Monday, July 13, 2015

the One who was and is and is to come

Note: in the Exodus text, when God appears to Moses in the burning bush, He refers to Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Later, when Moses asks for God’s Name, the Lord replies with a phrase that could be translated in two possible ways: “I AM WHO I AM” and “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” The Hebrew text suggests both meanings.


Artistic rendering of Moses at the burning bush
by Troy Cady

The One Who Was and Is and Is To Come
by Troy Cady

We spend most of our time living towards the future…planning ahead, predicting what will come next. Why do we do this? I believe it is because God made us to live towards the future; after all, God is there already. Somehow we have a sense of meeting God in the future, even though the future is the one thing we can never catch.

Still, the God of the future draws us out of the present into something we don’t have yet. This is a God who knocks on the door, compelling us to open it. We don’t know what awaits us on the other side. We will only find out if we open the door. When we open the door, there is a God who draws us out, who invites us to join him on an adventure, a God who invites us to wander and wonder with him because, as Tolkien says, “Not all who wander are lost.”

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann refers to this God as the God of Hope. Moltmann has developed a whole theological paradigm around the theme of hope—that’s how powerful it is. Hope is like an experiment, Moltmann says. You can’t tell exactly how it is going to turn out but you’ll never find out if you don’t commit to the experiment.

Hope requires commitment. It takes courage to hope. Hope is risk; hope is faith-with-moxy. Hope is childlike and playful—daring and bold, open to something new.

Hope says, “I don’t know how this is going to turn out but let’s just try it. We’ll never find out if we don’t try.”  

That’s when the doubter asks, “But what if we’re wrong?”
And Hope replies: “Well…God is still God. So we may as well try.”

May as well hope.

The future: hope or fear

The strange thing about the future is that we live towards it but it is also the source of our biggest Fear. Mostly, we fear the Unknown.  

At the end of June, the Supreme Court of the United States reached an important decision and the internet exploded with opinion borne of fear.

But what are we afraid of? If the Supreme Court decides one way, God is still God. If they change their mind next year, God is still God. What are we so afraid of?

I have a confession to make: I’m a professional worrier. “Hello, my name is Troy and I’m an anxious-holic.” Who else is with me? I spend my days oscillating between present contentment and worry about the future. I worry things aren’t going to work out. When they do work out, I’m happy and content. For a while…until I start worrying about the next thing that might not work out.

But Jesus asks worriers like me: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

Do not fear. What are you worried about? What are you afraid of? Give it to God now. God is ahead of us. God is to come. Good is to come.

So, “seek first God’s kingdom,” Jesus says. That is what you can do now. Seek. In fact, seeking is something you can only do now. It’s not something you put off for the future. If you keep putting it off, you’ll never do it. Seek. Do it now.

Jesus says, “Seek and you shall find.”  Pascal wrote there are three kinds of people in the world: the first is the person who does not seek and will not find. The second is the person who seeks but has yet to find. The third is the person who seeks and has found.

I think all of us are, at various times, all three people plus a fourth. Ultimately, I think God is the Primary Seeker and we are the Found. But, because God wants to make us like him, he bids us seek like he does.

The present: abide or hurry

So, how does God seek? That is the key question. Here is how God seeks: God seeks moment-by-moment and he never stops. Jesus used the word “abide” to describe it. God abides and invites us to abide with him the same way he abides with us: moment-by-moment.

Let’s try it. Take a minute now. Pause, truly. Each moment, with each breath, think: God is near, God is here. Now. And now. And now. Try it. Just abide, just seek.

And remember: “In him we live and move and have our being.”

Notice that when we seek like this, we do not hurry. In fact, you can’t hurry and seek at the same time. Seeking is not something you do in 17 seconds. If you’re hurried in your seeking, you’re not truly seeking. Seeking is slow.

And, anyway…why do we need to be in a hurry? All we have is right now and now is never hurried. So don’t worry and don’t hurry; just abide. Just as Jesus rested in his Father, so he invites us to rest in him. Just rest. Just trust. Abide.

