The Search

An excerpt from LOOK AROUND! Ten Observations That Lead to One Conclusion.

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Are you an observer? Do you sometimes find yourself in public places just watching people? Do you sit and wonder what their lives are like, trying to imagine each individual’s unique experiences?

If you answered, “Yes,” I’m with you.

Sometimes, when I’m in a crowd, I’m overwhelmed by the realization of all the billions of “Me”s there are out there. I may subconsciously view myself as the centre of my universe and the most important person on earth, but I’m sometimes shaken out of that view by the startling reminder that all the vast array of people surrounding me are all equally the most important persons on earth, all running their own personal, little universes and leading lives that are just as central to them as mine is to me. I try to imagine what those lives are like, but even more mysterious, I wonder what goes on inside all those heads bobbing by. What are they thinking about?

Ideas interest me. I’m always fascinated to listen and learn how other people think. It doesn’t take a whole lot of listening and learning to come to a realization that is just as mind-blowing as the one where I have to acknowledge that I might not objectively be the most important person on earth. When I finally get that tiny glimpse inside other people’s minds, I learn the tragic and shattering truth that not everyone thinks like I do. We all think very differently. We all have different perspectives, different perceptions.

Recognizing this reality has led many to the conclusion, “There is no absolute truth.”

Now, on the face of it, it’s a nonsense statement. “There is no absolute truth,” is an absolute statement. It must be either true or false. If it’s true, that would make it a statement of absolute truth, stating that there is no absolute truth. As it’s stated, it self-contradicts, so logically, it must be a false statement.

But when people make statements like, “There is no absolute truth,” they may really mean something like, “We can’t absolutely know the truth,” or “No one knows the truth about everything.” And that’s certainly true! If we all see things differently, how could we know who’s right and who’s wrong? We’re all just human, after all. Some may score higher on IQ tests than others, but that doesn’t automatically make the higher IQ individuals right about everything and the lower IQ individuals wrong about everything. No single human is qualified to impose his or her way of seeing things on the rest of us because no single human knows the truth about everything. In fact, because we all have different perspectives on any and every subject, perhaps we could say that no one knows the truth about anything! I mean that no one can know for a certainty that his or her way of looking at a thing is the one right way. I see a certain thing a certain way; someone else has a different way of looking at it, and I can never be absolutely sure that my way is the right way and someone else is seeing it the wrong-way-round.

This is likely what a great many people mean by, “There is no absolute truth.” They mean, “For us, there is no absolute truth. We have no access to absolute truth because we can’t know it. We can’t know when we’ve accessed truth. So, for us as humans, there is no absolute truth. Not if we can’t know about it. It’s not part of our reality. Whether or not absolute truth exists is irrelevant because our own personal realities only consist of the things we know about. Because we can’t know absolutely what’s true and what isn’t, knowing the truth isn’t important. If it’s impossible, it can’t be very important. So, it doesn’t matter what a person thinks. You can believe your way, and I’ll believe mine.”

Let’s examine this chain of ideas and see if there are flaws in this line of reasoning that would disqualify it from being a sound line of reasoning, coming out at a true conclusion.

I’d like to start with my first observation of life and hold it up against this idea of “No absolute truth” and the thinking behind it. I’ll call this observation “The Search.”

All of us are on a search. We spend every waking minute on a hunt for truth in one form or another.

None of us may know anything absolutely, but we all believe something. Let’s define the word “believe” as, “To think to be true.” What I believe, quite simply, I think is true! That’s a quick, little definition, but I think it’s accurate. By picking and choosing what we’ll believe and what we’ll disbelieve, we’ve demonstrated that we’re all on a search for truth. And believing, whether you’ve ever noticed it or not, is a mental process that is going on in your brain every minute of every day.

It may be (and I agree; it is!) impossible for us to know anything beyond any and all possible doubt or disagreement. But it’s equally impossible for us to stop believing and disbelieving and deciding what we believe and what we disbelieve. And if we believe a thing, we think it to be true.

I don’t need to convince you that there is such a thing as truth. You already believe it! You prove it by your beliefs: by thinking some things true and other things false. I only need to convince you that you already believe there is such a thing as truth.

What is truth? Again, it’s not complicated. Truth is what is. Truth is whatever has existence or occurrence, even if an abstract or inner existence or occurrence. I’ve heard the definition that truth is anything which conforms to reality. Falsehood is anything which doesn’t conform to reality. “Truth” is really just a word we use to mean “that which has being.” So if you believe that anything exists, you believe in truth.

If you like to toy with the notions that things are not what they seem—that mind is the only reality and matter is an illusion, that you’re only living in a sort of a dream, the matrix, or some sort of simulated universe—you still believe in existence. You are conscious. If you’re not, then you didn’t just hear me tell you you’re conscious, but you did, so you’re conscious. And consciousness necessitates existence. If there’s no existence outside of consciousness, at least consciousness exists. “I think, therefore, I am.”* You (whoever or whatever you may happen to be) exist, and you know you do because you’re thinking. Even if you’re doing nothing but dreaming, there’s a you to do the dreaming.

If all of us spend all our lives on a truth-search, trying to learn what is, consciously or subconsciously hunting for the nature of reality under every bush and around every corner, this convinces me that truth, at least some truths, must be discoverable. Why would we all spend our lives searching for something that can’t be found? That would be a very strange state of affairs!

But how can we access truth if we can’t know it? That would seem to be the issue for the one who says, “There is no such thing as absolute truth for us. We can’t know truth, so we have no access to truth. For us, then, it’s the same as if no truth exists.”

