would have to punish all evil.  Otherwise, it’s a slide scale where nothing makes sense.  You cannot arbitrarily say Denethor should be punished for, by his delusion, nearly murdering his son Faramir but Bilbo should not be punished for, by his delinquency, nearly causing the death of his nephew, Frodo.  You cannot arbitrarily say that Grishnakh should be punished for his prejudice against hobbits but Legolas should not be punished for his prejudice against dwarves.  Either all evil is punished, or no evil is punished, because all evil is either really evil or it isn’t.  There is no in between.

It would not be a victorious ending if Frodo, Gollum, Lurtz, Grima, Pippin, Saruman, and Gandalf were all banished forever from the presence of goodness because their evil did not permit them in.  But, if the series did have a good Creator God, that would be their fate at the end.

There would be no ride away in a ship to a beautiful land.

There would be only regret, sorrow, and darkness for all of them because their life choices made all of them evil.  They may have been sorry for their evil, and they may have tried to change, but ultimately all of them were evil, because you cannot dabble in evil and step back out: you are in it for good once you choose it, and the consequences of your choice cannot be undone.  Because Frodo wavered in throwing the ring into the cauldron of Mount Doom, more men died in battle.  Those men had families of their own.  The course of history was forever changed by Frodo’s choice, and someone has to pay for those consequences if there is to be any accountability for anything.

And this brings us to the third reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

There is no possibility for redemption on Middle-Earth.

When evil isn’t really evil, it cannot be paid for or forgiven.  When everything is relative, rescue is impossible. When there is no real line between good and evil, there can be no delight in good or salvation from evil.  When nothing is good, there can be no love.  And when there is no identification of sin, there can be no redemption.

The fourth reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

No one can choose to be redeemed on Middle-Earth. 

Not Lurtz, not Aragorn.  Not Gollum, not Frodo.  Not Saruman, not Gandalf.  Not Grishnakh, not Merry.  Not Boromir and not even Sam.  No one can choose to be redeemed because there is allegedly nothing to be redeemed from in a world where good and evil do not exist in reality.  There is no heroism, courage, or truth.  There is only the meaninglessness of vague ships headed to nowhere.

But we do know good and evil exist.  And the LOTR series succeeds to the extent that we impose good and evil on it, even if the infrastructure fails to provide it.  We want to see Frodo redeemed.  We want Boromir, repentant Boromir, to be released from his sin and carried into Heaven.  We want Faramir to have another chance.  We may even wish there had been salvation for Grima at the end of his life.

But here is the best reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

There is no redeemer for Middle-Earth; we have a Redeemer.

While many of the characters try to be good, none of them are good.  They all react in disappointing ways at times.  All of them need a hero who is desperately absent in LOTR . .

They need a redeemer.

At different times, different characters in the series try to play this role.  Arwen tries to save Frodo’s life by giving him her strength.  Sam tries to redeem the quest by carrying Frodo up Mount Doom.  Aragorn tries to draw Sauron’s eye away from Frodo and onto himself.  But none of the characters are truly able to protect each other, because none of the characters are truly good.

There isn’t a solution for this in LOTR.  There isn’t a character who pays the penalty for Frodo’s sin, or who steps up to suffer the consequences of Grima’s poor choices in his stead.  There isn’t a character who calls Lurtz to repentance or shows mercy to Gothmog.  There isn’t a character who saves Boromir by taking every ramification for his betrayal in his own flesh.  And there isn’t a character who makes perfect restitution for the wake of Denethor’s error or the ruin of Gollum’s lust.

There isn’t a redeemer for the LOTR.  And so they are left, at the end, with an unraveling cord of good and evil, parting ships, and nonexistence.  We say goodbye to them, and we wave sadly to them as they disappear into the emptiness of relativity, and as Middle-Earth fades from our vision, we turn to look at what we have in our world.

We see the permanent Law of God, the truth of His Word, and, off in the distance either far or near, the Day of Judgment and the eternal existence of our souls.  We have an accountability we might have liked to not have had.  We cannot, like Gollum and Lurtz, hope for an unconscious realm where nothing matters when we die.  And so at first, we might envy our friends (and enemies) from Lord of the Rings.  There they are, with no wrong or right credited to them–and, as we watch, they vaporize into the nothing that their morality dictates.

As we look again at our world, we see once more the accountability we hold, and the fear of justice quivering inside us . . but then we see something that not one character in the Lord of the Rings ever saw.

And now we must not envy them, but grieve in pity for Sam and Frodo, Grima and Gothmog, and all the others, for we see what they can never have:

We see the Savior.  We see the Redeemer.  We see the GOD who gave Himself as the penalty paid for our sin.

We see Jesus.

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

(John 1:29b, NIV)

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The reach

One of the most intense scenes in Lord of the Rings comes when Frodo has fallen off the edge of Mount Doom, and is holding on by one hand[1].  The one ring has just fallen into the lake of molten lava, and Frodo has nearly been destroyed by its fall.  So bound is he to the ring that he goes over the edge with it and almost, almost ends his life in the same fire of its demise.

Mount Doom has began to rumble, the ring is beginning to melt, and Sam is down on his hands and knees at the edge of the cliff.  In one of the most moving scenes in the movie, despite Frodo’s betrayal of him and all that he has done wrong and his complete failure to destroy the ring of his own will, Sam reaches for his hand.

“Give me your hand,” Sam says. [1]

But Frodo doesn’t.  His reaching hand is bloody from the finger Golum bit off in his earlier struggle with, and defeat by, evil.

“Take my hand,” Sam commands.

Frodo brokenheartedly, lackadaisically reaches up to take his hand, and misses.  He nearly falls into the destruction below him.

