The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Christianity (Page 1 of 41)

Reflections on Lament For A Son

I recently received Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A Son, which is a series of short essays composed after Wolterstorff’s 25 year-old son was tragically killed in a climbing accident. Wolterstorff is a Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale, and in Lament For A Son, he certainly writes from a theological perspective, but overwhelmingly, he is writing as a grief-stricken dad.

Suffering is a topic of interest for me;  I have written quite a bit about suffering, and specifically, viewing that topic from a theological perspective; I’ve also read a good deal about suffering as well. Lament For A Son is unlike other books I have read; rather than delve deeply into the topic of suffering in an analytical, systematic fashion, it delves deeply through emotional, soulful lament.

The book is short, and the essays are brief and disjointed, but I have found it to be incredibly profound. So much so, in fact, that rather than post a typical review, I decided to do a series of short posts highlighting some of the different ideas brought out in the various essays.

For example:

“Death is the great leveler, so our writers have always told us. Of course they are right. But they have neglected to mention the uniqueness of each death—and the solitude of suffering which accompanies that uniqueness. We say, “I know how you are feeling.” But we don’t.” (25)

I think this is a helpful reminder. With the absolute best of intentions, we seek to enter into the pain of others we care about. We want to break into their isolation and sit with them in their grief. We want them to know that we are with them, and that someone understands what it’s like to feel what they are feeling. But that empathetic impulse, as noble as it may be is also, unfortunately impossible to realize. We may imagine how another person feels, but we cannot know; we can neither clone the relationship that the other person had with their deceased loved one, nor can perfectly replicate the emotional responses of another person.

Each person, each relationship between people, and thus, each death which severs the relationship between two people is unique. Let us come close to those who are grieving and let us sit with them. Let us listen to the words and emotions that they share. Let us seek to understand. But let us not heighten the sense of isolation experienced by those who are grieving  by saying, “I know how you are feeling” when they know good and well that we do not, truly.

Return From Exile

My friend Smith Hopkins preaches for the Oliver Creek Church of Christ in Bartlett, Tennessee, and there are so many things I appreciate about him as a thinker, a minister, and a leader. During this season of pandemic and quarantine, he has been producing a series on YouTube called Light In The Darkness, and recently, he invited me on to have a conversation about the transition out of quarantine and back into some semblance of normalcy.

From my perspective, the biblical notion of Exile is instructive for us as we think about living during a pandemic and the interruptions and struggles that come with that. But in Scripture, following the period of the Exile, we have the Return from Exile, seen especially in the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. I think there are some lessons from that biblical period that are helpful for us as we begin to think what our own “return” looks like. Here is a hint: don’t place your hope in the wrong things.

I hope this discussion is helpful for you!

Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 4: Prince Caspian

For the last few weeks, I have been ranking the different volumes of C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia. So far, I have covered The Magician’s NephewThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeand The Horse and His Boy

I am scoring each book using a rubric with four different categories: story, characters, worldcraft, and theology. For each category, I will provide a subscore of 1-10, yielding a cumulative maximum score of 40 points.

I have been following the chronological order of the books (even though I don’t consider that to be the best order in which to read the books), which means that this week, I will be ranking Prince Caspian (PC). I think this was my third time to read PC, and although I enjoyed it, I found myself a little more critical of certain aspects this time around.

Prince Caspian

This is from a series of brilliant Narnia cover designs by Jeffrey Nguyen

Story

Coming off the heels of LWW and HHB, PC is…slow. Certainly, there are elements of the story that are entertaining and compelling—the intrigue in the court of King Miraz, the Old Narnians living in hiding, the battle scenes around Aslan’s How—but significant chunks of the narrative feel like drudgery to get through.

As the book begins, the four Pevensie children from LWW find themselves almost immediately whisked into Narnia near an old ruined castle. After a frustratingly-long time, they realize that the castle is Cair Paravel, where they themselves reigned long ago, and that they have somehow returned to Narnia hundreds of years after they left it.

