Friday, February 29, 2008

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:1-10

I read another profound piece of work by Jonathan Edwards this week and it illuminated and sharpened my understanding of glorious joy - the joy that is from God, through God and to God. The title of this work, a sermon he preached to his congregation in 1734, is "A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine." I would recommend reading it in it's fact, I would recommend reading it over and over again because the supremacy and glory of God shines in this work but in order to avoid making this post about Edwards and not Jesus I want to weave some of what Edwards argues for in this sermon into a discussion about the text from Psalm 34.

Notice, first of all, that David is praising God and expounding upon his own satisfaction and joy in God. He says that he will "bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord;..." Many of the Psalms are about praising and worshipping, in fact most of them are either about the experience of joy in God or a longing for God, but there is something in particular that should stand out to us in this text. The fact that David calls people to "taste and see that the Lord is good!" How can we obey this call of David's to taste the Lord and to see that He indeed tastes good?

Obviously, David is not literally telling us to taste God with our taste buds. So what does David mean by this statement? We must take him seriously and we must assume that David is calling us to do something that can indeed be done. Thankfully, though we cannot taste God with our tongue, what he is indeed calling us to do is not all that different from eating or drinking.

In his sermon, Jonathan Edwards skillfully shows that there is a supernatural light that God imparts to a person which enables him or her to "sense" God rather than merely being aware of His existence. This light is not the product of simple human intellectual ascent but is the supernatural product of God shining His light into the very soul of a person and awakening them to the reality of God's glory.

Says Edwards of the person experiencing this impartation of light,

"He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness. There is not only a speculative judging that God is gracious, but a sense of how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute."

So Edwards is arguing that rational thought and intellectual ascent do not constitute this "sense" of the glory or beauty of God. There is a difference between believing that God is holy as a matter of fact, and actually sensing (feeling or tasting) His holiness. The same holds true for every single attribute of God. I can believe all the true doctrines of God and never taste or feel the reality of them. I can believe that Jesus is the Son of God; I can believe that He died for sin; I can believe that Jesus rose from death; I can believe all these things with my mind and never taste the glory of the supremacy and beauty of God in them. I can know about God and never know Him intimately in my soul. One verse, in particular helps drive this home for us:

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder!" James 2:19

You see, it is possible to intellectually know and accept facts about God and never feel or sense the goodness of them or more accurately, feel or sense the goodness of God in them. Notice what James tells us regarding a demon's response to the facts that he knows about God - he shudders. We shudder when we are afraid, frustrated, angry and in general don't like what we see or know. This is the sin of unbelief - to not treasure and cherish the God that we know about. Contrast this response to the response spoken of in 1 Peter:

"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:8-9

Do you see it? The people to whom Peter is speaking have the opposite response from that of the demons. Instead of believing and shuddering these saints love Jesus and rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. What is that all about? Why is their response so different from that of the demons? The difference between the demons and the saints is simply that the saints have tasted God and have seen that He is good. They have drunk from His river and experienced the delights of God Himself. Their eyes have been opened and they have seen His glory and they relish in it. The demons shudder at exactly the same sight...because they don't like what they see - even if it is true.

So when David calls us to taste and see that the Lord is good He is simply calling us to true faith - the faith that results in glorious and inexpressible joy. Consider this analogy from Edwards' sermon:

"There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind."

Now we are getting close to what David is speaking of. As Edwards points out here, it is entirely possible to be told that honey is sweet and yet have no idea what it tastes like. I can know, as a matter of fact, that honey is sweet because others have told me that it is and yet not know the sweetness of it. The same is true with God. And David is calling us to actually taste that the Lord is good - not just believe it because he tells us it is so.

So how does one go about tasting and seeing that the Lord is good? I mean, there must be some practical thing we can do to have this experience, right? Well, there is and it relates back to my previous post on the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul says that we have all been "made to drink of one Spirit." The "Spirit" is the Holy Spirit and Paul is using language very similar to that of David in Psalm 34 referring to a drinking of the Spirit. Other allusions to this kind of drinking of the Spirit can be found many places in the Scriptures. For example, in Ephesians 5:18 we are told: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit..." clearly alluding to the fact that rather than drinking wine we should drink of the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 36:8 we are told that saints "feast on the abundance of your [God's] house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights." In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us to eat His body and to drink His blood. We could go on to see a few more verses that deal with this "tasting" of God, but hopefully you see that what David is in fact calling us to do is to experience/sense/feel/know God's goodness and not just infer from the Bible that He is good.

