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God So Loved, He GaveEntering the movement of divine generosity
By Kelly M. Kapic Justin Borger
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Kelly M. Kapic
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAll Things Belong to God
We Belong to the Lord
I remember asking my son, who was five at the time, about his day. Jonathan didn't think very long before he smiled and piped up, "I learned something. Do you want to hear it?"
"Yes," I replied.
"You can't serve two masters."
That made me smile. Clearly that morning his class must have looked at Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
I was impressed with what he learned, and I thought our conversation would move on, but Jonathan asked: "Do you know what a master is?" Intrigued, I wondered what he might say. "Owner" was his simple reply. Satisfied that he had taught me enough for one evening, he returned to his dinner in hopes of getting dessert. But even as he moved on, I found myself taken aback by his simple but deeply insightful answer-okay, he was probably just repeating what he learned in class, but coming from the mouth of a child it felt profound. Was Jonathan right?
In 1563 some ministers produced a catechism in Heidelberg, Germany, to teach the essential truths of the Christian faith. The first question in the catechism moves us to the heart of the matter:
Question 1: What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
Answer: That I belong-body and soul, in life and in death-not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.... (emphasis mine)
But Don't We Own Ourselves?
Our passion to possess, however, jeopardizes this joy of belonging to God. Especially in the affluent West, our sense of self can become so wrapped up with the idea of self-ownership that the thought of belonging to somebody else-including God-looks like a threat and not a hope. Fearing to give, we grasp ever more tightly. We constantly clamor for our "rights" and cling to the impression that we own our bodies, our money, our ideas, our time, our property, and everything else we can manage to slap our name tag on. But more than anything else, we feel sure that we own ourselves.
John Locke (1632-1704), the English philosopher and political thinker, helped shape this modern mentality, arguing that self-ownership is an incontestable human right:
Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person; this nobody has any right to but himself.
The loss of self-ownership, whether to states or to other people, led to all kinds of abuse in Locke's world. Fears of such abuse are woven into the fabric of many contemporary political and social ideals.
In fact, today it seems offensive, maybe even anti-American to be told that there may be a problem with the idea that we own ourselves. After all, how can we ever downplay the great wickedness of slavery in America's past? Without question, this historical evil that darkens our history makes it almost impossible for us to conceive of the idea of being "owned" or having a "master" as a good thing. But is it possible that lives lived under the impression of self-ownership might actually harm both ourselves and others?
There still remains an underlying problem that can be hard for us to recognize, much less admit. We live under the burden and illusion of self-ownership. Think of commercials that tell women that at forty-five years old they should still look twenty-eight, and if not, it is their fault for not buying the product. Parents are promised their children's future success if they will only purchase the newest educational video and attend every extracurricular sporting activity. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, the reality is that convention, society, and a complex of other competing forces own us. We are owned by our possessions; owned by those around us; owned by people we have never met but who exert incredible power over our lives in some of the most subtle and sinister ways.
So we enter into the myth of self-ownership, and we cannot hear the good news. I will never forget when we lived overseas and I spoke with a British friend about his recent visit to New York City. Discussing his time in the States he said, "Americans are funny, because most of them pride themselves on being free, with everyone living just as they want. Yet, the truth is," he continued, "everywhere in New York I went I saw people wearing uniforms. A child of six years old and a man in his fifties looked the same, each wearing baggy Levi's, a t-shirt, and a ball cap." His point was that their freedom was illusory.
The concept of freedom can be deceptive, and in truth pure self-ownership is impossible and a lie, because we are always owned. The question is not if you will be owned, but to whom will you belong? We are called to choose this day whom we will serve (Josh. 24:14-15). Will you belong to the true Owner or to competing powers? Deep down we sense we are owned and we rage against this, but in the process we end up serving degrading masters rather than the Lord of love.
