Running Theological Thoughts: Habakkuk 1:5-11

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Introduction: In my first post, I introduced the book of Habakkuk, and meditated on the first four verses.

The Lord’s Answer

5 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
9 They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!”

Observations: In these verses, YHWH responds to Habakkuk’s complaint about Israel’s abnegation of justice and persecution of the righteous with a surprising solution: use a pagan, idolatrous evil nation to judge the righteousness of Judah. YHWH says it himself that this is an extraordinary work, one that is unbelievable. He goes on to describe the kind of nation the Chaldeans are: In summary: hasty, evil, ravenous, violent, and idolatrous. They are a vice-filled nation yet, God raises them up for his purpose of bringing justice on the unjust in Judah.

Theological Comments:

The first thing we must note about this passage is that God is revealing what he is going to do to Judah in response to Habakkuk’s plea for justice. Habakkuk is given a peek into the hidden providence and orchestration of God’s will. God uses nations to bring judgment on other nations. For Israel, this was not for the destruction, but for their discipline. In God’s covenant with Israel, he gave clear direction on what would happen if Israel broke covenant with him (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28). To modern eyes, the judgment and the instrument of his judgment may seem harsh, but we must not forget that basically from Israel’s creation out of Egypt they had been in constant rebellion. God graciously forgave them, gave them instructions on how to live with a Holy God and how to live holy with the holy God (the law). Even still, they rebelled and sinned against God. In his response, God shows that he is not looking idly on the sin of Judah, but preparing their judgment.

A question arises in this passage: should we seek to interpret the movement of nations and wars as God’s judgment? I would suggest that the context of this passage leads us to a negative answer. First, we must remember that Habakkuk is a prophet. He has a particular vocation to speak the Word of God to Israel for a specific purpose. Second, God gives Habakkuk insight into his otherwise hidden providential ordering of the world for a specific purpose: to show that God will bring judgment on Israel’s sins. This is a specific revelation of God’s work in the world. In other words, That God uses other nations to judge the sin can be deduced from this passage, how and why and who must be left to God and is not open to human knowledge.

More significant and central to this passage we see that God uses evil and wicked people to bring about his end goal. We can trust God, in the midst of the chaos of the world, that he will bring about his good purposes, and that his purpose is good because he is good. This is not something that is always easy to swallow. As we will see in the rest of the book, the righteous must wait and live by faith.

And yet, there is something deeper revealed here, in light of the whole story of scripture. God uses an unbelievable and indescribable evil to bring about the judgment of evil and the vindication of the righteous, and this signifies the incredible work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God used the epitome and sign of death, torture, and evil: the cross, to accomplish his judgment of sin and the salvation of all those who believe in the one who died.

Yet, unlike the Chaldeans, Jesus is the loving and patient savior, who came to earth in humility and weakness, taking no place for his home. He was mocked and despised and looked to his Father for justice and vindication. He walked in humility, he was slow to anger, and continually had his face turned to his Father. In his death gathered the captives of sin and freed them for true life in the new creation. As the true king of the world, he reigns in justice and humility, with no need to prove himself he does not scoff at rulers but judges in true justice and save. He conquers the fortress of the Evil one not with might or pride but through humility and death. He is the innocent one who dies for the guilty. He is the God-Man who, after his glorious resurrection we call “my Lord and God” (John 20:28). Jesus in his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension brings God’s judgment and healing mercy to the world. Jesus comes most surprisingly and reveals the judgment and mercy of God on the most unlikely of Thrones: the Cross.

Jesus is both the righteous one who is surrounded by the wicked (1:4) and God’s judgment on the wicked and the vindication of the righteous (5-11). Unlike the Chaldeans, he brings justice perfectly and mercy more abundantly for all who put their faith in him.

From this passage, we can see that God really cares about bringing justice to the oppressed and judging evil and sin. We also see that he uses surprising means to bring that judgment about: The most surprising way is Jesus Christ.

Running Theological Thoughts on Scripture: Habakkuk Chapter 1:1-4

 

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Introduction:

Good Christian theology is based on excellent and faithful exegesis. As a pastor-theologian my vocation is deeply bound up with the exegeting, interpreting and applying of Holy Scripture. My own inclination in thinking, writing, etc., is to look at the big picture of Scripture and think about how it all relates to God and his works. However, the source of theology is the divine revelation of Scripture, so to do theology well I must be a good exegete.

