(An Excerpt from The Carpenter and the Cradle, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)
(From Exodus 25:10-22: The Ark of the Covenant; and Matthew 6:9-10: The Lord’s Prayer)
“Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
When the first glimmerings of a Bible study I’m calling The Carpenter and the Cradle gradually began to take shape in my mind, they came to me in two different forms, both (oddly) springing out of the different pieces that made up the furniture or structure of God’s tent.
Along with the idea of condensing the Big Picture of the story of the Bible into a Bible Study where its One Big Theme could be more easily seen, I’d been toying with several smaller themes that seemed to me to be not only integral to this One Big Theme of the Bible (God’s house or the all-relational God), they seemed to me to be themes integral to all of life. I’ll give them to you in the two forms they presented themselves to me. First, seven questions. And second, seven answers. Or seven words that relate to my seven questions (all starting with “S” because I’m just nerdy like that!)
There also happen to be seven articles from God’s tent we’ll be looking at through this series and, surprise, surprise, they connect up to my seven Q & As.
So, here are my seven (ungrammatical, but it’s the way I think) questions about life: 1—Who’s in control? 2—Who or what do I depend on? 3—What makes life worth living? 4—What’s wrong with the world (or with me)? 5—What can be done about what’s wrong with the world/with me? 6—What can I do about what’s wrong with the world/me? And 7—What’s my purpose?
Now, in corresponding order (you can do the matching-up yourself), here are my seven “S”s. (Don’t be intimidated by all the syllables. Their meanings will become clearer as we go along. I had to scramble to find words starting with the same letter, and these are the ones that came to me): Sovereignty, Satisfaction, Shining (or Glory…but it doesn’t start with “S.” Shining is what glory means.), Separation, Sacrifice, Seeking, and Sanctification.
There’s one more “S” word we need to discuss. It’s a word that answers, “What’s wrong with the world?” It’s the word “Self,” and when it’s put in front of my other “S”s to answer my questions, it creates ugly words and very ugly answers to life: Self-sovereignty, Self-satisfaction, Self-shining, Self-seeking, and Self-sanctification.
You must understand what I mean when I use the word Self (with a capital “S.”). In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with being a self, an individual with a unique existence. God Himself has selfhood. But it’s Self with a capital, Self as number one, Self-first, that turns ugly in a hurry.
In other words, it’s Self as our first “S”: Sovereign.
The larger, overarching question that we’ll be exploring by breaking it down into my other seven has got to be, “What is the meaning of life?” And oddly enough, I think it’s the simplest question in the world to answer. I can sum up the meaning of life into just one word: “Relationship.”
I couldn’t come up with a catchy “S” synonym for it, but the first and most basic fact of life and the first and most basic fact of the Creator of life that I hope you took away with you if you read my introductory post on “The Carpenter and the Cradle” is relationship. We talked about God as all-relational. I’ll let you in on a little secret: not only is God all-relational; so were we all created to be. We can’t help it. The need for relationship is embedded deep within our natures. It is their core.
I witnessed that fact as I cared for my mum in the years before her death while she steadily declined with Parkinson’s and dementia. As my mum was nearing her exit, on the other end of life’s spectrum, my first great niece made her entrance. One day, it struck me, watching the two of them interact, that neither had much knowledge about life. My mum had lost most of hers; my great niece’s was just beginning. But if neither one knew a great deal, both were capable of feeling deeply. It was visible. And the feelings that I saw both experience vividly were all about relationship. My mum was fully alive to the joy of loving and being loved. And the same held true for her tiny great-granddaughter. I could see her react to love with love.
But Self (capital “S”) is the ultimate enemy of relationship. Relationship seeks another and another’s best. Love puts another above self. Self seeks to win. The results are devastating to relationship. I’m sure we’ve all seen it.
Now, it’s finally time to tell you what all this has to do with the Ark of Exodus 25. The Ark represented God’s throne. God’s throne speaks of God in control. God rules from His throne. He reigns. He is sovereign. But the question we’re all asked to decide is, “Who’s in control? Of me?” In God’s house, God is on His throne. But each of us is given the opportunity to choose who will sit on the throne of our own lives. This question, “Who’s in control?” determines whose house we live in. The house with the shrine built to Self is a cramped space, big enough to hold only one—although there’s plenty of room for the enormous loneliness that results from the building of that shrine.
God’s house, however, is full of relationship. It’s all about relationship. It is relationship. And that can be no surprise when the Builder is all-relational.