The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: George MacDonald

Scripture Reflections: God’s “Invitations” in Genesis 1

This year as part of my daily Bible reading I am doing some journaling and notetaking, and I thought it might be a useful discipline to share some of my reflections here on The Doc File. I use the word discipline because this is a habit I would like to cultivate that I hope will be beneficial for myself and readers alike (I did something similar several years ago but fizzled out after a few posts).

So, my goal for these brief posts will be two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.

One of the things I love about reading Scripture is how you can notice something in a very familiar text that you had never noticed previously. Genesis 1 is one such text: I have no idea how many hundreds of times I have read it in my life, but its depths seem to be endless, constantly offering up new discoveries. This time, as I was reading through, I was struck by the rhythmic quality of the text: over and over again, God speaks, “Let there be” (light, an expanse, the sprouting of vegetation, etc), and over and over again, we have the repeated narrative comment, “And it was so.”

It is as if God is inviting creation to take place and unanimously, automatically, creation responds to the invitation of the Creator: God speaks, and it is so.

On the sixth day, God speaks into existence the pinnacle of creation: humanity, created in God’s own image. As image-bearers, humans are given a divine vocation: to rule over creation (under God’s authority), to fill the earth, master it, till and tend the garden of Eden, and give names to the animals (Genesis 1.26, 28; 2.15, 20).

Such creatures obviously possess enormous potential for cooperation in God’s good plans, but ironically, it is in this pinnacle of creation where we see a break in the pattern of the unanimous, automatic response to God’s invitation of how things are supposed to work. As we see in Genesis 3, rather than accepting God’s invitation to rule under His authority, Adam and Eve fail to reflect the divine image and seek to establish their own autonomy and authority instead. They eat of the forbidden fruit with disastrous consequences.

This has remarkable implications. That God allows His image-bearers to ignore His invitations of co-rule shows how He honors humanity with freedom. Far from an automatic response where God reveals His will and humans unanimously and immediately respond in accordance with that will, God invites us to reflect His wisdom and authority but does not force it upon us. He does all that can be done to bring us around to His side, but He allows us to pave the path to our own destruction. He is grieved by our poor choices, but He honors us too much to prevent them.

What a marvel to be given such ability with such freedom, such potential for good or evil!

As C.S. Lewis says in Prince Caspian:

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

Or, in the words of George MacDonald:

“However bad I may be, I am the child of God, and therein lies my blame. Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame lies my hope.”

What humanity desperately needs is an exemplar, someone who will harness the dangerous gift of freedom, submit to the wisdom and authority of God, and in so doing, perfectly reflect the divine image.

Of course, we have such a Someone; His name is Jesus.

“Do Thy Work”

In my last post, I lamented the fact that so many Christians seem to be so unconcerned about seeking unity with other believers, despite this being something that Jesus Himself specifically prayed for.

This is something that frustrates me greatly, but to be honest, there are a lot of issues that frustrate me greatly which I face regularly as a minister:

  • Why does a particular parent seem less concerned about their child’s faith than am?
  • If Christians really believe what they claim to believe, why aren’t they more committed to Christ and His church?
  • How can people who have supposedly been following Jesus for decades be so immature and unChristian in the ways they deal with other people?
  • How can Christians get more stirred up about their political views than their faith? Related: why do so many American Christians seem to feel more loyalty toward America than Christ?
  • Why do we pick and choose which sinful behaviors we will address and condemn?

The list could go on and on; really, I just picked random problems as they occurred to me. When I focus on all of these problems and the way that they frustrate me, it can be exasperating: at times, I am tempted to throw up my hands and throw in the towel.

But then, I remember one of my favorite quotations from George MacDonald, the Scottish author, minister, and theologian:

“Heed not thy feeling; do thy work.”

In other words, the frustration I feel in response to these problems actually has no bearing on my own responsibility to do what I know that I have been called to do. I am to tend the garden in which God has planted me, take up my cross daily and follow Jesus, and seek to live out the behavior in my own life that I hope to see in the lives of others.

Jesus expresses a similar idea in John 21.18-22. He is speaking to Peter, and says:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, “Follow Me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray You?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”

Jesus tells Peter that it really wasn’t his place to worry about what happened to the other disciple (probably John); Peter’s job was to follow Jesus.