And this is the part where I see a flaw in the argument: If we can’t know the truth (in that absolute-certainty kind of way), is that really the same thing as having no access to it? Is knowing (absolutely) the only access we could possibly have to truth? I would argue that it’s not.

What about belief? Is it possible we can access truth through belief? Even if we can never know absolutely that we’ve accessed some truth or other, it’s very possible that we have accessed it through the cognitive process of belief.

I would agree that if a thing is impossible, it can’t be very important. So I can agree that knowing anything (absolutely) is unimportant. It’s unnecessary and irrelevant. We don’t need to worry about knowing things in that absolute kind of way. But does it follow, then, that it doesn’t matter how we think and what we believe?

And here’s the problem with, “It’s impossible to know anything, so it doesn’t matter how we think. You can believe your way, and I’ll believe mine.” The statement conflates knowing (in the absolute sense) with thinking and believing (but knowing and believing are two very different ballgames) and jumps to the conclusion that if knowing doesn’t matter, then neither does believing. But remember that, while none of us can truly know-beyond-doubt, there’s another mental process that it’s impossible not to do: None of us can stop ourselves from believing. If it’s impossible to do a thing and, therefore, that thing is not very important, does it follow that if it’s impossible not to do a thing, the thing is probably very important? What we know is not important; what we believe may be vital.

When we begin to realize that what we believe controls every part of our lives that we have any say over, we can begin to understand why believing is such a vital activity. Every step we take through every day, every tiny decision, every tiny action, can be traced back to the way we think. It all comes down to what we believe, to what we’ve decided to think is true.

When I get up in the morning, it’s because I believe I have some reason to do so. If I choose to stay in bed all day, it’s because I believe it won’t really matter if I get up or not. If I choose to brush my teeth after I get up (if I’ve decided to believe it was important that I get up), it’s because I believe brushing my teeth will help me keep them. If I decide not to brush my teeth, it’s because I believe it won’t really matter, anyway. If I make my bed, it’s because I believe making my bed will add something to my life. If I don’t make my bed, it will show that I don’t believe there’s any real purpose to making the bed. When I decide what I’ll eat for breakfast, I’ll make a healthier choice if I believe it will help me be healthier. If I choose the Sugar Crunchies, it will also come down to what I’ve decided to believe about the merits of Sugar Crunchies versus a healthier choice.

Our desires interact with and influence our beliefs, but we make our decisions based on our beliefs. I may have the desire to stay in bed all day (or climb out just long enough to pour myself a bowl or two of Sugar Crunchies), but I often act against my desires. My actions show that my beliefs are controlling them and not strictly my desires.

Now, it’s true that not everything we believe is of equal importance. Truths are all equally true, but they’re not all equally important.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that it’s true that brushing my teeth and eating a healthy diet will make a positive difference in my life. I may choose to deny these truths and believe that my teeth will manage just fine all on their own with no brushing, even after a steady diet of Sugar Crunchies. When I’m in the dentist’s chair with a toothache, I may realize that the first truth I denied was an important truth. Then, I may still think a steady diet of Sugar Crunchies can’t possibly hurt me as long as I brush my teeth. But if my steady diet of Sugar Crunchies leads to diabetes, I will realize that there are worse things than toothaches, and the second truth I denied was a more important truth. If I choose to believe that diabetes isn’t dangerous and continue with my steady diet of Sugar Crunchies and refuse all treatments for my diabetes, I will eventually learn that I’ve denied a terribly important truth, one that may cost me my life through my denial of it. I hope you’re starting to see that what we believe just might matter, and some truths are very important ones to believe.

But let’s talk about even more important beliefs than ones that may save our teeth or our lives. There’s a certain set of beliefs that all of us believe to be very vital. Some don’t realize that they believe this belief (I mean, believe the belief that this certain set of beliefs is a vital one), but I’ve never yet met anyone who doesn’t believe it. Even if a person doesn’t admit it and doesn’t realize it, he or she proves it in everything he or she says and does. All of us consider our beliefs about morality—about right and wrong—to be vital beliefs.

Some will tell me that, just as there is no absolute truth, there is no absolute standard of morality; that just as we all have different perspectives, so we all have our own personal moral standards, and no one is qualified to tell anyone else that his standard is the only true standard. But such a person will immediately fly into a towering rage when his own personal standard is violated in some way.

If we have nothing more than billions and billions of our own personal moral standards as the basis for morality, then we have no right to impose our own personal moral standards on anyone else although we may still choose to do so if we have the ability to do so. But there is no “should.” There is no “ought to.” Those kinds of words imply a larger, overarching moral standard. An absolute moral standard.

We have to force this idea to its final outcome and look at the most blatant example of a divergent personal moral standard we’ve seen in modern history. If all we have are our own personal moral codes and there is no absolute standard of morality, then what Hitler did wasn’t really wrong and there really was no reason he shouldn’t have done what he did. That is what we’re faced with if there is no absolute standard of morality.

Laws and their penalties could still be enacted to punish those behaviours we deem unacceptable in society, but there would be no moral grounds for them. It would come down to one set of arbitrary standards triumphing over others by virtue of the strength of the numbers supporting it. It would come down to what we’ve agreed works best for us. It would come down to expedience. It would come down to “majority rules.” It would come down to “might makes right.”

