“God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; each person is fully God; there is one God.” That is how Wayne Grudem summarizes that fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, the Trinity. How it can be true that God is both three and one is a mystery, something that we take on faith. It defies human reasoning and presses the boundaries of human language. It should humble us and drive us toward belief, because, after all, who would believe in a God they could fully understand?

Some Muslims accuse Christians of being polytheists (tritheists, to be exact) because of the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not. Ancient polytheists could have never understood the Trinity because the gods and goddesses of their various pantheons were wicked, juvenile, selfish, arrogant and proud. There could be no perfect relationship between any of those gods, much less a good one! But we see, in the Godhead, a perfect relationship of three distinct, but united, persons. This relationship can only exist if the relating of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is rooted in humility.

In the Trinity there is submission, restraint, and an economy of words.
The Son submits to the Father, doing only what he sees his Father doing. The Father sends the Spirit, reminding the disciples of the words of the Son, speaking only what he hears. The Father elevates the Son, putting everything under his dominion. There is, here, no self-aggrandizement. There is no selfish ambition or grab for power. There is submission, restraint, and an economy of words. All three speak with one voice. At the heart of the Trinity, where the Father, Son and Spirit relate to one another, there is a dynamic humility being exercised without which divinity would be an impossibility. God is because he is humble. If he were proud, he would be the devil. If one of the members of the Trinity were to become proud, all creation would fly apart at the molecular level and all matter would be destroyed. (I’m speculating, of course!) But that will never happen because God is fundamentally humble, and he does not change.

In his book King’s Cross, Tim Keller talks about the love that exists within the Trinity – a love that is self-giving and other-glorifying. The Father, Son and Spirit willingly give love and glory to one another. “The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are pouring love and joy and adoration into the other, each one serving the other. They are infinitely seeking one another’s glory.” This love, which we call agape, is the evidence that there exists within the very being of God an infinitely deep well of humility. Without humility, agape love is impossible.

We are most like God when we are humble, engaging in acts of self-giving and other-glorifying love, most of which will be beneath the “dignity” of our position.
 If we want to partake in God’s life, both in this life and in the age to come, we must be humble. We are most like God when we are humble, engaging in acts of self-giving and other-glorifying love, most of which will be beneath the “dignity” of our position. I believe that the eternal plan of God is to spread this self-giving, other-glorifying love (which flows from this infinite well of humility) to humanity. God created humans to extend the “divine dance” from three to infinity. He is currently preparing the Church as the Bride of Christ, made suitable for marriage to Jesus.

So then, our responsibility is to discipline our hearts to learn humility. Some of the enemies of humility are:

A Sense of Entitlement
Prejudice of any Kind
An Us/Them Mentality
Inability to Truly Listen to Others
The Need to be Right

What are some of the enemies of humility that are alive and well in your heart? What do you think you can do to discipline yourself to be humble?

Theology isn’t just an academic exercise; it really matters. A.W. Tozer wrote that the most important thing about us is what we believe to be true about God. How we think of God, and what we believe to be true of him, will determine, more than any other thing, the manner in which we live. To live well—that is, to flourish in God—we must be rooted in rich theological soil. We must have a vibrant and robust theology in order to stand against the stiff breeze of popular philosophy and common cultural religion. In a billowing and raging sea of political correctness and therapeutic moralistic deism, a rich and robust theology will be what lashes you to the Rock, preventing you from drifting away in the rolling tide of dumbed-down, liberal spirituality, or short-sighted, fundamentalist dogma.

In fact, knowing God well is a worthy end in itself. It is a tremendous joy to know, deeply and truly, your maker, redeemer, and re-creator. To think rightly of him is freedom from despair and deception. Good theology, according to the author of Hebrews, is the cure for spiritual apathy (Hebrews 2:1). To know God is to love God is to obey God.

My hope is to be a part of a community that develops a rich and robust way of thinking about God. We must search out the deep things of God, meditate upon the Scriptures, and form, as best our shallow minds can comprehend, a thorough and faithful understanding of the character of God. We will not know him fully, but we can know him well.