As the mountain quakes, Sam strains even more, reaches even farther.  “Don’t you let go!” he shouts, as Frodo nearly gives up and lets himself drop.  “Don’t let go!  Reach!” Sam commands, and now Frodo strains with everything has.  This time, the two hands meet.

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

“When you notice Michelangelo’s painting of God reaching out to Adam, you see how outstretched God’s arm is.  Every muscle on His face is contorted, and the hand is reaching as far as possible to make contact.  By contrast, Adam lackadaisically lets a limpish hand dangle with apathy in an attitude that seems to say, ‘If it meets it meets.’  That reflects the contrasting inclinations of the heart very well.” – Ravi Zacharias

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

When you think of your relationship with God, is He reaching for you?  Are you reaching for Him?

Are your hands struggling to meet?

Do you think of your hand as straining its hardest, but falling short?

Do you think of God’s hand as withdrawn, never allowing you to reach it?

Or have your two hands already met?

The scene between Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom is moving.  Most of us want to believe that God is like Sam, reaching for our hand.  Some of us believe that God, like Sam, is commanding us to reach His hand.  Those of us who are desperately trying to reach God want to believe He is still reaching for us, that He hasn’t turned away and withdrawn from us.  But we can never seem to catch His hand.

It may surprise you that, in actuality, the scene of Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom has very little to represent about God’s hand, or ours.  As beautiful as the scene is, it is not nearly as beautiful, or as humbling, as what God’s reach for us looks like.

If the Lord of the Rings scene were to play out in a way that would represent what God has done for us, it would look very different.

We would still be off the edge of Mount Doom.  But this time, it would not be our hand holding onto the edge of the cliff as we dangle in mid-air.  It would be God’s hand holding us.  You may have never thought about it, but we are not held on this world by our own strength or ability.  It is God who has given us the breath of life and who keeps our lungs inflating and our heart beating.  None of us can hold ourselves to this earth.  We are all completely reliant on God for that.  Colossians 1:17 (NLT) says about Jesus,

He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

God’s first reach holds us into existence.  His second reach is to hold us into eternity with Him.

This is a reach that is very different than the reach to keep us in existence.  The first reach is the expected reach of a good Creator to His creation.  He must reach for us if we are to be and survive.  But the second reach is very unexpected.  It is the reach of the holy God to His rebellious humans (us). 

Sam reached for Frodo even though he had betrayed him, refused to listen to him, and gone against his directions in the most critical moment (which was to let go of the ring).  In a much bigger way, God loves us even though we have betrayed Him, refused to listen to Him, and gone against His directions in the most critical moment [which was when He told us (represented by Adam) in the Garden not to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil; and which was when He commands us (you, I, and everyone) to follow Him so that we may be saved despite our disobedience and we still refuse].

God’s reach spans a chasm we cannot possibly bridge.  For us to reach God in spite of our sin would be like trying to walk off one side of the Grand Canyon to reach the other side.  When we rebelled, we broke alliance with God (see Genesis 3, Romans 6:20).  We cannot go back to who He created us to be any more than Gollum can go back to looking like a hobbit after his corruption by the ring[2].  It cannot happen.

Reach, Creative Commons Use

Sculpture by Kenneth Armitage, his last work, “Reach for the Stars”.
I wonder if the stars were what he really wanted to reach for . .
Photograph by Thunderchild7

Some of us don’t try.  We are like Frodo at first, believing we’re too far gone to even try to reach.  Or maybe we like our sin too much to leave it behind, even if it means falling into its burning destruction.

Others of us do try.  We reach out like Frodo with a broken-heart, trying to earn our way back to God.  But we can never reach that far.  Our sin separates us further and further from God.  We are moving away from Him, not towards Him.  The more we try to reach, the more discouraged, disheartened, and embittered we become.  There is no way for us to reach God.  We cannot be like Frodo, who, if he only tried hard enough, could meet the hand of Sam.  We cannot meet the hand of God no matter what or how hard we try.

This is where God’s second reach comes in to change everything.

Frodo’s hand was bloody from his battle with Gollum, a battle Sam couldn’t fight for him.  But Jesus’ hand is bloody from his battle with Satan, a battle He could and did fight for us.

We, like Frodo, always lose the battle with evil.  Just as Frodo couldn’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of the ring, we can’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of sin in our lives.  Scripture tells us that evil holds us captive and we are slaves to it.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:25-26, NLT)

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness. (Romans 6:20, HCSB)

Our hand is so burdened by guilt, ignorance, and evil, that we cannot even lift it a millimeter up to God’s hand.  If our salvation depended in any part on our effort, the way that Frodo’s salvation depended in part on his own effort, we would be doomed.  We cannot reach for God.  Romans 3:10b-12 (NLT) says,

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,

they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good,

not even one. (Romans 3:10b-12, NIV)

Did you catch that?

there is no one who seeks God.

We cannot reach for Him.  He must reach for us.  Not only has He created us and keeps us alive, but He must be the one to pull us up from the edge of the cliff.  He alone can do this.

If we were to reenact the Mount Doom scene with what God did for us, we would be held up first by His arm of sustaining power, the only thing separating us from a free fall into Hell.

And then Jesus would pull us back from the edge, dragging us inch by inch away from the lava of our choices and up to the cliff of redemption that stands as an isle of escape from the devastation below.

His brow is matted in sweat and blood; through the agony of His suffering He pulls us up.  Every moment is excruciating, and every moment we are totally helpless, totally reliant that He will keep pulling and not turn away out of either disgust of our sin or the grueling exhaustion of saving us.

The cliff is quaking, and all Hell is breaking loose below Christ, but He keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us until He has pulled us to the ground above the shaking volcano.

