Thursday, October 25, 2012

If allegory is not the right word, what would be?

  The passage in the Bible which is most often called an allegory is Genesis 3, the first sin, the first meal.  What is so rare about Genesis 3 is that we are fallen people reading about a drama of unfallen souls. We will not experience the Fall ourselves, except to acknowledge that it has happened and we are the result of it.  So how could the Fall ever be described in our lapsed language?

  What was it like to be the first Adam?  What was it like to feel the breath of God in your chest, to exhale the spiritual breath of the God who moved over the face of the waters before any world was?  What was it like to feel God's smile on your eyelids, to open them to a blue world above like a girl's eyes and a voice like many rushing waters say, In our image...?  Could anything we might imagine be as pure as golden air or sparkling wind or the feel of your own skin curl into the first fingerprint?  Or to see the first soft fluttering rise of geese from a pond, or the bright standing of a tree leaning over a bank?

  We'll never experience what Adam and Eve did.  But we have been given these few, rare words of Genesis.  How can we read them if we can in a sense never know them?  We can look to other passages in the Bible which may enable us to see sunlight among the trees.

  In Genesis 28 Jacob is sent away from his father.  He comes to what the Hebrew text calls, the place.  That night he puts his head on a stone, laying down to a night's sleep and dream.  The dream is of a ladder to heaven, with angels going up and coming down upon it, from heaven to him.  At the top of the ladder the Lord stood, saying--I am the Lord...  Not only is this the rare time and place before Moses when the Lord says, I am, who He is but this dream reveals to us something out of heaven.  It opens up out of the small, specific place where Jacob slept all of heaven and God's throne and God Himself.  It is the drama of Genesis 3.

  This tells us certain passages in the Bible extend from earth to the glory of heaven.  The words are a spiritual drama unlike human dramas.  The tragedies of the Greeks bring the audience deeper into the character onstage, to reveal something disturbing about the audience.  However, the spiritual dramas of the Bible don't work like that.  They do not open a character, they open the curtain of heaven so that we may see God above in our life below.

  We can remember Genesis 16, with Hagar and Ishmael.  Sarah casts Hagar out of the camp because Ishmael was born before Isaac.  Hagar runs to Shur.  There an angel comes down upon her, saying Ishmael will be blessed of the Lord, that she should return to Sarah.  Hagar then realizes she has seen the Lord--Have I remained alive here after seeing Him?  The drama is not that Shur exists but that there Hagar saw the Lord.  The drama of that encounter, like that in Genesis 3, rises to prophecy, blessing, destiny.  This is the spiritual drama of the Bible.  The words are not allegory, they are spiritual drama.

  The tabernacle in Exodus 25..8,9 puts it in tangible language.  First, the Lord comes down.  He says to Moses--let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.  He doesn't just come to be with Moses and the priest, but among all the people.  Then the Lord says--According to all that I am going to show you...The tabernacle will resemble heaven.  The Lord came down so that the tabernacle would 'look up.'  Genesis 25.30 says--You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times.  The word for presence is 'face.'  As Adam took his first breath before the face of God, so in the tabernacle the bread of His presence is before His face.

  This is the God who embraces.  And this is the spiritual drama of so many passages.  They are not only real times and places and things but their inscape, their meaning comes down from God in heaven so that we through them might ascend to His glory.

  So, coming back to Genesis 3 we can say these words are a spiritual drama--not untrue but words which give us the manner in which God has chosen to reveal Himself and His creation in which we belong.  These words have an ascension upon them which we can receive by faith.  As the tabernacle looked up to God and forward to salvation, the words of Genesis 1-3 look up to the Creator who will be our Redeemer.  Revelation 19.9 says--These are true words of God.

  The words of Genesis 3 are not just true, but livid.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An ordained minister said to me, "the Bible is all allegory.  The stories may not be historically true but they have truth in them."