Being a good exegete requires that I am sensitive to two realities: the literal meaning of the text, what we will call the horizontal meaning. And what the text communicates about who God is, what he is like, and what he calls humans to do, what I will call the vertical meaning of the text (for more on this consider reading Participatory Exegesis by Matthew Levering). In this series, I will offer some theological readings of specific books of Scripture in a running commentary with an eye on the axis of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of good exegesis. To begin this series I turn to a minor prophet, Habakkuk, to discover what the book is about and how it speaks about God, Christ, and humanity.

Instead of offering a detailed introduction to the book of Habakkuk, I suggest you watch this video, made by the brilliant people over at The Bible Project.

It is important to note the time of the prophecies of Habakkuk: Around 626-586 B.C. Israel was divided into two Kingdoms, the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. In 722 BC the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria. Between 626 and 586 BC The southern Kingdom was slowly conquered and brought into exile. The final destruction of Judah and the Temple came in 586 B.C.

The structure of the book, as we saw in the video, is made up of three basic sections: section 1: A dialogue between Habakkuk and YHWH (1:1-2:1); section 2: YHWH’s 2nd response and judgment on the Chaldeans (2:2-22); and section 3: A Psalm of God’s deliverance (3:1-19).

In this first post, I discuss Habakkuk’s first complaint.

Habakkuk 1:1-4: Habakkuk’s first complaint:

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.

Verse 1:

Observations:

We know nothing about the prophet Habakkuk, expect that he is a prophet. One who the Holy Spirit has called, set apart, and ordered to hear and proclaim the Word of God. This is no lite calling, we need only look at other prophetic callings to see that (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-2). As a prophet,  not only does Habakkuk speak the Word of God to the people, but he speaks to God for his people; for the righteous (see 1.4;13; 2:4). As a prophet of God, he mediates between God and humanity. As a prophet, he puts to voice the complaint of the righteous and confesses the sins of those who have rebelled against God. As a prophet, he speaks of God’s judgment and deliverance. Habakkuk speaks only what he sees. Everything in the book of Habakkuk is something that the prophet “saw” (v 1). This presents to the reader the fact that Habakkuk did not simply make this stuff up, his complaints, the vision of woes, and the deliverance of God are all things he perceives and proclaims from God.

Theological Comments:

Habakkuk’s ministry as a prophet signifies several things about God and the economy of Salvation. First, the Lord God reveals God to humanity. We cannot gain access to who God is and what he does expect through God’s revealing of God.  Second, The office of prophet as one who reveals and mediates points us to Jesus Christ. He is the true prophet who is the very Word of God and the true human who reveals God to humanity and reconciles humanity to God through his infinite life in his death and resurrection. Thirdly, Habakkuk’s receptivity as a prophet, being one who sees, reminds us of the way that Jesus Christ, in the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-9), did only that which he saw the Father was doing (see John 5:18-20). As the Son of God Jesus is equal to the Father, even as he is eternally from the Father, yet, in the form of a servant, he receives and does the will of the Father (which is the will of the triune God). Finally, Habakkuk’s role as a prophet, as one who receives and speaks what he hears, points to the Christian’s vocation as one who witnesses to who God is and what God does.  Christians are called to be witnesses who hear and receive and speak only what they receive and hear from the Triune God.

Verse 2-4:

Observations:

Habakkuk’s complaint opens by calling on YHWH. In using the covenant name of God the whole of who the Lord is and what he has done for Israel is set before the reader. YHWH is the One who rescued Israel from slavery and death, brought them through the Red Sea, made a covenant with Israel. YHWH is the One God who has patiently guided Israel as a rebellious child for hundreds of years.

He is the God who Israel has cried to again and again with the same kind of cry that Habakkuk utters: “how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” In these verses, Habakkuk asks three questions as the prophet of God about the injustice and evil in the people of Judah (v 2-3). Judah has wrought violence and iniquity, and all God has done, according to Habakkuk is the look on idly. Judah is in a state of chaos; they are in a state of continual abnegation and perversion of justice, disobedience to the law, and the persecution of the righteous (v 4).

When we consider the canon of Scripture we can see that Judah is in a state of chaos and rebellion much like the time of the Judges. Yet, there remains a righteous contingent who are being oppressed by the wicked. It is on behalf of these righteous few that Habakkuk calls out to God. There is such an overwhelming force of evil that prevents the righteous from following the law (it “is paralyzed”) and doing justice (it is perverted and does not go forth). We will have more to say about the righteous in another blog post. We can gather from this verse that the righteous are those who are persecuted and seek God in the midst of abundant evil.

