Monday, March 11, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for March 11, 2013

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them. (Psalm 89:1-2, 11)

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)

The Bible begins with a story about creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” But the first hearers of that story did not listen from a theological vacuum. Before they were the people of Genesis, they were the people of the Exodus.

The ancient Hebrew people were encountered by God (not the other way around) when they were rescued from their slavery in Egypt. God continued his redemptive work by leading them through the wilderness and to a place that would be the land promised to them by God. They first of all experienced God as their redeemer, their rescuer.

And then the opening chapters of Genesis connect some stunning theological dots: The God who rescued the people from slavery is also the God who created all things. This wasn’t the act of a territorial god who just happened to outsmart the Egyptian deities. There were, in fact, no other gods. The God of the Exodus, the I AM of the burning bush, the God whose steadfast love and faithfulness is celebrated by the psalmist, is the one, true God. This same God created the heavens and the earth. The redeemer God and the creator God as one in the same.

The people experienced Jesus in a similar way. Their understanding was not very theological and it clearly wasn’t framed by scientific inquiry. They experienced Jesus as redeemer, as the one who rescued them from demonic oppression, sickness, hunger, marginalization, and even death. Like the people of Moses’ day, the theological dots wouldn’t be connected for quite some time.

I can attempt to know God through theological and scientific inquiry, but I won’t encounter him that way. God, however, is the one who initiates encounter with me, and it comes as he determines. My inquiries just might produce revelations along the way, but they won’t serve as stepping stones up the tall mountain where I just might locate God.

Sometimes people chafe at the particularity of Jesus. Why, as Christians insist, would God reveal himself in that one person at a specific point in history and in a backwater location at the fringe of the Roman Empire? Why not to all people everywhere at the same time?

It seems, however, that particularity is the way that God does his redeeming work. To act universally would be to act outside of history. God works with real people in real human existence to redeem and rescue in real time. And through God’s particular, redeeming work, a universal call comes to the world.

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