Is the Jesus-Story a Legend?

Is the Jesus-Story a Legend?

(The Lake of Galilee)

Some time ago I was dialoguing about the historical Jesus on our city newspaper’s chat area. My dialogue partner wrote the following:

“I do not believe Jesus was a real person. I believe the Jesus of the Bible is a mish-mash of previous “Sons of God” or “Sun Gods” such as Osiris, Mithras or Dionysus, all were born of virgins, all were martyred. All were resurrected. It’s just a re-telling of the old tales into a new tale. Take Saul (Paul). When he was talking about Jesus, he didn’t even know if a physical Jesus existed. He was talking about the spiritual entity. He didn’t even know he was supposedly Crucified or the “Christmas” story.”

OK. Not the most scholarly thing to write. But, thanks to the internet, there are some people who buy into this kind of thing. To the idea that the Jesus-story is “just a re-telling of an old tale” I would say things like the following, a lot of which is directly taken from two books by Greg Boyd and George : 1) The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition; and 2) Lord or Legend: Wrestling With the Jesus Dilemma. I have also used material from N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

#1 – The similarities between the Jesus-story and existing legends are superficial at most.

Some of the legends sound like the Jesus story. There are, for example, legends of others being born of a virgin. And, there are legends of others that were said to have risen from the dead. But if you examine these parallels in detail, you find that most of the commonalities are superficial.

For example, one of the legends frequently cited by legendary-Jesus theorists “concerns a second-century itinerant teacher and wonder-worker named Apollonius of Tyana.” (Boyd & Eddy, Lord or Legend?, 56) This legend says that Apollonius rose from the dead. This is written by Philostratus, who’s writing 150 years after Appolonius lived. The supposed resurrection comes down to this: There’s a lady who had a dream. Appolonius appeared to her in a dream.

But that’s not a resurrection. It is, perhaps, a post-mortem vision. But this has nothing in common with the Gospel stories, which has Jesus hanging out with people for 40 days, having breakfast with his disciples, and letting someone feel his side.

There are legends about others having a virgin birth, like Plato supposedly had a virgin birth. The virgin-birth legends all happen after Christianity has spread into the world. People saw Christians claiming that Jesus had a virgin birth, so they begin to claim that their hero had a virgin birth to compete with Christianity. (See N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God)

Re. so-called “similar” myths, Boyd, Eddy, and Wright all argue that when you get down to the details there’s very little in common.

#2 – Legends usually take a lot of time to develop. (See Boyd & Eddy, both references) A story gets told and told and retold, like a fish story that grows over time. Typically, that’s what happens with legends. They take decades and even centuries to evolve, even a millennium. For example, the legends about Buddha are all more than 500 years after his life. The same is true of Plato, Alexander the Great, and others. But when it comes to Jesus, you don’t have a millennium. In fact, you don’t even have decades. You don’t have enough time for a legend to develop.

The first person to write about Jesus is the apostle Paul. Paul is writing two decades after Jesus lived. He is writing when people still are alive and who remember Jesus. So, there are real, historical figures involved, such as Caiaphas the high priest, and Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the Sanhedrin. These and others are people who lived and were contemporary with people who were still alive when Paul wrote. The question then becomes: How could you have a legend evolve about a man if He’s just a normal carpenter, and in just 10-15 years he is now the “Son of God?” How do you explain that… when his brother James is still alive? In fact, how do you explain it when you have people laying down their lives for this story? (See Lord or Legend?, 43)

Boyd and Eddy contend that the legend-hypothesis does not work because you don’t have enough time for Jesus to become “legendary.”

Reason #3 – You also have the wrong culture.

Boyd and Eddy say that, when it comes to being receptive to legends, not all cultures are equal. For example our culture, on the whole, is quite resistant to legends. Most people don’t believe most of the legends that go around. Other cultures are more receptive to legends. First-century Judaism, however, was resistant to legends. They had the Torah. It was the pagans who told the stories and the legends.