  I've been thinking about this.  If something isn't historically true it won't have any spirituality.  If I say I'm a Hollywood agent and I'll make you famous, you aren't going to believe anything I say about God.  If I say it's raining outside--and it is--then you might listen to me because I told the truth.

  The issue all ancient peoples had to face was, the world is a terrible place in which to live.  Life was frightening to the Greeks, the Romans, the Hebrews and others.  If God did not reveal Himself to them, they only had death in their future.  Men died in war, women died in childbirth.  Men had the psychological horror of war, women had social destitution.  They all knew the abyss is a swallowing throat.

  So we created insular psychological structures in which to hide from our own existence.  We have built governments, works of literature and religion, science and knowledge to protect us from our own awareness.  This is religion but not faith, medieval fables but not history.  The quality faith and history have is they are based on the understanding that something must be historically true for it to be spiritually meaningful.

  Some religions and philosophies have no reality to them.  They are not really believed to the point of the risk of a life.  The great writers know that for drama to exist, something has to be lost.  The tragedies--Greek, Shakespeare, and others--all are bult on the understanding that something must be lost in order for something better to be gained.  But in allegory nothing is lost, so there is no drama.

  Jesus says you must lose your life in order to gain it.

  The movies of today, with their computerized images, have no drama because nothing is being risked.  It is all appearance, not drama.  It is the Bible's historical truth that makes it so compelling men and women have died for it. God does not write allegory with some psychological point to it--God writes truth with great spiritual presence through it.

  But some people say myth is true.  This is like the fellow who said he talks to the clouds.  He might do so but I don't believe in anything the clouds are saying.  If the ancient Greeks concocted that someone named Sky impregnated Earth, producing drops of blood which became man, none of this has anything to do with God.  It doesn't explain anything about us as men and women and it certainly doesn't deal with death.  It might have made the ancients feel less horrified by their own existence but it doesn't alleviate that horror.

  Still, allegory is symptomatic of our age.  We have become multicultural, so we don't want to offend anyone.  As long as Jesus was not a real person, we believe no one is offended and everyone can agree with everyone else.  But if Jesus really did live, and do miracles, and be resurrected from the dead, then we are compelled to believe that He is God and no other.  That will separate us from everyone else, that will expose the emptiness of every other religion.

  Ultimately it goes back to whether Jesus is God or just a man.  In some centuries He was believed as being no more than a man.  In some other centuries He was believed as God, but not a man.  The church went to a great deal of trouble in church councils to establish how Jesus was both God and man.  But today, in our time we don't believe that.

  So each generation must cut their own path back to Biblical times, to see Jesus as truly God and truly man.  If we are tempted to allegorize Jesus, we are no more than speaking to ourselves, not listening to God.  All religions look to a horizon, an ultimate place from which our own life is to be understood.  Allegory does not look to God, it merely refers to the imagination of ourselves, by ourselves.  And that is no more convincing to anyone today than the gods were to anyone in the past.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Now as to our worship in church.  The preparation for worship has a local form as does the end of worship.  However, the three deep elements--Word, Presence, Spirit-- do not have a human form.  They are the gift of God, God Himself.

  First, the preparation.  Jesus gives us our preparation in John 12.24-26.  He says the soul must humble itself as a grain of mustard seed in the ground; if it dies it bears much fruit.  Jesus then gives the interpretation and application.  He says--He who loves his life loses it and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me and where I am, there shall My servant also be.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

  Then in John 13.3 Jesus washes the feet of His disciples.  That separated them from the world, the flesh and the devil, John 13.11.  It was what the priest did in Exodus 30.19--For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it (the laver).  When the angel of the Lord prevented Abram from sacrificing Isaac, the angel separated Israel from the other nations who practiced human sacrifice.  God is not honored by the dead.  Romans 12.2 says--present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship.

