An Oxymoron

Biblical texts often speak much of idolatry. But what are idols exactly? I think for the most part people have a good idea. Loosely speaking: Idols are objects, concepts or people worshiped by humans.

Anything can be an idol: money, fun, coffee, girls, boys, popularity, family, friends, giving ext ext. The interesting thing about these idols, such as money, is that in worshiping them, we are saying “you will provide.” Ofcourse! After all we wouldn’t invest in them if we thought they wouldn’t respond and give us a return. Its kinda a weird idea for the simple and obvious fact that … Money doesn’t think. Money doesn’t know your name and nor does it hear your cries for help. Most idols just aren’t living breathing creatures and don’t proact or react to or for anything. Those that do, for instance your hot girlfriend, may try to react and reward your positive (or negative) actions but, due to being human, fails miserably and usually suffers from one of two things:
1. Being crushed under the weight of your ever increasing expectations.
2. Crushing you she fails to deliver what vital requirements you requested of her.

The idea of Christianity is: We have found an idol that works! JESUS CHRIST! He is the greatest of all the idols. The Perfect Idol!

Except no….

‘Idol that works’ is an oxymoron. As far as I can tell the term ‘Idol’ was coined to describe something that takes the throne of your life which rightly belongs to God. The thing about God’s throne is that it’s a bloody big throne and nothing but God is going to fill it. It’s a god shaped throne which fits in a god shaped hole in our lives. Neither fun nor power nor family nor money carries enough ‘Fullness’ to sit in the throne. Because the definition of an Idol is “a replacement for God” Idols are by definition not gods. They don’t fit in the god shaped hole, the god shaped throne. They are by definition, nonfunctional for the job we ask them to do. There is no such thing as an idol that works. Untitled

The consequence of the phrase ‘Jesus is the Idol that works.’ is that it compares Jesus to an Idol. Jesus can’t be an Idol, because Jesus is functional for what we demand of him. He fits in the throne because its actually his throne. That’s the point! We didn’t need the perfect Idol, we needed God!

It is a terrible mistake to think that Jesus and the Idols of the world are competing for the throne. Idols are no more competing with God for the throne as a lawnmower is competing against my weet-bix for the breakfast table. A lawnmower is not a substitute for my weet-bix because it’s not a functional breakfast. It doesn’t do the job.

So why did we come up with this comparison between idols and The Lord in the first place. I came up with this logic.
(a) Idols want to sit on the throne of our lives.
(b) Jesus wants to sit on the throne of our lives
(c) Therefore they share a common factor and can be compared.
On surface reading the logic seemed to hold very well. But there was something wrong with point (c). That meant that there had to be an error in either point (a) or (b) and there was certainly nothing wrong with point (b). It took a while for me to find the error but when I did, it struck me that I had never thought of it before. It’s funny how you can learn so much from rubbish if you stop to understand why it’s rubbish.

I think the error is this: Idols don’t actually want to be on The Throne of God. Because Idols don’t have desires. Idols don’t want or need or feel. Its blatantly obvious now that I write it down. Idols don’t fight to keep God off the throne, we do. We are the ones competing.Even if the Idols did have desires, why would they want to obtain something they cant even use. Idols can’t sit on the throne of your life, its too big, it’s not designed for them.

This raised a question: If Idols don’t replace God and direct my life towards oblivion from a throne, what makes them so dangerous? I’ve had it all wrong! Idols don’t sit on the throne of your life, they consume it. Without a throne there is no place for God in your life, no place for God to rule for you. And without God; your source of life and order, you suffocate, and die. Idol’s can’t send you to die. Idols can’t speak they don’t give orders. And send you to what exactly? Death is not a thing no more than darkness is a thing. Darkness is just the absence of light. An idol doesn’t send you to death, it cuts off your source of life, and you become lifeless. Death is the absence of life.

The worst part of this story is that, Idols don’t have hands, they can’t destroy things. Rather, they trick you into destroying your own life source. Rejecting the throne, leaving it empty and baron and sacrificing your time and money to everything else, anything else. As this ugly process continues, you wither away, having given everything you had to nothing. You thought your Idol was in control, promising hope. But the throne was always empty and the idol was a mirage. You look over your shoulder and the throne that once held The Lord now lies in ruins. The coat of gold has been stripped away and the cushions lie in tatters simply because it had been abandoned for too long. The temple that once held the throne has collapsed. And you are dying. Because the temple that holds the throne is you. Because the Throne is your heart.