The Hitlers of the world may be stopped by those who want to stop them for no real reason other than they happen to want to stop him and they have the power to do so. But if you are convinced of the “No moral absolutes” way of thinking, you are faced with the reality that if Hitler’s side had been stronger in World War II and the world was now dominated by the ideology that spawned the Holocaust (“might makes right”), you would have no basis for saying that wrong prevailed over right. “Might makes right” is the ultimate destination of the “No absolute moral standard” viewpoint. And it is the ideology that laid the groundwork for the historical event of the Holocaust. Yes, it does matter what we believe, and there are some truths we can’t afford to get wrong.

Although I’m sure they exist, I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who truly disbelieves in an absolute moral standard. I don’t believe I know anyone who could look me in the eye and tell me that Hitler wasn’t really wrong and there was no real reason he shouldn’t have done what he did. I don’t imagine anyone among my acquaintances fully embraces the ideology that might makes right. If you are one of those who claim to believe in no absolute moral standard, are you prepared to accept all the implications of such a belief? I’ll leave you there, pondering that question.

But this is a dilemma! We’ve seen that we all have different perspectives and perceptions and that no single human is qualified to impose his way of seeing things on the rest of us. We all have our own personal moral codes, and no single human is qualified to impose his own personal moral code on the rest of us. Nor does consensus determine absolute truth or morality because we’ve seen that the world used to agree on “facts” and “sins” that the world no longer agrees are facts or sins. Consensus changes. It can’t determine truth.

It doesn’t matter very much when we’re talking about not making our beds or occasionally skipping brushing our teeth or eating the odd bowl of Sugar Crunchies. But now we’re talking about Holocausts and genocides and mass shootings and terrorist attacks and serial killings and child abuse and every other manner of evil, and suddenly, it matters very much. Truths about right and wrong are very important truths, and if we are all there is, then all we have are our divergent, competing, but equal, personal moral standards. And we have history to show us the mess all those billions of personal moral standards land us in.

Here’s the conclusion to which my observation of life and the search that all of us are on leads me: We are not all there is!

If there is absolute truth and an absolute moral standard that can be truth for us, then there must be some Mind greater than ours to finally know the truth. About everything.

And if we are to be able to access this absolute truth through belief, then this Mind must be a Mind capable of communicating the truth to us for us to believe it.

If there is no one besides ourselves, if human minds or any other fallible and non-omniscient minds are the only minds in existence, then, in essence, there is no absolute truth! There is no absolute standard of morality! We are adrift on a sea of speculation and ignorance. We may as well eat the Sugar Crunchies or commit the genocides or follow any other desires that happen to conspire within us. Nothing really matters.

But this is a conclusion that none of us can stomach. None of us can live consistently with the inherently self-contradictory doctrine that there is no absolute truth. We are all on a search for truth. We feel it to be vital that there is a real right and a real wrong. We all secretly (a secret we even keep from ourselves, sometimes) believe that there is truth and there is a real right and a real wrong. But we’re reluctant to follow the search to its logical conclusion and admit to a Mind greater than our own; an infallible, omniscient Mind; a Mind that knows everything there is to be known; a Mind capable of communicating some important truths to us.

If there is such a Mind (and my observations so far lead me to believe the likelihood is strong), what can we learn about this Being just by looking around at our world and the realities that surround us? Let’s dive in to the truth-search.

The Curses and the Covenants

Excerpt from The Curses and the Covenants, a Bible study by Connie Cook.  More excerpts available here: intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  Full study available for sale here.

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The Covenant with Noah: a New Earth

(Based on Genesis 9:8-17 + 1 John 5:1-13)

I will put my rainbow in the clouds to be a sign of my promise to the earth” (Gen. 9:13).

‘To me this is like Noah’s floodwaters, when I swore an oath that Noah’s floodwaters would never cover the earth again. So now I swear an oath not to be angry with you or punish you. The mountains may move, and the hills may shake, but my kindness will never depart from you. My promise of peace will never change,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Isa. 54:9-10).

The Spirit is the one who verifies this, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These three witnesses agree” (1 John 5:6b.-8).

There was a thump and a bump that shook everyone off their feet and onto their backsides. It was followed by a sickening, grinding sound that would have paled the suntan out of any sea dog. They’d run aground.

But the inhabitants of this ship-of-sorts were no sailors by profession. For these temporary sailors, there was no fear in the sound. Only sweet promise. Land. Precious, blessed, sacred land. The waters were receding. The land was reclaiming its rightful place.

No one was upset if the boat was damaged by its abrupt landing. After all, this was not a vessel anyone wanted to take for another voyage. Ever.

But even after touchdown, the exit sign was still months away. Seven months (plus small change) away. All told, the passengers of H.M.S. Noah’s Ark lived on board ship for one year and ten days. It seemed half of eternity.

And finally! The sweet, sweet gulps of the fresh air of freedom with one’s feet planted on rich, brown earth. What a feeling!

Then God made a promise. To Noah. To Noah’s descendants. And to all living things to come. Never again. (At least, never again with water.)

Then the Mighty Warrior hung up His weapon.

He was the sworn enemy of all evil. Not a trace of it could remain in a final and forever kind of way. It must be destroyed or it would destroy.

Look what it had done to the earth already!

This time, the Mighty Warrior had turned His weapon of water against evil, so when He made His treaty with all that breathed that He would never again use water to destroy the earth, He hung up his watery weapon.

It was a sign ancient warriors would have recognized as a solemn, binding promise of peace. Some still exchange arrows to be broken.

But when a warrior hands over his bow, he’s saying he’s done!

The difference between this Warrior’s weapon and other warriors’ weapons, however, was… well, not dissimilar to the difference between this Warrior and other warriors. His bow was radiant, made of light, glorious.

