What You Were MADE for…

Thomas Goodwin, when talking about God’s responsibility and man’s responsibility often employs words like due, meet, and suitable.  Perhaps “suitable” is the only one we still use as Goodwin would.  All are meant to communicate the idea of appropriateness.  For instance, if God created humanity with stomachs, it would be appropriate for Him to also create food for them.  Creating them and then allowing them to starve would be inappropriate, right! ?

For a moment, I want to dig into what Goodwin says about how humanity is made and what God’s appropriate response is to that.  In the end, it will answer the question: What is the meaning of life?  Here’s how Goodwin introduces this point:

If God would create intelligent natures out of nothing, it is appropriate for him to give them his own image of holiness whereby they might be able to know, to love, and to enjoy a communion with him, and happiness from himself, as their chiefest good.*

So, first, Goodwin says that if God is going to make us with brains of our own, with the ability to think as humans (unlike the animals), then it was appropriate, due, even required by His goodness, that we would be able, as those made in the image of God, to know and enjoy Him.  Isn’t that interesting.  Why is that the case?  Why “must” God allow us to enjoy Him just because he made us as thinking creatures?  Goodwin says:

As it was God’s generous gift to give it, so the very nature of humanity required it as convenient, meet, and suitable to our nature, and without it, God’s creation of us would have been imperfect, yea, miserable

See, our intellects, if left alone, without God, would be miserable.  They needed to be paired with a spiritual capacity as well, namely, an ability to know and enjoy God.  This is where it gets really exciting:

For otherwise those vast faculties of understanding and will would have been left empty, like a hungry stomach of a giant, continually craving when it has only crumbs of food, and drops of weak water.  They could not otherwise have attained their main end, or arrived at their convenient happiness, which their very natures were created and designed for, which can be filled with nothing but a communion with God.

Our intellects without spiritual encounter with God, without being able to know and enjoy Him, would be a black hole of despair.  The very ability to think and understand in creatures made in the image of God, in a sense, demands the ability to think and know the best thing/person: GOD HIMSELF, and to enjoy Him!

If God has provided for their bodies, only, and not their souls with those noble powers of understanding and will, they would be deprived of their chief object; they would be shut out from the communication of the life of God, in which their happiness lay.  This spiritual blessedness also must be given, along with those intellectual faculties, by which together they might be able to know, love, and delight in God.

Do you get it?  If God made intelligent creatures,  then it would it be monstrously cruel for Him to withhold Himself from us.   That is the very nature and design He gave us.  He gave us stomachs, so food is appropriate as well.  Just so, in giving us an intellect and making us in His image, so it is appropriate (meet, due, convenient, necessary) that He gives us HIMSELF!  That is what we are made for.  To know and enjoy Him forever.  That is what will fill the giant stomach of our souls! AND, joy of joys, that is what He delights to give us…HIMSELF!

 

*I’ve tried to update Goodwin’s language here for easier reading without in any way changing his meaning and intent.

What is Holiness?

I think the puritans do such a better job of answering this question: What is holiness?  Their answer may surprise you.  We often think of the Puritans as stuffy, no-fun-allowed sort of folk.  That’s unfortunate.  Surely some of them were that way, just like some of us are, but the best Puritans actually made pleasure and joy central to our faith.  How they answer a question like “What is Holiness?” shows us a little of this.

Before I give you Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Goodwin’s answers, I want to ask how many people today would answer it.  What is holiness?  Is it primarily about whether and how much we sin?  Is it about ticking all the “thou shalt not” boxes?  What about God…what does it mean that He is holy?  Does it, primarily, mean that he can’t allow those who haven’t checked all those boxes in His presence?  I’ve said elsewhere that I often hear people say things like, “God is loving, but he’s also holy,” as if those things are opposites or mutually exclusive.  And that’s part of what’s wrong with our understanding of holiness.  So, let’s look at a couple of Puritans.

First, Jonathan Edwards. I’m going to invite Mike Reeves to share this as he’s who I first heart it from.  Go read his whole article at Desiring God, but here he is on Edwards and God’s holiness.

For the reality is that I am the cold, selfish, vicious one, full of darkness and dirtiness. And God is holy — “set apart” from me — precisely in that he is not like that. He is not set apart from us in priggishness, but by the fact that there are no such ugly traits in him as there are in us.

“God is God,” wrote Edwards, “and distinguished from [that is, set apart from] all other beings, and exalted above ’em, chiefly by his divine beauty” (for the connection between holiness and beauty, see verses like Psalm 96:9).2

God’s holiness, according to Edwards is primarily in His beauty, in His spreading and never changing goodness!  He’s not like us in our meanness, in all our ugly thoughts, words, and actions.  All the ways we hurt and hate others.  Isn’t that so much grander than “not sinning?”  Isn’t holiness as beauty just so much more, well, beautiful!!!