Though we betrayed Him, though we lost our war with evil, though we disobeyed every command He ever gave us, though we totally failed to listen to Him, He reached for us still.

This is what Jesus did for every single person when He died on the cross.

He pulled all of us from the edge of Mount Doom, and He saved each of us from the Hell below us.

Wait a minute, you say.  Wait a minute.  But I thought not everyone is saved.

That’s right.  But that’s not because Jesus has not dragged everyone up from the cliff.  It is because many people will choose to scorn His safety and refuse to follow Him out of the cavern.

After Sam pulled Frodo up from the edge, the two ran together out of the mouth of the cavern and to a rock to the side of the mountain, where they were safe from the catastrophic flow of lava down the mountainside.  Eagles rescued them and carried them away.

Frodo chose to follow Sam and escape, but many people will refuse to follow Christ and escape.  They will stay on that cliff inside that cavern of death as Mount Doom collapses around them and they are swallowed up into the lava below.  Many people will reject the redemption reached for them by Christ.  As my pastor says often:

People do not go to Hell because they are bad and people do not go to Heaven because they are good.  They go to Hell because they have not believed in Jesus or Heaven because they have.[3]

We do not go to Hell because we are bad, but because we have rejected the redemptive reach of Christ.  Christ has saved us from our sin.  We will either become guilty of rejecting that salvation, or we will run out of the cavern following Him in faith that He has rescued us.

If you or I find ourselves in Hell, it is not because of our sin.  It is because we turned away from the rescue that Christ Jesus, and only Christ Jesus, has given us.

Jesus is holding us in existence (e.g., see Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3).  And He has already dragged us up from the Hell we would have fallen into the moment we die (e.g., see John 1:4, John 3:16-18, John 3:36, John 6:40, John 11:25-26, John 12:47, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:4-5).

The question is, will you follow Him away from Mount Doom, or will you turn away from Him and find out how terrible the consequences are that He pulled you up from by His death on the cross?

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24, NLT)

______________________________________________

[1] Lord of the Rings: return of the king, extended edition script, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.

[2] See, Hobbits: Was Gollum a Hobbit? by William D.B. Loos, http://tolkien.cro.net/hobbits/gollum.html

[3] Paraphrase from my pastor, John Marshall

Photograph by Thunderchild7, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/thunderchild5/

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

The Miracle of God

Why are we here?

Whatever our worldview, we wonder.

Why is there the miracle of us?

A father holds his newborn daughter close for the first time, and he recognizes her worth.  He is not satisfied to hold her once and never see her again; rather he wants to spend the rest of his life learning who she is.  He wants to hear her first laugh.  He wants to see her roll over for the first time.  He wants to teach her how to ride her bike without training wheels.  He doesn’t want to miss a single goal she scores at her soccer games.  He can’t wait to come home from work and catch her in his arms as she runs to him.  He wants to teach her how to drive.  He wants to to be the first she tells when she has fallen in love.  He wants to talk with her over breakfast at the McDonald’s near her college dorm.  He wants to be on the front row when she graduates.  He wants to help her move over the weekend.  He wants to visits where she works and see how she’s doing.  Throughout her life, he seeks her out.  He sees the miracle of who she is.  He can never learn enough about the miracle of his daughter.  And he instinctively seeks to protect the miracle of who she is for as long as he lives.

We know the miracle of us–and not just us collectively, but as the irreplaceable identities of those we love most.  You don’t have to be “religious” to believe in miracles.  Anyone who has ever loved a parent, bonded with a sibling, found a best friend, fallen in love, raised a child, or met a new grandchild knows the miracle of us.

We know the miracle of us.

But we miss the miracle of GOD.

Either because we don’t want Him to exist, or because we’re troubled by His existence, or because we take His existence for granted, we miss the miracle of GOD.

Why is GOD here?

Why is it that God is?  Why is it that He has always been and always will be?

Why isn’t there only the emptiness of unimaginable nothing?

What if God wasn’t?  What if He didn’t exist?

No Creator.  But far more would be lost than the Heavens and the earth.

No Redeemer.  But far more would be lost than our souls.

Without GOD, it isn’t only that redemption, and then creation rewinds.  It isn’t even only that there is no possibility for redemption or creation.  Go further back, deeper still, and you see that you would not want to be created and you would not even know what redemption is if GOD was gone.

The worst possible loss if GOD did not exist is not the loss of Heaven, nor our world, nor those we most love, nor ourselves.  The most unbearable, most unfathomable loss is the loss of the nature of GOD.

It is not just that the existence of me has value only because of the nature of GOD.  Though that’s true, I have just scratched the surface of what the loss of the nature of GOD would be like.

If God were to depart, His nature departs–the one and only nature that loves without causation.

The one and only nature that loves without causation.

I cannot love without causation.  Look again at the father who loves the daughter he holds close to his chest.  He loves her because she is born to him.  He loves her because she is beautiful.  He loves her because of who she will become.  He does not; he cannot love her without cause.

Only GOD can love without cause.

He created us because He loved us without cause.  He brought us into existence without any reason we could give Him to do so and without any need within Himself needing to be filled, or even any desire awaiting fulfillment.

We love each other because we know each other.  God loved us when we were not (we did not exist).

We love each other because we need each other.  God loved us without need (nothing in His nature required Him to create us).

We love each other most of all because we desire each other.  A father longs for a little daughter to hold in his arms.  A teenage girl longs for a lover to hold her through the night.  A stooped-over feeble woman in a nursing home longs for a nurse to smile at her and say her name. But God does not desire us because of anything He is lacking.  He loves us without any “filling” or “fulfilling” of Himself.