And so is this Warrior. And so are His covenants.

But what’s a covenant? It’s not a word we toss around in casual conversation, so let’s talk briefly about what a covenant was in the Bible.

Its simplest synonym would be “a promise.” A covenant was a solemn and binding oath; in the Bible, usually a specific kind of solemn and binding oath. A covenant was a peace treaty. And the covenants we’ll be studying here were peace treaties between God and humanity.

But why would we need a peace treaty with God?

In Genesis 3, we see the start of the enmity between man and God—man rejecting God’s rule; attempting to usurp God’s rightful place.

Just so you’ll have a bit of a road map, I’ll tell you more about where we’ll be heading this study and how we’ll get there: On days 1 and 7 of every week, we’ll see the necessary results of the attempt on God’s throne: The Curses.

And in every lesson, we’ll see God addressing that enmity and its results. We’ll see His answer to “the curses.” We’ll see Him “cutting covenants.”

Throughout history, He made (culturally-appropriate) peace agreements with all those who were willing to enter into them. We’ll look at six. For the first five, we’ll see God enter into covenant with five different individuals (with effects spreading to all those under the covenant). But through each of the five, we’ll really be keeping our eyes on the sixth: the New Covenant.

In addition to having you read “The Curses” passages or “The Covenant” passages from the Old Testament, every day I’ve assigned a “plus” passage from the New Covenant (or as we usually call it, “the New Testament,” but it means essentially, “the New Covenant.”). I find the New Covenant helps to explain the Old, but the Old also helps to explain the New.

We’ll see how all the old covenants were finally fulfilled in the final and greatest New Covenant. The New Covenant, the culmination of all the ones that came before, was prophesied in the Old Covenant. (See Jeremiah 31:31-34.) Because of the fatal flaw found in all humans that made them incapable of keeping the covenants they entered into with God, He had to find a way to do away with the fatal flaw. He did so through His New Covenant. Interestingly, we’ll see the how-tos of living within the New Covenant smuggled into the old ones. You’ll see certain symbolic themes pertaining to the New Covenant repeated so often in the old ones that I hope you’ll come to recognize that these hidden gems cannot possibly be there by accident.

Also, as this study progresses, I hope you’ll come to understand that God’s character as the Mighty Warrior is not a bad thing. It is a sad thing because of its necessity. But there is a difference between sad and bad.

But know this: it’s not a forever-necessity. One day, the Mighty Warrior against evil will hang up all His weapons. He’ll be at rest.

And that “rest” that Noah was named after brings up one theme for the week: Creation. After God created His earth, He was finished. So He rested.

But then Genesis 3 happened, and after Genesis 3 happened, every time God made a covenant, He created something new. In His covenant with Noah, He made a new earth—free from the gangrene that had rotted the old world from the inside out. Sort of free. But not really. It was, in fact, the same old earth. The problems of Genesis 3 hadn’t really gone anywhere.

So God would one day make a truly New Covenant to make a truly New Earth. This week, we’ll see more of this truly New Earth and again, how to get there. We’ll enter it through our entrance into the New Covenant just as Noah entered his new (old) earth by entering into covenant with God through his faith and obedience of building an ark.

As we see the Noahic covenant take shape this week, take note of all the parallels between God creating a new earth through His covenant with Noah (though creating through destruction—sometimes in building, demolition is the first step) and God making a New Covenant and creating a truly New Earth. One where there can be a forever-rest because evil is forever ended.

And through Noah’s story, we’ll start to see what life within the New Covenant looks like and how that life is meant to be lived.

The Passover

(An Excerpt from Portraits of Christ (from the Epistle to the Hebrews), a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(From Hebrews 11:28 and Exodus 12)

Faith led Moses to establish the Passover and spread the blood on the doorposts so that the destroying angel would not kill the firstborn sons” (Hebrews 11:28).

Let’s start our look at the Passover today with the character Exodus 12:23 calls “the destroyer” as he is one of the key players.

It seems to me, from hearing this story told in Sunday School as a child, that “the destroyer” was always called “the death angel.”  From that title, I had gleaned the notion that “the destroyer” was one of God’s angels.  It seemed to me that God was the one who went through the land of Egypt and killed all the firstborn not protected by the blood of a lamb.  From Exodus, I can see where I gleaned that notion.

From Exodus 12:12-13, 23, and 29, God states clearly that He would be responsible for the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt.

The idea of God being responsible for the deaths of all the firstborn — children, adults, animals — presents a few mental hurdles we need to get over in order to understand this account properly.

The first mental hurdle to, er, hurdle is the necessity of death.  The first fact we need to grasp is that no one lives forever.  Because sin entered the world, because we’ve all sinned, we all will die one day.

And I’m grateful for it.  Who could want to live forever with this imperfection — in a world of genocides and war and child abuse and hatred and greed and oppression and pain and sorrow?  Who wants to live forever here when there’s a perfect reality waiting just around death’s corner?  I’ve come to realize that, because of sin, we all must die.  It was the only merciful solution once sin infected the world.

The next mental hurdle to be overcome is the realization that God is the one who has the right to decide when life should end.  While the killing of the innocent (relatively innocent, I mean) is a great wrong when any human performs that act, God is well within His rights to decide when is the proper time for any death to happen.  Everyone dies someday.  It’s up to God to decide when that day is.  He made my body and my soul.  It’s up to Him to choose when the two will go their separate ways.

If He chose that the lives of millions of firstborn in the land of Egypt should end on the night of the first Passover, well, all those lives would have ended in the not-too-distant future, anyway (like, seventy years or so in the future.  A short time in terms of eternity).  It was His call to make.

