The Lion and the Lamb

In Revelation, “we find ourselves eavesdropping on a majestic mystery. John the Seer, who is describing the vision he has seen, is himself something of a fly on the wall, peeping into the very throne-room of God himself. We, watching the scene through his eyes, are as it were eavesdropping at second hand.

It is an astonishing sight. John begins by describing God’s throne, and even – though cautiously and obliquely – God himself. Thunder and lightning are coming from the throne; this is a place of majesty and awesome glory. Around the throne are the representatives of the animal kingdom and the world of humanity: the whole creation is worshipping God for all he’s worth.

Here we see God’s world as it should be, God’s world as it already is within the dimension of heaven.

This is the point at which most of us want to say: but the world is in a mess! It’s all very well for people to praise God as creator; look at the state of his creation! What’s he going to do about it? The good news – and this is also right at the heart of what Christian worship is all about – is that exactly this reaction takes place before our eyes in the heavenly court itself. At the start of chapter 5, John notices that the figure on the throne is holding a scroll, which we gradually realize is the scroll of God’s future purposes, the purposes through which the world is at last to be judged and healed. The problem, however, is that nobody is able to open the scroll. God has committed himself, ever since creation, to working through his creatures, in particular through his image-bearing human beings, but they have all let him down. For a moment it looks as though all God’s plans are going to be thwarted.

But then there appears, beside the throne, a different kind of animal. He is, we are told, a Lion; but then we are also told that he is a Lamb. To read Revelation, you have to get used to its kaleidoscopic imagery. The Lion is an ancient Jewish image for the Messiah, the king of Israel and the world. The Lamb is the sacrificial offering for the sins of Israel and the world. Both these roles are combined in Jesus, in a way nobody had ever imagined before but which now makes perfect sense. And when he appears, those who were already singing (the animals and the humans) turn their praise to God the creator into their praise of God the redeemer:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered, and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

 

N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, pp. 123-126

May you have a wonderful Sunday celebrating our great Creator and dear Redeemer, our Lion and our Lamb, the Worthy One!

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La deuda del honor

“Honrad a todos” (1 Pedro 2:17). “Honra a tu padre y a tu madre” (Éxodo 20:12). Estos dos mandamientos generales instruyen nuestras relaciones entre unos y otros como pueblo de Dios durante esta vida.

Para ponerlos en práctica, sin embargo, debemos comprender qué es lo que se nos llama a hacer. Debemos saber qué es honrar, y qué no lo es. Debemos, además, determinar si existe alguna excepción a estas dos reglas. Así evitaremos ser presa fácil de exigencias injustas, o vivir atrapados en relaciones malsanas.

Lo que significa

Honrar es una palabra que en hebreo (kabad), y en griego (timṓ), significa valorar, respetar, y dar peso. Se ha traducido en ocasiones también como “tratar honorablemente”, “mostrar respeto”, “tratar con dignidad” y “estimar”.

Fundamentalmente, toda persona sin excepción merece ser tratada con dignidad por su identidad como ser humano. Nos debemos honra unos a otros como compañeros de la raza humana. En este sentido todos somos iguales, indistintamente de edad o rango social (aún menos etnia o género).

Los padres, en particular, merecen ser valorados por el papel único que juegan en nuestras vidas. Les debemos, en resumen, todo. Nos dieron la bienvenida a este mundo, nos quisieron con locura, atendieron a nuestras necesidades, y se esforzaron en formarnos como personas buenas y felices. El vínculo que nos une es sagrado. El honor que les debemos se puede expresar de muchas maneras, entre ellas atender a sus necesidades a medida que se hacen mayores. De hecho, así precisamente fue como Jesús definió honrar a los padres en la única ocasión registrada que habló sobre el quinto mandamiento.

Lo que NO significa

No es sinónimo de obediencia. Como alguien observó, si fuera así, las palabras serían intercambiables en las Escrituras[1]. Un análisis breve basta para demostrar que no lo son. El empeño por fusionar los dos conceptos es sencillamente insostenible. Si bien es cierto que en algunos contextos el honor se expresa mediante la obediencia, como en el caso de los niños (que están en etapa de crianza) hacia los padres, no es cierto que para honrar es imprescindible obedecer.

El muy recurrido Efesios 6:1 – “Hijos, obedeced a vuestros padres en el Señor” – no es una traducción alternativa de Éxodo 20:12, sino la versión adaptada para niños, precisamente porque están siendo preparados para la adultez (el contexto lo confirma, véase v. 4). Este, de hecho, es el propósito de la obediencia. Es un medio para alcanzar un fin, no un fin en sí mismo. El objetivo es la transición a sui juris, el lanzamiento de una persona en pleno derecho. Los padres (o líderes espirituales) que busquen mantener a los hijos en una perpetua tutela, poniendo como meta la obediencia en vez de la madurez, delatan una agenda egoísta y profana: PODER Y CONTROL.

No supone una cadena de mando. Honrar a alguien no significa que esa persona está al mando y que a ti te toca “mantenerte en tu sitio”. No significa estar bajo obligación de rendirle cuentas, buscar su autorización ni acatar sus órdenes.