I am getting in deep, deeper than my little brain can handle.  I ask myself, Can I imagine creating something I had no need, no hunger to create simply for the benefit of the creation?

Could I paint a picture not for who I would give the picture to, or for what I would get out of making the picture or of seeing the finished product . . but could I paint a picture simply for the joy of the painting’s joy?  Could I paint a picture for the sake of the painting?  Could I paint a picture so the painting itself could see itself as in existence, beautiful, and loved?

Certainly I can’t do that, because I can’t create a painting that has consciousness.

eye creative commons use

But that is how God created me.

He did not know Teej.  I did not appear to Him in eternity past and plead for Him to create me.  I was not.  There was nothing in me that could advocate for my existence for there was no me.

He did not need Teej.  Not for one breath of my existence has He needed me.  When I was still a thought to Him, before He began the work of knitting me, crocheting my tiny feet and hands and deep green eyes, He did not need me even in imagination.  I had nothing to offer that would make His existence better or more enjoyable.  My worship of Him was always irrelevant to His fulfillment.  He was always fulfilled.  He never needed me.

He did not even have an unfulfilled desire for Teej.  Had He not made me, had He never even imagined me, He would have been as perfectly complete as He is now, with no less peace or joy or love.  He had every bit of everything He wanted without me.  The Trinity itself is the complete perfection of peace, joy, and love.  Not one person could be added to God’s life to make Him more delighted or more radiant or more glorified.

GOD did not have one internal reason to create me EXCEPT HIS INTERNAL NATURE OF WANTING TO GIVE EXTERNAL LOVE, NOT FOR HIS SAKE, BUT FOR MINE.

When I do something good, I get a feeling from it.  I think of how God will be proud of me, or how happy someone will be with me.  But it isn’t like this with God.  God is already living in the perfection of good.  He did not get a feeling from creating me that He couldn’t have had if He hadn’t created me.  He was 100% already, it was me He was thinking about.

It was me He was thinking about.

He thought me up for me.

He gave me my first little breath for me, not for Him.

It is the miracle of GOD.

God did not create me to glorify Him for His Sake.  He created me to glorify Him for my sake.

He knew that I am GOD-created and He is GOD.  He knew that I must need Him; I must desire Him to be fulfilled.  He knew that without Him, it was me who could not fill my need, me who could not fulfill my desire, me who would struggle forever with the Hell of not knowing Him.

So He created me to live by Him.

He did not create me to be off by myself.  When He woke my first mother, Eve, from the rib of Adam, He did not vanish before she came into consciousness.  The First Being who Eve knew was GOD.  It was GOD who walked her to Adam, like a father walks his daughter down the aisle.  It was GOD who visited every day in the Garden.  It was GOD who always watched her from above, who knew every strand of her hair that blew in the wind and every blade of grass that touched her toes.

But now, now is the part where I do not know how to begin.

The creation . . yes.  I can almost try to pretend I understand that kind of love, though I’ve never loved anyone without wanting or needing something back for myself.

But the redemption . . no.  How can I even try to write about this?  It’s like a toddler trying to write a book on calculus.  I will explain what little I can only by the grace of God.

We turned from God.  And if you’re a believer, you understand that God did not have to get us back; He did not need us.  But here is the part even believers can miss: He did not want us back for His own sake, either.

Plant, Creative Commons UseIt is not that God wanted us for His glory.  This is a misconception, I think.  We are made for His glory–it is the only possible state we can be what we are meant to be.  It would be like supposing a plant could have a purpose without the sun.  Without glorifying Him, we have no purpose.  And our existence is as grave and morbid as that of a plant without the sun.  Have you ever put a plant in a closet for a few days?  Go back and look at it.  The result is horrifying.  In the same way, if we cut ourselves off from worshiping God, we are horrifying.  We are made for God’s glory.

But God does not require us or even desire us to fulfill worship of Him.  Do you realize that, when we fell, God did not seek to fulfill some “glory deficiency” by redeeming us?  If the sun were to seek out a plant that was in a closet, and bring it back out, it would not be for the sake of the sun.  The plant would need the sun, and its purpose would once again be fulfilled once it was out of the closet.  But the sun has just as much purpose whether that little plant is rotting away in the closet or out thriving in the soil.

God does not need beings to worship Him.  Beings need to worship Him.  Let us stop to look at the difference here, and try to understand it.  We are like the plant; we cannot survive without the sun.  He is like the sun; He will be who He is, He will do as He does with or without us, and what happens to us is of no significance to who He is or what He can do.  In other words, He can be everything He is meant to be and do everything He wants to do and He is completely fulfilled without us.

It is the nature of GOD.

But, because of HIS INTERNAL NATURE OF WANTING TO GIVE LOVE, NOT FOR HIS SAKE, BUT FOR MINE, He sought to redeem me.

If creating without need or even fulfillment of desire is incredible, what is redemption?

Mind-blowing.

The miracle of GOD!

I wish I knew how to say this in a way that would show how magnificent, how marvelous, how mega-terrific GOD is!  GOD chose to create us, knowing we would sin, knowing He would have to die for us, not to fulfill something within Himself, BUT TO FULFILL US, WE WHO DID NOT EVEN YET BEGIN TO EXIST!

DO YOU SEE THE LOVE OF GOD HERE??

Look back over your life, every sin.  Whatever bad you have ever done, do you realize that God has allowed you to live, to do this bad, FOR THE SAKE OF SALVATION?  That is, every sin God has ever allowed me to do in this life–and I have done many, and many of them very grave–He has allowed me to do out of the graciousness of His nature because He wants me, and all the people who I influence (good or bad) to come to Him, FOR MY SAKE.