They soon rescue a dwarf, Trumpkin, who is about to be executed, and he proceeds to tell them the story of young Prince Caspian, who is a Telmarine, a human from the land of Telmar to the west of Narnia. Caspian’s ancestor had conquered Narnia, but now, his uncle Miraz is seeking to usurp the throne. The birth of Miraz’s son has placed Caspian in danger, and under the advice of his tutor, Doctor Cornelius, Caspian has fled from his uncle and taken up company with the Old Narnians: talking beasts, dwarfs, centaurs, and other fantastic creatures that had long ago been driven into hiding (Caspian had been raised to believe that such creatures didn’t even exist, until he learned differently from his nurse and then Doctor Cornelius).

The Old Narnians decide to follow Caspian as King, and marshal their forces to meet the army of Miraz in battle. Things go poorly for Caspian’s side, however: they are outnumbered and outmaneuvered in battle. Desperate, Caspian blows the magic horn of Queen Susan,[1] and Trumpkin is sent off to the ruins of Cair Paravel, where it is suspected that aid may arrive. He is captured along the way, but then freed by the Pevensies, as mentioned above.

From here, the Pevensie children have to convince Trumpkin that they really are the Kings and Queens from Narnia’s Golden Age and that they are able to help Caspian in his plight. This takes some doing, for the good-hearted Trumpkin is thoroughly skeptical about anything related to Aslan and Narnia’s revered history, but he proves to be a loyal ally.

Trumpkin and the children then head off to join Caspian’s forces at Aslan’s How. The journey there is long and arduous (perhaps nearly as slow and painful to read about as it would be to travel!), and is marked by Lucy seeing Aslan, the rest of the party being unable to, and as a result, going the wrong way, which puts the group in peril and delays their progress (more on this in the Theology section below). Eventually, Aslan appears to them again, this time in a way that all see him, and Aslan instructs them to divide their party: Peter, Edmund, and Trumpkin take off for Aslan’s How to join with Caspian’s forces, while Susan and Lucy join Aslan for a wild party in the woods with the tree creatures who Aslan awakens with his roar.

Aslan and the queens continue to travel and gather various allies, while Peter, realizing that Caspian’s forces are outnumbered, challenges Miraz to single combat. The duel is ended by the treachery of Miraz’s own lieutenants, but the chaos works to the advantage of the Old Narnians who, joined by Aslan’s recently-gathered forces, overwhelm the Telmarine army.

Caspian is installed as King by Aslan, the surviving Telmarine are allowed to return to their origin in our world, and the Pevensie children return home as well, with Peter and Susan possessing the knowledge that they will not return to Narnia again because they are getting “too old.”

The plot of PC has good (really good) elements, but it feels like a series of starts and stops. It takes too long to get to the “good stuff,” and once there, you don’t stay there for long.

Story: 7.5/10

Characters

The four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, function as major characters in PC, as they do in LWW, and they are very similar to how they were in that novel (in Edmund’s case, how he was at the end of LWW, after he had repented of his treachery). All characters are now a year older, and perhaps this plays a part in the struggle of the older children to see Aslan when he first appears. With this cursory overview, we will move on to other significant characters, of whom there are many.

Caspian, the eponymous hero of the novel, grows up as in the house of his uncle Miraz. He is the rightful heir to the throne of Narnia, but knows nothing about it or the history of his nation until first, his nurse, and later, Doctor Cornelius, open his eyes to the reality of his world. He later flees his home and throws his lot in with the Old Narnians, and is declared their king. He loves stories from the old days, believes in Aslan, and ultimately, shows his allegiance to him when he stands against Nikabrik’s plot (see more below). Caspian is also humble, and we are given indication that this humility will serve him well:

“Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?“

“I—I don’t think I do, Sir,“ said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.“

“Good,“ said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not.” (220)

Doctor Cornelius is Caspian’s tutor who educates him in all manner of subjects, including the history of Narnia how it used to be. Cornelius proves the truth of what he says by his own existence (he is part dwarf), he gives Caspian the all-important horn, and he saves his life on the night of the birth of Miraz’s son by encouraging him to flee the castle. Later, he meets up with Caspian’s forces and serves as one of his main advisors.