The mention of the righteous in the midst of evil brings to mind people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. People who God had chosen to show forth his goodness and glory in the midst of the chaos and rebellion of the World. These righteous people are made righteous by their faith in God. In submitting to God’s goodness and plan they join in his work of redemption and salvation.

Yet, the life of the righteous is not an easy one, because they seek the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdom of the earth, in the midst of the world of chaos and evil. This chaos is found on two levels: The world and Habakkuk’s own people. Habakkuk’s cries out as one of the righteous men who deeply desires to see God bring his justice, goodness, and holiness to bear upon the evil in the world (see chapter 2). In these verses, Habakkuk also cries out on behalf of the righteous for God to deliver them from the evil surrounding them in Judah.

Theological Comments:

In these first few verses, we can see that God is patient with those who are sinful and unjust. He is not quick in his wrath towards injustice. He is patient and waits to the point where the righteous feel as if the injustice and evil have won and overwhelmed the day. God’s patience is not like our patience which quickly wanes thin; he knows his purposes and the end for which he intends his plans to go, the ultimate end and purpose being communion with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

These verses reveal that in this world the righteous suffer as they wait for God. This reminds me of Augustine’s concept of the City of Man and the City of God. Those who are of the City of God are on a long pilgrimage to the heavenly city where justice will reign, and the righteous will shine like the noon-day Sun. On this pilgrimage, the City of God and Man are mingled, and those in the City of God walk alongside the city of man. They suffer in the world, in the church, and in their own hearts.

God uses these trials, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make us like his Son. The eternal Son of God, the truly righteous one, the true prophet and mediator between God and humanity Jesus Christ. In these verses in Habakkuk, we see Jesus Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection as the righteous one surrounded by the wicked. But he was not swallowed by it. Though justice was perverted in the death of Christ – he died as a guilty man though he was innocent – and the law used by the evil one to bring forth more injustice (see Rom. 7 and Galatians 3); God in Christ destroyed death, Sin and the Devil and brought true justice in his death and resurrection.

Those who are in Christ, though they are surrounded by the wicked and unjust, pray for God to bring about his justice just as he did in the unexpected and new-creation resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cry out to our Covenant Lord, Yahweh who, though patient, is not idle, and though quiet is always at work in bringing about his plan for the good of his people.

In our next post, we will see how God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint.

 

Theological Thoughts on Ecclesiastes 5:2: Let your Words be Few

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Ecclesiastes 5:2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Talk about God is so blithely thrown around in church and the broader culture, that this verse and its warning seems almost impossible to abide. In the wider culture, the forces of secularity have reduced talk about God to a sarcastic joke, meme, or worse. In the church, we suffer from speaking too much, or too poorly about God, much like our culture we’ve lost our ability to speak of God without catchphrases or cliches.

In this verse, the preacher of Ecclesiastes warns his readers of two things, gives them two reasons for this warning, and concludes with the result of listening to this warning. He urges his readers to not be rash or hasty in uttering a word, either externally (mouth), or internally (internally) about God. Why? 1) because all our words are ‘before God’and 2) ‘God is in heaven and you are on earth.’ For these reasons, our words should be few.

This verse reorients humanity’s pride and arrogance (rash and hasty) to a proper understanding of who we are in light of God’s infinite majesty and creative saving power. What do the two statements about tell us about God?

God is present everywhere and knows everything. God’s omnipresence and omniscience remind us of the utter difference between God and humanity. God is the creator, and we are creatures. The triune God is the creating and sustaining God. To say anything before God, externally or internally, is to stand before the one who made you out of nothing, and who continues to sustain your existence.

In Christian theology, the creation and providential sustaining is the undivided work of the Trinity, but it is often described as the work of each Person, for example, the Father creates, the Son sustains. We see this reality testified to by Paul: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16). The Word of God, the Son of God, incarnate in the Virgin Mary, and maintaining the world in all its contingent reality, is the one in whom and through whom our existence is preserved and brought to its proper end: the vision of God. 

The difference between God and his creation is reinforced by the next clause: “For God is in heaven and you are on earth.” Heaven is the location of God’s reign, rule, and authority. Despite human sin and rebellion, we do not thwart God’s authority, power, and rule by our ineffective and destructive loquaciousness. God’s Word does not return void in the battle for his creation.

Our foolish speech is silenced, redeemed and reordered by the one who is from heaven and has come to earth: the Eternal Word of God who became incarnate. Our prideful ramblings are made quiet in the face of the one who in himself is the eternally Spoken Word, reveals in humility, both in the cry of a baby and the cry of a dying man.