Then, the third mental hurdle to get over is seeing the respective roles of God and the one Exodus calls “the destroyer.”  Although God said repeatedly that He would be the one responsible for the deaths of the unprotected firstborn, I believe Exodus 12:23 makes it clear that it was the one called “the destroyer” who was directly responsible.  This verse changes the entire picture I had of the Passover as a child.  It was “the destroyer” who would strike the firstborn.  God was responsible for who died and who didn’t simply because He was in charge of allowing or not allowing the destroyer into the house.

It was God who struck the Egyptian firstborn (as stated in Exodus 12:12-13, 23, and 29), but He used an instrument to do the striking.  And that instrument was “the destroyer.”

“The destroyer” is not one of God’s angels.  God’s nature is essentially creative, not destructive.  He is responsible for the destruction that goes on in our world because Satan (whose nature is now essentially destructive) is still answerable to God.  Satan can do nothing that God refuses to him.  But the destruction belongs to him as God allows it to him.

The book of Job gives us this kind of a behind-the-scenes peek.  Satan was directly responsible for the havoc wreaked on Job and his family.  Yet at the end of the book, God came along and seemed quite willing to accept responsibility.  And that’s because He was responsible.  He is the one in ultimate control.  Satan can only act according to his destructive nature by God’s permission.  Yet God gives permission and uses Satan’s destruction only insofar as He can turn it to some good and loving purpose.

But for what good and loving purpose did God allow Satan to destroy the firstborn in Egypt?

I can see a few, obvious answers: For the purpose of freeing His people, His firstborn.  Then, for the purpose of showing Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and the rest of the world who is really God in order for the world to have the opportunity of knowing Him.  And for the purpose of encapsulating, in a moment of time, an object lesson that would illustrate the central event of our history that had been planned from all eternity past — that decisive battle in the cosmic war fought over our universe.

Let me share something with you that I learned about the Hebrew word for “pass over.”  I learned that the Hebrew word translated “pass over” in Exodus 12:23 is “pasach,” and it can carry the meaning, not only of passing over (as in, skipping over), but it can also be translated, “to halt.”

For years, I held the picture in my mind of God seeing the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and skipping over the house.  He “passed” it “over” for destruction and didn’t go in to kill the firstborn.  But when I think of “pasach” as “to halt,” I begin to get an entirely different picture of the Passover.

What happens if we substitute the word “halt” in Exodus 12:23 for the words “pass over.”

The LORD will go throughout Egypt to kill the Egyptians.  When he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, he will  [HALT] over that doorway, and he will not let the destroyer come into your house to kill you.”

Notice the wording of Exodus 12:23.  Over what part of the house would the Lord “halt”?

Right!  The doorway!

This new picture of mine lends such meaning to, what had always seemed to me to be, the random and arbitrary placement of the lamb’s blood on the two doorposts and on the crosspiece running horizontally along the top of the door (or the lintel).  There was nothing random and arbitrary about it.  There was enormous meaning in the location of the lamb’s blood.

This is the new understanding I now hold of what really happened at that first Passover:

God and His enemy went together through the land of Egypt to strike down the firstborn of all those who were the rightful property of God’s enemy.  This included everyone in the land.  Since the beginning of human history, each human inevitably, for a time, chooses to obey God’s enemy, thereby making Satan master.  Humanity has sold itself into Satan’s service.  And hard service — slavery — is Satan’s service.  Satan has the right to do as he wills with his property, and he wills to enslave and destroy.

Satan is only capable of destroying, and that was what he roamed throughout the land of Egypt that fateful night to do.  Destroy the firstborn of all those who had sold themselves to him.

Yet God wasn’t willing to see it happen. He wanted to buy back — redeem — a people for Himself.  His firstborn, Israel.

In Exodus 4:22-23, there’s a “life for a life,” a “firstborn for a firstborn,” kind of a situation happening.  If Pharaoh refused to give God back His firstborn, then God would require the life of Pharaoh’s firstborn in exchange.

But there was another exchange that had to happen first.  The people God had chosen as His firstborn had sold themselves (very cheaply — for promises of a freedom that turned into slavery) into Satan’s service.  God had chosen a people for His firstborn, but they were the property of His enemy.

Yet God had another Firstborn — His first Firstborn.  One who is the Firstborn from all eternity.

As God and Satan passed through the land of Egypt on that Passover night, God had given Satan access to all the firstborn — all those who were Satan’s own to do with as he wished.  But the problem was, that number included absolutely everyone.  And God wasn’t content with that state of affairs.  So God arranged a signal with His people.  He arranged for any who were willing to come over to His side, any who were tired of slavery and ready to serve God again, to signal their decision by painting blood on their doorposts and lintels.  By the “sprinkling of blood,” a household claimed for itself the protection that God had promised to all who obeyed — the protection of the blood of a lamb.

It’s where the faith of Hebrews 11:28 comes in.  It was a very simple act, but it was the acknowledgement back of it of who is really God that made it an act of faith.

Now, an interesting speculation occurs to me:  What if an Egyptian had noticed what the Israelites were up to?  What if an Egyptian had said to himself, “I don’t know what’s about to go down.  All I know is that Pharaoh and our gods are helpless against this Israelite God, and it sure looks like something else is about to happen.  I don’t know why these crazy Israelites are painting blood on their doors, but maybe … just in case, I’ll do the same thing”?  What would have happened to that Egyptian’s household?  Exodus 12:23 says that when God saw the blood on the door, He would pass over it.  Period.