 

Christmas Reflections

Merry Christmas!

Today the Son of God took on flesh.
It’s a phrase that seems so plain and uninformative until you actually think about it. God took on flesh! How the hell did he do that? Doesn’t it sound complicated for a formless Super-being to take on fragile restricting human flesh? To give Jesus, a being that never had a beginning, and construct him out of the very atoms he was brilliant enough to design, inside a woman he had already imagined and built with his words! It’s one thing to create a human out of nothing, but to take someone who was already alive and real and transliterated his omnipotent mind and condense it into the completely inferior human brain. How incredible it is that God was able to build a body for Jesus that can provide the emotional intelligence required for Christ’s immense love! I cannot fathom how massive a downgrade Christmas morning must have been for Christ.

To God we must seem pathetic creatures. Our creator gave us his image but not his full power, nor, for that matter, his full wisdom. For although we are rulers of this world we are still of it, and so we must bend to its physics and chemistry. We have but five or six senses which are limited, it seems, to the immediate surrounding space-time. We so quickly succumb to infection and diseases which continues to evade us even now with medicine so highly advanced. We grow weary and need to sleep for at least seven hours a day to stay healthy. We receive practically all of our energy from The Sun which is hardly self sufficient.

Even our ability to look after and shape this world is limited. After-all there are some things God has not yet given us authority over, gravity among the least of these. Indeed we are attracted to The Sun and The Sun to us whether we like it or not. Human live and die moving with the endless cycle of time. We decompose and our graves feed to plants that we eat. The atoms that make up our bodies are recycled every 7-10 years. We are totally reliant on the universe around precisely because we are designed to be. We are part of creation, designed to protect and shape the universe around us. The universe is as reliant on us as we are on it precisely because we are made of the same stuff. And for as long as you are made of this stuff you are a slave to it. And yet, these are but the restrictions that our God took on when he took on flesh that Christmas morning all those years ago. What a sacrifice!

Would you willingly take on the form of a slug in order to save the slug population? I myself don’t care about slugs and why would I? They are useless animals that could never do anything for me. And yet the difference between a slug and me must be a fraction of the difference between me and my God. Despite this, our lord took on human from for us!

When we say God gave his Son for us, that is no small sacrifice. No small gift.
It gives the season of giving a new meaning when you think about the plain boring phrase “God took on flesh.”
God gave up his strength so that we might be strong.
He gave up his authority so that we would not be crushed by our own.
He gave up his life so that we might live forever.

How big will the New Jerusalem be?

Revelations is just a weird book. Its a biblical text, the last of the biblical text and it falls into literary categories like  epistolary, apocalyptic and prophetic. According to early tradition this book was composed near the end of Dormitian’s reign, around the year AD 95. Others contend for an earlier date, AD 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero or shortly thereafter.We think it was written by the Apostle John (as in the youngest of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ) but some scholars have their doubts. I was reading it recently on the train and picked up on something I had never noticed before. I was reading a passage that described what it is called the New Jerusalem which is basically City God will build for his people on his impending return (very basic description but it will suffice for this blog). Notice our author gives us really detailed measurements of the city.

Revelations 21
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations,and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia[c] in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits[d] thick.[e] 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.[f] 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Now it’s a really interesting passage for many reasons, but these measurements really interested me.
I did a bit of research and unsurprisingly the measurements in revelations probably aren’t meant to be taken literally, rather they are to be taken literarily. The metaphorical language is fairly interesting actually.