Usually, when legends evolve, there’s a sociological need that’s being met. Legends evolve to support traditional beliefs. The legend reinforces what they already believe. The story of Jesus doesn’t fit any of the cultural beliefs very well. In fact, Jesus flies in the face of established beliefs in first-century Judaism. He is conflicting with many of these beliefs. For example, the Jews believed God was God and humans were humans, and never the twain shall meet. The idea that God would become man is off-the-charts blasphemous. This, claim Boyd and Eddy, is not the stuff of “legends.”

Legends confirm traditional beliefs; they do not confront traditional beliefs. The Jews believed in military Messiah. Instead, Jesus gets crucified. It would be hard to make a story more implausible than this. The Jesus story is not about Jewish “heroes.” In fact, the disciples look positively ignorant.

In this regard C.S. Lewis, whose area of scholarship was mythology, said, basically (to paraphrase): “I know mythology. If there’s one thing the 4 Gospels are not, it’s mythology.” So, it seems that the legendary hypothesis does not work for a number of reasons.

N.T. Wright comments, in depth, on the “dying and rising God” myth. It’s false. Here’s why. But first note: If you want to read much more see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, Ch. 2, “Shadows, Souls, and Where They Go: Life Beyond Death in Ancient Paganism.” Wright combines excellent scholarship with clear writing to show that the idea that, e.g., Osiris, Mithras, and Dionysus et. al. “were [mythically] resurrected” is false because a misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘resurrection.’ In the ancient world in which Judeo-Christianity was situated “’resurrection’ was not an option.” (Wright, 60)

“Resurrection,” in the Judeo-Christian sense, means: “a new embodied life which would follow whatever ‘life after death’ might be.” (Wright, 83) The Greco-Roman world assumed that such a thing was impossible.

The Isis, Osiris, and Dionysus myths are affiliated with fertility rites and “productivity of the soil.” (Ib., 80) These gods “died and rose” every year. “The new life they might thereby experience was not a return to the life of the present world.” Nobody actually expected the mummies to get up, walk about and resume normal living: nobody in that world would have wanted such a thing, either.” (Ib., 80-81)

“When the Christians spoke of the resurrection of Jesus they did not suppose it was something that happened every year, with the sowing of seed and the harvesting of crops. They could use the image of sowing and harvesting to talk about it; they could celebrate Jesus’ death by breaking bread; but to confuse this with the world of the dying and rising gods would be a serious mistake… When Paul preached in Athens, nobody said, ‘Ah, yes, a new version of Osiris and such like. The Homeric assumption remained in force. Whatever the gods – or the crops – might do, humans did not rise again from the dead.” (Ib., 81)

The two greatest influences on the Greco-Roman worldview were Plato and Homer. For Plato ‘resurrection’ was a detestable thought; for Homer an impossible thing. The Christian idea of resurrection is antithetical to Platonic thinking because the human body, for Plato, is a “prison” and no one would want to inhabit it again after death. For Homer the dead are “shades,” “ghosts,” “phantoms.” “They are in no way fully human beings, though they may look like them; the appearance is deceptive, since one cannot grasp them physically.” (Ib., 43)

The Egyptian Osiris myth has no concept of “resurrection” in it as Christians understood it. Egyptian mummification assumes the person is “still ‘alive’ in some bodily sense, despite appearances.” “’Resurrection’ is an inappropriate word for Egyptian belief.” (Ib., 47).

There is a lot of reasoning and many cited resources in Wright’s chapter. He concludes with three things.

1. “When the early Christians spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead, the natural meaning of that statement, throughout the ancient world, was the claim that something had happened to Jesus which had happened to nobody else. A great many things supposedly happened to the dead, but resurrection did not.” (Ib., 83)

2. “The early Christian belief that Jesus was in some sense divine cannot have been the cause of the belief in his resurrection…. Divinization did not require resurrection; it regularly happened without it. It involved the soul, not the body.” (Ib.)

3. The ancient non-Judeo-Christian world took the Judeo-Christian term ‘resurrection,’ which referred to something hardly anyone believed in, “and used it to denote something a great many people believed in”; viz., non-bodily life after death.