I imagine if any Egyptians had been clever enough to copy their Israelite neighbours (through fear of the Israelite God) their firstborn would have been protected.  2 Peter 3:9 makes it plain that God is not willing that any should perish.

At any rate, to return to our reenactment of the first Passover, God and Satan went together throughout the land of Egypt, and Satan was allowed to enter any household and slay any firstborn who belonged to him.  But when they came to a house with the blood painted on the doorposts and the lintel, God “passed over” the door.  Not the house.  But the door.  He halted before that door.  In fact, He passed Himself over the door.  He barred Satan’s way.  He matched His hands to the bloody patches on the doorposts.  He put His head up against the bloody spot on the lintel.  He took up a “you-shall-not-pass-this-threshold” stance.

Satan had the right to the firstborn of those inside.  There could be no question about it.  All the inhabitants of all the houses had sold themselves willingly to Satan for no other sum than the sum of all the destruction Satan could heap on them.  But God was determined that any who were willing should be bought back by Him.  At the cost of His own blood.  His own life.

The lamb’s blood was only a symbol.  It wasn’t really any ordinary old lamb’s blood painted there on the doorposts and the lintel.  It was the blood of the Lamb of God.

Those who painted the blood on their doors were simply asking God for His protection from the destroyer.  They were admitting that they’d had enough of Satan and His slavery and destruction.  They were asking to be rescued.  And God will never turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to any who paint His blood on their doors to ask Him for rescue.  For those who say to Him, “Okay, I give in.  I’m willing for You to save me,” there’s nothing He won’t do.  He’s proved it.

It wasn’t only a “you-shall-not-pass-this-threshold” stance that God took with Satan.  On the cross, it was a “do-with-me-what-you-will” stance.  He opened Himself up to the worst the destroyer could do to Him, rather than let Satan get at his own rightful property.  There was another exchange of firstborns.  He redeemed back His firstborn, His people, at the cost of His true Firstborn — who was God Himself.

It was Satan’s right to destroy his own property, all those who had sold themselves into his service.  Yet God gave Himself in exchange, to buy back a people for Himself.  It was His own bloodied head and bloodied hands that left the bloody marks on the cross which the bloody marks on the doorposts and the lintel represented.

What a picture that first Passover paints of the kind of God to whom we are privileged to belong!

Have you painted His Lamb’s blood on your own “doorposts” and “lintel”?  Have you turned to Him for rescue from the destroyer?  Then, there’s nothing He wouldn’t do to rescue you.  Do you believe it?

 

Genesis 11

(An Excerpt from Portraits of Christ (from the Epistle to the Hebrews), a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

After the flood of Noah’s day, the next big event in the history of the world as told by Genesis is a happening called “the tower of Babel.”  We’ll need to touch down on this story before we can land on Abraham’s because the story of the tower of Babel sets the stage for the story of the beginning of the nation of Israel (which story was the story of Abraham’s life).  The tower of Babel comes in at the start of Genesis 11, right before Abraham comes in.

The “tower of Babel” was more than a tower.  It was a city and a tower (Gen. 11:4-5).  That’s an important fact to know because the reincarnation of the city of “Babel” becomes very important again later on in biblical history.  In fact, it becomes iconic.  And I believe the reason for its “iconic-ness” was the reason for the building of the tower and the city.

The people of Babel desired to build a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” in order, a) to make a name for themselves and in order, b) to keep from being “scattered” all over the earth.

Funny thing!  As to their second motive, God had commanded them to scatter.  He issued this command to Noah and his descendants in Genesis 9:1:  “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.”  Humanity was meant to spread out and fill the earth.  Pretty hard to fill the earth if all of earth’s population has decided to cluster in one spot and to build a city large enough for that purpose.

Genesis 11:8 comments that God “scattered” the people abroad over the face of the whole earth.  When humanity disobeyed His command to fill the earth, He made sure they “scattered” one way or another.  We’ll discuss His means of “scattering” briefly in a moment.

It’s the a) motive I’d like us to concentrate most of our attention on today.  The builders of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves.  In other words, they were interested in self-glorification.

When I was much younger and learning this story in Sunday School, I had the idea that the goal of the builders was to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven — as in, God’s perfect home.  Even as a child, I thought it was a ridiculous idea.  (I suppose I’d had a little education on the immensity of outer space.)  Wherever God’s heaven happens to be, no one could build a tower that tall, I reasoned.

Reading the story as an adult, I now have a better understanding of the “heaven” in Genesis 11:4.  It’s an old English word which simply means “sky” in this context.  The builders of Babel wanted to build the first skyscraper.  In their tower-building, they weren’t thinking about God and His heaven at all.

The motives behind the building of Babel were ones of self-glorification and disobedience.  The motives behind Babel were the same motives behind eating the fruit of the tree that became the tree of death.  That fruit was the fruit of independence from God.  Self-first.  The fruit of the tree of life was the fruit of dependence on God.  Faith.  And here, in Genesis 11:1-9, is humanity, galloping down the same, old, well-trodden pathway of “flesh.”

Because of the motives for its building, Babel became a Scriptural icon of the way of the “flesh.”  It became iconic as the city, the nation, and the people of pride.  Self-worship.  Independence from God.  The city of Babel was eventually reborn as the city and nation of Babylon.

As I was thinking about writing today about the tower of Babel and the iconic city of Babylon, my thoughts turned instantly to Isaiah 14 — a passage descriptive of Satan’s fall through pride and self-glorification.  Isaiah 14 is addressed to “the king of Babylon” (v. 4).  That title as applied to Satan makes good sense when we understand what Babylon came to represent in the Bible.

