Relaxing Our Control Grip

From Zack Eswine’s new book, Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (P&R, 2014), 188–9:

If something goes well in your day, no matter how small, celebrate over it! No more wondering if you can be happy about good things. No more needing to wait and pray to discover whether it is okay with God whether you smile or not. “In the day of prosperity be joyful” (Eccl. 7:14)!

In college, when our team won a big game, our motto sounded something like this: “In the day of prosperity, get drunk and destroy stuff!” You may need to learn again what it means to truly celebrate something. God will teach you. Each day becomes full of small but genuine smiles when we take up joy in response to good things. A great deal of happiness is passing some of us by because we think that when a good thing happens we are supposed to consider it rather than get on with rejoicing over it.

In contrast, “in the day of adversity consider” (Eccl. 7:14). Let the tough stuff sink in. Don’t run from it. Don’t use god-talk to pretend it doesn’t exist. Set your heart and mind on the awful thing. No evil thing can ultimately win. The foulest thing will reveal something true about the nature of life and the nobler purposes we were made for. Take time, lots of time, the time needed to grieve, ask questions, wrestle with it, work it out, and come to terms.

Why? Because though this is a mystery, we need to stand on this truth, that no matter what happens in our lives, God holds on to us and maintains his purposes for us. “God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Eccl. 7:14). We cannot make crooked things straight. We can’t fix everything.

Now the Preacher humbles us to free us again by telling us that we can’t know everything. A certain amount of ignorance attends everything we do — particularly when it comes to trying to figure out how it is that God governs and ordains both the good and the bad that happens in our lives and in the world. Solomon doesn’t attempt to answer what we cannot know. Instead, he focuses on what we do know. Both good things and bad things happen to us. God is within the thing either way. This means that something larger than our prosperity and something larger than our adversity has a hold on us.

What does this mean? We get to lighten up. All our energy spent in trying to control and preserve our lives is next to worthless. “There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (Eccl. 7:15). There is no secret formula to life that if you could just figure it out or get in with God well enough, you could make everything happen the way you hope. . . .

The whirlwind in your mind constantly trying to figure out everything in order to hold everything together is like chasing after the wind. We add wear and tear to our lives that God does not ask of us. “Why should you destroy yourself?” (Eccl. 7:16).

For others of us, we can stop acting as if, because we don’t know everything and can’t fix everything, nothing matters. We can stop with the excuses we use to justify the constant wandering and harm that we inflict on others and ourselves.

God has the last word on our pain. God has the last word on our joy. Behind every pain, God is there letting nothing and no one separate us from him in Jesus. Behind every joy, God is there generously and graciously giving us something to rest happy about.

Resurrection and New Creation

Blog readers here know I particularly like to focus my attention on the many consequences of Christ’s glorious resurrection, the promise of the New Creation being one of these consequences. Recently I came across the following quote in a really excellent book by Michael Williams, Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (P&R, 2005). This comes under the heading “The Resurrection Previews the Final Chapter: The Restoration of Creation.”

Williams writes:

The flesh Jesus takes on in the incarnation is a flesh he never lays down. It is there in his ministry: Immanuel, God with us, come in the flesh to cure his broken world. And that same flesh, repaired, renewed, and glorified in resurrection, is there in the risen and ascended Christ. In Jesus’ bodily resurrection we view with Thomas the very meaning of the resurrection: the restoration of creation.

G. C. Berkouwer once observed that if we conceive of the Christian faith—and what it proclaims about human destiny and the goal of all things—apart from reference to the resurrection of Christ, without appreciating its nature as the restoration of all things, then we have not truly grasped the nature of redemption. Since we have been born again to “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), the hope of the believer “rests on a promise inseparable from the salvation already granted” in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

In God’s mighty act of raising Jesus bodily from the grave we are right to glimpse the final chapter of the drama of redemption. Indeed, an understanding of redemption that fails to take its moorings from Christ’s victory over sin and death via bodily resurrection, and the promise of ultimate restoration of all things declared by the empty tomb, is not a biblical understanding of redemption at all. …

The resurrection is something of a foretaste, a movie trailer or commercial for God’s ultimate future, for in Christ’s resurrection we have a picture of the future given before its arrival. The end is seen ahead of time. As the beginning and foretaste of the future, the resurrection is the firstfruits or the first stage of the coming redemption. The bodily resurrection of Christ not only signifies God’s victory over sin and death but also declares the nature of that victory. It is total, comprehensive; so comprehensive that it claims that history is moving toward nothing less than a fully restored and glorified universe. Those who are in Christ, along with the entirety of creation, will receive his resurrection life upon his appearing (Rom. 8:21-25).