  • We think the twelve gates of The City correspond to the twelve tribes of Jerusalem. These gates have ‘the names of the twelve apostles of The Lamb’ inscribed upon them which portrays unification of the Old and New Covenants under Christ.
  • The fact that The City is laid out like a square is interesting too. “As wide and High as it is long” (vs16). G. R. Beasley-Murray suggests that this corresponds to what’s called the Holy of Holies in the temple of the original Jerusalem, a major tribe of ancient Israel. The Holy of Holies sat in the centre of God’s Temple (which was massive!) and was a perfect cube. It was treated with such respect that only the high priest could enter it and only once a year. They tied a rope around him incase he died so they could pull him back out. The fact that the New Jerusalem is one giant cube is possibly suggesting that it is one giant Holy of Holies. It’s a beautiful image. We can live in the Holy of Holies (no strings attached).
  • 12000 studia roughly translates to 1400 miles but all the commentaries I have read warn against converting it to modern measurements as it robs it of it’s clear symbolism, and infinite multiple of twelve (twelve being a bit of a theme in the text: the number for Gods People). Our author may be suggesting that the city reaches from earth’s soil to heaven thus combining the two. (Heaven by the way isn’t really a place. The Hebrews didn’t like to refer to God by name because his name was too Holy. Instead they referred to him by the place he dwells, Heaven, as a mark of respect. I don’t think heaven is a physical place simply because… God doesn’t have a body. He isn’t made of atoms, he was before atoms, and so I assume he doesn’t need a throne made of atoms to sit on or a house to dwell in. I may be wrong, I’ve been wrong before).

All this was an interesting read but I couldn’t help but answer the obvious question… What would the New Jerusalem look like if we took the measurements literally? What could we compare it’s size to?

The first thing to say is that the measurements change depending on the translation. The King James Bible (KJV) for instance declares 12,000 furlongs, which translates to 1,500 miles. Ill use 12000 studio or 1400 miles as in our original text. If you’re annoyed that 1400 isn’t perfectly accurate the difference between 1400 and 1500 is about 7.5% which is roughly the variable interest rate you pay if you live in Australia.
So what would a 1400 mile cube look like?  A cube with the same volume as the spherical Earth would have a side 6400 miles which means we could fit 95.5 New Jerusalem’s in Earth. It does seem small but remember the bass of the New Jerusalem would be 1,960,000 square miles. It would also stretch 600 000 stories high which is 1/160th of the way to the moon. Its well beyond our atmosphere.
I google imaged it and found these useful size comparisons if you are a visual person. (I noticed it fitted quite snuggly over North America).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Again I doubt the New Jerusalem will look anything like this. Some of the articles Ive read even speculate a pyramid style structure. Ultimately I suspect it matters little. If I speculate I would have concluded the New Jerusalem to be spatially infinite mainly because we live in a universe that has a Space-Time Fabric. It seems to me that God likes to combine space and time into one concept that we can manipulate (leading to cool things like time dialation). So if we have infinite time, do we also have infinite space? But moreover if we have infinite time, I would like to have infinite space to explore. Maybe you can’t get bored in heaven. Who knows?

At any rate, its interesting the way our author has used these measurements to convey such rich information. Concepts like the unification of the Covenants though the walls of The City or the totality of the Holy of Holies through the image of a cube. How fantastic that our God uses maths so poetically.

What exactly is Love?

Defining Love.

What is it about humanity that gives us the ability to love? Why can humans love? I asked this question of myself recently and it seemed a totally bizarre question at first. However, the more I thought about It the more sophisticated and important the question became.

I begun by defining love, a process which, if I’m honest went sour In every possible way. The process began with the humble computer dictionary which announced “Love is the a strong feeling of affection.”
This seemed a perfectly reasonable and neat summary of the word. I boiled down the idea in my mind and concluded that love was simply amplified affection. It was as though my taste for someone or something rested on a scale from one to ten where 1 might be hatred, 5 might be indifferent, 8 affectionate and 10 ofcourse love. There was something ugly about that however: Does that mean that love and hate are on the same scale?

This question occupied my mind for the next 24 hours or so as I began to run through other things I new that worked on a scale. Light and darkness was one example I considered. Light is a type of energy, like heat or kinetics. Thus Darkness is simply the absence of light energy. Could it be therefore that hatred was simply the absence of love? That they are two sides of the same coin?

By nature a coin is either heads or tails, love or hate, 1 or 10, but not both. However it is common for one to love and hate someone at the same time. We have a phrase for it: Love Hate relationships. Its so common that we have chosen to abbreviate the space and coined the term a “love’hate” relationship. Light and darkness cannot coexist as Love and Hatred can. Light and Dark are mutually exclusive while Love and Hate are not. Therefore love and hated cannot be on the same scale because they can coexist and consequently must coexist on two separate scales.

I was therefore back where I started. Saying love is amplified affection is as good as saying Overjoyed is amplified happiness. It is the scale or the ‘Concept of Joy’ that needs defining, not the superlative: “overjoyed.” I was trying to define a point on the scale by referencing it to other points on the same scale. And so I moved to define the Concept of Love, from mild affection through to a deep love.

