The End of the World as We Know It

By Chris BakerDSC_0263

“What happens in the end?” It is one of the “big questions” people have been wondering about from time immemorial. Many answers have been offered through the years. Some say in the end there is nothing. We live, we die and then we cease to exist. Others say in the end everyone goes to be with God. Still others say in the end earth will be destroyed and humanity will be judged. There are other possibilities and multiple combinations of those listed.

There is an interesting trend, however, among the various answers. Those involving God can usually be summed up in three words, “God takes control.” God takes control and brings everyone to live with him. God takes control, destroys the evil creation and brings everyone else to live with him. God takes control and issues out judgment. God takes control and fixes what was wrong with creation. Even those who believe in free will tend to believe free will eventually has a stopping point, at which time God takes control.  In other words, although there are multiple answers which include God they usually involve God taking control.

In  The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Oord makes the argument that God’s nature is uncontrolling love.  Because it goes against God’s very nature to unilaterally take control of a situation and coercively guarantee an outcome, Dr. Oord says God works through humans who cooperate with his influence and will.

If Dr. Oord is right about God’s nature, we need to find different answers to the question “What happens in the end?” If God’s nature is uncontrolling love, God cannot “take control” and do anything. Could there be an answer to the question, “What happens in the end?” which reflects God’s nature of uncontrolling love? How would such an answer look?

In Romans 8:19 & 21, Paul says, “Creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

In light of the usual answers to our question, this is an interesting passage. According to them, Paul should have written, “Creation waits in eager expectation for God,” but Paul says something different. Paul says creation is waiting for God’s children, hoping creation itself will be freed from its bondage to decay and it, too, might share in the freedom of God’s children.

Paul directly links creation’s freedom with the freedom of God’s children. When God’s children are revealed as God’s children, then creation will be freed. Could Paul be saying, in the end creation will be set free as a result of humans cooperating with God? Perhaps when humans cooperate with God, or, as Paul says, when they actually become “children of God,” creation will be set free.

For those of us who are used to the more traditional answers to our question, initially this idea might seem tenuous, but I think it is supported by this passage in Romans. Sandwiched between the idea of creation waiting for the children of God (vs. 19) and the concept of creation hoping to join in the freedom of the children of God (vs. 21), Paul says this in verse 20: “Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” In other words, Paul is saying the whole reason creation is in bondage is because of human sin. To use Dr. Oord’s language, creation is in bondage because humans chose not to cooperate with God.

The original task God gave to humanity in Genesis 1 before sin entered creation was twofold – be fruitful and multiply, and take care of creation. Humans chose not to cooperate with God’s call. Because we chose not to take care of creation, it makes sense creation would be messed up. If we, as caretakers of creation, chose not to cooperate with that call, it also makes sense creation would be in bondage. Following this line of thinking, the way to fix creation’s bondage is for humanity to cooperate with God’s original call to take care of creation.

The flow of Paul’s thought in Romans 8:19-21 goes something like this: Creation waits for God’s children to actually act like God’s children. Because humanity’s lack of cooperation with God is the reason creation is in bondage in the first place, creation longs for God’s children to cooperate with God in the hope of creation itself being released to share in the freedom of God’s children.

What happens in the end? In the end, all of creation will be set free from its bondage when humans cooperate with God. The question left for us today is, will we live into that future now?

Do You Want to Get Well?

By Donna Fiser WardProfile Picture

Sermon on John 5: 1-9

Every month or so, the kids in Rainbow Kingdom have a new memory verse to learn from the Bible.  Currently, it is Revelation 3:20:  “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

During this last segment before the summer break, the folks from the Adult Confirmation Class have been helping out.  I got to teach the lesson last night.  I showed them one of the famous pictures of Jesus knocking at a door and asked them what was missing.  With a little coaxing, they recognized there was no doorknob on this door.  “How is he going to get in?” I asked.

One young girl replied, “He can’t!”

“You are right,” I said to the girl, “He can’t come in without being invited.”

One of the young boys said, “Kick the door in!”