But where do we begin? What is the foundation of God’s character? What is the most important thing about him? Is it his love for all creation? Is it the relentless pursuit of his own glory? Is it his yearning for justice? Is it his complete holiness? Is it his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence?

All of these, and more, are vital for understanding God because they are important elements of his character. But I believe there is one thing that underlies them all—the humility of God. God’s humility is the soil out of which his other, better-known attributes grow, and it defines how he exhibits them to his creation. Behind the Trinity, behind Creation, and behind the Incarnation is God’s infinite humility. If we are to ever understand God, we must first know that he is humble. At the root of all that he is and does lies an infinite well of humility.

So then, what does it mean to be humble? For us, to be humble means to see ourselves rightly, particularly in relation to God. Paul urged us “to consider ourselves with sober judgment.” Maintaining a humble view of oneself requires that we know ourselves well and honestly, being neither swelled with pride nor deflated with self-hate. A humble life is lived in right relationship—that is, in submission—to God. It is to do things that you might otherwise consider beneath yourself–things that you don’t want to do, but know that God requires of you.

But what does it mean for God to be humble? There is no one above him by which he can define himself, no one greater who can set tell him what it means to “consider yourself with sober judgment.” Like all of God’s attributes, the humility of God does not depend upon an external standard for definition or judgment. God is humble in relation to himself. Humility is that condition of the heart which is directed toward others in service, even to the degradation of oneself, and this is exactly what we see in the actions of God as revealed in Scripture.

God reveals his humility when he does anything that is beneath the dignity of his divinity. The sheer act of God pursuing a relationship with beings he created is the most thoroughgoing example of his humility. It permeates our experience of God so much that we take it for granted. God condescends to use our words and our language to communicate to us. We can only know him because he humbles himself enough to be known. He bends down to us so that we might be lifted up to him.

When I started reading The Good and Beautiful God, I had hoped to blog my way through every chapter. It seemed a reasonable expectation, given that I was only supposed to read a chapter per week. However, though my reading has stayed on pace, the busyness of life has prevented me from blogging about the book, or much else for that matter. I last wrote about chapter two of the book, and today I’m going to skip ahead to chapter 6.

This is the chapter that deals with God’s holiness. When we say that God is holy, what we mean is that he is pure, unstained by sin, and completely other than (meaning above and beyond) anything else in creation, including humanity. One of the most important consequences of God’s holiness is his hatred of sin. Yes, God hates sin. (No, I don’t believe that God hates sinners, but that’s another discussion for another day.) But when we think about God in relation to sin (and, therefore, in relation to us), Smith says that we tend to believe one of two false narratives: 1) We believe that God is in a furious rage at us because of our sin; or 2) We believe that God doesn’t really care about our sin, and is pretty much cool with whatever.

Neither of these stories tell the truth about God, which is that wrath is God’s right(eous) action. So then, what is wrath? The image that comes to my mind is much like that first false narrative–of someone in a furious and destructive rage, completely overwhelmed by their emotions and totally out of control. But God never lacks for self-control, and his wrath, like his love, is not contingent upon his emotions. Just as God’s agape love is his self-willed act to lay down his life, surrender his rights, and forgive sins, so his wrath is his willful act to consistently oppose sin and evil. “God is not indecisive when it comes to evil. God is fiercely and forcefully opposed to the things that destroy his precious people.” (121)

The key insight that I gleaned from this chapter is that wrath is not an attribute of God, but rather a temporary action. God is wrathful as long as sin exists and wreaks havoc on humanity; but when sin is swallowed up in victory, then God will never be wrathful again.