Now, Thomas Goodwin answers this question of God’s holiness as well (Vol 7, Book 1, Chapter 3).  Here’s what he says:

Matthew 19.17: “There is none good but God,” so therefore holy.  He is separate and alone in his holiness in the manner that he is alone in his (good) being.  And if he is the only one who is good, then much more is he the only holy one, for holiness is the height and perfection of goodness; it is so for man, and so in God.*

What does that mean?  It means that, at His core (in his being), God is good.  This is seen before creation ever existed as the Father, Son, and Spirit were in loving communion with one another, John 17 says, sharing glory and loving one another.  Before there were laws to give or keep, God was loving and sharing.  He was GOOD!  His holiness, then, can only be what is core to God.  What sets him apart?  His being, his nature, which we’ve just seen is loving, beautiful, and good.  And that is what sets him apart.  As you may know, holy means “set apart.”  His spreading goodness is what sets him apart, what differentiates God from us.

Holiness, then, according to these two puritans is beautiful goodness.  He’s not hot and cold towards us, he is consistently kind and good.  He’s holy.  In any day, I’m likely to despise and want ill for those that I should most love (sorry wifey and dear kiddos!), not to mention the random celebrity or Facebook stranger with whom I disagree.  Not so with God.  He’s holy.  He’s good.  He’s beautiful.

So, then, the invitation to be holy as God is holy becomes something amazing.  It’s now an invitation to share in the very goodness and beauty of God.  “Come, child, let me share my love and glory with you.  Let’s us experience unbroken, perfect love and fellowship.  Come, enjoy all this…that is, be holy like me.”

*I updated the language for clarity.  Italics are mine.

Your Grandmother was Nothing…a Puritan Putdown?

I’m reading in Thomas Goodwin these days, and just can’t understand why my brain (and heart really) isn’t as impressive as his.  You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can unpack in such beautiful and devastatingly logical ways BOTH the great depths of human separation from God and the soaring heights of God’s affection for us.  This week, I read this:

Your body is made of dust, so that was your mother in a manner of thinking; but that dust was made of the first created earth, without form, so that was your grandmother; but that unformed earth was made purely of nothing; so then, nothing was your great grandmother.  That’s your body.  Now for your soul, that was immediately created by God out of nothing, and so by that line, your mother was nothing.  And what was your soul twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, and so many years before?  Plain nothing.*

*Language updated for clarity

Is there lower that we could go?  No, we are nothing.  From dust (and nothingness before that) and to dust.  In ourselves, in our humanity, body and soul, there is an unimaginable gap between us and God.  And yet…

Here’s Goodwin, elsewhere, on how God responds to the gap.  In reading John chapters 13-17, here’s some of what Goodwin observes:

“It is as if [Jesus] had said, ‘The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, so that we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it.’”

Whoa!  That’s good stuff, but it’s all the sweeter because we remember how low we are, and therefore how great His love must be to speak this way to the great-grandchildren of nothingness.  In fact, if you haven’t read it yet, go read Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ to get a strong dose of the glorious, passionate love of Christ for His Church.

What does Jesus think/feel about you?

That’s a $1 Billion Dollar Question (actually, an eternal question!).  What does Jesus (and therefore the Father!) think/feel about you?  Lots of ways to answer this, but I’m going to totally steal an answer from 2 other people.  The answer will come from Thomas Goodwin, who I’ll introduce below.  But it will come through Mike Reeves who introduced me to Goodwin, borrowing many of his words and more of his ideas below.  So, if anything sounds great, it’s Reeves.  If not, it’s me.

So, Thomas Goodwin. What do you need to know about Goodwin? Well, he was born in the year 1600, three years before the death of Queen Elizabeth. He grew up in a home of committed believers, he spent some of his younger years “making merry” as they use to say and literally seeking to become a celebrity preacher, and then something scary happened. He became REALLY religious.

He later said that, at this time, his preaching was a ministry of battering consciences. He’d use the Word of God to mercilessly beat up the congregation. And internally, he was experiencing the same thing. He began to fear that he wasn’t truly born again, and for 7 years, he was looking inside for some sign of grace on his life. Seven years!!!

SO, in Goodwin, we have someone with some experience in doubting the goodness of God.  Finally, he had an old pastor pull him aside and said, “Don’t trust anything in yourself, whether performance or feelings. Look out and rest on Christ alone.” And that was the turning point. Seeing Christ clearly and rightly made all the difference.

Well, eventually he wrote a little book called The Heart of Christ in Heaven Unto Sinners on Earth, and he wrote this, he said, because he found so many Christians who, like himself, struggled to know who God was and trust his goodness towards them.

So, he hoped the book would, “take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory.” That he might “hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart is inclined towards them.”

We’re going to have Goodwin guide us through 3 scenes that will unpack Christ’s heart for us.

First, in the upper room (John 13-17).

John 13.1-5 – Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

FIRST, notice that he knew he was going away and that all things had been given to him by the Father, and yet his thoughts were on his disciples. Instead of (or perhaps BECAUSE of) thinking of the glory he’s headed back to, He washes their feet…he does this to show them how he is and will be towards them, even when he’s gone.

SECOND, notice also that he already knew they would betray him. He already knew…yet, he washed their feet and loved them to the end.