Embracing God's Ownership as Good News
The great tragedy of this possessive way of thinking about ourselves is that it causes so many to reject the gospel itself, the good news that we are not our own but have been "called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:6, italics added). The gospel tells us that we have been "bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and that God has "set his seal of ownership on us" by his Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22 NIV). "The God of Christians," Blaise Pascal once said, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob ... is a God of love and of consolation: he is a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom he possesses." But when we think of ourselves as our own personal property, it becomes difficult to embrace God's ownership as good news. After all, how can the gospel be "good news" when it calls us to deny the very thing we see as our ultimate possession? If we are ever going to appreciate this liberating truth of belonging to God, we must first be reminded of God's original relation to creation.
God's Gift of Creation
From the nebulae in outer space to our personal savings accounts-God owns everything. As the Dutch statesmen Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) famously put it, "there is not a single inch on the whole terrain of our human existence over which Christ ... does not exclaim, 'Mine'!" As we will see, this expansive view of God's ownership is found not merely in a few obscure passages of Scripture, but it is an ever-present assumption throughout the whole Bible. Fundamental to the reality of God's ownership of all things is the truth that he alone is the Creator of everything that exists.
God Created out of Freedom, Not out of Need
We cannot rightly conceive of the gift of creation until we first recognize that God's creative actions are free. By definition, gifts are unnecessary. God did not have to create. If we are ever to understand the joy and power of human liberty, we must first gain a better appreciation of God's glorious freedom. It is out of divine freedom that God creates-nothing forced his hand.
Creation was not made in order to perfect something lacking in God. As A. W. Tozer reminds us, "To admit the existence of a need in God is to admit incompleteness in the divine Being. Need is a creature-word and cannot be spoken of the Creator. God has a voluntary relation to everything He has made." Acts 17:24-25 confesses this truth:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth ... he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (NIV)
This does not mean that God is distant or unconcerned, but the exact opposite inference is more fitting. The God who did not need to create, who is eternally complete in himself, is the God who does create, who continues to uphold what he created, and who takes a personal interest in each life and molecule of creation.
God Created out of His Triune Love
God's generosity flows out of his love, and thus we must ask a few key questions about his love. Did God need to create in order to experience love? Does God only become loving after he creates, when there is something to love? Actually, no.
Scripture affirms that "God is love" (1 John 4:9, 16). Love is a perfection of God's being, which means it is not something temporary or accidental to him. All of his being is of love. To speak of God apart from his love is to speak of someone other than God.
How, then, is it possible that God loves before there is a creation? Simply put, the God who creates is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God existing in perfect unity and love in a triune manner. Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting on John's comment that "God is love," says it well:
Here we find ourselves before the most dazzling revelation of the source of love, the mystery of the Trinity: in God, one and triune, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the persons of the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, but it is a person; it is the Holy Spirit.
Here Pope Benedict reflects a long Christian tradition, which sometimes spoke of the Father as the Lover, the Son as the Beloved, and the Spirit as the Love between them.
Although analogies between God's love and our love have significant problems, one thing in Scripture is clear: the eternal God is love. Divine and eternal love is then unfolded and directed toward creation from the Father through the Son in the Spirit. God does not need to create in order to experience love, because the triune God exists in love within himself. He creates as an outworking of that eternal love. C. S. Lewis summarizes the point well: "God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that he may love and perfect them." God creates out of the overflow of his eternal triune love, and we were made to enjoy and respond to this very love.
God Created for the Purpose of Celebration
Centuries ago theologians claimed that the end or goal of creation was the glory or celebration of God (Gloria or celebratio Dei). Creation's existence is meant both to bring God glory and enable all his creation to enjoy him. All things were made to reflect and express the Creator's beauty and majesty. Consequently, while creation's primary end is God's glory, the secondary end is humanity's good. "Yahweh's good intention," says Walter Brueggemann, "is a place of fruitfulness, abundance, productivity, extravagance-all terms summed up in the word blessing."
Excerpted from God So Loved, He Gave by Kelly M. Kapic Justin Borger Copyright © 2010 by Kelly M. Kapic. Excerpted by permission.
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