God’s wrath must be understood in relation to his love. Wrath is not a permanent attribute of God. Whereas love and holiness are part of his essential nature, wrath is contingent upon human sin; if there were no sin there would be no wrath. (121)

God’s wrath (remember, not his rage, but his just and pure opposition to all sin and evil) was poured out upon Jesus at the cross. God’s final and perfect judgment of sin and evil occurred in the crucified body of his son. The wrath that we should have received did not rain down upon us because Jesus stood over us. The only shelter from the wrath of God is in the son of God.

So, then, since God has directed all of his wrath against sin and evil toward Jesus, does that mean that Jesus is sin and evil? Yes, but only for a brief time (“God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us”), because God then vindicated Jesus (ruling that he was in the right all along) by raising him from the dead. In the end God’s wrath is only a servant, even a symbol, of his love.

Smith concludes the chapter by writing, “God’s first and last word is always grace.” (127) Amen. Even in the wrath of God we see the extent of his grace, because his son stepped in to receive God’s opposition to sin and evil, to fully satisfy it in his death, to be declared innocent and true in his resurrection, and then to become king over all in his ascension and present reign.

“Who sinned?” That was the question the disciples asked Jesus when they came across a man born blind. It was also the question a pastor asked James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful God, when James’s daughter was born with a terminal chromosomal disorder. The disciples, and this pastor, may appear to be insensitive, but they’re only vocalizing a narrative that so many of us believe. Behind this question, “Who sinned?”, lies the belief that “God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished.” (40)

This has been humanity’s controlling narrative for millenia, and it continues to live on in the church in spite of God’s best efforts to finally put this misnomer to rest. (He did, after all, send his own son to die for the sins of the world so that we can all be reconciled back to God. How’s that for an angry judge?) Perhaps no organization lives out this false understanding of God more faithfully than Westboro Baptist Church. They are infamous for protesting soldiers’ funerals, carrying placards emblazoned with “God hates fags” and other such bile. For them, the clearest image of God isn’t Jesus Christ dying and rising again for the sake of the world, but of God (or is it Zeus) astride a thundercloud with lightening bolt in hand, ready to strike fornicators and sinners dead.

Fortunately for everyone ever and everywhere, that narrative is false. At the core of God, in the very heart of the Trinity, resides an infinite well of self-giving, self-sacrificing love. How can a God, who is love, be so angry? How can he be so quick to dole out punishment on “sinners?” The truth is that he’s not. God is not angry, but eager. He is eager for us to repent, believe, and love him. He yearns for us to be reconnected to him in life-giving and soul-refreshing relationship. He longs to make us new, so new, in fact, that we become like Jesus.

So then, who sinned? Jesus’s answer is simple. Nobody. And everybody. In the case of the blind man, like in Smith’s case (and in our case with our epileptic son), nobody’s sin caused this disease. God is not doling out punishment for some sin we may or may not remember. These diseases have come because death rules the world, and death rules the world because everybody has sinned, and the consequence of sin is death. However, and this is an awfully big however, Jesus has conquered death! He did it when he rose again from the dead. We live in an entirely new world, one where we can look death in the face and laugh, crying out in mockery with the apostle Paul, “Where, O Death, is your sting; where, O Death, is your victory?” The victory over death resides in Jesus Christ.

What is Jesus doing now? According to that same apostle Paul (here I’m drawing from 1 Corinthians 15), Jesus is putting all of his enemies under his feet; that is, he is conquering everyone and everything that opposes him. One of those things, I believe, is disease. Particularly, diseases like blindness and epilepsy. While there are many ways in which Jesus is defeating disease (through medical research, gifted doctors, spiritual gifts of healing, faith healers, and many others), one of the most important ways he is putting this enemy under his feet is through the prayers of his people.

My wife and I are dealing with this enemy in our son, and we are praying and believing that God will heal him of his epilepsy. We long for the rule and reign of Jesus the King to be made manifest in our son’s brain, where the enemy of epilepsy wreaks havoc on him. We pray over him everyday, and we look forward to the day when he will walk without falling down, speak clearly and with extensive vocabulary, and testify to the power of Jesus the King in his own body and life. Many of you who read this blog are praying for him, as well. We are deeply grateful for your prayers and kindnesses. Someday we will all rejoice together at the powerful work of God in healing our boy. God is not angry; he is agape love.

