Friday, March 10, 2006


Last year in September I started a series about Jesus and History. I promised three parts and delivered two. This is that missing third part, just like Jesus I trust it will be worth the wait.

In our first instalment, Jesus-Yesterday I spoke of how the incarnation of Jesus set a trajectory of forgiveness for us today. Often we think about Jesus work as being completed, and in a very real sense Jesus’ mission was fulfilled in the cross and resurrection. But this inbreaking into history was the beginning of something new, not the end.

In our second instalment, Jesus-Today, I talked about recognizing the imminent work of Jesus. Jesus is at work all around us, drawing folks to the Father and revealing the Kingdom of God. This is something we don’t tend to meditate on enough; in fact we tend to overemphasize Jesus’ relationship to the end of history.

Now my intention was not to make you wait this long for the third instalment, but as I am writing this I cannot help but be struck by how appropriate that is. All of our hope is tied into Jesus – and yes our hope is that at the end of all things we will be with Jesus.

In light of the pain that is often our experience of the immediate world around us, it is easy to see why we would choose to focus on this hope. But the big problem with a focus on an eschatological hope is that we can’t really prove it. Just read the gospel of John and look for what is the actual catalyst for change in lives, over and over it is the presence of Jesus that evokes greater and more specific confessions of faith. By focusing on the hope that is to come we are just deferring hope, something the Bible rightly tells us makes our hearts sick.

Rather, our eternal hope must spring from the realized immediate hope of our encounter of Jesus Christ. So waiting for this message you likely gave up, thinking it was a great idea but Frank is a new blogger and bound to let a few things fall to the wayside. So too in waiting for the return of Christ many have given up.

This is exactly the reason I started this little series. My heart is to see a people who are confident in whom they know (present) so that they will trust Jesus with all that is to come (future). Didn’t Paul say something along those lines (2 Timothy 1:12).

So be encouraged, Christ has come. Jesus made the way for us to live in the forgiveness of God. Christ is here. Jesus promised to be with us even unto the end of days, He will never leave nor forsake us. And Christ will come again. Our hope is bolstered by our hearts assurance that the one who faithfully working in us today is the same one who will come at the culmination of all things. Praise be to Jesus, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Hello again. This is the same Luke you were corresponding with over at Cedric’s blog. So, I read your “Jesus Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” series, and I have some things to say. In your last response to me on Cedric’s page you said;

“I don't relegate Jesus to merely a teacher, which is what you seem to think I do”

I’m trying to decipher what you mean by this statement. When you say that Jesus is more than a mere teacher, you’re suggesting that He does something more for you than simply teach you and others the proper way to live. Yet, I’m having trouble figuring out what you see Jesus doing that lays outside of the role of teacher. The only thing I can think of is Jesus’ ability to take requests through prayer and act on them in the form of “miracles”. Is this what you mean when you say Jesus is more than a teacher?

In your Jesus Today post you said:

“This invitation should extend through us to all of the world that God so loved. It calls us to be responsible for the welfare of our neighbours. It beckons us to respond with mercy to the poor. It compels us to pray for the sick. It motivates us to ecological responsibility. And the list goes on. When we see these things, we are seeing Jesus here and now.”

This is interesting to me, because I’m completely for aiding the sick, practicing welfare and mercy, and being ecologically responsible. Yet, I’m an atheist. Jesus certainly isn’t compelling me to do these good deeds, since I don’t believe He exists. How would you explain my actions?

Also, on a side note…. since you said that Jesus “compels us to pray for the sick”, I was wondering what you thought of this recent study?

I’m slightly pressed for time, so that’s all for now. If I think of more I’ll be sure to post it.

Thanks for taking the time to address my questions.


One of Freedom said...

Hey Luke,

Glad you found your way over here. You have really good questions. Understanding a bit of where you are coming from also helps me, thanks.

When I talk about Jesus as more than merely a teacher I really am trying to express that for me Jesus isn't merely a historical person - but that Jesus is really present in my life now. In otherwords, Jesus is my companion and friend; prayer for me is quite conversational and often I feel reciprocal in that I have learned to recognize the ways in which Jesus responds to me. Jesus is also my King and Lord; I expect that my life will be subject to the ongoing expression of Jesus' reign/rule and have experienced this through incidents of what I would describe as divine guidance and attitudes towards my own sinfulness. So to just say that I live my life by the maxims of Jesus the teacher doesn't really cut it.