When Caspian flees from his uncle into the woods, he runs into a tree branch and is knocked out. When he revives, he finds himself in a cave surrounded by three interesting characters: Trufflehunter, the talking badger, Trumpkin, the red dwarf, and Nikabrik, the black dwarf (the colors referring to the color of their hair and beards). As we will discuss later, PC is about the restoration of true religion after it has been corrupted, and in some sense, these three characters display three possible responses to “true religion.”

Trufflehunter represents the truly faithful. Despite the fact that talking beasts and the rest of the Old Narnians had been driven into hiding long ago and Aslan seemed to be distant silent, Trufflehunter remains loyal and committed to the order that Aslan had established:

“Don’t you go talking about things you don’t understand, Nikabrik,” said Trufflehunter. “You Dwarfs are as forgetful and changeable as the Humans themselves. I’m a beast, I am, and a Badger what’s more. We don’t change. We hold on. I say great good will come of it. This is the true King of Narnia we’ve got here: a true King, coming back to true Narnia. And we beasts remember, even if Dwarfs forget, that Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King.” (71)

“I tell you, we don’t change, we beasts,” said Trufflehunter. “We don’t forget. I believe in the High King Peter and the rest that reined at Cair Paravel, as firmly as I believe in Aslan himself.” (72)

If Trufflehunter is the faithful believer, Nikabrik is at the other extreme. He is fearful of Miraz and, therefore, all humans, and wants to kill Caspian when they find him. He has no desire for humans to rule Narnia (though he reluctantly goes along with the others to support Caspian), and, ultimately, has no allegiance to Aslan. He is entirely pragmatic, and is willing to support anyone—no matter how wicked—who will seek his interests:

“Do you believe in Aslan?” said Caspian to Nikabrik.

I’ll believe in anyone or anything,” said Nikabrik, “that’ll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything, Aslan or the White Witch, do you understand?”

“Silence, silence,” said Trufflehunter. “You do not know what you are saying. She was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race.”

“Not to Dwarfs, she wasn’t,” said Nikabrik. (80-81)

Later, Nikabrik’s pragmatism goes to the greatest extremes, as he enlists a Hag and a Wer-Wolf as allies and, ultimately, they try to bring the White Witch back from the dead through sorcery. This leads to a struggle where Nikabrik and his unsavory allies are killed, but ultimately, Nikabrik shows how corruption and extreme self-interest ultimately lead to destruction.[2]

Trumpkin sits in between Trufflehunter and Nikabrik on the spectrum of faith. Unlike Trufflehunter, he is no true believer. Time and again he is skeptical about the Kings and Queens from Narnia’s past coming to save them, or Aslan having any influence over the situation at all (it is not until Aslan roars and pounces on him that Trumpkin finally sees him and believes). But, despite his skepticism, Trumpkin is loyal and is open to having his mind changed. If he has forgotten the history of Narnia and the foundations of faith, he has still clung to its byproducts in a way that Nikabrik has not: Trumpkin has no desire to kill Caspian when they find him, nor to have any association with one form of evil (the Witch) in order to triumph over another (Miraz).

Miraz is Caspian’s uncle, the usurper to the throne. He previously had Caspian’s father killed, and all of his allies killed or banished. As Caspian gradually becomes aware of more things,

“He also began to see that Narnia was an unhappy country. The taxes were high and the laws were stern and Miraz was cruel man.” (58)

Despite his cruelty, Miraz was willing enough to train Caspian to be his successor until his wife give birth to a son of their own, and then Caspian’s life was in peril. Miraz shows himself to be skillful in his duel against Peter, but he is also easily manipulated, as his noblemen lead him to accept the duel in the first place, and then turn on him and kill him in a moment of confusion.