Wright writes: This “was a variation that attempted to retain Christian language about Jesus, and about the future destiny of Christians, whole filling it with non-Christian, and for that matter non-Jewish, content. If this mutation had been the norm, and belief in bodily resurrection the odd variant, why would anyone have invented the latter? And why would not Celsus have pointed this all out?” (Ib., 84)

Did Jesus of Nazareth actually exist? Craig Evans writes: “No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria. Though this may be common knowledge among scholars, the public may well not be aware of this.” (Craig Evans and N.T. Wright, Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened, 3)

Finally, a truly thorough presentation of the historicity of the Gospel accounts must include Richard Bauckham’s masterpiece Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels and Eyewitness Testimony, which argues that “the Gospels embody eyewitness testimony.” (114)

Trust As the Cure for Anxiety & Fear

Trust As the Cure for Anxiety & Fear

I’ve had the office chair I am now sitting in for 17 years. I trust it. I trust that it will hold me. Therefore I have no anxiety in regard to it. Where there is complete trust, one finds no anxiety. It would be contradictory to say “I trust this chair I’m sitting in, but am afraid it won’t hold me.” Where there is trust, there is no fear.

There are objects of significant trust, and objects of insignificant trust. Objects of significant trust affect me; objects of insignificant trust have no effect on me. I may not trust the motives of Tiger Woods, but my mistrust does not cause me anxiety or fear because I am unaffected by his actions. But I do not trust where the economy is heading, and may wonder whether or not I will have sufficient funds to meet my needs in retirement. This can breed anxiety and fear. Indeed, some people take their lives over this one. I am significantly affected by economic conditions, and these conditions are largely out of my control. To not have control over an object of significant trust can cause fear.

An object of significant trust is so because of its affect on me. If my office chair falls apart while I am sitting in it, I am affected. If, on the other side of the world, someone’s office chair just broke and a person fell on their tailbone, I can be sympathetic if I hear of this, but I will not be anxious or fearful in regard to it. But if that person is my son, I may feel anxious.

Do you find yourself mostly filled with anxiety and fear? The reason is: you do not *trust. In life, I have placed my trust in God. I do this daily, even hourly. The result of doing this for forty years now has been a life of less fear and anxiety. I’m not saying I never freak out about something. I am saying that when I do freak out, it’s a certainty that I am not trusting.

I believe there is a cumulative effect that results from a lifetime of trusting in God. A psychological confidence, even certitude, emerges. It is like the confidence one gains as a result of sitting in the same office chair for 17 years and finding that, through it all, it still holds.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God. And God will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

 
*I recognize that there are clinical conditions that neurophysically cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person’s emotions, issues of trust still remain. Medication will not help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking. The antidote then becomes: find another chair to place your trust in and your posterior on.

“Abba”

“Abba”

In Mark 14 Jesus, agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, addresses the Father as “Abba.” “Abba” is not “Daddy,” if that means in some childish sense. “Abba” is an intimate family word. R. T. France says it means “the respectful intimacy of a son in a patriarchal family.” (France, Mark, 584)

No Jew prior to Jesus had addressed the Father so intimately. Ben Witherington states that this implies “a filial consciousness on the part of Jesus that involved a degree of intimacy with God unlike anything we know of in Judaism prior to Jesus’ day. So far as we can tell from our limited evidence, no one had previously addressed God as abba.” (Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 220) Witherington adds: “Jesus saw himself as the unique mediator of a relationship with the Father that could express itself by using the intimate term abba.” (Ib.)

“Abba” is Trinitarian perichoretic-union language, a word of intimate union. A unitive family word. Jesus the Son is “in” the Father, and the Father is “in” him. So where does that leave us? Looking through the outside window at the family dance of the Trinity? No. Remember that, in John 14-16, Abba comes to make his home in us. In you, if you are a Jesus-lover.