In Christ, knowledge of who God is, who we are, and how we are to speak of God rightly, is revealed, as Paul said, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).  In the mission of the Son, the eternal Word of God silences our pride and hasty words and orders them towards God. How? By revealing himself in the flesh, taking our pride and arrogance to judgment and death, rising victorious and true, and sending his Spirit to teach us to think and speak rightly of God. The Holy Spirit takes Christ’s humility (Romans 12:1-2; Phil 2:5-11) and gives it to those who trust in Jesus, confess him as Lord and are baptized into his death.

It is because of Jesus that our words are “few” and not silenced entirely. For the immensity of God, both as he is in himself and God against sin leads us to baffled silence. We observe this in Job’s confession at the end of God’s speech in Job 42:2-6

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

But, when God unites us to himself in Christ his immensity, infinity, and plentitude, leads to the fear and knowledge of God which begins to order our minds and hearts rightly. In light of the mission of the Son and Spirit for our salvation, we slowly become wise as we confess that all things are from God and ordered towards him.

In comparison to the infinite Word of God, redeemed and sanctified talk of God, submitted to the continued mortification and vivification of the Spirit, is minuscule in proportion, and yet it is still invited and encouraged. “Let your words be few.” We were created and redeemed to know God and his Son through the power of the Holy Spirit: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

The church is called to witness to the God who is in heaven, who is in control and who in his infinite love sent the Son and Word of God to save the world. To do this in step with the Spirit, our minds – our intellect, emotions, and wills – must be aligned to Jesus Christ. We must allow the Holy Spirit to order our thoughts, our desires, our wills toward God. We must desire what is truly good and keep our minds on what is truly beautiful and long for what is truly true: we must desire the Triune God of Grace. “Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). When we delight ourselves in the Lord, we discover that he is the deepest desires of our hearts. 

Jesus as the Greater Jonah: Mark 4:35-41

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Introduction: 

While I was preparing my sermon for this past Sunday, I noticed that some commentators perceived some parallels between this pericope of Scripture and Jonah. I want to follow this thought up, but I don’t have space for it in my sermon.

In my sermon, I show that in Mark 4:35-41 Jesus reveals himself as the Creator and Savior of unbelieving disciples. In this reflection, my goal is to first note the connections between the Jonah story and the calming of the sea – both parallels and contrasts – and then ask how these connections help further our understanding of Jesus revealing himself as Creator and Savior. Additionally, I will consider how Jonah as a type of Christ calls us to read the calming of the Sea as a figure of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Passages of Scripture:

Jonah 1:

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil[a] has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard[b] to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
17 [c] And the Lord appointed[d] a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Mark 4:35-41
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The Call:

To begin, note that God called Jonah to be a prophet of Israel to Nineveh. In its original context, Jonah is understood as representative of how Israel was supposed to be a witness to the whole world. Israel was called to be a witness to the world of Yahweh and his mighty deeds. Jonah’s flight from God and his mission signifies Israel’s rejection of God and his call on them.

Jesus too was commissioned by God as a prophet – first to Israel and then the world – but unlike Jonah, Jesus does not flee the presence of God. He is, in fact, the very presence of God in the unbelieving world. Jesus does what Jonah refused to do, he obeys God. In this way, we see that Jesus figures how Israel was supposed to be; he recapitulates Israel’s faithlessness with his faithfulness.

The Storm: 

Jonah flees God, but God’s presence is not so easily escaped. The fact that Jonah thought he could flee God’s presence shows how limited his understanding of God was. The boat is caught in a great storm, and while the crew fights for their lives, Jonah is asleep in the boat. Sleep, in Scripture, often figures death. It is possible that this points to Jonah’s own spiritual deadness, or foreshadows what is about to happen to him. The crew wakes Jonah up so that he can call upon his God for help. As the narrative continues we see that Jonah realizes that the crew will die because of his unfaithfulness, he eventually convinces them to cast him into the sea, and they do. The storm calms, and the pagan gentiles worship the God of Israel in fear and thankfulness. The irony should not be missed, that even as Jonah flees his mission, God uses his waywardness to bring sinners to repentance.