The computers dictionary had been only a little short of disappointing. So I looked to the Apostle Paul, thinking particularly to his letter to the Corinthians.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
I noticed that Paul described love using, effectively, verbs. This was very unlike the dictionary which used other emotions similar to love and tried to relate them. We cannot really feel self seeking or easily angered or even kind. What we really mean when we say “I feel kind” is ‘I think I meet the criteria for kind due to my actions or otherwise’. For Paul, love is as much a verb as it is a noun. Or perhaps, the emotion of love is inseparable from the actions that follow. You cannot love as a noun if you do not also love as a verb. You cannot feel love without displaying kindness because love is kind. Nor can you love someone and be envious of them because love does not envy. Love is lexically peculiar in that way. Love is a noun and a verb at the same time. Or better put: “Love the noun is a verb.”

This dual part of speech characteristic is not restricted to love but is a feature of many emotions. Envy is not defined as a noun but rather it is defined as a feeling that leads to desire, distrust and regret. Paul might say “Envy wants, envy is always regretful.”. Paul might say “Hate rejects, it is not kind, it does not forgive.” Love and many other emotions are defined by the actions that they encourage.

So then, after a week of meditation and writing and refining a finally begun to answer the question I proposed “What is it about us as humans that allow us to love.” The first thing that occurred to me was Paul’s mention of love in the Fruits of the Spirit. Which is odd when you think about it because those who have the Fruits of the Spirit tends to be those with the Spirit. In other words the fruits of the spirit naturally come with a Faith in Christ. But if love resides in humanity through the spirit then what are we to make of those who reject the spirit or remain oblivious to her and are still able to protect and love there child. If you do not require The Holy Spirit to love, why does Paul bother listing it? Surely it is redundant.
Perhaps love was born to humanity in its first breaths. Simply resided in us since our genesis. Is that the case of all emotions? If humanity’s Fall from Grace is a point in time (and not an idea or metaphor for instance used by our the biblical authors to describe an unimaginable concept), then this cannot be true of all emotions. Jealousy, for instance, was certainly not born to Adam. It must have been developed through time, over a period of years as sin slowly took its hold on humanity. Certainly by Cain and Abel, Jealousy had made its home in the universe and was well established. There is a clear distinction between the emotions of God and the emotions of Sin.

What is the difference between emotions born of sin and emotions that given by time immemorial? Do they behave and interact differently? The most interesting contrast is that love is eternal. I have come to believe that love always was and always will be simply because God is love, and God has no end nor beginning that we are aware of. Jealously is not eternal, It had a beginning and that beginning was a miserable beginning. Nobody loves jealously. From birth its story was the story of the ugly duckling except without the happy ending. A hunter came, saw and shot the duckling, not for profit or a Christmas dinner, but because it was simply too ugly to live.
In contrast, Love is so beautiful to our Lord that he used it as the paint that would create the masterpiece that is our universe. God used it as the clay to create man.

This mortality of the emotions of Sin has a number of implications. Foremost, they are to be rejected. Christ taught that we are to develop and maintain those things that God will restore on the final day, and not those things that he will let perish. So it makes sense to forget about and push away emotions that will not bear fruits in the New Jerusalem. Furthermore their mortality means that they are not part of the created order but they are aliens to it. Like a virus.

The nature of viruses is that they are perfectly happy feeding off a healthy living body. In other words, you don’t have to be sick to acquire a virus. More over, you yourself can be as healthy as you like: a strong genetic profile and all the exercise in the world. They will help but they will not cure you from a deadly virus (hence its name). No to save yourself from a deadly virus one needs a doctor with some clever medicines: outside influences on the body that the virus is not accustomed to.
Similarly, emotions of sin are very accustomed to living in powerful and loving people. Infact, those are the exact kind of people that they are designed to kill. But they are not accustomed to The Holy God. The introduction of God to the body, the Holy Spirit, is what heals people from the virus. In short, when struggling with emotional sin, the ‘Try Harder Method’ never works, because they are internal influences and we require the external influence of christ, often best obtained through prayer.

I conclude that love is universal to all humanity, born into us since we were created in Gods Image. I often wonder if love is the defining characteristic of man that separates us from the universe. I often wonder if the image of God that we bare, is the image of love. The element that so defined our Lord that he gave it flesh and made to walk among creation, shape it and protect it.