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Tag: calvinism

Scaffolding the self

 

Extensive scaffolding on a building in downtow...

Extensive scaffolding on a building in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Human beings make an art form out of self-preservation.  They invest in scaffolding to hold up the corpse of the Old Adam.

 

More often than not, these scaffolds appear ‘religious’.  Re-packaging makes them appear to be new, but they are ancient.  The big three are Morality, Mysticism, and Speculation.  Although they appear to be significantly different, they all operate on the same premise.  They are based in self-effort to reach the Holy.

And, self-effort to reach the Holy is rooted in the Old Adam:

Romans 5:12: ‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned …’  The strange part of this is that Christians deny that their Old Adam still lives.  In fact, the Old Adam works to preserve itself through the three modes listed above.

Morality, Mysticism and Speculation are all efforts to preserve the sinful self.  The cross is an offense to us not because it crucifies these three, but because it crucifies the self.

And, we are unwilling to die.  It goes against our nature.  We want to preserve that ‘religious’ part of ourselves.  So, we erect one, two or all three of the scaffolds in an effort to prop up the corpse of the Old Adam and loudly proclaim, “I am alive!” when nothing could be more silly or further from the truth.

The Morality scaffold appeals to that part of us that says doing good will result in a happier life.  In fact, there is a kernel of truth to this in our earthly lives.  Morality leads to better relationships, and a ‘clean conscience’.  The downsides, however, are guilt and shame (when you realize that you can’t ‘pull it off’ perfectly) or arrogant pride and judgement of others (hypocrisy).  Scripture is not just interpreted literally, it is interpreted literalistic-ally.

The Mysticism scaffold appeals to that part of us that wants to ‘see God’.  Beneficially, people become more committed to spending one-on-one time with God.  In a busy world, the experience of retreating can be calming and re-invigorating.  The other end of this, though, is that Scripture is a kind of launching point into a ‘cloud of knowing’ (analogous use of Scripture).  Ultimately, it denies the incarnate nature of Christ and Christianity.

The Speculation scaffold presents a very attractive possibility.  It lies within the reason and logic of man.  It is ‘familiar’.  It leads to a greater growth and understanding of the human mind.  It is logical, clear, organized and clean.  Unfortunately, it struggles with reality.  Speculators look at Christ on the Cross and see it as the stained glass through which one can see ‘God as He really is’.  They want to deny that Christ on the Cross is God as He really is … the dying-for-me-God.  Scripture is evaluated through the lens of a certain logic, and massive efforts are made to make it ‘fit’ the human mind.

All of these have long traditions, histories and adherents.  And, it may seem that I am attacking the big three.  The real issue is not the big three, though.  The real issue is the Adam that produced the big three.

This Old Adam wants nothing more than to be left alone by the Jesus who infiltrates our world.  He doesn’t want to see a passive righteousness given to us by a God whose greatest work was His passive death on the cross.  He doesn’t want to hear that God became sin for us.  He doesn’t want to hear that the big three are the beautiful flowers of a plant that is dead.  He doesn’t want to accept forgiveness, because he didn’t ‘earn it’.  In short, the Old Adam wants to maintain control of his own spirituality.  And that, my friends leads to death.

Romans 5:

     15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

 

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rung out

Jacob's Ladder, sculpture by Eddy Gabriel for ...

Jacob’s Ladder, sculpture by Eddy Gabriel for Tempus Arti, LAnden, Belgium, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone who believes in God has a ladder theology.  Christianity utilitzes various ladders that have been developed over the centuries.  These emerged (either consciously or unconsciously) from a narrative in Genesis 28:

10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He [e]came to [f]a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it [g]under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood [h]above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your [i]descendants. 14 Your [j]descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will [k]spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your [l]descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have [m]promised you.”   (emphasis mine)

The idea that we can climb up to heaven to see God in all His glory is very attractive.  It has so enveloped some people that they actually gave up their “normal lives” to live in communes of one sort or another.  This was so they could pursue direct, unencumbered communion with the Almighty.  Adherents to this purpose developed what was called the “monk’s ladder” (From Guigo II, Scala Claustralium in Latin).  It included four rungs: 1. reading Scripture, 2. Meditating on the Scripture to find the hidden meaning (seeing all scripture as analogy; an error), 3. Prayer as response, and 4. Quiet contemplative living.

Others have developed ladders based not in a personal encounter with the Almighty, but on the personal effort of satisfying God’s moral demands.  Their ladder is a morality that was derived from Scripture and other sources, including socio-cultural norms.  Scripture is useful for becoming more like God.

Finally, the last group has developed a ladder that satisfies the mind and fills in the gaps of understanding that Scripture presents.  These people have developed a ladder based on speculation.  Disatisfied with the tensions of Scripture, they attempt to resolve these tensions through logical reasoning.  For the most part, they, like the other mentioned earlier are recipients of Platonic thought.  Their error is that they don’t take God at His word, but need to justify God’s words.  They climb the ladder of an intellectual form of Christianity that doesn’t need to wrestle with the self.  Instead of facing the crucifixion, they narrowly avoid it by rationalism.

All of these have inherited the disease of the tower builders in Genesis 11.  We all believe that we can reach God(hood) if we have the right method.  Only one problem: it’s idolatry of the self.

Into Babel, God brought the judgment of dividing people based on language.  Into our idolatry, he brings the curse of death.  And , in fact, these ladders are a proof that we are dead.  We need someone to descend into our burial hole to rescue us from the death we are in.

That person has already come.  His name is Jesus, and He has come to crucify our idolatry and utterly demolish our ladders.  In fact, He has come to replace these ladders with the original one promise from Genesis 28.  A very small reference in John chapter 1 will make this clear.  It is so brief that you have probably read over it:

51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, youwill see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”  Jesus, alone, is the Ladder who has come out of heaven and brought heaven down to earth.

Amen

My first video instruction on Bible structure – 5 minutes

http://www.screencast.com/t/fzTDCjLWf

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