This is huge. So huge that Paul writes, in Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”” R.T. France explains: “Paul introduces ‘Abba’ as the sign of an amazing and hitherto inadmissible relationship of the individual believer with God.” (France, Mark, 584)

***
I have read Amy-Jill Levine’s interpretation of “Abba” in her book The Misunderstood Jew. Levine says this:

  • “Still popular is the view that only Jesus would have dared to call God ‘Father’ and that only Jesus would have done so with the daring use of the Aramaic term Abba, meaning ‘Daddy.’ The claims are hopelessly flawed.” (Levine, The Misunderstood Jew, 42) How so?
  • During the period of Second Temple Judaism there is an increasing use of addressing God as ‘Father.’ So Malachi 2:10 states, “Have we not all one father?”
  • Levine says to translate Abba as “Daddy” is incorrect. “The term means ‘father,’ and it is not an expression associated primarily with little children.” (Ib., 43) I think Levine is right on this. But Abba is still a filial term.

Levine provides no evidence that, prior to Jesus, Jews addressed God as ‘Abba.’ If it means just the same thing as ‘Father’ then she seems to think using the Aramiac word is no big deal. Witherington, who applauds Levine’s work on the back of the book jacket, seem to believe that ‘Abba’ is more intimate, as indicated from the quote I used above.

Levine thinks Jesus’ use of ‘Abba” “has a political edge.” (Ib., 44) She writes: “The Caesars on the throne in Rome were called “Father” – as Washington was called “father of our country” or as the Russian czars by their populations (with relative degrees of warmth) “little father”… By speaking of the “Father in heaven,” Jesus also insists that Rome is not the “true” father.” (Ib., 44-45)

The issue, as it seems to me, is even if God is addressed in Second Temple Judaism as “Father”: 1) was God addressed as ‘Abba,’ and if so, then 2) is ‘Abba’ a more intimate familial address?

C.S. Lewis on Pride

C.S. Lewis on Pride

C.S. Lewis writes:

“The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

James 4:6 says – “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Francis Frangipane has called pride “the armor of darkness.”

Pride keeps, by an act of self-will, God out, and self in.

Lewis calls pride “the complete anti-God state of mind.” “Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

“Pride,” on the surface,  seems cool, like something one would want to have, since it declares “I am better than other people!” But to want this is like saying “I want to have cancer inside of me.” Pride is corrosive. Pride eats away. Pride alienates. Pride is always the teacher, since, essentially, pride cannot learn because it is convinced that it is the fountain of all learning.

The proud person is a person in bondage who cannot see their own prison walls. To rescue a proud person one must engage in the prison ministry of humility. When humility meets pride, freedom meets bondage.

Nietzsche despised the kind of things I am saying. He did not understand the strength and power of humility. “Christ humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant.” (Phil. 2)

Lewis concludes: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

An Evening of Prophetic, Redemptive Activity

An Evening of Prophetic, Redemptive Activity

If you are one of Jesus’ followers who is in need of strength, comfort, or encouragement from God, then I invite you to join me tomorrow evening, March 20, 6-8 PM, in our church’s sanctuary. We are going to worship, pray, and invite the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

A few months ago, during one of my extended prayer times, I heard God speak to me about this: set apart March 20 (our normal Worship Intercession Night [WIN]) for an evening of worship and welcoming the prophetic.

Biblically ths is on target since we are to welcome prophetic activity. In the Old Testament God spoke through prophets. In the New Testament God gives his called-out people the spiritual gift of prophecy. We are told, in 1 Corinthians 14:1, that we are to desire spiritual gifts, and especially that we might prophesy. Why? Because, as Paul goes on to say in 1 Cor. 14:3 – through prophecy God can speak so as to strengthen, encourage, and comfort his people.

Last spring I had another one of those moments where a scripture that I had read many times became highlighted for me. It was 1 Cor. 14:1-3. At that moment my desire to prophesy increased. Here is how I now understand this.