There’s a book that I’ve been wanting to read for several years called The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, so when the life group that Breena and I recently joined decided to start going through it together, I was very excited. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, but it was very insightful, and I hope to use this blog to post some of my thoughts and reflections on the book.

The thesis of the book is this: Transformation happens through training my soul. (20) Transformation is a vital part of life for the Christian, as God both promises and commands it in Scripture. It does not happen magically, however. Rather, it demands our full participation, though perhaps in a way that is different than you or I would expect.

Smith tells of a “false narrative” that almost all of us believe. That narrative is this: We change by our willpower. “When people decide to change something, they muster their ‘willpower’ and set about trying to change some behavior. This nearly always fails.” (21) It fails, he says, because the will actually has no power. The will is the human capacity to choose. (22) The will is not something that acts or has power. Rather, the will responds to outside agents, and there are three primary agents that influence the will: the mind, the body, and the social context. (22) In other words, we make choices based on the input we receive from our minds (I’m turning left on this road because I know my destination is in that direction), our bodies (I eat lunch because I’m hungry), and our social contexts (I cheer on the Buckeyes because I grew up in Ohio). Change, therefore, happens not because I muster up the strength to make a new choice, but because the influencers on my will are somehow modified (I learn new things, I exercise, I make new friends). “When new ideas, new practices and new social settings are adopted, change happens.” (22)

Rather than reinforcing the old narrative of willpower, Jesus created a new change narrative: We change by indirection.

If we adopt Jesus’ narratives about God, we will know God properly and right actions will follow. And the opposite is true. We change not by mustering up willpower but by changing the way we think, which will also involve changing our actions and our social environment. We change indirectly. We do what we can in order to enable us to do what we can’t do directly. …We cannot change simply by saying, “I want to change.” We have to examine what we think (our narratives) and how we practice (the spiritual disciplines) and who we are interacting with (our social context). If we change those things – and we can – then change will come naturally to us. This is why Jesus said his “yoke” was easy. If we think the things he thought, do the things he did and spend time with likeminded people, we will become like him, and it will not be difficult. (22-23)

The first step toward change is to examine the fundamental narratives (stories) you believe to be true. How does the world work? Who am I? Who is God? Answering these questions, and ones similar to this, will help you to verbalize the narratives you believe. What are the fundamental narratives you believe to be true? Let me tell you mine.

One of the narratives that I’ve believed (in my heart, not necessarily in my head – and that distinction is important) is this: God makes prosperous the lives of those who step out in faith for him. I do not mean by this that all pastors and missionaries will be financially prosperous, but that their lives will be free from certain troubles and trials, like family health issues, necessary but inescapable debt (perhaps from medical bills), unjust job loss, and ministry failure. (Basically, all the things that have happened to me and my family in the past few months!) I have believed that bad things only happen to God’s servants because of discipline or punishment, and not as the natural course of living in a fallen world.

Besides being a demonstration of poor theology, my narrative is wrong in one rather large way. Can you spot it? Although God is the subject of that sentence, my narrative is fundamentally about me. I, and the quality of my life, are the center of that story. It’s all about me.

But Jesus’ narratives are fundamentally about God.

“God is good.”

“God is beautiful.”

“God is agape love.”

Perhaps the first thing that you and I need to examine is the subject of the stories we believe. Are we believing and telling and living stories about God, or stories about ourselves? “In order to change we first have to change our minds. …Adopting Jesus’ narratives is a way we come to have the mind of Christ.” (26) The world that Jesus saw and experienced was as broken as our own, but at the center of it all he could see, not himself (though he is God), but his Father. Jesus saw the truth, testified to the truth, and told stories of the truth. God is the truth, and in order to be set free by the truth we must learn to live and believe the narratives of Jesus.

What are the narratives that you have been believing and living?


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