In the same way, every bad thing that has ever been done to me–whether it was partially my fault or not whatsoever my fault directly (though, indirectly, my participation in humanity’s sin nature contributes to everyone’s sin)–every bad thing that has ever been done to me was allowed by God because He has chosen for ME to have existence and He has chosen for every person who has harmed me to have existence!  (If I feel angry about this, I am not remembering that God has given me existence despite all the harm I have done to others who He has given existence.)

God has not allowed the bad things that happen in my life to happen because they somehow improve His existence.  Rather, He has allowed them to happen because my existence is more important to God than my sin!

MY EXISTENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT TO GOD THAN MY SIN, not because of His desire for me, but His desire for me to have Him!!

We need to realize that God has graciously chosen to give us existence despite every horrible thing He knew that we would ever do.  And He has graciously chosen for those to exist who have hurt us, despite every horrible thing He knew that they would do to us.  He has done this so that we could know Him and live with Him forever for our sakes!

Even as believers, when we do things for the sake of our Father, Lord, King, and Master Jesus Christ, do you realize that the things we do for Him reflect back to us because we are using the mirror of His love?  In other words, we do things for Jesus because He gave Himself for us.  So anything we do for Him is a reaction of His love for us and is actually an outflow of His love for us!  So whenever we act in love for Him, it is really an example of Him loving us!

The miracle of GOD.

The miracle of GOD.

The miracle of GOD.

You are living in the miracle of GOD.

Hand Creative Commons UseYou are living right now because of the miracle of GOD.  He brought you into existence.

And you can live forever in the Presence of GOD, face to face with GOD!!, despite the evil within you, because of the miracle of GOD.

He seeks to redeem you.

“. . the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

(Jesus, quoted from Luke 19:10, NLT, see the story Luke 19:1-10)

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Photograph of father and daughter by Carly Lesser and Art Drauglis

Photograph of eye by Stella Dauer

Photograph of plant by Anasararojas

Photograph of hand in the light by Yorkville

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

Keeps us

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10, ESV)

To believe we are unworthy servants keeps us in His power.

It is not us who does any saving.  It is not from us that wisdom is born, nor from us that authority is commanded.  It is not our goodness or love that rescues the lost.  We are simply following God.

If I try to usurp that, if I try to become the one who receives God’s honor and glory and power, I am overcome by the power of sin. Of myself, I have only one power: the power to be used by Satan as a puppet for evil.

But I have been called to serve in the Kingdom of kingdoms, in the realm of the one and awesome GOD in all His majesty.  In Scripture, as a follower of Christ, I am described as His servant or slave, as His friend, as His younger sibling, and as His child.

Not one of us has one whit of important in the eyes of God except by the blood of Christ Jesus. 

Everything, everything about our relationship with Jesus as Christians is only possible because He is the Christ–God’s anointed to save us.  I am His child only because Christ has redeemed me.  There is nothing within me that has earned this priceless gift.  I am the worthless servant called from the fields of Hell to start gleaning in the Kingdom of God.

To believe I am an unworthy servant keeps me in Christ’s power.  I remember: I am the servant, and He is my GOD.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13, NLT)

Squirrels and Justice

Red SquirrelOne day, heading out of my neighborhood subdivision, I found a squirrel blocking my path.  Or, more accurately, I found a squirrel about to become part of my tire.  I slowed down, to give him time to move out of the way.

Why the squirrel hadn’t realized my car was coming is anyone’s guess–maybe he was daydreaming about acorns.  The sound of my tires woke him up out of his nutty bliss, however, and he immediately started panicking.

I thought the problem was over.  The squirrel had woken up, he was surely going to move out of the way now, and I could use the road built for my car (and not for the squirrel).

Uh uh.

Mr. Squirrel had an ingenious plan: outrun my car.

I slowed down the car to inching along.  In front of me, loping along in frightened one-foot leaps, bounded the squirrel.  He tried with his best effort to outrun my car.

His best effort was totally pathetic.  Had I accelerated anything above about 2 mph, he would have been instant roadkill.

There we went, down the road, the squirrel running like a fugitive of my tire, but unable to make any getaway . . me mercifully keeping my foot on the brake so as not to kill him.

In a matter of seconds, Mr. Squirrel figured out that something had to change, and it wasn’t going to be the path of my car.  After all, however much I didn’t want to run over him, I couldn’t responsibly drive on the sidewalk.

So what did he do?  Rather than keep running in front of my tire, he turned to the right, got off the road, and raced into the yard.  At first, he fully expected me to chase him.

I could drive at a normal speed again and the squirrel could tell horror stories to his friends about how I had tried to run him over.

It’s a funny story–and it’s a commentary on how many of us live our lives before God.  We are so afraid His Law is going to run us over, that we run as fast as we can away from Him.  After all, we know we’ve sinned and we know the judgment of God is coming.  But outrunning God?  Not gonna happen.  No matter how many good things we try to do, we’ll never do enough.  In fact, the Bible tells us we can’t even do one thing good apart from God, much less “make up” for a lifetime of sinning.

What we don’t often see is that God is applying the brakes.  He is inching along.  Every word of Scripture is a warning to try to get us to see what a predicament we’re in.  God isn’t trying to run us over.  He is trying to get us off the road!

In the old covenant, people got off the road by waiting on God to bring something to take away their sins.  They lived their lives trusting that He would find a way to save them from the judgment they deserved–and they were saved.

In the new covenant, people don’t just get off the road and wait on God’s wrath to pass them by.  Jesus has taken God’s wrath on Himself. He is the payment for God’s judgment.  We don’t have to race to the side of the road anymore.  Now, we can get in the car!