In Mark 4 we see Jesus asleep through the storm, just like Jonah. But his sleep was not one of spiritual deadness or avoidance of God, rather it was one of quiet presence. Jonah didn’t escape the presence of God, and neither had the disciples been abandoned by God. Jesus was asleep in the boat,  and the disciples come to Jesus in fear, just as the crew came to Jonah. However, the disciples did not look for salvation or even a prayer from Jesus, they merely wanted help. Despite their unbelief, Jesus causes the storm to immediately cease. The unbelief of the disciples is turned into fear, much like the fear of the crew on Jonah’s boat. For both crews, the fear was provoked by a unilateral revelation of God and his power. But unlike Jonah’s crew, the disciples do not worship God, they still do not understand who he is. If Jesus is the true Israel, the disciples represent Isreal in its disbelief and spiritual deadness. They, like Jonah, did not really know who the Lord God of Isreal was.

When we read these two stories together, we see Jesus fulfilling the ministry that Jonah and Israel, was called to, i.e., to be witnesses of Yahweh. But more than that we see that someone greater than Jonah has come, God, himself, has come to save the world. This salvation is demonstrated by Jesus saving his unbelieving disciples, which signify unbelieving Isreal and the world. In the end, Jesus is the greater Jonah.

The Two Sleeper’s Death?   

The fact that both Jonah and Jesus slept during the storm should cause us to pause. For Jonah, his sleep shows his lack of spiritual sensitivity – his spiritual deadness- to God’s presence and his providential judgment on his flight. This sleep is continued in his descent into the turbulent waters where he spent three days in the belly of a great fish. Traditionally, this has been understood as a kind of death. It is only after dying and rising that Jonah completes his mission from God. In its context, Jonah’s death points to the death of exile that Isreal experienced as God’s judgment for their unfaithfulness.

Is it possible that Jesus’ sleep, read in light of Jonah’s sleep-death further fills out the revelation of his Lordship as creator and savior? I suggest that the parallel between the two sleepers leads us to see Jesus’s sleep as a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection, where he ultimately saves the whole world from death and disbelief. If Jesus’s sleep points to his death and resurrection, it follows that this passage shows us that Jesus’s work of salvation is ultimately grounded in his death and resurrection. It is because of his death and resurrection that he saves and delivers those who call upon him even in their disbelief and fear.

Conclusion: 

Whether this is a helpful, fair, or good reading of the Calming of the Sea is up for debate. However, I do think it helps to highlight the depth of this event as something more than just a fancy miracle, but as a theophany of God’s whole plan of Salvation: The Creator and Redeemer saves the ungodly. Reading it in light of Jonah’s sleep/death can help us see the depth of the revelation: that it is only in the death of Jesus Christ that the fullness of salvation is brought to bear upon the ungodly.

 

 

 

The Cruciform Mission of the Holy Spirit

It is tempting, in a world silently influenced by the philosophical idealism of Hegel, to disconnect the person and work of the Holy Spirit from the economy of salvation and from Jesus Christ himself. The idea of the Holy Spirit as the World Spirit, or the Spirit in every person, is distinctly unchristian. Often it is less noticeable than this kind of language, and used to justify progressive theological moves, “God is doing a new thing.” Though ironically, I’ve heard the same passage used in charismatic contexts in reaction to progressive movements. A natural reaction could be to order our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit to conversion and illumination of the Scriptures, two things the Spirit definitely does; avoiding all talk of prophetic gifts or otherwise. However, this would be an overreaction. The real issues at hand is an unbalanced theological apprehension of the connection between the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. I propose that the work of the Holy Spirit must be understood as making Christ’s person, life, and redemption present in us, which includes the whole spectrum of gifts expressed in the Scriptures. In other words, the Spirit blows as wind, but the wind is Christ-formed. To see this, I want to briefly examine several scripture passages that specifically use the image of wind for the Spirit, to show how the Holy Spirit’s work is intrinsically connected to Christ. In what follows I will make a few exegetical observations that suggest the warrant of my thesis, consider what the gift of the Holy Spirit means in light of its Christo-formic structure, and then consider the objection that this leads to a diminishment of the Holy Spirit’s person and work.

 

Let’s first turn to Genesis 1:1-3 where we see the Spirit, of God, or the wind/breath of God hovering over the chaotic waters. The triune God creates the world and orders it in goodness. John 1:1-3, which draws its logic from Genesis 1:1-3 says that the Word of God was with God and was God and all things were made through him. These passages read together help us see that The Spirit of God orders creation Christologically. If all things are made through him and for him and all things together in him, then the Creator Spirit does not just give new life willy-nilly, he gives it in the form and shape of the Son of God, the Word of God.