My thoughts also simultaneously turned to the book of Revelation and “Babylon the Great” (at least, “Babylon” thought it was) (Rev. 17-18).  Again, I believe a major reason the name “Babylon” is given to the city and regime of the “man of sin” is because of Babylon’s representation of the pathway of pride.

When it comes to the city/tower of Babel as iconic of spiritual truth, I was not far off the mark in my childhood understanding, thinking the builders of Babel were attempting to reach heaven all on their own.  Contrary to the desire to build a tower to God’s heaven, though, I believe the desire behind the tower of Babel was the desire for total independence from God.  Humanity thought it could be its own god and make its own heaven.  That is the still the direction most take who attempt towers of Babel.  There are still those (astonishingly! Given the facts of human history!) who believe that we can create our own utopias on earth; that being our own gods will make a utopia of this earth.  Like Satan learned, that kind of effort is only building a skyscraper to hell.  Any striving to unseat God from His throne would turn into the foulest nightmare if it could be realized.  Thank God it never can!  He proved it in Genesis 11.

There are fewer and fewer who believe in God’s heaven at all, but there are still some, believing in  God’s heaven, who take the route of thinking they can make it to God’s heaven by their own efforts of goodness.  This is another form of the tower of Babel.  We have to understand that any attempt to reach heaven that exalts self, thereby debasing God, can never lead to heaven.

Can you see the foolishness of trying to reach God while ignoring what He has to say on the subject of how He can be reached?  In fact, He does want to be reached.  But He can only be reached on His own initiative.  Unless heaven reached down to us, we could never reach up to heaven.

Back to the literal Babel, if God had let humanity go on in its natural course, the world would shortly have found its way back to the state it was in in the days of Noah.  With their unity of language, God saw that, “…nothing will be restrained from them…”  (Gen. 11:6).  Whatever they chose to do they would do.  But God had promised Noah never to destroy the earth again (by water).  At Babel, God found a gentler, less extreme, but equally effective method of stopping humanity in its wayward tracks.

From Genesis 11:7, it seems that God created the seeds of all the nations of the world by creating the seeds of all the different languages.  Then, He supernaturally separated people into language groups and so “scattered” them, dividing them through language.

The next thing we see from Genesis is God, busy doing His creating work of separating out for Himself a special nation; calling one of those nations created at the tower of Babel to be His own people.  And that nation would also be iconic — iconic of the people of faith.

He had (and has) an inheritance for that nation, Hebrews 11:8 and Genesis 12:1-7 tell us.  But that inheritance is claimed only through faith.  We’ll see more of it a little later on.

The end of Genesis 11 may look like verse after verse of irrelevant detail.  Not so!  What I’d like us to notice today from the end of Genesis 11 is something that struck me just recently — the method God used to guide Abram.  A method He often employs in His guidance of me.

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (the son of Haran), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, wife of his son Abram.  They set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan.  When they came as far as Haran, they stayed there” (Gen. 11:31).

Compare this verse with Hebrews 11:8: “Faith enabled Abraham to obey when God called him to go to a place that he would receive as an inheritance.  Abraham left his own country without knowing where he was going.”

When I first noticed Genesis 11:31 — really noticed it, possibly for the first time ever — I recognized God’s method of guidance instantly from my own experience.  God led Abram without telling him exactly where he was going.  Hebrews 11:8 is very clear on that point.  Boy, do I recognize that method!

The meaning I find in Genesis 11:31 is this: Abram and his family were already on their way to Canaan.  We’re not told why.  But it was the direction in which they had been moving.  In Genesis 12:1-3, when God spoke to Abram to call him to a land that He would show him, Abram’s family had already been travelling toward it.  Putting together Genesis 11:31 with Hebrews 11:8 and the information that Abram had no idea where he was going when he set out gives me this picture of God’s guidance:

God:  “Abram, get moving, and I’ll bring you to a land I’m going to give you.”

Abram:  “Uh, okay.  Which way?”

God: (silence).

Abram:  “Hmm!  Well, Dad was taking us off to Canaan.  The only thing I know is that I’m not supposed to go back to Ur.  Canaan’s in the opposite direction.  Uh, God?  Should I just keep moving forward in the direction of Canaan, then?”

God: (silence).

I suppose I visualize Abram’s calling in this way, having experienced this method of God’s guidance so  regularly myself.  Here’s a little sampling of the way God often guides me:

Me:  “Lord, You know I want to do Your will in this situation.  Just not sure what it is.  Any thoughts on the matter?”

God: (silence).

Me:  “Okay, then.  Well, I was thinking of doing such-and-such.  It was kind of the direction I was heading already.  Any thoughts on the matter?”

God: (silence).

Me:  “Okay, Lord.  I guess I’ll go ahead with such-and-such, then.  You’ll stop me if it’s the wrong way, right?”

God: (silence).

He is the God who speaks.  It’s one of the first characteristics of His that we need to know.  All the same, He doesn’t talk just to fill airtime.  He speaks when He has something to say that we need to hear.

Terah was already leading Abram and co. off to Canaan-land.  God had already been guiding Terah, probably unbeknownst to Terah.  All God needed to do was get Abram on the hoof again.  He didn’t need to change his direction.

In Genesis 12:6-7, we read of God speaking to Abram again — this time in Shechem in Canaan.  God says (in effect), “Look around!  This is it!  You’re here.”  I looked up Shechem on a map.  It’s pretty much right smack-dab in the middle of the land of Israel.  How long had Abram been wandering around in his promised inheritance before God let him know he was in the right place?  Probably for some little time.

