And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens. (Matt. 18:2-3)
By the time we reach adulthood, asking “why?” has been beaten out of us, either by intent or by circumstance. But of all the characteristics of children, this insatiable questioning forms the basis of entering into the kingdom of God. Why? Look at Isaiah’s prescription of entering God’s favor:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
This is the beginning of the created relationship between creature and Creator, learner and teacher.
In The Beginning
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” THE important fact of this whole story of the creation is found in the account of the temptation of Eve by the Serpent. The temptation to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is a non-trivial matter, it strikes at the heart of what it means to be created in the image of God. In this temptation we come to understand what it means for the Creator to be our God and what it means to be a creature.
The account begins with the statement:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die. (Gen. 2:16-17)
The usual answer is “man died because they disobeyed God.” But there is something more profound here than a wrath filled God dishing out just rewards. If God had said “in the day you step off this cliff you will die,” we would merely observe, “gravity.” At stake is a law just as fundamental as the law of gravity. The serpent’s temptation was not about gaining the knowledge of good and evil. Man had access to this before eating the fruit. Rather the temptation was about becoming Gods in our own eyes.
The profound, non-trivial, fundamental law at issue in this temptation is two fold: (a) our dialogic relationship with God is the only source of experientially knowing good, and (b) without this experiential knowledge we can’t be living beings. When man yielded to the serpent, they turned away from hearing God as the source of knowing good. All else is evil. When they listened to the serpent, they attempted to become Gods in their own eyes, they became their own source of knowing good, which will not support their created condition of living beings. They “stepped off the cliff” and they died.
This is the pit man is in. We don’t know what is good. Without this knowledge, we can’t be righteous, we can’t be living beings. Our own wisdom, our own sense of what is right, cannot make us alive. On the strength of that wisdom and that righteousness, we cannot climb out of the pit. The walls give way beneath our feet and we are back at the bottom.
It is in this scene of trying to climb out of the pit that we need to hear what the Psalmist states:
Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen. I will be exalted in all the earth. (Psalms 46:10)
BE still, stop struggling. BE STILL, stop telling yourself what is good. BE STILL, STOP being your own God.
Much of Christendom’s approach is, and has been, to proffer a solution that gaurantees you a comfortable “pit experience.” George Fox’s thumbnail sketch of the gospel given him to preach, “Christ is come to teach his people himself,” is a message to people in the pit showing the way out. How are we to escape when we can’t climb the walls? How are we to become living beings? Christ is come to teach you. He is the teacher of righteousness, whose teaching comes with the power to obey. He is the teacher, whose words are the creational breath that makes man living beings. He is the Creator, the Word made flesh to dwell among us.
What does it mean to have the Creator as our God?
George Fox wrote:
So here were three states and three teachers. God was the first teacher in paradise; and whilst man kept under his teaching, he was happy. The serpent was the second teacher; and when man followed his teaching he fell into misery, into the fall from the image of God, righteousness, and holiness, and from the power that he had over all that God had made; and came under the serpent whom he had power over before. Christ Jesus was the third teacher; of whom God saith, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him:’ and who himself saith, ‘Learn of me (i.e. learn from me).’ This is the true gospel-teacher, who bruises the head of the serpent the false teacher, and the head of all false teachers and false religions, false ways, false worships, and false churches. Christ, who said, ‘Learn of me,’ and of whom the Father said, ‘Hear ye him,’ said, ‘I am the way to God, I am the truth, I am the life, and the true light.’ So as man and woman come to God, and are renewed up into his image, righteousness, and holiness by Christ, thereby they come into the paradise of God, the state which man was in before he fell; and into a higher state than that, to sit down in Christ who never fell. Therefore, the Son of God is to be heard in all things, who is the Saviour and the Redeemer; who hath laid down his life, and bought his sheep with his precious blood. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p. 144)
The first and foremost effect of the one and only true God being your God is living in this inward, direct teaching. All else flows from here. Living in his teaching is your source of life, your source of holiness within and your source of righteous behavior outwardly. Most of Christendom looks to scripture to provide the necessary rules and regulations for living a life pleasing to God, yet from the beginning God’s mandated order is to be received from this teacher/disciple relationship. God’s first commandment to the newly freed Israelites was:
Now therefore, if you will hear/obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people… (Exodus 19:5)
And to echo that command, Moses reminded the people saying,
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God shall man live. (Deut. 8:3)
This refrain, “hear/obey my voice” runs throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. The seriousness of this refrain can be found in Isaiah’s account of the despised, unesteemed Messiah (Isaiah 53).
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
This is the picture of sheep without a shepherd, of humanity without the living God. In turning from the living God, mankind creates a pantheon of other gods–stones, trees, religious institutions, states, and themselves above all else. This is the iniquity of us all that is laid upon the Messiah.
Why “hear my voice?” Why not “these are the statutes of the law, the commandments, do them?” The law does not work on the inside, on the heart. No one is made alive by outward conformity to the law of Moses, the rituals and prescriptions of Christianity, or any other law. Jesus said,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:24-25)
Paul said that the letter (or the law) kills, the spirit gives life. (See 2 Cor. 3:6) Jesus said “the spirit gives life” and he then proceeded to define “spirit”: “the words I speak to you, these are spirit, these are life.” (See John 6:63)
These passages give a glimpse of what might be called the fundamental theorem of our being. In my next post I will look at how that fundamental theorem operates, or in other words what it means to be a creature.