No significa prescindir de nuestras facultades críticas. Hay quien le gustaría hacernos creer que cualquier crítica de sus actitudes o métodos constituye una deshonra a su persona. Es falso. La transigencia incondicional no es honrar, es malcriar. Además, facilita el comportamiento de personas dominantes y abusivas.

Excepciones

¿Existen? Creo que cualquier escrutinio sincero de la vida real nos obliga a aceptar que sí, tristemente, existen ciertas excepciones. Solo las personas más inconscientes podrían opinar lo contrario. Sin duda hay personas, sin duda hay padres, imposibles de honrar de manera auténtica más allá del respeto básico que debemos a cualquier persona.

Aquellas personas que han infligido profundo dolor y daño emocional y/o físico duradero (mil veces más atroz cuando se inflige a quien está bajo su cuidado), y cuya autosatisfacción excluye cualquier posibilidad de cambio. Personas que envenenan los ambientes que controlan con su pedantería, imposiciones constantes y comportamiento destructivo. Personas que, a la vez que exigen honra para sí mismas, deshonran sistemáticamente a los demás.

Quizá la única honra que podemos ofrecer en tales casos sea la de retirarnos de su esfera de influencia y orar pidiendo futura restauración y reconciliación.

Conclusión

Que Dios nos dé sabiduría para discernir entre la honra verdadera y la falsa, y que la verdadera honra adorne todos nuestros tratos unos con otros.

 

[1] http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2011/09/honor-vs-obey/

The Debt of Honor

“Honor all people” (1 Peter 2:17). “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). These are two general commandments meant to preside over us as people of God in our relationships throughout life.

If we are to truly live them out, however, we need to understand what we are being summoned to do. We need to be able to distinguish between what genuine honoring is and what it is not. We also need to determine if there are ever any exceptions to these rules. This will keep us from falling prey to unrighteous demands and being trapped in diseased relationships.

What honoring IS

Honor is a word which in Hebrew (kabad), and in Greek (timḗ), means to value, to respect, to give weight to. It has also been translated as “treat honorably”, “show respect for”, “treat with dignity” and “prize”.

Fundamentally, all people deserve to be treated with dignity because of their identity as human beings. We owe one another honor as fellow members of the human race. In this sense we are all peers, no matter what our age or social rank (much less our ethnicity or gender).

Parents, specifically, deserve to be cherished because of their unique role in our lives. We owe them, in summary, everything. They brought us into this world, loved us fiercely, cared for our needs, tried their best to shape us into good and happy people. The bond between us is sacred. The honor we owe them can be shown in many ways, not the least of which is caring for their needs as they grow older. This, as a matter of fact, was precisely how Jesus defined honor on the only recorded occasion that he expounded the Fifth Commandment.

What honoring IS NOT

It is not a synonym for obedience. As someone observed[1], if this were the case, the words could be used interchangeably in Scripture. The most cursory analysis will prove they cannot. The effort to merge the two concepts is simply untenable. Although it is true that in some contexts honor will be expressed through obedience, such as children (those being brought up) towards their parents, it is not true that obedience is mandatory where honor is concerned.

The oft-wielded Ephesians 6:1 – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” – is not an alternative translation of Exodus 20:12, but the adapted version for children, precisely because they are being prepared for adulthood (this is upheld by the context, see v. 4). That is, in fact, the whole point of obedience. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The goal is transition to sui juris, the launching of a full-fledged person. Parents (or spiritual leaders) that seek to keep their children in perpetual pupilage, making obedience instead of maturity their aim in training, reveal a selfish and ungodly agenda: POWER AND CONTROL.

It does not imply a chain of command. Honoring someone does not mean that they are in charge and that you are to “keep in your place”. It does not mean you are under an obligation to report to them, obtain their consent or follow their orders.

It does not mean relinquishing our critical faculties. Some would have us believe that any criticism of their attitudes or methods constitutes a dishonor to their persons. This is false. Unconditional compliance is not honoring, it is spoiling. It also empowers overbearing and abusive people.[2]

Exceptions

Are there any exceptions to these two general rules? I believe any honest scrutiny of real-life situations compels us to accept that – sadly – there are. Only the most oblivious people could think otherwise. There are indeed people, there are indeed parents, who cannot be honored in any genuine way beyond the most basic respect owed to any person.

People who have inflicted deep pain and lasting emotional and/or physical harm on others (a thousand times more heinous when inflicted on persons under their care), and who are so self-righteous that they are incapable of change. People who poison the environments they control with their hubris, their incessant demands and their destructive behavior. People who, while exacting honor for themselves, systematically dishonor others.

Perhaps the only honor we can give in such cases is that of withdrawing from the sphere of their influence and praying for future healing and reconciliation.

Conclusion

May God give us the wisdom to discern between true and false honor, and may true honor grace all our dealings with one another.