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26, NLT)

Gríma

I have a knack of identifying with characters that others might not.  From the first viewing of The Two Towers, I had a powerful connection to Gríma.  Gríma Wormtongue.

I admit, not the nicest of names.  And not the nicest of characters.  Gríma is a groveling, no-good-for-nothing human who’s taken alliance with an evil wizard (an evil wizard who thinks less of him than a can of worms).  With a bit of skill in witchcraft and what can only be classified as worm-like conniving, Gríma has betrayed King Théoden, underhandedly murdered his son, and pathetically tried to win his daughter’s heart.  All this fails to get Gríma what he wants, of course, and when King Théoden wakes up from his trance he is not on the best of terms with Gríma.

Fortunately for Gríma, King Théoden doesn’t even realize at this point that his son is dead, or Gríma surely would be a goner.  In rage over the spell Gríma cast on him, King Théoden shoves the weakling villain down the outside stairs of the castle.  Gríma winds up on the landing with a bleeding mouth and a kowtowing spirit.

Gríma, outnumbered so outrageously–and so pitifully exposed as a powerless villain– answers this unexpected turn of events with what to me are the most haunting words in the trilogy series.

“Send me not from your sight.”

Send me not from your sight.

It’s manipulative, it’s artificial, and it’s pathetic–and, deeper still, it’s the cry of every scared sinner before a righteous judge.

King Théoden answers in the way we would expect–he tries to kill him.  In a tricking kind of way, the king is fulfilling Gríma’s plea not to be sent from his sight.  Can we blame King Théoden for responding in this way?  No.  Gríma is a completely worthless, very weird, and extremely unlikable groveling little villain responsible for abominable devastation.  This isn’t the kind of guy anyone would expect a king to give another chance.

Gríma does end up getting away, and his painfully pathetic saga continues, but I am still on that landing outside the castle.  In fact, I take a seat, take a thinker’s pose, and reflect on just how altogether marvelous Jesus Christ is.

What does Jesus Christ have to do with the scene that just unfolded?  Absolutely everything.

Because that scene that unfolded is the story of humanity–but with a turn that would have the best surprise we could possibly imagine look like a dud.

We are all Gríma.  We are all conniving, pathetic, evil-hearted creatures groveling at the feet of Satan.  We have all betrayed what is good and right.  We have all tried to twist good to look like evil and evil to look like good.  We have all played with other people’s lives–often the most helpless–for the purpose of growing more powerful ourselves.  And none of it works, of course, and we wake up one day to find we are not on the best of terms with God.

God has thrown us out of His Kingdom.  You will not be surprised to learn that this is not Heaven.  Down here, cars break and bones break, diseases grow and damnation grows, & dreams are buried and bodies are buried.

Once upon a time, earth was our Heaven.  Today, it is our graveyard.  Once upon a time, God walked with us in a garden.  Today, God the Father and Son are in a Heaven we have no hope of reaching on our own.

We are like Gríma on the landing of the stairs, wounded by our sin and by the curse God has placed on this world because of our sin.  We are in a state of morose pouting, withdrawal, anger, artificiality, manipulation, conniving, and utter patheticness.  And if we get even the tiniest glimpse of ourselves through the eyes of God, we know it.  We know God has sent us from His Presence because if we were to even glimpse at Him, we’d be goners.

But here is where the story takes a turn no one could possibly expect.

When we cry out to God, as wrapped in our sin as Gríma is in his ugly fur cloak, with all our best attempts to impress, with all our bitterness, brokenness, and bewilderment, with all our superficiality and conniving . . and with, at last, the plea of a repentant sinner’s heart before God,

“Send me not from Your Presence.  Bring me back to You.”

–What we find is not that God awaits with a sword to chop us down, but with a hand to help us up.  That hand is scarred with the print of a spike.  It is the hand that took our sin and drove it into Himself on the cross.

It is the hand of Jesus Christ.  And it is outstretched for you and me.

It is a grace King Théoden would not, could not offer Gríma.  But it is a grace God offers each one of us, even with knowing full well who we really are and what we have really done.

Maybe it is unimaginable to think of King Théoden as inviting Gríma back in his kingdom and giving the wretch new clothes and a seat at his table.  But it is not unimaginable to think of God doing this for us, if we come to Him through the helping hand of Jesus Christ.

Jesus has sent the Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, to show us how to reach for His hand.  If you are broken and repentant before Him, you can ask Him right now, right where you are, and He will not reject you.

Before the throne of God above

I have a strong and perfect plea

A great high Priest whose name is Love

Who ever lives and pleads for me

My name is graven on His hands

My name is written on His heart

I know that while in Heaven He stands

No tongue can bid me thence depart

(From Before the Throne of God Above by Charitie Lees Smith)

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:22, NLT)

Startling sin

Sin can startle us into looking at who we really are.  We ask ourselves, Did I really say that?  Did I really do that?  Did I really think that? 

–From Pastor John’s sermon.

Sin can startle us into looking for a Savior.

Only when we know we are wretched do we look for a way out of the mess we’ve made.

As my pastor said on Sunday, the things we never thought we’d say . . the things we never thought we’d do . . the ways we’d never thought we’d think . . can give us a reality check of who we really are.

I think in an analogy from Lord of the Rings.  There are these orcs–ugly, twisted, horrible, cannibalistic creatures who were once elves.  Now it doesn’t do any good to pretend they are still elves.  They aren’t.  They are totally fallen, irredeemable in themselves (they can’t change who they are in essence).  Whatever bad thing it is, they would say that, would do that, would think that.

Of course, in Lord of the Rings, there were never any orcs who turned back to the good side.  But I thought it would be really cool if there were.  If a mighty wizard could change them back into the elves they once were, long ago.

