Wednesday, June 26, 2013

JOURNEY--2 Week 5

We have disagreed with Bonaventure about journeying toward God. Yet, his little book has remained with us all these years when other books have not been reprinted. Why would that be?

While we cannot journey into God as if He were a sea of mist into which an ancient sailing ship might travel, still He has come to us. This means, if we look at those saints in the Bible to whom Jesus came, we might see God in us. We might be able to see within ourselves the trace of God's approach and entrance, like the trail of bubbles when we drop a pebble into water.

First, let's look into the Scriptures to see what we can find.

Of all the men in the NT, there are more verses mentioning Peter than anyone. John the Baptist has been preaching about a coming king, words Peter easily could have heard. In Luke 4.33 when Jesus is in the synogogue He rebukes a demon, so a few verses later He rebukes the sickness of Peter's mother-in-law, Luke 4.41.
Jesus leaves for Judea and when He returns, Peter is in his boat, fishing. Jesus joins Peter saying--Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch. Peter begins to refuse in sarcasm, but he remembers Jesus healed his mother-in-law, so he backs down when he says--(refusal) we worked hard all night and caught nothing, (yielding) but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.

When the load of fish jump into Peter's net, his reaction is--Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. Peter has gone from watching Jesus heal his mother-in-law to seeing himself as a sinful man. The holiness of Christ's presence has stung the sinfulness of Peter's flesh. But it has not transformed Peter. He knows, he sees, he is struck down but he is not poured out.

Jesus then realizing Peter is afraid, says--Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.'

Is fear what does not want to yield to Jesus?
Jesus has given Peter something to do. He has not verbally lacerated Peter for not having the kind of faith Mary had (Be it done unto me according to Your Word). He has drawn Peter from a place of only watching to a place of being sent. Has Peter come through fear? Well, not completely.

In Luke 6.14 Jesus names Peter as one of the apostles. Peter has left the boats and nets. Now Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount. We remember Peter calls Jesus, Lord, in Luke 5.18. Now in Luke 6.45 Jesus says a good man brings forth out of his good heart what is good, but then He says--why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? If Peter is right there, he might remember that he called Jesus, Lord. Then by what Jesus said, Peter must do what Jesus said to be His follower.

Now when the Pharisee accuses Jesus of touching a sinner in Luke 7.39, Jesus turns to Peter to say of two debtors, one who owes 500 denarii and one who owes 50, when the moneylender forgives both, who loves him more? Peter says--I supose the one whom he forgave more. Jesus then says--You have judged correctly. Notice that Jesus uses the word, judged. Peter has been brough from being a rude fisherman to being a follower, to calling Jesus his Lord, and now to being given the priviledge of judging.

But Jesus is not through with Peter. In this same conversation with Peter, Jesus says he entered Peter's house. Peter gave Him no water for His feet, he gave Jesus no kiss, he did not anoint Jesus with oil. Then Jesus says--he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Now this seems an understandable lesson as it is. But when we remember the last words of Jesus to Peter in John 21.15--
Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?
He said to Him, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
He said to him, Tend My lambs.

But then Jesus repeats the same words two more times. What is He doing? He is taking Peter from merely knowing to being forgiven much to loving much.

This is the trail of God in a soul, from seeing to obeying to following, to believing to being forgiven much so that he could love much. Now this the journey into the soul by God.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

JOURNEY--1 Week 4

Often when an era is ending, someone will come along to summarize that time and place in writing, as an act of holding on to what he knows is slipping away.

Before the 13th century, the great theologians were pastors and the great pastors were theologians. That would change as the universities became the feeding ground for the government, not the church. Governments and armies would rule, not the church and popes and the nobility. After the 13th century pastors went to the churches, theologians went to the universities.

The man in that time who tried to hold Christianity together was St. Bonaventure. He was born in a small town in central Italy, probably in 1217. Francis of Assisi had just founded his order. While Francis died in 1226, Bonaventure entered the Franciscan order in 1243. He wrote a great deal, mostly in response to controversies of his time.


The title is misleading; it really is the soul's journey toward God. What Bonaventure wrote was a summary of thought up till his time concerning the development of our own faculties. The books consists of 7 chapters, each with several stanzas of poetry accompanied by comments. The poetry uses Scripture but it is not the result of Scripture. Rather it is the result of philosophical thought on the religious life.

An example is the very first statement in the prologue--

Since happiness is nothing other than
the enjoyment of the highest good,
and since the highest good is above,
no one can be made happy unless he rise above himself...

The writers of the Bible do not say happiness is the enjoyment of the highest good, rather they say of man--
He also is flesh...every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, Gen. 6.6.