 

[1] http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2011/09/honor-vs-obey/ (accessed January 27, 2015)
[2] More on what honoring is not at http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/09/four-tools-of-spiritual-manipulators/

Señales de vida

Migas, alborotos de risas y correteos, huellas en las ventanas y manchas en el suelo, pañuelos abandonados, vasos rotos, paredes pintadas y abrigos sin recoger : todas son señales de vida.

Confieso que a veces me siento frustrada porque la casa no está tan ordenada ni todo está tan controlado como a mí me gustaría. Pero entonces me toca recordar uno de los refranes de Salomón:

Donde no hay bueyes, el pesebre está limpio,
pero mucho rendimiento se obtiene por la fuerza del buey.|Proverbios 14:4, LBLA

El caso es que puedes tener un pesebre limpio y pulcro, si no tienes bueyes. Pero te pierdes el gran rendimiento que puede ofrecer el buey. Por la misma regla, puedes tener una casa siempre limpia y organizada, si no tienes familia. O es más, una capilla con los himnarios y los bancos siempre colocados, que nunca retumba con gritos, llantos, balonazos ni tonos de móvil. ¡Pero a qué precio! Prescindir de esas (a veces molestas) señales de vida sería prescindir de lo más importante.

A veces tenemos que hacer un alto y preguntarnos qué es lo que queremos de verdad: ¿El pesebre limpio? ¿La casa perfecta? ¿La capilla impecable? ¿O el rendimiento de la fuerza del buey – las satisfacciones de la familia – las recompensas de la comunión, con todos sus “efectos colaterales”?

Sunday Worship III

“By grace alone somehow I stand
Where even angels fear to tread
Invited by redeeming love
Before the throne of God above
He pulls me close with nail-scarred hands
Into His everlasting arms.

When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The Great I Am The Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally.”

“After the Last Tear Falls”

“Nothing happens to the Christian by chance.”

I used to have this quote hanging in my kitchen. It challenged me to accept everything that came into my life – annoyances, disappointments, offenses, illnesses – as chosen by God for my spiritual development. There was another similar one I had written down in a notebook: “Thy home-life was chosen for thee by the unerring skill of One who knows thee better than thou knowest thyself, and who could not mistake. It has been selected as the best school of grace for thee. Its burdens were poised on the hand of infinite love, before they were placed on thy shoulders.”

But one cannot remain cloistered in a kitchen or a notebook forever. Life marched on and as it did I got some uncensored views of the hideous things that actually go on in homes, churches, and society at large. One day I took the quote in my kitchen down and threw it away. It had lost its glow. Such statements, surely, could only be made by the very sheltered or the very obtuse. Try telling someone who was abused by a parent that God chose their home life for them with unerring skill and infinite love. Try telling someone whose spouse deserted them that God himself arranged this event as a lesson in his school of grace. Try telling someone whose best friend was killed by a drunk driver that “nothing happens by chance”.

The problem with this version of Divine sovereignty is that it proposes a God who wields evil as a tool. It also compels people to accept wrongdoing or abusive treatment instead of acknowledging it and putting a stop to it.

Yet this does not mean that we are at the mercy of “the bludgeonings of chance”[1]. The God who does not determine evil and suffering has decreed that they shall not have the final word. In the Deepest Magic of all, as C. S. Lewis might have put it, he has made them “start working backwards”[2].

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)

This is the thing that offers true hope. Not that we have to accept everything that happens as ordained by God, but that we can accept everything that happens as redeemable by God. “All is not for naught”[3]. I leave you with Rebecca Reynold’s poignant words:

God stands ready to make every problem and difficulty purposeful.

If you are currently in the throes of intense suffering, I don’t expect this talk will be much comfort to you. In the worst moments of my life, there is nothing anyone could have said at a podium that would have helped me. I needed an arm around me. I needed a warm drink. I needed patience and room to grieve. I needed a wide field and permission to yell until I couldn’t yell anymore.

But if you have passed through the first squeeze of pain and now stand dazed, wondering what happened to you and what could possibly come next, maybe this will help somehow. Maybe you will walk with me to the God who didn’t abandon you – though I know it may feel like he did.

I know you may not want to trust Him. You may be angry with Him for allowing you to hurt as much as you did. The thought of Him might make you flinch. But here is the God who sees you:

“He wipes away every tear.”

“He makes all things new.”

“He works all things for the good of those who love Him.”

These are statements of healing that deny neither the grief nor the severity of what you have endured. These statements invite you to be honest about the intensity of your emotions. They allow you to believe that Jesus sometimes sits beside Mary and Martha, weeping in compassion with them, days, decades, an entire lifetime after he has allowed Lazarus to die, and before he raises him from the dead.

And while Jesus weeps in compassion, it’s okay if you do, too… believing what Andrew Peterson has taught us: that after the last tear falls, there will be love, love, love, love, love.

[1]William Ernest Henley, Invictus
[2]C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
[3]Rebecca Reynolds, http://www.thistleandtoad.com/wwwthistleandtoadcom/writings/2016/10/11/the-gift-of-your-suffering-to-the-body-of-christ-hutchmoot-talk-2016 (accessed 04/11/18)