Reepicheep is the fearless and chivalrous leader of the talking mice, and is arguably the greatest character in The Chronicles of Narnia not named Aslan. He will feature more prominently in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but in PC, we get clear indications of his bravery, daring, devotion to Caspian and Aslan, and his keen sense of honor (and with it, the ease at which he is offended).

Aslan’s role in PC is similar to the other books. He is a supremely important character, but is not directly involved in much of the narrative. Early on, Caspian is taught about Aslan but has never seen or experienced him. Miraz denies his existence and even some of the old Narnians are skeptical or disbelieving. When the Pevensie children arrive in Narnia, only Lucy sees him at first while the others disbelieve. But still, ultimately, it is Aslan who guides the Pevensies on what they must do, and it is his work that establishes the throne of Caspian.

Characters: 8.5/10

Worldcraft

For me, this area was another relative weakness of PC. We are given detailed descriptions of the ruins of Cair Paravel, and similar descriptions of the forests and rivers that Trumpkin and the Pevensies traverse as they make their way toward Caspian. These extended descriptions serve to illustrate how much time has elapsed since Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy sat on their thrones as the Kings and Queens of Narnia, and also are likely indicative of the decay that has come across the land over the years as “true religion” has been lost.[3]  But, on the whole, I found these descriptions to be pretty dry; in fact, these were the sections I most wanted to skim through.

Perhaps the most interesting element in the development of Narnia a thousand years after LWW was the description of Aslan’s How, a mound of earth riddled with tunnels that had been built over the broken Stone Table. This serves as the headquarters of Caspian’s forces, and the scene of the decisive battle-within-the-battle where the faithful Caspian, Trufflehunter, and Doctor Cornelius oppose Nikabrik, the Hag, and the Wer-Wolf.

Worldcraft: 7.5/10

Theology

I alluded to this above, but late in his life, C.S. Lewis wrote a letter in which he provided a brief overview of The Chronicles from a spiritual perspective. Describing PC, he said it was about “restoration of the true religion after corruption.”[4] By now, that theme is probably pretty clear from what I have described above in the three previous categories, so I won’t dwell on it here. To summarize,  in the context of Narnia, true religion is a son of Adam upon the throne living under the delegated authority of Aslan. In the words of Trufflehunter:

“…Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King.” (71)

Miraz was a son of Adam, but not the right kind, as he had sought to abolish any reference to Aslan or talking beasts at all. He was a cruel tyrant who ruled according to his own standards and notions of propriety. On the other hand, Caspian is the ruler that Narnia needs, in the tradition of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.

This son-of-Adam-on-the-throne idea is a clear reflection of the biblical notion of Imago Dei, the idea that humans are created in the Image of God. This means that God placed humanity in the garden to rule over it, but with His delegated authority. As creatures made in God’s image, humans possess enormous potential for good or evil. Aslan says as much:

“Do you mark all this well, King Caspian?”

“I do indeed, Sir,” said Caspian. “I was wishing that I came of a more honorable lineage.”

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Caspian bowed. (233)

Another key theological motif of PC is the correlation between age and faith. Repeatedly throughout the book, being “old” or “grown-up” is presented as a barrier to having faith in Aslan.

  • When Caspian talks to King Miraz about the stories from Narnia’s Golden Age, Miraz replies that such stories are “fit for babies” and that Caspian is getting “too old” for fairy tells such as these.
  • Miraz asks Lord Glozelle, one of his noblemen about these “fairy tales” as well, and if he believes them. Glozelle replies, “I believe my eyes, your Majesty.”
  • As described in the discussion of Characters above, skepticism and pragmatism are noted characteristics of the Dwarfs Trumpkin and Nikabrik.