  Then in John 14.3 Jesus gives the disciples the foundation of faith--If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also.  This is our hope, this is the assurance of faith, the evidence of things not seen, for which the followers of Christ persevere.  If that heavenly place is our destiny and promise, how do we get there?  Jesus says He is the way, the truth, the life.  We can know this because Jesus brings the Word to believers that they would know He was the One sent from the Father.  Our oneness with Jesus, our union with Him is in--where I am you may be also.  So Paul says--with Christ, by grace you have been saved and (He) raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Eph. 2.5.6.  Our destiny with Him in heaven is our assurance.

  Having said these things to His disciples, Jesus then has the Passover meal with them.  This is the sacrament of Matt. 26.26 and Luke 22.15-20.

  Then Jesus promises the Holy Spirit in John 16.7--I will send him to you.  It is the power of God the Spirit given at Pentecost.

  Then, as if to bring the gift of the Spirit to a high point in worship, Jesus says He has manifested the Father's name to the disciples, John 17.6.  He says He is coming back to the Father, so He asks the Father to --keep them in Thy name, John 17.11.  He gives the disciples His Word, that they may be sanctified in the truth, and not just them but everyone who believes.

  Finally, in the power of the Spirit, sanctified by His Word, Jesus sends the disciples out into the world, Matt. 28.19.  They are to take nothing but the power they've been given, Matt. 10 and Luke 10.

  At this point we can culminate the worship by proceeding out into the world.  In John 10.27-30 Jesus summarizes this in a few words--My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish...
  Now that's secure.

Friday, October 5, 2012


The NT uses five words and a phrase to describe worship in specific ways.  These take us from vain worship to spiritual worship as they are the journey into God.

  Our first word is sebomai.  It gives the meaning of an outsider, looking toward God.  In Acts 16.14 Lydia--a worshiper of God was listening and the Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying.  In Matthew 15.9 it describes the Pharisees and scribes who--in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.  In Acts 18.7 Paul--went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synogogue.

  Our second word is threskia, outward ceremony.  It is used in this way in Colossians 2.18--delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflating without cause by his fleshly mind.  In James 1.26 threskia is used to mean being self-religious--If anyone thinks himself to be religious...

  Our third word is not so negative, it is latreuw, to be religious for hire.  It means to be in the paid service of religious worship, as the priests and scribes were.  In Acts 7.42 God--turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven (meaning stars and planets and pagan worship of objects).  The concept of being paid to assist worship is in Hebrews 10.2--they would not have ceased to be offered because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins.  This refers ot the priests who had to keep offering sacrifices unto the one final sacrifice--Jesus--came.

  Our fourth word is eusebiaw, based on the first word, sebomai.  This word, eusebiaw, means to carry out one's religious duties or obligations.  In 1 Timothy 5.4--if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety in regard to their own families.  It is also used of God in Acts 17.25 when Paul says to the Athenians--neither is He served by human hands as though He needed anything...
  Now with our final word, preskunew, we come to true spiritual worship.  Most of the time when 'worship' is in the NT, it is this word preskunew.  It originally meant to bow to kiss the hand of a lord or superior.  The act of bowing low is frequently implied or performed in NT passages.  In Matt. 2.2 the Wise Men come--to worship Him.  They bow low in giving Him gifts.  In Matt. 8.2--a leper came to Him and bowed down to Him saying, Lord if you are willing you can make me clean.  This word is used in 1 Corinthians 14.25--the secrets of the heart are disclosed and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you...

  Finally we have the phrase, worship in Spirit.  This is in John 4.23 when Jesus tells a Samaritan woman--the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.  Paul uses the phrase in Philippians 3.3--for we are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit of God and the glory of Jesus Christ.
  This final phrase is our standing in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit which we were given at Pentecost.  It is not our human hands which Paul says that God does not need, it is God the Spirit dwelling in us and through us communing with the Father.  This is spiritual worship.  We see this first in Exodus 29.43--And there I will meet the children of Israel, and the tabernacle will be filled with My glory.  So in the NT Peter says--you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 2.4.

  Did you notice the four persons of spiritual worship--ourselves as a priesthood, God, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ.  What company to keep!