They say that lukewarm water is best for you. Not so cold that is shocks your stomach. Not so hot that it burns your mouth. Just nice and lukewarm. (Gag.) They also say that eating dark green vegetables is good for you. I'm hoping that they mean watermelon. I worry that they mean kale, since I suspect that watermelon (a fruit) does not qualify. The Bible speaks of lukewarm, and it gives hope to those who (like us) like cold and hot, since it suggests that God shares our view! This week we begin a new series entitled "Revival and Reformation." Just like our preferences in beverages, our goal is avoid being slightly warm. Let's dive into our lesson and learn more!
Revival: Our Great Need
Commentary for the July 6, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17, NIV
So often, we hear calls for revival and reformation of the church. Those calls at times seem to be little more than thinly veiled attempts to root out sin in the lives of others. Like Old Testament prophets individuals will arise proclaiming the need to return to some imagined state of perfection that pervaded the church of the past. Revival and reformation perhaps becomes synonymous with perfectionism. If we can only return to that earlier, more holy time then all will be well and Jesus can come. We often overlook the fact that if Jesus would come if the church was more like it was in the past then why didn’t He come then? Maybe a more profound understanding of deity will help us to avoid that rabbit trail.
Centuries ago, we tended to view Earth as the center of the universe. Even the Sun was thought to revolve around our little Earth. In time we grew beyond that understanding. However, as we learned to no longer view the universe from a terracentric perspective, we did not move on in our understanding of God. We often continue to view God in anthropocentric terms. While amorphosity might better depict such a being, we continue to struggle with not forming an image of some benign or benevolent, human-appearing being when we think of Him. Even feminism has not relieved us of this tendency as referring to God as “She” is just as anthropomorphic as “He.” But if we cast God with a human image, even in part, is He still God?
At times, primitive peoples in the past resisted having their photographs taken because they believed that the person holding their image would have power or control over them through that image. Maybe this is central to our attempt to define God with human attributes. Perhaps we feel a certain amount of control over a being that we can define in this way because we can attempt to predict His character and personality according to our understanding of how humans function. We might even be able to predict future actions of such a deity based on these models.
But is this realistic? By definition, God is omniscient and omnipresent. This means He is fully present in every place and time. He also is fully conscious in that infinite presence. He truly has no beginning and no end. When we draw an image on paper in two dimensions, or sculpt it in three, in each case we can visualize and recreate definitive boundaries. However, how does one visualize boundaries with the infinite? As it is with physical form, so it is also with the mind, personality and character. These things all have understood boundaries in regards to human norms. When we visualize God or His attributes in anthropomorphic terms, we may be defining Him by those norms even if that was not our intent.
A good example might be our need for theodicy. While such vindication might be meaningless to a being both omniscient and omnipresent, we struggle with the idea because justice from our perspective is important and necessary for fairness, and we have been taught from childhood that an attribute of humanity is fairness and balance. Each child must receive the same number of cookies. Any disparity will tend to produce rage in the deprived and arrogance in the blessed as we seek reasons for the differences. We find it difficult to accept randomness as a reason. Our anthropocentrism predisposes us to look for the reasons for the differences in ourselves.
As a result our beginnings, our history, our technical achievements perhaps take on an undue importance as we struggle toward an ultimate fairness. That fairness may be more construct than reality. We are confronted again and again with examples that challenge our understanding of fairness. Whether it is a school-yard bully taking a smaller child’s lunch money or a global corporation despoiling the planet at the expense of powerless indigenous peoples, fairness can at times be hard to find. But we still yearn for it, and sometimes we claim that God requires it, even though we may again be attributing humanity to God.
When we consider what we have been told of God, we have to ask whether fairness is of primary importance to such a being. According to the Bible there was a war in heaven.[i] Once that war was over, the losers were gathered up and “hurled to the earth.” In effect, the refuse was gathered up into the heavenly dust bin and then emptied onto the earth. One might question the fairness of that if looking at it from a human perspective. After all, with the entire universe at His disposal, and perhaps even multiple universes, why here? Why the earth? Why not some uninhabited hell-hole of a planet in some remote corner of the universe? Some have even tried to salvage some form of fairness and justice from this by creating the idea that the Devil and his minions are residing in some sort of nether region, perhaps within the earth, where they are bound in torment with all those who have died, having been unfair while living.
But let us return to the idea of revival and reformation. How does this relate to our understanding of deity? Perhaps we are viewing God and fairness like a heavenly vending machine. If we do “A” then God will do “B.” If we purify ourselves adequately, God will then do His part. Is God a puppet on a string that we can manipulate in this way? While our desire for fairness causes us to act as though this is the case, we know better. Sometimes when we put our coin in that vending machine expecting a chocolate bar, we get licorice instead. Other times, we get nothing.
