Thursday, January 31, 2013

Not like nature....

The last time I typed a blog entry on the beattitudes, I discussed the concept that those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness...will be filled" by Christ, in whom dwells all the characteristics of God.  Those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" will be satisfied by the life of Christ in them, who gives Christians the very righteous nature of God, separate from whether they deserve it or not.

It is from the filling with the righteousness of Christ that we are able to understand the next beatitude:

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." - Matthew 5:7(NIV)

I don't know about you, but when I was child, I hated and loved the nature shows.  I loved them because I loved animals!  I loved learning about them, seeing them going about their lives in the wild, interacting with nature and one another.  But it was in that very interaction of animals that I found what I hated about nature shows: watching animals brutalize and kill each other.  I remember watching a show where a stallion killed a foal in his herd because it was dying and the mare wouldn't leave it, slowing down the whole herd.  I remember vividly watching a show about orcas and witnessing a pack of orcas terrorize a grey whale and her calf for six hours, before the calf was so exhausted that the orcas were finally able to cut it off from its mother and drown it.  The worst part was after killing this calf, they only ate the jaw meat and left the rest of the body to float in the middle of the ocean.

As an adult, to a certain extent, I can look at and understand these things.  It's the "circle of life."  This side of the Garden of Eden, animals survive by killing other animals.  By feeding themselves, they feed their own offspring and ensure the continuation of their species.  By killing other animals, they participate in an unintentional "population control," as well as eliminate from the gene pool all but the very best of what a species has to offer, ensuring that the next generation of a species will be stronger than the one that proceeded it.

Yet... animals represent, in this way, the bare minimum of existence.  Kill or be killed.  Look out for number one because number one is all you have.  Stick to your own.  Kill your enemy before they kill you.  Yet, Isaiah 11:6-9(NIV) prophesies that life after Jesus' coming will look much different:

"The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
    and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea."

Just because it works, doesn't mean it is the highest good God has to offer us.  And it is in that thought that I understand the beatitude of Mark 5:7.  Colossians 1:21-22(NLT) reads:

"This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.  Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault."

In other words, Jesus acted AGAINST the law of nature by SAVING human beings, who in their very nature were opposed to all the goodness of God and had no desire to know Him.  He showed us mercy, not killing us (as He easily could have), but showing us love, to the point of His own death.

Because of that mercy He showed us... we are able to show mercy to others.  We, as human beings, are empowered by Christ's actions to act against the laws of nature, which tell us to only be nice to people who are nice to us, which tell us to only do things we want or like to do, which tell us to leave behind anyone who gets in our way or slows us down.  Instead, we understand life like this:

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 
-1 John 4:10-11(NIV) 

Friday, January 11, 2013

The fullness we hunger for....

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." 
- Matthew 5:6(NIV)

Reading this verse can only be understood in the context of the previous three beattitudes:
  1. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:3(NIV)
  2. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."- Matthew 5:4(NIV)
  3. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." - Matthew 5:5(NIV)
As we walk through life and see how broken the world is, as we, ourselves, are broken by the cruelties and horrors human beings commit against one another, as we look into our own hearts and see how often we fail to be the good sort of person we would like to be... we recognize that we, and the world, are incapable of creating paradise on earth.  We are entirely unable to intrinsically and permanently change this world... or ourselves.

The word "righteousness" in Matthew 5:6, is not the same kind of understanding of the word "righteousness" that we have in the English language.  The English understanding of this word makes righteousness a quality that we create within ourselves.  I choose to have good moral character.  I choose to do the right thing.  The English understanding is "self-righteousness," where good behavior is entirely dependent on me.  But wait... don't the previous three beattitudes fly in the face of this definition?  They say we, and the world, are entirely corrupt and unable to change things for the better. 

They do indeed, but the Greek understanding of this little, yet significant, word... has a very different implication.  "Righteousness," from a Biblical understanding... has nothing to do with you.  Righteousness is a characteristic which can only describe the total goodness, justice, and mercy that God, Himself, embodies.  It is, in a word, perfection.  To truly be righteous is to stand before this completely perfect being, who is God, and be absolutely blameless.  God would be unable to find a single fault or character flaw in one who was righteous.

Wow... what a daunting prospect.  When I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself, I don't see a person who would withstand that test.  I see a person who consistently fails to treat others with the respect they deserve, to love others as Christ loved them, to the point of death.  I see a person who never lives up to the standards they have set for themselves, no matter how much they desire to.

Yet what does the second half of verse 6 say?  

"They will be filled."  

And Colossians 2:9(NLT) states:

"For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body."

And Ephesians 3:16-19(NIV) states:

"I pray...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

When we "know this love that surpasses knowledge," which is all that Jesus is and has done... we are filled fully with the righteousness we "hunger and thirst" for.  When God looks at us, He does not see the failings and darkness and filth of our less-than-perfect ways of living... He sees perfection: the perfection purchased by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is not something we do... but something that Jesus did.

So, rest in peace... and remember this:

"Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure." 
- Ephesians 1:4-5(NLT)