Now, if you remember from my previous post, the Holy Spirit is "God's infinite love to and delight in Himself subsisting in the third person of the Trinity." So the Holy Spirit is God's love for and delight in Himself (Jesus' love for and delight in the Father and the Father's love for and delight in Jesus). So, the river we saw spoken of in Psalm 36 begins to make a lot more sense now. Saints have been given to drink of the "river of God's delights" and this river is none other than the Holy Spirit - or God's love for and delight in Himself existing as the fullness of God in the Holy Spirit. Do you see now what David is saying? Do you see that he is referring to drinking of the Holy Spirit or tasting with our souls the sweetness and goodness of God? This is a supernatural tasting and it is a supernatural partaking of God that only God, in His sovereignty, can provide for us. And He will provide it for us - all we need to do is ask Him.

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13

You see, we cannot force the experience of tasting God and His goodness - we must ask Him for it in humble and reliant prayer. We must desire to taste Him and we must acknowledge our need for Him to give it to us.

There are a few more passages of Scripture I want to look at before we close. The reason we need to look at these is that I don't want you to walk away with simply an abstract idea of "drinking" from a river that you cannot see. I want you to see the grand scheme of this concept and that it relates directly to the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is not simply the pursuit of a feeling or an experience - but a person, Jesus Christ. I want to show that when you drink of the Spirit you will see Him with your heart and you will delight in what you see and you will be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18

So this first text shows two things that we need to consider: 1. That beholding the glory of the Lord is the way that we are transformed into His image 2. That this comes from the Holy Spirit That's right, Paul states emphatically that there is only one kind of transformation that ought to take place in the life of a saint - the change that God brings about as we behold His glory. And this "beholding" of the glory of the Lord can only be brought about by the Holy Spirit. So when we drink of the Holy Spirit and taste God we are beholding His glory and will be transformed into what we behold. But what is the glory of the Lord? What is it we see when we are beholding the glory of the Lord?

"In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." 2 Corinthians 4:4

We are inching closer to the crux of the issue now. When Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers he is preventing them from seeing the glory of the Lord and this glory is the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ. So when we drink of the Spirit we see the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ who is Lord over all. The most profound expression of God's glory can be found in the gospel. It is in the gospel that we see the love, justice, grace, sovereignty, power, mercy and patience of our glorious Lord. It is in the gospel that we see the Son of God dying for unworthy sinners to bring us to God. It is in the gospel that we see that the most important value to God is the glory of God. The Holy Spirit always points us to the glory of God and more specifically to the gospel of the glory of God.

"For God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6

There it is again! There is a seeing which takes place when we drink of the Spirit of God. We see the "glory of God in the face of Christ." In the gospel we see the glory of God and this is what drinking of the Spirit is intended to produce. But we have already shown that many people see the gospel - even demons have seen it, and they shudder. So what kind of seeing is this? Is this merely an issue of intellectual sight or is there more going on here? The key can be found in the Psalm that we started with.

"Those who look to him are radiant..."

There is more to this seeing than simply intellectually grasping facts. There is a beholding (which to me denotes enjoyment, cherishing, awe and delight) here which produces a radiance in the person who looks. This is the radiance that Moses had to hide from the Israelites in Exodus and it is the radiance of those of us who now taste the Lord. When we eat our favorite foods there is a noticeable countenance about our faces that lets those around us know that we are enjoying it. We show our delight in things with facial expressions, verbal cues and body language. This is the radiance that I believe is being spoken of in Psalm 34 and it is the same glorious (or shining) joy that the saints in 1 Peter are experiencing. So there is more than simply seeing the glory of the Lord - there is a beholding and delighting in it in such a way that those around us can see, but more importantly, this radiance shines the glory of God back to God so that He alone is glorified.

But don't forget that the way that God is glorified here is by our delighting in Him and tasting the fullness of God. God is glorified by our delight in Him. God gets glory and we get delight. God is magnified and we are satisfied beyond our wildest dreams.

God shone in our hearts to give us this knowledge by His Holy Spirit Who reveals to us the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ Who is the image of God. We continue to drink of the Holy Spirit to behold the glory of God and to delight in it. So this is both FROM God and it is THROUGH God by His Holy Spirit. Finally, this beholding is BACK TO God by His Holy Spirit filling us with the delight and joy that God has in Himself. We see, behold and delight in God and the joy and delight that we experience shines on our faces for everyone else to see and to radiate back to God who delights in His glories being delighted in. Everything is from God, through God and to God.