The irony is: when we live this way…in the present…we are leaning towards the future. The apostle Paul described seeking as “pressing toward what is ahead.” We do that now, though. Seeking now is how we practice hope for the future. But, we can only do this present-and-future living as we make our peace with the past. Paul says that the flip-side of pressing on toward what is ahead involves forgetting what is behind, specifically all our misguided ways…the mistakes and sins of the past.

The past: redemption or regret

I think living in the present and hoping for the future is hard because we all have regrets that keep us chained to the past. Our regrets pertain to things that have been done to us, or things we have done to ourselves or others. These are things we wish we could change…go back and do differently.

For example, I had a fight with my wife once. Okay…more than once. But this one particular time I said something I wish I could have unsaid. Okay…more than that one particular time.

And there are more regrets, too. For example, I have a friend who needed some help once and I just carried on, ignoring him. I wish I could go back and help him when he needed it. When another friend betrayed me, I harbored resentment. In my youth I nursed lust and in my adulthood I reared envy. I wish I could do some things over again.

The biblical patriarch Jacob had the same experience. When he met his brother Esau after so many years, I suppose he wished he could have done some things over again. I suppose he wished he hadn’t used deception to get God’s blessing. But he couldn’t undo it. He had to come to terms with the truth: that he would always be a wrestler.

We are all Jacob. We all have various deceptions in our past. We all have a history of wrestling with God and others. To live in hope and trust we need to make our peace with the past.

How do we do this? Through forgiveness. Forgiveness is no simple thing, though. Genuine forgiveness is not like a snap of the fingers and…voila…you’re forgiven. No, it’s a process.

Think of the apostle Peter. After he denied Christ, Jesus pronounced forgiveness while hanging on the cross, but it took Peter time to apply that forgiveness to his own life. In fact, the rest of his life was spent coming to terms with the grace of Jesus.

The amazing thing about the grace of God is that it will never run out and it has been there all along. Even in our deceptions, even in our regrets…grace was there, always there.

When God says he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he is saying in part that he is the God of imperfect people who lie and doubt and worry and steal. If he is their God, he is our God. He was there all along, loving, extending patience and hope.

What are your regrets? Bring them to God. He is the God of the past. He was there and he loves you, so bring him your regrets.

Using this labyrinth as a visual aid, pretend you are on the outside and begin walking in your mind’s eye towards the center. Don’t worry, this isn’t a maze. You can’t get lost. It will take you to the center if you just follow the path. Just walk towards the center.

And pretend you are carrying your burden…all the burden of the past. What are you carrying? Pride? Arrogance? Resentment? Fear? Betrayal? Deception? Shame?

Carry it to God. You don’t have to carry it far because you are already in God.

Now, you are at the center. This is holy ground. You are at the heart of God, the burning bush. Just abide. Just rest here. You won’t be burned up. Love and be loved.  Whatever it is you carried here, God knows it. He invites you to leave it with him. Jesus, on the cross, bears that burden.

Now, the burning bush begins to move. God becomes a column of fire, leading the way forward into something unexpected. Imagine you are walking outward from the center now…unburdened, with fresh hope…something uncertain but good. You don’t know the whole way; the road will twist and turn, but you know the final destination is good. Hope, follow…

What hopes do you carry? What courage will you need?

God remakes all things

What we have made cannot be unmade but it can be remade…by God. That is what God is doing. That is what he has been doing and that is what he will keep doing: remaking all things. He is the God of the past, present and future.

He is remaking the past in the present so that in the future all things will be made new. He remakes the past by forgiveness and grace. He remakes the present by abiding, resting and seeking to love and be loved by us. And he remakes the future by hoping, inviting us to hope with him for a day when there will be no more sadness or pain. The old has gone, the new has come.

So let us worship, know and follow the God Moses met in the burning bush: the God of our ancestors, the I AM and the I WILL BE. The God of the past, present and future. The One who was and is and is to come.



Anonymous said...

Jeez that was profound. I needed to read that. I stopped for a minute to abide like you said and it was great. The Lord touched my heart. Thanks for a timely, encouraging word. Love you guys, Victoria (Stembokas/Davis)

Troy said...

So glad to hear this spoke to you, Victoria. Miss you!