Bonaventure says that, 'Whoever wishes to ascend to God must first avoid sin.' An obvious thing to say, but simply impossible. 1 John 1.8 says--
If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Bonaventure then says there are six stages in the ascent into God, represented in our soul by the senses, imagination, reason, understanding, intelligence and conscience. This order is from below to above, from lower to higher. But does God redeem by stages?
John says--For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace, John 1.16.

In chapter 4 Bonaventure says God must lift the soul to true contemplation.

We recall that Jesus had said,
I am the door; if anyone enters through Me,
he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture, John 10.9.

It is at this point that Bonaventure makes his contribution to religious thought. He says the soul which contemplates Christ is transformed. Now that is not such a radical statement. But how is the soul transformed?
Bonaventure says the soul resembles the heavenly Jerusalem, which is our mother, Galatians 4.26. When the soul which believes in Jesus is redeemed, it receives its spiritual sight and hearing. It can see the splendor of the light of God, it embraces the Word and delights in the love of Christ. When the inner senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell are restored the soul can love Christ in ecstasy.

Let's step back and bring all of this together. Bonaventure is trying to tie medeival philosophy and the NT together. He is saying God is in nature, and that nature is to be respected as true. However, that is not enough for us to see God in Christ. We must be instructed by Sacred Scripture for the reception of the Holy Spirit for that to happen. When we are given the illumination of God in Christ, we see God in all things, that God may be all in all, 1 Cor. 15.28.

When we step back, we might not see 9 levels of movement by the soul. Jesus has this habit of bringing people directly into the presence of God.

He says to the criminal--
today you will be with Me in paradise, Luke 23.43.

He says to Philip--
If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father, John 14.9.

Any sort of fusion of the Bible with the ancient classical world cannot come about. One or both will be compromised, and the usual result is the loss of closeness to Jesus. He is not 'the good,' but the only One who was good. Fusion with anyone has never worked. God is separated, He is holy, there is no one like Him. Some of us have used this kind of fusion to hold God at a distance, to get away from Him.

We cannot swerve ourselves up into a vision of God, we can only receive God. But what about the Christian who does not always live up to the holiness of Christ? This is where Bonaventure might come in handy. We do grow in grace from light to light, from seeing darkly to being in the light. If we think of a good seed growing in bad soil, we might be closer to Bonaventure. We will take up the life of Peter in the gospels next week.

The great pilgrimmage is not the soul's graduation through any stages, rather it is the pilgrimmage of Christ from the heavenly courts to this life of dust and clay.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

We often think of the passage in Gensis which first mentions the phrase, 'image of God,' Genesis 1.26,7 which says--Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.

God breathed His breath into Adam, creating the image of God. It was God in Adam as a likeness of God. It was not God Himself in Adam but a likeness, an image. Genesis 2.7 explains this as--man became a living being. To be a living being is to be in the likeness of God, yet separated.

If we look at the word 'separated' we might be reminded of Genesis 3. There, Adam and Eve are the image of God, but the Lord is not mentioned when Satan comes with the invitation to eat of the wrong tree. They are His image but separated from Him. Will they chose to be separated from God forever, or will they act to be united with Him and separated from Satan? We all know the choice they made, we are what we are because of that choice.

However in Genesis 5.3 Adam--
became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image and named him Seth.

So we see that the image was not lost when Adam fell and left the garden. A magnificent nearness to God was lost, but not our likeness.

Can that nearness return? In the NT Jesus is at Jacob's well, John 4.
There He meets a woman. He says--Give Me a drink.

Her answer is an external one. Seeing He is a Jew she says--How is it that you being a Jew ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?

Then Jesus takes her from an outward viewpoint to an inward one. He says--If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.'

I'd like to think that the image of God which was breathed into Adam was like that living water, from Jesus poured into her. Jesus does not breathe on her as God did Adam, He offers her living water so that she might drink.
Notice that Adam makes an excuse--the woman gave to me, Gen. 3.12. The woman tells Jesus the truth when she admits she's had husbands, John 4.16-18. As a result, Jesus sends the woman away from the well to her own people, to tell them about Jesus. With Adam, he is punished by being sent out of the garden, to a lower plain.

Because she told Jesus the truth, she receives living water, not pain in childbirth. This living water is not bread, which must be cut down and harvested. This is not the blood of goats and lambs and bulls. This is living water, which she can freely drink.

What this means is the image of God which we are can receive the living water. The body had to be covered with fig leaves and then animal skins, due to sin. With living water, the soul can go anywhere and still be with the Lord. Jesus say this in John 3.8 when He says--
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Living water is symbolic of our covenant freedom with God.