I am glad you are oriented towards these things. I hope I didn't express that these were exclusively the domain of Christians. I know many non-Christians and even a few atheists who are very good people with great big hearts. I think there are a number of reasons they (and yourself) would give for their orientation towards the good. For me as a Christian I would see it as the spark of the divine within you (and the others). I think this is probably where I deviate from Cedric, I think salvation is a series of horizon expansions, a journey if you will. And each of us has a unique journey as we work out our relationship with God. As a Christian I have some particular views about the end of this journey, but as a person who knows Christ my heart is to see people simply move further along this journey in a Godward direction (evangelism). So in short, your disbelief in Jesus only denotes your bias towards not believing this is the spark of the divine expressed in you - I can't answer for you what you might think it is - but me as a Christian, I still see it as Christ.

I think I heard about that study, I'll go read it and come back and post later. I did some academic work in this area and found out some interesting things about prayer and healing.

1) touch was key and this had deep psychological reasons. Churches that practiced praying for healing and incorporated the element of touch saw not just elevated incident of spontaneous healing, but also increased well being in patients.

2) the idea of prayer being helpful for the sick was not an exclusively Christian or even Semetic idea. I saw this in evidenced recently in a poker league I am part of. One of our folk landed in the hospital and everyone was expressing their concern by telling him he was in their prayers. I know these people and most of them are not people of faith - there is something natural about this idea.

I need to go get some rest, early class tomorrow. I'll read that article and comment later. Thanks for the conversation.

One of Freedom said...

Yeah that is an interesting article. I did some research into this in 2000 where I found several other studies, they were few and far between. Most of the work though had to do with people connected to the individuals. I am not sure how this particular study would really be that helpful in the long run. It measures prayer for recovery, not healing. And gives no specifics about the faith or beliefs of the group praying (which may or may not be relevant). I just think it is not granular enough. Studies I've read dealt with a connection between positive attitude and health/healing. Also my wife, who is a medical professional, did studies in school regarding the effect of positive versus negative attitudes in Lupis patients - with her interviews she found that there was a correlation between a healthy positive attitude and the way the disease behaved (she has an interest in auto-immune diseases). Her work was irrespective of prayer and spirituality. But the studies I've read on the power of touch really affirm that prayer with touch is important.

IIRC there was also an slight increase in recovery from patients prayed for but did not know they were being prayed for, I think that is what I heard when I heard about the report - that is interesting too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, Frank.

I think I understand where you’re coming from with your statement:

“I don't relegate Jesus to merely a teacher, which is what you seem to think I do”

You’re simply stating that you don’t exclusively use the words of Jesus in the New Testament to guild you, but you also view yourself as having a one on one relationship with Jesus. So your guidance not only comes from the Christian Bible, but from Jesus Himself. And having Jesus as an active force in your earthly life is what you prefer to focus on when you evangelize. Does that sound right?

I’m glad you read the prayer article. I offered it up as a side note, but I realized that it’s actually pretty pertinent to the discussion at hand. I consider myself a fairly rational person, and thus I base my beliefs on how much evidence is available to support said belief. If prayer really had an immanent affect on our earthly lives, then it should be able to be measured in some way, wouldn’t you say? Studies like the one in the article only serve to strengthen my conviction that God (or god) doesn’t meddle in our earthly lives. You claim that prayer relies on touch. I agree that there may be some truth to the idea that being surrounded by people who care for you enough to physically touch you while they pray may boost your moral and lower your stress and thus aid in the healing process. Yet, if people were actually capable of calling down the aid of an omnipotent being, I’d simply expect to see more evidence for it. And evidence (or lack there of) is the main reason I’m not a Christian.

I’d imagine that your reason for believing in Christianity would be revelation (although I’d suspect tradition has a lot to do with it, as well.) When I say revelation, I mean that you believe the truth has been revealed to you via communication with the divine. I can’t argue that you haven’t experienced revelation, because I have no way of knowing what actually goes on inside your head. Yet, I will ask you this….if God has chosen to reveal Himself to you through revelation, then why hasn’t God done the same for me? Why hasn’t He done the same for millions of other atheists (and billions of other people of different religions)? I have an inkling as to what your answer might be, yet I’ll allow you to address it without any speculation on my part.