Even the Pevensies are victims of the seeing-is-believing malady that Lewis correlates with advancing age. Lucy, the youngest Pevensie child, is the one who sees Aslan first, but her older siblings doubt her (though Edmund, the second youngest, suspends his disbelief enough to side with his younger sister). Susan asks, “Where did you think you saw him?” and Lucy responds, “Don’t talk like a grown-up.”

Eventually, Aslan appears to Lucy again and strengthens her resolve to convince her siblings about seeing Aslan and following him, but it is still a challenge for her:

It is a terrible thing to have to wake four people, all older than yourself and all very tired, for the purpose of telling them something they probably won’t believe and making them do something they certainly won’t like.

Older people struggle to believe. They choose the pragmatic option, or the reasonable option. As Lord Glozelle said, they “believe their eyes.”

Or, as Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

(Matthew 18.3)

Is it any wonder that Peter and Susan are told that this will be their last trip to Narnia, because they are getting too old?

Theology: 8/10

At 31.5/40, PC is not, in my estimation, at the same level as LWW or HHBHowever, it is still a good book, and a noticeable step above MNIf I were rating it on Amazon, I’d give it 4 stars. I mentioned that HHB had climbed dramatically in the rankings after this read-through; PC fell in the rankings this time around.


[1] This horn was given to Susan in LWW by Father Christmas, and whenever it is blown, aid will come to Narnia. The horn had been kept and handed down over time, and Doctor Cornelius gives it to Caspian to blow in his moment of greatest need.

[2] Later, right before his treachery, Nikabrik again asserts that the White Witch “got on all right with us Dwarfs” (180). And this seems to be somewhat true, as we see dwarfs serving the White Witch in LWW. This stubborn determination to look out only for Dwarfs and the interests of Dwarfs also points ahead to The Last Battle, where the Dwarfs remain this way and refuse to ally themselves with King Tirian.

In some ways, I think Nikabrik is an almost prophetic character. Back in 2016, I remember sharing “Nikabrik’s Candidate”, which I thought was a soberingly-accurate article leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election. The article itself seems to be prophetic to me, and worth a read in hindsight (or, foresight, as another such election approaches).

[3] This theme of corruption is most clearly seen in the ruins of Cair Paravel and the apple trees they had planted now growing wild. But it also seen in the overgrowth of forest, the erosion of the land by the river, and the binding of the river god represented by the Bridge of Beruna.

[4] Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition (San Franciso: HarperCollins, 2005): 6.

 

There Is A Sea

I’ve never sung this song, but I love its words and the sentiment behind it:

“There is a sea which day by day
Receives the rippling rills,
And streams that spring from wells of God,
Or fall from cedared hills;
But what it thus receives it gives
With glad unsparing hand;
A stream more wide with deeper tide,
Flows on to lower land.

There is a sea which day by day
Receives a fuller tide;
But all its store it keeps, nor gives
To shore nor sea beside
Its Jordan stream, now turned to brine,
Lies heavy as molten lead;
Its dreadful name doth e’er proclaim
That sea is waste and dead.

Which shall it be for you and me,
Who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone,
Or take to give again?
For He who once was rich indeed
Laid all His glory down;
That by his grace, our ransomed race
Should share His wealth and crown.”

Lula Klingman Zahn, 1921

The song describes the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, and personifies both: one alive and boisterous, passing on what it has received; the other, listless and dead, storing up all it receives and never passing it along. 

A few years ago when studying Abraham and God’s appearance and promises to him in Genesis 12, I was struck by the purpose God gives for blessing him:

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

(Genesis 12.1-3)

God tells Abraham that he will be blessed, not for his own sake, but so that he could be a blessing to others. We ultimately see this in Jesus coming from Abraham’s descendants, but more than this, Israel was always meant to be a blessing. They were supposed to be a light to the nations around them that pointed those nations to the one true God.