Actually, those orcs are better off than we humans are, in this sense: We are often outrageously out-of-touch with how sinful we are.  We are connoisseurs at covering up what we do.  We are brilliant at denial.  We are justifiers to the max.

We will try to make anything, no matter how atrocious, seem acceptable if we were the ones who did it.  (If somebody else did it, Heaven help them.  But if it was us, well, we had our reasons.)

But often it’s in the really awful things in our lives . . the times we know we have fallen badly and can’t get up . . the times we see how twisted and gruesome we really are . . that we get a glimpse of how we look in the sight of God.

In and of itself, that is one of the most dangerous states of depression around.  But if we look to Christ, then it is really just like the molting state of the caterpillar.

Sin can startle us into covering up what we did, denying what we did, or justifying what we did.

Or, we can look at our sin straight in the face, and find an urgent need to find the Savior.

He is able to change us into new creatures.

Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence. (2 Corinthians 5:17, GW)

Forgiving others . . .

Forgiving others isn’t about me, or the good feelings I get from it.  It’s about God, and my finite and imperfect imitation of His infinite and perfect act in forgiving my sins.

Regardless of how I feel after forgiving someone, I know how I feel after receiving forgiveness from God.  I require nothing more than the blood of Jesus Christ.  No one needs to apologize or make amends to me for anything they could ever do to me, for Jesus has set me right with God.

How could I open my mouth to ask for more when God has closed His case against my sin?  How could I close my fist to withhold forgiveness when God has opened His nail-pierced hands to me?  How could I narrow my eyes at a fellow soul when God has opened my eyes and saved my soul?

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another just as God has forgiven you in the Messiah. (Ephesians 4:32, ISV)

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Photograph by Ruben Alexander, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/the-wanderers-eye/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

The Key

A local car dealership ran a deal where if you came down to their dealership, they would give you a key.  You would then try your key inside a brand new car, and if your key unlocked the car, you won the car.

I’ve seen kind of game since then on game shows and contests, and I bet you have, too.

I could have bought up all the keys in the country and brought them down to that dealership, but I wouldn’t have won, would I have?

I would have been disqualified, of course, for breaking the rules.  I was supposed to use only one key, the key given to me by them.  But even if they had let me use all those keys, it wouldn’t have done me a bit of good.  There was only one correct key for opening that door.

Some people, when they think about God, think He must have multiple ways of letting people get into Heaven.   They think it would be mean for there to be only one right key.   But, for just a moment, suppose we applied those expectations to ourselves.  Would I want to give everyone everywhere a key to my house?  I don’t think so.  What would be the point of having a lock in the first place?  And would I want to have no lock on my door?  Absolutely not.

Earlier I gave an example of a car dealership offering a contest to get the one right key.  Some people think God is like that dealership, handing each person a key, either intentionally giving many people one that doesn’t work, or just not caring.  The good news is, God doesn’t treat us like this!  Instead, He reveals to us the one way to enter Heaven, through Jesus Christ His Son.

God does the kindest thing possible by making it very clear that, if we choose any key that Satan would offer us rather than the key of the righteous sacrifice of Jesus, we are not going to be able to get in.

Jesus makes it clear that there is only one key: Himself.  He doesn’t hide that from us, or we would never know if we had the right key until we die.  Jesus plainly tells us so that, rather than trying a key when we reach eternity and hoping we have the right one, we can have confidence that the blood of Jesus will open Heaven’s gates.

I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25b-26, GNT)

Photo by Sewing Daisies (Heidi), profile page on http://www.flickr.com/people/sewingdaisies/, website http://www.sewingdaisies.com.au/

Scripture taken from the Good News Translation in Today’s English Version- Second Edition Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Coals

Yesterday was a seriously hot summer day.

I have been staying inside mostly, because of my allergies, but I decided to go get the mail.

Walking barefoot down the path from our front door, I noticed something: the cement was very warm.  It was almost unpleasant, but not enough motivation for me to go back in the house and get shoes.

Then I stepped onto the driveway, and I realized something else: the cement on the driveway was hot.  This was unpleasant, but it didn’t hurt, and I was so close to getting what I wanted (the mail) and, besides, I have been known in the past for tough feet.  As a kid I could run up and down our gravel drive barefoot.  Yes.  I don’t know any other kid who would run the full length of our semi-rural gravel drive.  (Never got a boyfriend out of it, though, go figure.)

So I thought, My feet are still tough from those days of professional feet toughening, and I hurried down the driveway to the mailbox.  I had enough common sense not to step on the sweltering blacktop of the road to get the mail, so I figured I could endure a minute or so more of hot cement.

Now, what happened next happened very fast.

The temperature beneath my feet almost instantly switched from being hot to being too hot.

You know what the funny thing is?  I’m not sure whether I stepped out on the blacktop or not.  I don’t think I did, but I was so focused on getting the mail that I simply wasn’t paying attention.

I was at first a little bit in shock at the sudden heat wave from my feet.  Wasn’t this the same cement driveway I had just been on?  How could it now be too hot? It wasn’t as if I had been standing on it all afternoon, waiting for it to heat up.  What had happened?

Well, I didn’t have a mind to think about what had happened, because my feet were hurting.  I started back for the house and my feet started burning.  I was running now, trying to get back to the pathway that led up to the door.  I knew when I got there it would be cooler.

Oh, but I was wrong.

Because my feet were already burning, I got no relief when I got on the pathway.  Actually, the burning sensation became more painful.  I ran to the door and jumped the last couple feet.  When I got inside the house, my feet were off the heat, but mildly throbbed, reminding me of how seriously I had miscalculated the intensity and prolonged effect of the heat.