Like the child who got fewer cookies but does not want to jeopardize the possibility of cookies in the future, we tend to blame ourselves. We tell ourselves that we didn’t get what we wanted because the heavenly vending machine knew better and gave us what we needed instead. However, this is simply rationalization. We do not know. To stretch the vending machine simile a bit, perhaps someone loaded the wrong snack in the wrong area of the machine, so we didn’t get what we asked for. Also, perhaps the snack got caught in the machinery, and it was impossible for us to receive anything at all. In any event, any attempt to change our behavior to alter the outcome would be irrelevant. This may also be true with revival and reformation.
Those who call for such things imply a greater knowledge of God and His ways than the rest of us. In reality, they, as we, must ultimately come to the understanding that we do not control God and time. Why would an all-powerful God present in every moment at every place even see the need to alter time in response to a human generated revival movement? Wouldn’t such a response indicate that we rather than He were in control of the timeline? Maybe such a position might be justified by the fact that time itself is simply a constructed attempt to understand dimensionality and perhaps has less relevance to God than to those whose construct it is and who are trying to manipulate it.
Some might cite Creation in an attempt to assign the creation of time to God. However, many societies past and present have had differing concepts of time and beginnings. This argues strongly for time being a human construct and not the creation of a singular Creator. Seventh-day Adventists and others who place a high importance on a particular time period would probably find it difficult to accept that time is more relevant to us than to God. However, Jesus came very close to saying exactly that when He spoke about the Sabbath.[ii]
To those who try to understand the world through the scientific method, this might also be clear. As Einstein illustrated, time is relative. While it can be measured and calculated it is not necessarily consistent. It is highly dependent on place for its measurement. For instance, time does not flow at the same rate, even on earth, at higher altitudes as at lower ones.[iii] Also, according to Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity,” time is altered by our rate of travel.[iv]
But apart from this malleability of time from our perspective, an omnipresent God, who again by definition is present at everywhere and every when has already come in the Parousia in His person, even if not in our present. So there would be no reason to alter that coming in response to a revival or reformation. Perhaps doing so might even invoke a time paradox.
Perhaps a more helpful understanding of the Parousia might be derived from apocalyptic scenarios of the past as revealed in the Bible. God intervened with a flood in the time of Noah when there were fewer than ten righteous people left on the earth. He intervened again with fire when there were fewer than ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah. Could it be the proliferation of evil and not the revival and reformation of the church that is significant for the Second Coming?
[i] Revelation 12
[ii] Mark 2:27
[iii] “Scientists prove time really does pass quicker at a higher altitude,” www.dailymail.co.uk
[iv] “Time Dilation,” www.wikipedia.org
"Revival: Our Great Need" July 6, 2013
Revelation 3:14-21; Hebrews 12:7-11; Matthew 25:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-5; Song of Solomon 5:2-5.
America's bloodiest battle has come back to life. Many believe the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1 to 3, 1863, was a turning point in the war. Now, 150 years later, Civil War actors and history buffs have gathered to re-enact this crucial slice of the War Between the States. Over 10,000 participated in a giant play this year that, in the original battle, left 51,000 people dead.
The passion of participating by some actors runs high. They have prepared years in advance.
"They march in heavy (and hot) wool uniforms carrying authentic knapsacks, artillery, and camp gear - which they furnish themselves at a cost of nearly $1,000. They eat typical campaign food - hardtack, salt pork and fruit. They know how to line up for battle and how to handle their weapons. They've done the drills, they know the maneuvers. They organize their camp just right, and sleep together under the stars.
"To live as they lived on the ... battlefields and in the camps, you begin to appreciate how difficult not only were their individual lives and how difficult it was in the battles, but also how chaotic and how frightening it could be," Collins, a Harwich software developer, said.1
Collins remembers a previous re-enactment at Gettysburg-Pickett's Charge-which was a dramatic victory for Union troops.
"I remember standing there in the firing line, completely encased in smoke," Collins said. "The air around me was completely gray and there was chaos all around me." Suddenly, he heard orders coming through the smoke. Troop silhouettes approached. There was a flag, but he couldn't see which one it was. Finally, when the men were less than 25 yards away, he could see that they were the enemy. "It really hit home to me what these men would have to deal with," he said.
Our Sabbath school lesson this week introduces us to a new topic for the quarter-Revival and Reformation. As we reflect on the passion that many have for American Civil War history (and the birth of a nation), we look at a church that has lost spiritual fervor. Laodicea is apathetic and indifferent. The great war between good and evil leaves them yawning and yearning to tune into the proxy pleasures that erode their original passion for a connection with Jesus.
A Christian's bloodiest battle must come back to life. We must wake up to face the enemy. We are at a turning point in history. Will we accept the rebuke that we are lukewarm? Are we blind to the reality of our situation? Will we turn to the support for our troops that only God can provide? It's time to prepare for battle. It's time for us to be revived.1
1. Cap Cod News
Media: How Civil War Soldiers Fought in the Battle of Gettysburg You Tube
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