Passing over the creation of humanity, another place where we see divine wind at work is in Ezekiel 37:9-14: the valley of dry bones. In this vision, Ezekiel prophesizes to the four winds, and the breath enters an army of dry bounds resituating them. The Spirit (vs. 14) brings these bones to life, reviving the dead. This vision of the resuscitation of dead Israel turns our theological imaginations to the second Adam, Jesus Christ. He is Israel, and all of humanity, recapitulated, who the Spirit of God raised from the dead (Rom. 8:11). The resuscitation of Ezekiel 37 is fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is raised by the Spirit of Life, who is the Holy Spirit.

Our theme continues in John 3:8. This verse, I would suggest, does not imply a flighty, or unknown movement, but instead, the movement of the Spirit with a most definite telos: communion with God, which can only come about by being born again in the death and resurrection of Christ through the Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Still, the focus of life in the Spirit is its Christo-formed means and goal.

The mighty rushing wind of the Spirit at Pentecost surprised the early church, not because it was a new thing, but because of their slowness of heart and insensitivity to what the Spirit spoke of through the prophets. It took Peter proclaiming the word of Scripture to open the eyes of the Jewish people present in Jerusalem to see what the filling of the Holy Spirit meant. It was not some new thing unexpected, it was simply not seen; for it was expected by the prophet Joel and promised by Jesus. And significantly, the focus of Peter’s sermon is not the speaking in tongues or the experience of the Holy Spirit, but the fact that Jesus Christ w sent the Holy Spirit after his ascension so that his church could proclaim the gospel in word and in deed. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The receiving of the Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of salvation in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:13-14), and the way of new life in the new creation, the life in Christ (Romans 8:1-2).

Thus, the blowing of the wind metaphor must be read in light of the work of Jesus and the fulfillment of the vision of the new creation. It should not be used to justify the subjective feelings of or directions of a body of people, conservative, or liberal.

What of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are they not a new thing, something that brings new revelation and power? Perhaps it is better to speak of the Gift of the Holy Spirit; the gift of himself, which is also the gift of Christ in us. This is not to exclude the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but to properly order it to the primacy of Jesus Christ. In John, the gift of the Holy Spirit is not spoken of in terms of charismatic experience, but rather of indwelling, abiding, and sanctifying (see John 14-16). Further, the fruit of the Spirit are fruit of Christ’s life (Galatians 5:22-24) given to us in through the Spirit. Living in the Spirit means belonging to Christ in the form of his crucifixion and resurrection. In other words, the gift of the Holy Spirit is Christ whole life, and what follows is the sanctifying work of making us like Christ. The Holy Spirit is, after all, the Giver of Life, and who is life but Jesus Christ?

 

But, some may object that I am simply conflating the Holy Spirit with Jesus. Doesn’t the Holy Spirit need his own person and personality? Simply put, no, he doesn’t. This is a gross anthropomorphism and projection of human personality into the triune God. In saying this, I do not deny the unique personhood, properly understood as subsisting relation, of the third person of the Trinity. Instead, I am arguing that the Spirit’s mission is intrinsically related to the Son’s. The Spirit is sent to form the body of Christ and sanctify believers.

Will we not simply forget the Holy Spirit again if we don’t articulate particular roles for him? No, again. I would propose that church ignores the Spirit, not because he doesn’t have enough to do, but because we don’t like the nitty-gritty work he does: repentance, obedience, and profound transformation into the image of Christ. Again, conforming us to the image of Christ.

Finally, someone might ask, what about the prophetic gifts of the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t the Spirit speak to us for the upbuilding of the church, and doesn’t this entail “a new thing”? Here I say yes and no. First, The freedom of the Spirit is the freedom of cruciformity. It is true that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17), but the Lord in this sentence is Jesus Christ! (Note that the Spirit is also called Lord in this verse, affirming his distinct divinity as well). Freedom in the Spirit looks like Jesus in the Garden saying, “Not my will but yours be done” (Mar 14:36). The freedom of the Spirit is freedom from Sin, not freedom from inhibitions. Second, if you express your gift in a way that rebels against the Scriptures and the authorities over you, check yourself. All prophetic gifts must be practiced with a holy hesitancy only proper to the gift given. Further, the gift of prophecy must be submitted to a life of continual conversion and discipline. The Spirit is the Lord and giver of Life, and the life he gives is Jesus’s life, so we should practice this gift with discipline and rigor, perhaps with the same rigor of the Old Testament prophets (look at Ezekiel 1-6). Prophetic ministry is not a gift for hippy Christianity.

There are many other aspects of the Holy Spirit that I have not touched on, especially healing, and the illumination of Scripture for believers. But I will leave it there for now. In summary: The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus’s life to conform us to his image to the glory of the Father.