Really, this whole section of John from chapter 13-17, he is preparing them for his departure. He’s taking pains to make sure they know his heart. That they know he’s arranged everything so that they will be cared for.

At one point, he says, “I will not leave you as orphans,” And a major part of that is that he promises to send the Holy Spirit to them…Look at John 16.7, “it is to your advantage that I go away.” It’s good for you. Why, because the Spirit will be a better helper for you in the days ahead.

Goodwin riffs on this whole section from chapter 14-16 to unpack in a beautiful way, what Jesus says the Spirit will do in His place…

All the comfort he shall speak to you all that while will be but from the expression of my heart towards you…he will tell you nothing but stories of my love. He will tell you that there is as true a dearness of affection in me towards you, as is between my Father and me and that it is as impossible to take off my heart from you, as to take my Father’s from me, or mine from my Father.

Second, after the resurrection

The first people to encountering the risen Christ weren’t his disciples. Some women go to the tomb, and Mary encounters Jesus, and he gives her a message for his disciples…

Now, what would you say to those no good, spineless, traitors? Those men who deserted you in your hour of need. Who, at the very least need to show some major gratitude for what you’ve just done for them?

What does Jesus call them in John 20.17 ? – “go, to my BROTHERS”  (reminds us of Hebrews 2.11) and what message does he send them? In 20.17 – “I ascend to My Father and YOUR Father…to my God and YOUR God!”  They are still his brothers and the Father still belongs to them!  Despite what they’ve done.

And 2 verses later, he appears to them, and what does he say? Does he rebuke them? Chide them? Rip into ‘em really good? No, in John 20.19 he says “Peace be with you!” And he breathes on them and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.”

And in all this time, he never brings up the past. He never scolds them or reprimands them for their behavior before the Cross.

Goodwin notes that during this time: NO SIN OF THEIRS TROUBLED HIM BUT THEIR UNBELIEF.  Isn’t that amazing.

Well, after 40 days with them, he is leaving, ascending into Heaven. What’s the last thing he does as he is leaving…even as he is ascending into the sky: Luke 24.50-51 says 50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

Third, seated at the right hand of the Father

-So, once in glory, He pours out the Spirit

-Then, he begins a ministry of interceding for his people, and this is where we want to turn our attention to the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 7.25 says, “He always lives to make intercession for us.”

I know people that live for college football. Or who say “I live for Doctor Who. I know the actors, I follow their lives, I watch the shows, I have the action figures. I LIIIIIIIIIVE for Doctor Who.”

Friends, Jesus lives for you. He EVER lives to intercede for you.

And a major theme through Hebrews is this: Jesus became the perfect high priest for us THROUGH suffering for us. A high priest comes to God on behalf of the people. And if you’re going to represent broken, suffering, hurting people…well, you have to be broken, to suffer, to hurt.

And Goodwin wants to draw out attention to, “two things, in particular, that stir Jesus’ compassion for us as our High Priest: our afflictions and – astonishingly – our sins.”

Hebrews 4.15 says He can sympathize with our weakness, that is, our suffering and all that is hard in this life.  All things that show how WEAK we are.

What about you?  Is your suffering terrible?  Have you had more than you can bear?   We’ve struggled with sin, hurt, heartache and loss.  And maybe you’re wondering, “Did he really suffer everything as I have? Did he experience betrayal? Excruciating Pain? Did he ever weep over the grave of a dear friend? Injustice? Loss of family?  The answer to all of those is YES!  What about Sin…did he suffer under sin?  Not his own…but yours and mine.  He was CRUSHED under it.

But, it’s not only our suffering and affliction that moves him…it’s also our sin. Look at Hebrews 5.2 – He can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward (literally…those out of the way), that is, those in sin!  See what Goodwin says…

“your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’” TG

Mike Reeves comments on this passage by saying:

Jesus’ first reaction when you sin is pity. Where you would run from Him in guilt, He would run to you in grace. It makes all the difference when your heart feels cold. Right then in your very coldness, you can know it is your joylessness that stirs His compassion. In our guilt we’d never want to face up to some cold, pitiless God. But the tender kindness of Christ woos us.

Isn’t that amazing. Isn’t Christ good to us? And remember…the heart of Christ is the expressed image of the heart of his Father. This is our Father’s love being shown through our Savior Christ.

This is what transformed Goodwin’s life, and one of the best places to see this is to read his final words. Listen to this, these are the words of a man who for 7 years wrestled over whether he could be SURE of his salvation, SURE of God’s love for him.

I am going to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion…I shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, all my lusts and corruptions I shall be rid of, which I could not be here; I could not have imagined I should ever have had such a measure of faith in this hour; no, I could never have imagined it. My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness. Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he does; I think I cannot love Christ better than I do. I’m swallowed up in God.

Isn’t that amazing? The assurance we have in His love! This is our God! So that brings us back to the beginning: how does knowing all this transform prayer? Well, where to start?!?!?! In our final post, we’ll compare our God, the Triune, true and living God, to the god of the Koran that we looked at a few posts back.