Linda and I, every week, every day, help people who are struggling. We love doing this. Over the years we have seen many successes. These moments become the best moments of our lives. For us it doesn’t get any better than to engage in redemptive activity. It has also happened, many times, that God has given us just the right words to say that do a redeeming work in the person we are helping. And, we’ve had our moments of felt incapacity and inability. Even now we have friends that we love who are in deep struggles, and lack the words and ideas that would set them free. So – God, can you help us?

At this point the gift of prophecy becomes sought-after. I want this gift, operating in my life, now more than ever. I do not want it to be some “prophet.” I do want it because I long to see greater redemptive activity in the lives of people I care for and love. Surely God has the keys to a person’s suffering heart. Surely God knows the way out of bondage and darkness. What if, instead of just using our intellects, God, out of his all-knowingness, revealed words that functioned as agents of freedom and hope? That, for me, is 1 Corinthians 14-type “prophesy.” Who wouldn’t want something like that?

I have a sense of expectation about tomorrow evening. It’s been placed in my heart, by God. If either you or someone you know needs a word from God, I invite you to join me.

Heal the Evil Within

Heal the Evil Within

Thomas Merton wrote: “The history of the world, with the material destruction of cities and nations and people, expressed the interior division that tyrannizes the souls of all men, and even of the saints.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 71)

Here we see the Merton-idea, and I think the Jesus-idea, that the genesis of moral evil lies in the evil within the human heart. Out of our own inner fragmentation comes the outward systemic fragmentation of families, marriages, and civic institutions. As long as one’s own heart remains untransformed so will the world around us.

Fifteen years ago I was invited to help develop the Doctor of Ministry program at Palmer Theological Seminary (then “Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary”). The thrust of the program was to bring renewal to all areas of life: to the church, to the city, and to the world. Ecclesial, urban, and global transformation – good things! But we agreed that, if there were no personal transformation of individual leaders, then the hopes of cultural tranformation were dimished, if not entirely gone.

So, a decision was made to place a course called Personal Transformation (PT) first. D.Min. students would take PT before our courses on ecclesial, urban, and global transformation. We resisted the temptation to get on to the exciting thngs of global transformation, and discovered the inner world of the self that awaited further transformation, restoration, and renewal. 

For the past 15 years I have taught PT as course #1 on Palmer’s D.Min. program. It’s been exhilarating for me as I have seen God time and time again heal the “interior division that tyrannizes the souls of all men, and even of the saints.”

Do you desire to be an agent of renewal and transformation in the world? Begin with your own self. If you choose not to do this your labors will prove to be inauthentic and even irrelevant. It is an act of sheer hypocrisy to work at changing the people around you if you are not yourself being constantly changed. But if you allow God to heal and retore and renew your own inner self, then you will find that the break-up going on within you will lead to breakthrough around you.

Healing: A Few Developing Thoughts

Healing: A Few Developing Thoughts

(Bangkok)

I’m just working some thoughts out here that are under continuous development…

A few years ago a man in our church named Carl broke his foot. Under any circumstances this is sad, but it felt especially so since Carl is a runner. Some years ago Carl ran in the Detroit Free Press Marathon and did well enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. One time when I was at Carl’s house he and his wife Sarah showed me pictures of Carl running his first Boston Marathon. Just to compete in that most famous of marathons is, to me, quite an accomplishment. I asked Carl about his training. “What did you do to train for these marathons?” Carl said: “Run.” OK.

When Carl broke his foot the following sequence of events happened. I write them in an unembellished form, as I remember them, as they occurred.

1. One day Carl felt something bad happen in his foot.
2. Carl went to the hospital.
3. X-rays/MRI showed the foot was broken, and exactly where it was broken.
4. Carl asked people in our church to pray that God would heal his foot – so, on a Sunday morning, we prayed for Carl.
5. Carl went back to his doctor the next week.
6. New tests on the foot were taken.
7. X-rays/MRI showed there was no break in Carl’s foot.
8. Carl believed God healed his foot in an answer to our prayers.
9. I have the medical records in front of me, on my desk, as I write.