I was struck by this notion of being blessed in order to be a blessing. At my last congregation, we actually used the phrase “blessed to bless” one fall for a fundraising initiative where we send school supplies and money to a Christian school in Malawi. Later, we used the same slogan for our yearly theme for the entire congregation, and viewed that year’s events through the lens of seeking to bless others because we have been so richly blessed by God.

We live in a world beset by all sorts of problems. I think the answer to those problems is Jesus, but it is easy to say that in a way that is becomes just a cliche that doesn’t lead to anything tangible. So here is something a little more tangible, that is also clearly tied to the way of Jesus and love of neighbor: we are blessed in order to be a blessing.

All of our blessings come from God. To echo the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4.7, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you?” Your opportunities, your career, your influence, your wealth, your platform, whatever—what do you have that God hasn’t given you?

Are you sharing those gifts with others? Are you blessing others with what God has blessed you?

Or, in the words of Lula Klingman Zahn,

Which shall it be for you and me,
Who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone,
Or take to give again?

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 10: The Nature of God

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Over the last several posts, we have spent a good deal of time looking directly at specific biblical texts. First, we looked at texts that have traditionally been used to teach that creation will be destroyed or that we will go away to heaven with Jesus when He returns (and I have argued that those texts have been poorly interpreted). Then we looked at texts that point to cosmic redemption, that the salvation that God brings about through Jesus will be both wholistic and restorative. We followed that up by looking closely at portions of Genesis and Revelation and seeing what they tell us about the broken reality of our world and the Story that Scripture is telling. Most recently, we examined passages related to the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection. All of that to say, this study has been significantly based upon looking closely at biblical texts.

This post will be different from all of those in the sense that today I am not going to look at specific texts, but I am still going to be making biblical arguments. But, rather than pointing to a variety of specific texts, I want to draw on our general knowledge of Scripture and use this information to help us get a picture of the nature of God.

Here are the basic questions we want to consider in this post:

  1. According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? Obviously, these are massive questions and we are not going to try to answer them exhaustively (it would not even be possible to do so). Rather, we will seek to answer them in ways that relate specifically to this study.
  2. Related to the first question, which perspective better fits God’s character as revealed in Scripture: the idea that God will destroy His tainted creation and we will “go up” to live with Him eternally, or that God will fix His tainted creation and “come down” so we can live with Him eternally?

In other words, the Bible gives us pictures of what God is like. Which of the views that we have been discussing fit better with the biblical pictures of God?



The Fixer of the Broken

In the Genesis account, God looks at what He has created and repeatedly calls it “good”. He says this of humans as well. Over and over again, the refrain is repeated. Clearly, God values what He has created. Tragically, though, God’s good creation becomes tainted by human sin. We have spoken about that at length.

So, what is God like? Is He someone who throws things away when they become tainted, or does He work to fix them?

In the story of the people of Israel, do we see a God who throws His people away when they sin against Him, or who lovingly, painfully walks alongside them for hundreds of years despite their rebellion? Even in the Exile, do we see God abandoning His people and the covenant promises He made to them, or do we see God with His people, even in Exile, working for their good and remaining faithful to the promises He has made, ultimately restoring them to their homeland and sending His Son to them, through Whom all peoples of the earth would be blessed?

Through His sinless life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, that Son makes possible for us to be reconciled to God, despite the fact that we are sinful, tainted creatures. This is at the center of our faith, isn’t it? The idea that God doesn’t just throw us away when we are tainted by sin but rather that He has done everything possible to fix us and redeem us for His own?

I believe that; don’t you? 

And yet…

If God is going to annihilate His creation—creation that He called “good”—because it was tainted by sin, why should we be confident that He won’t do the same thing to us? After all, we are part of creation, and He called us “good” too.[1]

In other words, which view—annihilation of creation or redemption of creation—is more consistent with how we generally view God? 

Constantly in our language—in almost every sermon we hear—we speak of a God who wants to fix what is broken within us and make us right and whole. Which of these eschatological views fits better with that picture of God?