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever." Romans 11:36

Oh, that we would all take David seriously and taste the goodness of God Himself. That we would cast ourselves upon His sovereign graces and plead with Him to taste the delights that He has in Himself. Oh, how glorious and good is our God. He desires to share with us the love that He has for Himself and He desires to share with us of Himself in the Holy Spirit. Let us all get on our knees and plead with God for the gift of His Holy Spirit that we may taste and see that the Lord is good - that we may have radiant faces which display our pleasure as we feast on the glory of God. Oh that we would experience glorious joy - a joy that is from God, a joy that is through God, and a joy that is back to God as we reflect His glory back to Him and shine as heavenly lights for all to see that the Lord tastes good!

Blessings to you all!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

How we reflect the triune glory of God

Genesis 1:26-27

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female He created them"

As I was preparing to teach my class this week, I revisited a question I have wrestled with for some time now: when God creates man and woman He clearly states that He creates them in His own image and likeness. He created two people (two genders) to reflect His own image and likeness - meaning a man and a woman display the attributes and an image of who God is. As a Bible-believing, orthodox Christian this is actually a little preplexing because our glorious God is a triune God - one God existing in three united, yet distinct persons. So why would God create only two people to reflect His triune image? Doesn't this sort of leave one of the persons in the Trinity out?

While I was thinking about this it struck me that I had missed something which is there to see for all who have eyes to see. Let me try to explain this by referring back to an essay by my dear friend Jonathan Edwards - this is his attempt at describing the Trinity of God:

"And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God's Infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the Whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct Persons."

Jonathan Edwards, "An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity"

I realize that this begs some explanation so I will humbly attempt to give a quick exposition of what Edwards is trying to say.

God the Father is first in the God-head. This is self-evident in the fact that God the Son is the "begotten" Son of God and in the fact that God the Son submits His own will to the will of God the Father. Now, the Son is described in the Scriptures as the wisdom of God. "...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:24) 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the Son is also the image of God: " keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Furthermore, Philppians 2: 6 says that Jesus is the "form" of God, Colossians 1:15 says that the Son is the "image of the invisible God," and Hebrews 1:3 powerfully states that "Who [Jesus] being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person." All of these verses point to an astounding fact concerning God the Son - He is the understanding and the idea that God the Father has of Himself, the perfect understanding and idea that only a perfect and eternal being could have. This perfect idea and understanding begets the second person of the Trinity; the glorious and eternal Son of God.

So far we see that God the Father begat God the Son and that God the Son is God the Father's perfect idea and understanding of Himself - embodied in a person, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Our verse in Genesis would make perfect sense if this was the end of God and there was no third person in the Trinity. But, thanks be to God, there is a third person - the blessed Holy Spirit of God.

In order to understand the Holy Spirit we must think spiritually and not in a sequential or exclusively human way. We must think God's thoughts after Him and seek His glory and majesty to understand Who the Holy Spirit is and how this relates to our passage in Genesis.

God the Father loves God the Son perfectly and eternally. God the Son loves God the Father perfectly and eternally. The essence of love is delight, enjoyment, passion and eternal admiration. This is the unity that is shared between God the Father and God the Son. They are two distinct persons enjoying a perfect unity of love and delight in each other. Now think with me for a moment about what I just said and see if the Holy Spirit does not appear in the very words that I wrote. Does not the Bible tell us that "God is love?" Does not the Bible say that "if we love one another, God dwells in us?" Does not Psalm 36 speak of God's delight in Himself: "They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink form the river of your delights." This Psalm can easily be misunderstood to be saying that it is the "delightful river" we are given to drink of, but this is errant. It is speaking of God's delights and this same reference to river or water is strewn throughout the entire Bible in references to the Holy Spirit. In Revelation 22 we see the glorious Kingdom of God where between the Father and the Son flows the river of life - there is no other mention of the Holy Spirit in this picture anywhere. We see Jesus, in the Gospel of John, speaking to the woman at the well about water that will well up in her to eternal life. We could go on and on. What the Scriptures are telling us is simply that God the Holy Spirit is the embodiement of God's love to and delight in Himself. This love or "divine essence," which Edwards calls it, breathes forth the third person in the Trinity. The perfect love and delight that God has in Himself, or that is enjoyed between God the Father and God the Son, begets or breathes forth a third and distinct person - the Holy Spirit Who is God.