Statements 1-9 are “factual.” I put quotes around the word “factual” since, as a philosopher who is fairly acquainted with the discussion about what qualifies as a “fact” in the first place, I realize that whenever the word “fact is used an entire universe of meaning opens up that itself needs to be considered. Nonetheless, and with that in mind, I believe 1-9 are statements that are all true.

Let’s pause here for a moment. An atheist who is a philosophical naturalist can agree that statements 1-9 are true. Even with #8, there is no reason to doubt that Carl believed, and still believes, that God healed his foot. The question then becomes: is it true that God healed Carl’s foot. With that we have a tenth statement:

10. The cause of Carl’s foot showing no break is that God healed his foot.

Carl believes 10 to be true, as do I. But #10 is a different kind of statement than are #s 1-9. Here we have a statement that is an interpretation of 1-9. 10 claims to be an explanation for the facts 1-9. 10 claims to be an “inference to the best explanation.” Every interpretation is a function of some cognitive context. Which worldview or noetic framework best explains what happened to Carl?

When we talk of worldviews, noetic frameworks, or metanarratives, we have left the world of empirical realities discoverable (to a degree – because there’s controversy here) by “science.” “Science” qua “science” cannot give worldviews or metanarratives. One cannot see “theism” or “atheism” under a microscope. But it takes a metanarrative to interpret a “fact.” Or, perhaps, something becomes a “fact” or not based on a metanarrative. All facts are theory-laden. As a theist I can see that it is probable that God healed Carl’s foot. That explanation is not odd if theism is true. If atheism is true then 10 is, of course, false, and there must be some purely naturalistic explanation even if we cannot now see it.

This makes the central area of discussion that of adjudicating between worldviews. Statements 1-9 do not evidentially “prove” either theism or atheism; rather, it is “by” either theism or atheism (or some other worldview) that one comes up with statement 10. By inference to the best explanation we ask which way of seeing best explains 1-9? If I already believe there is no God then of course 10 above as false. If I already believe in God then, by the sequence of events (broken foot-receive prayer-foot not broken), I can accept 10 as true. If the atheist is stunned as to how someone like myself or even Carl could accept 10 as true, their being-stunned should not be as a result of some totally objective “facts.”

Note this: If the atheist-naturalist claims “No one gets healed today” after reading a clinical case like Carl’s, then I suspect this is but an epiphenomenon of their pre-existing worldview. “Evidence” gets filtered through their naturalistic metanarrative which removes any supernatural causes. Of course. And of course I rejoiced when God healed Carl’s foot.

(I have collaborated with two scholars who are now writing, independently, texts on divine healing. They have Carl’s medical records.)

Host the Loving Presence of God

Host the Loving Presence of God

(Bangkok)

This morning I preached on John 17:25-26. Here Jesus concludes his prayer for his followers. He says he is giving the love the Father has for him to be “in” his followers.

I spent some time developing the nature of the love the Father has for the Son. The Christian conception of God is: God is a three-personed being. This means: three individual persons sharing one essence. AKA the “Godhead.”

The essence of the Godhead is: love. On Christian theism God is love.Trinitarian love is:
– other centered
– freely given and freely received
– unconditional

To say that Trinitarian love is other-centered is to say it is, of course, not self-centered. Love this of the other. Love is not entertained by questions like “What’s in this relationship for me?”

To say that love is freely given and freely received means that God’s love for us is not out of any need God has for our love. What can that mean? To begin, “love” is relational. In love, one subject loves an other. Because God is a three-personed being, this makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. In the Trinity the Father loves the Son, the Son the Father, the Spirit the Son, and so on. In this sense, because God is love, God is not out looking for love in all the wrong places. Stanley Grenz says: “Because God is triune, the divine reality already comprehends both love’s subject and object.” (Stanley Grenz, Theology For the Community of God, 72).

To say that God’s love is unconditional is to say that love is not merit-based. It is NEVER based on the merit of the one receiving it. Rather, it is based on the loving nature of the one giving it. If the love of God were merit-based, then God would NOT BE LOVE. This therefore means there is no “striving” in the being of God. Within the being of the Godhead the Son, e.g., is not trying really hard to earn or deserve the love of the Father.