The One Who Comes Down

There’s another picture of God that I want to consider which is prevalent in Scripture from the beginning to the end.

When God creates everything in the first chapters of Genesis, He also forms the Garden of Eden, and this is where Adam and Eve dwell. God has interactions with Adam and Eve, and where do those take place? Do Adam and Eve go away somewhere to be with God? No, God comes down and walks in the Garden in the cool of the day. He interacts with Adam and Eve where they are.

Later, God calls a man named Abraham to leave his country and family and go to a distant land, where God will bless him greatly. At one point, God tells Abraham about the child of promise that will be born to Abraham and Sarah, and also to inform him of the judgment that will come upon Sodom and Gomorrah. How does this communication occur? Is Abraham whisked off to heaven for a conversation with his Creator? No, God comes down and conveys the information to Abraham.[2]

Fast forward many generations and Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel are enslaved in Egypt. Their slavery is bitter and hard and they cry out for rescue, and God hears their cry. How does He respond? He comes down and appears to Moses in a burning bush, and through Moses, rescues the people.

Once the people are rescued, God establishes a covenant with them and gives them Torah—teaching, instruction, law—to guide their living. How is this given to them? God comes down to Mt. Sinai to meet with Moses and deliver the Law to Him. 

What about Jesus? In the fullest revelation of who God is, did God transport someone up into heaven so we could get a report of what He is like? No, God comes down. In the incarnation, the Word became flesh and Jesus walked among us. 

After Jesus departs, does God leave us on our own? Does He then transport someone up into heaven to give us further instructions? No, the Spirit of God comes down and indwells His people. 

And what do we see in the end? Again, God comes down. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Jesus comes down and we meet Him in the air to return with Him. In Revelation 21, the Holy City comes down so that the dwelling of God can be with humanity.

So, according to what we see in Scripture, what is God like? Is the Scriptural pattern that we go up to Him, or that God comes down to us?[3] Both literally and theologically, over and over again we see the latter. God comes down to us. He rescues us from our mess. He comes to give us guidance. He comes to reveal what He is like. He comes to live with us eternally.

Which view—annihilation of creation where this world is destroyed and we “go up” to be with God somewhere else, or redemption of creation where God “comes down” to a redeemed world to be with us—is more consistent with the picture of God from Scripture as One who Comes Down?

We can now return to our original questions and seek to answer them:

  1. According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? There are a lot of answers to those questions, but two we see from Scripture is that God is the Fixer of the Broken and the One Who Comes Down to us. 
  2. These pictures of God make no sense if creation is going to be destroyed and we are going to go off to be with God somewhere else. On the other hand, they fit seamlessly into a vision of the end times where God redeems His creation and comes down to live among us forever, and as we have already seen in multiple texts throughout this series, this is exactly the picture that Scripture paints.

[1]You might object: “The Bible clearly teaches that God is going to redeem His people!” I certainly agree with that, but as this study has shown, there are multiple passages in Scripture that indicate the same reality about creation as a whole. Thus, we would expect Scripture to be consistent in its portrayal of God as desiring to fix what is broken, and it is.

[2]I am referring to Genesis 18. This passage talks about “three men” talking to Abraham, but the text begins by clearly stating that it is the LORD who appears to him. The consensus of biblical scholarship considers this to be a theophany, or appearance of God. 

[3]I am not denying that there are examples that may not seem to fit the pattern, such as Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room, or Paul’s vision of the third heaven. But if these are visions (and they seem to be), then they actually represent God coming down to impart information to His people through visionary experiences. 

There is also the example of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, but this is obviously exceptional in human experience and does not negate the general pattern established here. In an earlier post, I discussed the intermediate state and the possibility that those in Christ go to heaven upon death, but this is not clearly established in Scripture, and, regardless, this precedes the resurrection, and is not the final state of the faithful dead.

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