I hope I did Edwards' explanation at least some justice in what I just wrote. But I am more concerned with you understanding what was just, in fact, said than with my ability exposit the thoughts of Edwards. I said, and I believe that God has said, that God the Father and God the Son exist in a perfect union and relationship of love and delight in each other. This delight in and love for each other is, in fact, the Holy Spirit Himself. Consider also that if this is so, it means that the Holy Spirit is in God the Father because He is the love which the Father has for the Son. As well, the Holy Spirit is in the Son because He is the love which the Son has for the Father. Finally, consider that both God the Father and God the Son are in the Holy Spirit exactly because the Holy Spirit is the essence of both God the Father and God the Son - He is love.

If you still doubt what is being said, consider with me how Jesus explains the unity which He and the Father share and how we are given the gift of partaking in this unity in John 17:

"The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

John 17:22-26

I almost weep just seeing the beauty of what Jesus is saying to us here. He speaks of perfect oneness that He and His Father share - a perfect and eternal oneness that He wants us to taste and have. But if you pay careful attention here you will see that the Holy Spirit is never mentioned in name here - at least not the name by which we know Him. Instead, Jesus speaks of the love the the Father and the Son have for each other and that this love unifies them. Jesus speaks of "knowing" God the Father and this is a clear allusion to the way the term is often used in describing a husband and wife knowing each other intimately. There are references here to the Holy Spirit, to be sure, but the language is that of love and intimacy. And the final proof that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit comes at the end of the passage. Jesus says that He wants the love with which the Father has always loved Him to be in us. And He doesn't stop there - He also says that He wants Himself to be in us. Do you see that Jesus is speaking of the blessed Holy Spirit here? Do you see that there is no distinction between Jesus speaking of the love and delight in each other that He and the Father enjoy, and the Holy Spirit? And do you see that Jesus wants this love (that is, the Holy Spirit) to be in us? Finally, do you see that Jesus wants to be in us and that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit being in us - Romans 8:9 refers to the Holy Spirit as "the Spirit of Christ."

The Holy Spirit is none other "God's infinite love to and delight in Himself" subsisting in the third person of the Trinity. "...because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)

But how does this relate to the question I posed at the beginning? Does this understanding explain why God created two people to reflect His image and not three? Yes it does! It does so because of what God states in Genesis 2:24. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." The Hebrew word for one here is the same word we find in Deuteronomy 6:5 - echad - and it means multiple things coming together to become one. This is the description given to the Israelites of who God is - He is one God, but multiple persons coming together as one. And how do the man and the woman become one? In love to and delight in each other. Through emotional love for each other and through the intimate act of making love they become echad, or one.

The image of the third person in the Trinity is not missing at all, it's right there in front of us for our awe and amazement. The image and likeness of God is complete in the creation of the man and the woman because they love each other and delight in each other. The Holy Spirit is supposed be reflected in the love which is between the man and the woman. Humor me for only one minute more here, please :) Does not Jesus tell us that we cannot see the Spirit but that we can see His effects (a paraphrase of John 3:8)? It is the same with love between a man and a woman. We cannot see love itself, but we can certainly see the effects of it on both the woman and the man. Love leads to unity, delight, peace and joy. Love between a man and a woman makes them both patient, kind to each other, gentle with one another, faithful to each other and it makes them self-controlled when dealing with each other. This is at least what love is supposed to do and it is, in fact, what real and lasting love does to people. If this last list of effects of love sounds familiar to you it's because you have seen it before - in the Bible.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..."

Galatians 5:22-24

The next time you think of how we reflect the glory of God think not only of a man reflecting one part of God and the woman reflecting the rest of Him. Think instead of how the image of God is completed by love flowing between two people and seeing that love as the thing (or person, in the case of God) that unites them. God is three distinct persons existing in a perfect relationship of love and delight - God the Father and God the Son love and delight in each other perfectly and this love and delight is God Himself, the Holy Spirit, the essence of God.

Husbands, love your wives because the image, likeness and glory of God is at stake. Wives, submit to and love your husbands because the image, likeness and glory of God is at stake. What a glorious and majestic God we serve who created us to reflect His glory this way - by loving and delighting, by having joy!