This has implications for you and I. When you feel you’ve got to strive to get God’s approval and love, you’ll start to compete with other Christians around you and judge them. That’s the bitter fruit of merit-based love. You see that when people start talking about others who either “deserve” or “don’t deserve” their love. There are a lot of ministries and churches and individual Christians out there trying to “outdo” each other for God’s approval, to impress other people, or to feel better about their own corporate selves. All of that is totally foreign to the being of the Godhead.

God’s love is also everlasting. It has always existed, and always will. And, its manifestation has been a 24/7 thing (understanding this metaphorically, since “time” is non-applicable in a being whose existence is everlasting). There has never been even a tiny micro-second where the love of God has slacked off.

Now think, as much as you can, about love within the Godhead. What if such love were in you? As outrageous as that sounds, that is precisely the claim Jesus makes when he says, in John 17:25, that the love the Father has for him will be in his followers. I love what New Testament scholar D.A. Carson has said about this. Carson writes:
 
“Jesus’ revelatory work will continue (through the Holy Spirit), so that God’s gracious self-disclosure in his Son will not be reduced to a mere datum of history, but will be a lived experience.” (Carson, The Gospel According to John, 570)  
 
Now watch this, as Carson writes:
 
“The crucial point is that this text does not simply make these followers the objects of God’s love, but promises that they will be so transformed, as God is continually made known to them, that God’s own love for his Son will become their love. The love with which they learn to love is nothing less than the love amongst the persons of the Godhead.” (Ib.)
 
Remember that Jesus, in John 14:23, has already told his disciples, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” I take all of this to mean that we are not to spend our prayers asking for a visitation from God. This is because God wants to make, with us, in us, a “habitation.” This is not “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” This is: “Guess who’s moving in with us, forever and ever and evermore.
 
When God moves in to your heart and makes his home there he brings his stuff. I want you to think… tonight… as you are in your home… that God lives with you… in you… “Christ in you, the hope of glory”… and He’s there with suitcases full of his stuff. And what wouold be in those suitcases? Things like: his peace, his joy, his all-knowingness, his all-powerfulness, his all-lovingness. And his love is grace-filled, good, truthful, righteous, pure, other-centered, freely extended, non-merit-based with no strings attached.

In short – When God moves in and unpacks his bags he brings his “glory.” “Christ in you, the hope of glory. The word “glory” means – the attributes of God. God’s resources and attributes and, above all other things, his everlasting love. The love of eternal Three-in-One God is in you and in me as we dwell in and with him, like branches attached to Jesus, the True Vine.

This an experiential thing. It is not some theory. It is not a bunch of words. Accept this as truth.

But, you may wonder, “I don’t comprehend it all? You don’t need to. For example, a few weeks ago I was watching a guitar instructional dvd that had some amazing guitar work on it that is, currently, beyond me. I saw it with my own eyes. I heard it. It was glorious. And I did not understand it. I wondered – “How does he do that? I cannot comprehend it. But it is so, so beautiful.” I’d love for that to get inside of me! What i saw was real and beautiful and I wanted it. But I did not “know” it in the sense of comprehending it and being able to do it. It’s the same kind of thing when it comes to Trinitarian love.

Think now of the real and Incomprehensible love of God. Paul experienced it, knew it, and did not fully comprehend it. So, in Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul wrote:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Jesus closes his prayer by adding, “…and that I myself may be in them.” D.A. Carson writes: “This is nothing less than the ancient hope that God would dwell in the midst of his people.” (Carson, 570-571) We see that ancient hope in a text like Isaiah 66:1:

“This is what the LORD says:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?

Here Craig Keener quotes Carson:

“Jesus’ departure does not have as its goal the abandonment of the disciples to solitary isolation. Far from it: his goal is to sweep up those the Father has given him into the richness of the love that exists among the persons of the triune God.” (In Craig Keener, The Gospel of John, 1064)

I am being swept up in the Trinitarian love of God. It’s for every follower of Jesus. It’s not merit-based. So…

Know that God loves you.
Accept that, as you dwell in Christ, Trinitarian love makes its home in your heart.
Be the dwelling place of God.
Host the earth-shattering presence of God.
Let’s God’s love rule in your heart.