Whether in ministry, or in life in general, there are many things that may bother me greatly. I may pray about those things, study and plan ways to address the problems, strive to teach others to live in better and more godly ways, etc. But ultimately, it is not my job to fix the world’s problems or feel depressed when I’m unable to do so; my job is to follow Jesus.

As He said to Peter, Jesus says to me: “What is that to you? You must follow Me.”

Book Review: George MacDonald

George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister. I was aware of him primarily because he had a major influence on C.S. Lewis, and in fact, Lewis has said that MacDonald’s writings were instrumental in his acceptance of the Christian faith.

At one point, Lewis compiled an anthology of his favorite excerpts from MacDonald’s works, and that is what this volume is: 365 short readings taken from various books, sermons, and plays, and arranged and edited by Lewis himself.

Below are some of my favorite quotations [with my comments inserted in brackets]. I have included a lot of them because most are very short (and yes, I do realize that some irony is involved in me sharing my favorite quotations from a book which is essentially C.S. Lewis’s favorite quotations):

“For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they shall be; not as they shall be merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, toward that image after which He made them that they might grow to it.” (p.3)

“It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excludes, that, in our microcosm, kills the image, the idea of the hated.” (p.7) [This is a helpful perspective: refusing to forgive is truly a premeditated, cold-blooded act. It is soul-destroying.]

“Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.” (p.8) [I think this speaks strongly against the idea that, if we disagree with someone about something, we can’t cooperate with them in any sense, affirm anything they say, or applaud anything they do. I think truth belongs to God, and should be affirmed whenever we hear it, regardless of the source.]

“But it is not the rich man only who is under the dominion of things; they too are slaves who, having no money, are unhappy from the lack of it.” (p.38) [Materialism can crush the rich and poor alike.]

“However bad I may be, I am the child of God, and therein lies my blame. Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame lies my hope.” (p.64)

“Of all things let us avoid the false refuge of a weary collapse, a hopeless yielding to things as they are. It is the life in us that is discontented: we need more of what is discontented, not more of the cause of its discontent.” (p.70) [I think N.T. Wright would be in full agreement with this!]

“If the Lord were to appear this day in England as once in Palestine, He would not come in the halo of the painters of with that wintry shine of effeminate beauty, of sweet weakness, in which it is their helpless custom to represent Him.” (p.91)

“…Dare I give quarter to what I see to be a lie because my brother believes it?” (p.105)

“While a satisfied justice is an unavoidable eternal event, a satisfied revenge is an eternal impossibility.” (p.121)

“It is not by driving away our brother that we can be alone with God.” (p.127)

“Our human life is often, at best, but an oscillation between the extremes which together make the truth.” (p.134) [So many problems and so many false teachings come about as a form of extremism. Balance is important.]

“Dissociate immortality from the living Immortality, and it is not a thing to be desired.” (p.141) [I think too many people see the primary benefit of eternal salvation as getting to live forever. But I think the Bible is clear that the primary benefit is getting to be with God forever. Without the latter, the former would be a punishment, not a reward.]

“There are those who in their very first seeking of it are nearer to the Kingdom of Heaven than many who have for years believed themselves of it. In the former there is more of the mind of Jesus, and when He calls them they recognize Him at once and go after Him; while the others examine Him from head to foot, and finding Him not sufficiently like the Jesus of their conception, turn their backs and go to church or chapel or chamber to kneel before a vague form mingled of tradition and fancy.” (p.144-45) [Ouch.]

“By obeying one learns how to obey.” (p.154)

“With every morn my life afresh must break the crust of self, gathered about me fresh.” (p.158) [Christianity is about dying to self. Every. Single. Day.]

“A beast does not know that he is a beast, an the nearer a man gets to being a beast the less he knows it.” (p.160)

“We are often unable to tell people what they need to know, because they want to know something else.” (p.168)

On the whole, I enjoyed reading George MacDonald, though the nature of the book meant that the quotations were, necessarily, removed from their fuller context and made for choppy reading if you read it as a regular book (which I did) rather than reading one excerpt per day. I do think it would be a helpful devotional book to read on a daily basis. The readings are short (5-6 words to a page) but powerful, and could do much to properly orient your perspective before you plunge into the world (say, right before you get out of the car when you are at work).

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