“Jesus would never bust in like that,” I said to the boy. “Jesus is not a robber.  He would only come in if you wanted him to.”

We started talking about where the doorknob is on the picture. There must be a doorknob on the inside of the home. We have to open the door from the inside.

In John 5:1-9, we find a story of a man who has been an invalid for 38 years.  He is a Jewish man sitting next to a pagan pool–that’s how desperate he is.  It is a pagan pool close to the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem, but also close to the Roman Fortress of Antonio.  He is waiting for the pagan priests of Asclepius, the god of medicine, to release the water from the upper pool to stir up the water in the lower pool.

Jesus approaches this crippled man and asks if he wants to get well. The man gives an answer equivalent to, “Is a frog’s bottom waterproof?”  The crippled man wouldn’t be at the pool if he didn’t want to be well.

We find from the passage that no one is present with the man to put him in the water when it stirs. He can’t get there acting alone before the healing water dies down.

I find two things amazing about Jesus in this story.  The first is that Jesus asked for consent. The second is how little Jesus required of the man.

As I told the kids in my story about Jesus knocking at the door of our hearts, Jesus won’t come in uninvited.  As evident in Jesus’ healing stories, he will not heal uninvited either.

Why is this?  Couldn’t God snap fingers and everything would be healed?

Evidently not. Evidently God cannot simply snap divine fingers and heal all things unilaterally. After all, we believe a loving God wants to heal all things, and yet all things are not healed. Apparently, God cannot heal without consent, because love never forces its will on another.

It scares some people to think there are things God cannot do. But the Bible tells us that God cannot lie.  God also cannot show favoritism.  God cannot do anything unloving, because love defines God’s character. Thomas Jay Oord puts it this way: God can no more do anything unloving than a mermaid can run a marathon.  Think about that a second.

What is required if we want to be made well?  Our cooperation.  If we want to get well we must be willing to invest.

What do you need to invest?  Maybe your investing means spending time with those who can help you experience something new.  Maybe it means going ahead with that radiation therapy–an instrument of God’s healing.  Maybe it means beginning to take a medication every day.  Maybe it means joining a support group or getting some counseling.  Maybe it means cutting up those credit cards.  Maybe it means calling a friend.  Maybe it means eating those five green vegetables a day and getting some exercise.  Maybe it means reading a book or taking a class.  All of these can be instruments of God’s healing if we are willing and ready to cooperate.

God desires and is always working for our well-being.  But God will not override our will. Love cannot override our will. We must cooperate if we want to avail ourselves to all God wants to give us.

The New Testament uses a word for cooperating or working with God.  It is sunergeo. The word synergy comes from that word, and it literally means “work with.”  The most quoted scripture where this word is found is Romans 8:28: “God works for good in everything with those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Some translations say God works for the good of those who love him, but these translations misinterpret the word. They make it seem like God does all the work alone.  God works with us, and if we love him, we will cooperate

We find sunergo in 1 Corinthians 16:16 and 2 Corinthians 6:1. In these instances and others, we are also called to cooperate with those who are cooperating with God.

We also cooperate with God when we receive God’s grace and extend it to others. In fact, we are God’s preferred method of delivering his grace.  John Townsend, in the book Loving People:  How to Love and Be Loved describes one man who had never learned to be emotionally present with his wife. He had never experienced emotional support from his parents or anyone else. Townsend, a counselor, sent him to a men’s group where he received what God had to give him. God used the men from the retreat to bring healing. In turn, the man was able to give his wife what he had received.

“Do you want to get well?” asks Jesus. By asking this question, Jesus puts the ball in our court. The crippled man was not the epitome of faith. At the time it did not matter to the man where he received his healing, but he was willing to pick up his mat and walk without questioning, even after 38 years of being immobile.  God can work wonders with little.

We need not worry about being “good enough” for God. Our performance isn’t the primary issue, but we must cooperate. We must open the door from our side and respond to God’s call.  Are you willing to take a risk?

Do you want to get well?