The Betrayal

2009 marks the 500th birthday of Jean Cauvin. You may have noticed a lot of buzz around the reformer this year, as evidenced by the stack of new books published on Calvin in 2009. Included in that stack of new releases is one creative historical novel of the life of Calvin, The Betrayal (P&R 2009). The novel is written from the perspective of a (fictional) confidant, turned betrayer of Calvin, named Jean-Louis Mourin. But much of the book’s detail and dialog is taken straight from the letters and sermons of Calvin. The book is well written and the author pulls you into life during the period of the reformation. I hope to have it read by the end of the long weekend.

Today I’ll share an excerpt from the book that provides us a peek into how the reformation affected the average person. When I read this it reminded me of the scenes in the modern Luther movie featuring the young mom with her crippled daughter. Or the scene of the masses praying up the stairs in Rome on their knees. These little snapshots are reminders that the reformation was more than academic kerfuffle over doctrine. The doctrinal debates were vital to the reformation because they made the gospel clear, prioritized the preaching of the Word of God, and sharpened the practices of the church. And these changes directly influenced the lives of commoners. I find my appreciation for the reformation deepens when I am invited into the story to brush shoulders with fellow commoners and to view the reformation changes from their eyes.

An excerpt from The Betrayal:

——–

That evening, with torches burning, Calvin stepped before a peasant band of illiterates, who reeked of the hayfields, of laboring sweat, and of chickens. Standing before a rough stone for a pulpit, opening his Gospels, he read therein to the people. I studied their faces as they listened. For many it must have been the first time they had ever heard and understood the words they were hearing in their own language. Hence, there was wonder glowing in the cheeks of a fair maiden, there were tears of joy in the eyes of an old man, there was hunger and attention on the faces of fathers and mothers and ruddy-cheeked youths.

When he completed his sermon, I observed him—nay, I was drawn into assisting him—as he offered the bread of the Lord’s Supper to these poor folks. Scowling, I rendered up our last loaf into Calvin’s waiting hands, wondering what we would eat that night. He proceeded to break it.

“From the physical things set forth in the sacrament we are led by analogy to spiritual things. This bread is given as a symbol of Christ’s body, and as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the body, so Christ’s body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul.”

He paused, then continued. “Christ said, ‘This is my body which is given for you.’ All those here who genuinely hope in Christ alone for their eternal salvation, freely take and eat.”

When our last loaf had been mangled by the coarse hands of the attending peasants, and not a crumb remained, Calvin continued.

“When they had eaten, our Lord took up the cup and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant shed for many. Drink all of it.’”

Beckoning me to him, he whispered in my ear for me to bring to him a bottle of wine and a cup. When I had fetched these from our cart and handed these to him, I expected Calvin to do what every priest in Christendom always did: while the peasant masses looked on in thirst, the priest quaffed the wine to the dregs. So it had, in my experience, always been. But not so John Calvin. He did the remarkable, the unthinkable.

Pouring wine into the cup, he held it in both hands and said, “When Christ sets wine before us as a symbol of his blood, we must reflect on the benefits which wine imparts to the body, and so realize that the same are spiritually imparted to us by Christ’s blood. These benefits are to nourish, refresh, and gladden our hearts. So Christ, by the mystery of his secret union with the devout, does with his blood for our souls. All you who trust alone in Christ’s blood and imputed righteousness for your salvation, take and drink.”

He extended the cup of wine to the one nearest him. The poor soul stared blankly back at Calvin. Never before in the Roman Mass had the priest so extended the cup to him. Never before had the elements in both kinds been offered to the common man. Not one of them made a move to receive the cup. Wine was for the priests, but here, for the first time in centuries, Calvin was extending the cup of wine to the peasants.

“Take and drink,” he said again. This time he took hold of the man’s hand and placed the cup in it. “Now drink,” he said kindly.

—Douglas Bond, The Betrayal (P&R 2009), pp. 251-253.