Background Music As Grand Narrative

Background Music As Grand Narrative

(Robert DeNiro’s moment of redemption in “The Mission.”)

My mother loved music. I’m not sure if my father did. They started me on guitar lessons when I was five. I took lessons at Koster Guitar Studio, in Rockford, Illinois. Kay Koster was my instructor.
NAMM recognizes Kay on their website

“Kay Koster was a pioneering women retail owner, who not only successfully ran a business on her own beginning in 1940. She also personally repaired guitars and amps of all makes and models for decades –even after she closed her retail store. Koster’s Music in Rockford, IL was primarily a guitar store, perhaps the first such store in the country. As the Fender line developed, Kay was one of the first dealers in the state and soon became an expert of electric guitar repairs. In addition to her career in the industry, Kay has also been a respected guitarist, first in the big bands and then into rock and roll.”

I was small, and could not hold a “real” guitar, so Kay started me on slide guitar. I took slide guitar lessons from her for three years. At times, over the years, I wish I would have continued when I hear the amazing things that can be done on the instrument! My old National Steel Guitar hangs on the wall in my office, intact, well-used, with a broken nut. The fingerstyle techniques Kay taught me as a boy laid a foundation for my entrance into fingerstyle picking when I finally got my first acoustic guitar. I used to display my fingerstyle prowess before the audience of my mother.

My mother loved to hear me play guitar. The environment might be just me, or Linda and I, in the kitchen, with my guitar, playing and singing for her. In her last month of life I brought my guitar into the nursing home where she was at. One evening she was lying in bed, and I was sitting in a chair playing exquisite, lyrical, spontaneous finger-style for her. A lady in the room next to us heard my guitar and shouted, “Shut that thing up!” I played softer. I played as well as I could for my dying mother, who had music deep in her soul, and had introduced me to music and invested in my musical career.

This morning Linda, who is a piano-vocal instructor, told me that one of her piano students wanted to learn a song called “The Crisis,” by Ennio Morricone. I found it online and downloaded it. In the process I found out that Morricone wrote “Mission,” the theme song for the movie “The Mission.” Have you seen that movie? It has, for me, the most powerful scene of redemption there is on film, as a murderer played by Robert DeNiro is literally and spiritually released from his burden of sin that he carries with him.

I just downloaded Morricone’s “Mission” and began to listen, and can hardly bear it. The whole narrative of that movie now comes to me: a humanly unpardonable sin of the murder of one’s own biological brother in a fit of rage; imprisoned for the crime with nothing to do but sit in the filth of the unpardonable act, replaying it over and over; a tormented soul with life and meaning and future ripped out; physical release from prison but deep unrelenting bondage of the soul; until…  that amazing grace-filled moment… when the soul is unconditionally forgiven, the debt is cancelled, tears of gratitude flood forth…, redemption… another soul set free. I now listen to Morricone’s haunting-beautiful melodic masterpiece, and I am the recipient of the Christ’s redemptive activity. It feels like too much to bear, in a good way. It seems too good to be true. Yet it is true. It has become my entire life.

Every life is lived in some Grand Narrative. No one can escape the “metanarrative.” I live by the life-giving biblical metanarrative. I stand with C.S. Lewis, who said that by the Grand Narrative of Judeo-Christianity “I see everything else.”  N.T. Wright describes the Judeo-Christian scriptures as “a five-act play.” It becomes like a piece of music, with the motif of redemption introduced, rebelled against, searched-for, accomplished (“It is finished”), and now lived-out in all of Jesus’ followers who have the redemptive motif in their hearts and sing that song every day.

The Grand Narrative that makes sense of my life is remembered today, for me, in Morricone’s inspired song that plays on the strings of my heart the song of redemption and release and freedom. I’m seeing things clearly again.