I realize this discussion has strayed from it’s original purpose, but that’s the way these things go. Plus, I think it seems to be moving toward the more core issues of faith, which I find fascinating. So I hope you continue to engage me.


One of Freedom said...

More great questions Luke. Just to touch on the prayer one a bit more. I am cautious to imply that anyone can twist the arm of God or call down from Heaven anything that God didn't already intend. The theology of healing is actually quite a bit more complicated than that. Some would see healing as a matter of covenant - but covenant is not a reciprical affair, that is if God is God then He really doesn't need anything we could offer in exchange for His gifts. But what is clear as a teaching from scripture is that we should pray, and yes there are times when I feel specifically called to pray in a specific way - this falling out of my relationship with Jesus. BTW you understand what I mean by more than a teacher.

I see spontaneous healing as a manifestation of God's reign (kingdom) and natural healing as God's design functioning the way it ought to. That is my issue with that article - it doesn't make a distinction and is talking about the role of anonymous prayer in natural healing - which is the healing that benefits greatly by touch and caring.

As for evidence, I've seen too much to not believe. I've even experienced healing in my own body. But I didn't see this outside of the context of faith, at least I didn't recognize it. I'm not convinced it would be measurable either - Newton changed the way we thought about the universe, he opened the door to measuring everything but healing is not of the same order, at least not spontaneous healing. In the kingdom view we are living in an inbetween time where Christ has begun the New Creation in His death and resurrection but we are also painfully aware that this is not complete until He returns. So in this time we see signs of His kingdom, but mostly we trust in the goodness of God. That even when spontaneous healing does not occur God is able to redeem the situation - something we usually only realize in hindsight.

Now private revelation is another matter. I don't really come out of a Christian tradition, but I have in more recent years come to respect the way tradition functions in Christian spirituality. I would probably use the term mediation, it is more psychological and I believe more accurate.

Life is a series of events and discoverys. These events and discoveries sometimes shift our horizons to see the world as a bigger picture. These shifts are called conversions (psychology still). Throughout my life I tried to deny the existance of God and only found that I personally couldn't buy that. When I finally accepted that there was something outside myself (my mediation or understanding of the way things are) I began to search high and low for the identity of this Other. Actually because of my upbringing in a fairly hypocritical church setting I would listen to anyone but a Christian. This led me down some interesting roads. I had some interesting ways of mediating my experiences - some would be in that revelatory catagory, many were just in the realm of speculation.

A number of years into this journey, I ran into some Christians who had something I was looking for - they actually loved like noone else I had experienced. To be honest I could care less about the Jesus business at that time but I wanted to love like they did. I think all my searching was redeemed in that way - to show me that there was only one way to have that love and that was to receive the love of the God who is love.

You probably guessed that not long after I had a conversion in the Christian sense, but it was also psychological as well. I began to see things differently, my perspective was broadened in some ways and unfortunately narrowed in others (that was an effect of tradition).

That was almost 20 years ago and I've had many psychological conversions since, likely to have many more. All of them have helped me see life through a bigger lens. I became aware of incredible needs in society that me standing on a street corner yammering about hell did nothing good to help. I began to see relationships were more important than leading people through some formula that "converts" them - especially seeing many of these "conversions" didn't hold. That is key to the issue we face here - I can't tell anyone about faith, all I can do is live it, try to explain it in this clumbsy fashion and hope that somehow the spark of the divine in them is drawn closer to it's Maker.

So the basis isn't just revelatory. I have had many experiences that woudl fit that bill. But in times of questioning it isn't to these I appeal. Nor is it to tradition or scripture. It is to an assurance that goes beyond all these things. Something I learned long before becoming a Christian - that God is, to me, an undeniable reality. One I clumbsily mediate through my lenses of tradition, revelation, experience, reading, etc. But the foundation is this notion deep inside that God exists and that somehow at the end of the day God is good.

I probably gave you more questions. If I'm disjointed it is because my daughter keeps coming in wanting to use the computer. 6 year olds can be quite insistant. :-)