Now, fortunately, my feet stopped hurting almost right away.  And today I only have a mild tenderness that may be brought about by the memory more than an actual burn.

What’s interesting is I’ve been reading Proverbs in my One Year Bible, and I can tell you it made me think about this proverb more:

Can he [a man] walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? (Proverbs 6:28, NLT)

At first glance, we might think this is just a common-sense statement and move on.  But this question actually gives us deep insight into the nature of sin, if we will but pause, pray for wisdom from our Savior who discerns all things, and reflect on it.

Lord Jesus, please give us your wisdom as we read your Word, that we see what You want us to see.

Context is invaluable in understanding meaning.  This proverb specifically deals with men who seek out prostitution:

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap

and not have his clothes catch on fire?

Can he walk on hot coals

and not blister his feet?

So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.

He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29, NLT)

This certainly doesn’t fit with the mainstream media’s version of what happens.  In our society, we would often like to portray marriage as a revolving door in which the person who pleases us most at the time is on the other side.   But what does God say?

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.  So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24, ESV)

What a beautiful beginning for marriage.  God makes Eve from Adam.  Did God really think any animal or bird was going to keep Adam company, be his helper?  We know He didn’t, because He says

“I will make him a helper fit for him.”

The word “make” reveals what God was planning on doing.  This parade of animals was part of a clever plan to show Adam how wonderful and quintessential Eve was for him!  There was no deception here; God was simply showing Adam that, while all of God’s creation was special, Adam needed someone who, like himself, was made in the image of God (and, romantically, made from Adam as well!).

So when a man takes another man’s wife, he is pulling one flesh apart and making it two.  I think of the graphic visual that portrays, and infidelity becomes gruesome.

This is a very important truth about marriage, but there is an even deeper truth inside this Genesis story and inside the Proverb: our relationship to God.

Throughout the Bible, God describes our relationship to Him in ways we can begin to understand through our experiences with human relationships.  He describes those who trust in Him as His people, for example, and His children.  He also describes us as His bride, and lest we get all confused by this because we are fallen human creatures, what He means is that He loves us very much, He purifies us, He rescues us, and He brings us to His kingdom to live forever.

God uses this analogy to help us understand why it is so destructive when we sin.  When we sin, we are unfaithful to God, tearing ourselves away from Him to join ourselves with Satan.  This is why, when Adam and Eve sinned, they had to be pulled away from God, separated from His presence.   And this is one reason why Christ’s love for us is so profound.  He doesn’t just come along to rescue us as a prince does in a fairy tale, but He comes along and rescues us after we left His kingdom!  He comes along and rescues us even though we have been unfaithful to Him!

So when we read this Proverb, we can think not only about what happens when we are unfaithful to our spouse, but, even more profoundly, what happens when we are unfaithful to God.

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap

and not have his clothes catch on fire?

Can he walk on hot coals

and not blister his feet?

So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.

He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29, NLT)

Satan is always plotting for how He can pull us away from God.  Satan wants our clothes to catch on fire; he wants our feet blistered.  And he quite often achieves this by leading us away very gently, very mildly.

When I first stepped out on the pathway to get the mail, I knew it was warm.  But I didn’t think it was hot enough that it could eventually burn me.  Satan often prefers to pull a similar trick on us.  He has us step away from God into something a little uncomfortable, what we might think of as a “little sin”.

Over time, Satan tries to nourish our boldness like someone blowing on an ember.  He encourages us to explore sin a little more, go a little deeper.  This is like when I stepped out on the hot driveway.  This is more uncomfortable, and we usually have to face that what we’re doing is in rebellion to God.  So why do we stay there?  Sort-of like how I wanted to get the mail, there is something Satan knows we want–what tempts us most–and he keeps our eyes focused on that “prize” so that we will be led further and further down a path of sin.

But then it gets worse.  Sometime or another, one of two things will happen: we either step out into brash, life-deflating sin, which would be like stepping out on that sweltering blacktop . . . or we stay so long in sin we burn ourselves that way, like staying on the concrete pavement.  It doesn’t take a “blacktop sin” to burn our feet.  Just by lingering on the “concrete sins”, we’ll be burned.  In fact, even the little “pathway sins” will blister our feet overtime.

(I want to note something very important here: Whether or not we are immediately burned does not reveal whether or not the sin has hurt us.  All sin, however “small” or “trivial” we may think it is, leads us away to Hell.)

We think about Hell a lot as punishment, and it is.  But do we realize that we ignite ourselves?

The bad news is, every one of us has strayed outside God’s house of safety many, many times, and every one of us bears fiery scars.  The good news is, God does what people don’t: He stands at the doorway to His house ready to take us back in, no matter how many times we have failed Him.

One of the most moving stories comes in the life of a prophet named Hosea.  God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.  That’s right: God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Hosea obeyed.  Throughout their marriage, Hosea’s wife was unfaithful to him, but God would tell Hosea to take her back, to restore her.  It seems almost inconceivable that God would ask such a thing, or does it?

Hosea’s relationship with his wife was an illustration of God’s relationship with His people.  Time and time again, we are unfaithful to Him.  Time and time again, He is ready to take us back.

I think just about all of us have had the experience of doing something really stupid, getting hurt, and then being afraid to go for help.  Sometimes, when we do go to help, we get scorned, mocked, or endlessly chastised.  But God is simply not that way.  When we go to Him, He stands ready to take us in, ready to heal us.  And all because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple.  A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.  As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.  They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11, NLT)


Photo by DesignsbyKari, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/designsbykari/, website http://colormeducky.blogspot.com/
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