To finish off my scenario of God’s guidance in my life, I’ll sometimes find myself in a situation that resulted from a decision made weeks, months, or years earlier, after seeking God’s leading and hearing only His silence.  But in the middle of the later situation, then I’ll hear God’s voice.  “Look around!  This is it!  You’re here.  I didn’t need to speak to you earlier.  I knew you’d go the way I had planned all along.  Whether you can see it or not, I will always guide the one seeking to go My way.”

Why does God seem to delight in leading us through the midst of uncertainty and silence?  I think there can only be one answer:  He leads us on the pathway of faith.  And what is faith?

Here are three definitions for you, hinted at in the book of Hebrews:  Faith is the sight that sees the unseen.  Faith is believing that God is who He is and that He rewards the diligent seeker.  Faith is dependence on God.

It’s that last definition particularly that I see through God’s method of guidance in Abram’s life (and mine).  He delights in leading us through uncertainty, in the midst of silence, because He delights in growing our faith.  It is of vital importance to Him that we learn total dependence on Him.  (“For we walk by faith, not sight,” (2 Cor. 5:7) is a verse we’re going to see acted out a lot in the Christian life.)

Yet faith in God is never gullibility.  It’s never blind faith.  It’s the lack of faith that is blindness.  But there is certainly an aspect to the walk of faith that feels to us as though we’re stumbling along blindly.  Faith is not blind, but the walk of faith often leads us through dark places.  We can’t see where we’re going; all we can see is the One leading us, step-by-step.  And He often seems to be veiled in a thick fog.

Now.  I want to tie God’s leading in Abram’s life back into the city/tower of Babel.  We walk by faith, not sight.  We walk by the sight that sees the unseen.  The way of faith is the way of dependence on God.  Conversely, then, the way of the flesh is the way of dependence on the visible and dependence on self.

Israel started off as a tiny, invisible nation.  Very invisible.  The people of Babel were all about the visible.  The very visible.

The children of Abraham go out, not seeing where they’re going.  The Babel-ites build cities so they don’t have to go anywhere.  Certainly not anywhere they can’t see or understand.

When God started forming His little, fledgling nation — iconic of the faith-pathway — He began with Abram “…not knowing whither he went…”  Perhaps it was the only way God could start off a faith-nation.  All this has great relevance to us.  We must know that God’s people will and must encounter a whole lot of walking by faith, not sight.  God’s leading will often mean a great deal of uncertainty that teaches us dependence on Him.  The only way to claim our inheritance is by faith.  Not sight.

One more thought, and then we’re done.  I need to get Psalm 127:1 in here somewhere because it seems to me that, “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it…” has to come somewhere into a post about the city and tower of Babel.

True enough!  If God doesn’t want a house (or tower) built, it just, plain doesn’t get built.  (God is the Builder of everything, as we learn from Hebrews 3:4.)  If God doesn’t keep a city, the watchmen can’t keep it.  But if God does build a house, it stays built.  Even the gates of hell have no power against it (Matthew 16:18).  Hasn’t the little nation of Israel proven the truth of it time and again?

The way of the flesh and the visible looks safe and sound.  The way of faith looks scary and uncertain.  But the visible gives poor security for our deposit.  Faith is the only way of safety and security.

 

The Carpenter and the Cradle: an Introduction

(An Excerpt from The Carpenter and the Cradle, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(From Exodus 25-30: the building of the tabernacle and Matthew 6:9-13: the Lord’s Prayer)

The Bible is a story that unfolds in bits and pieces over the thousands of years of its writing by its many human authors.  They all wrote their own small “chapter” (—we call these “chapters” “books,” though given the holistic nature of the Bible, they’re really more like chapters—) but none of these writers could have foreseen the bigger plot line weaving its way through each individual chapter.  It’s that unified story almost more than any other single thing that convinces me that the Bible is really One Book, written by One (non-human) Author.  It smells of the supernatural.  It’s one reason I hold the belief that the Bible is what it claims to be—a Book written by God.

Let me tell you about something I experienced with this highly unusual, supernatural-smelling Book: For a time, something strange began happening every time I opened the pages of my Bible (or so it seemed).  If I flopped them open to read at random, the verses would contain in them, somewhere, something about a house.  If I followed a regular schedule of planned reading, in every reading there would be a house.  I began to get the feeling that Someone was trying to convey a message to me through the Book He wrote.  (Don’t mock!  If you study it long enough, you’ll have your own spooky experiences with it—another reason I’m convinced of the Supernatural at work in the writing of the Bible… even in its reading!)

It took some time, some digging, and some sweating, but eventually, the biblical concept of a “house” came to take on great meaning for me.

I slowly began to see that, in the Bible, a “house” may mean the four-walls-and-a-roof that we call by that name.  Or it could go bigger.  It could mean the people that normally inhabit those four-walls-and-a-roof.  It could mean a family.  It could go bigger still and mean a family-line, even a nation.

Not only did the concept of a biblical “house” come to take on great meaning for me, I began to see that the concept has great meaning for God.   In fact, now, when I step back to look at the Big Picture of the Bible, I unavoidably see it in terms of a “house.”  It’s a theme that winds its way through every twist and turn of the Bible’s plot line.  If I had to summarize the storyline of the Bible in a single thesis statement it is this:  “God is building Himself a house.

Now, throughout most of the Bible, the human “house” that God was building for Himself was symbolized through four-walls-and-a-roof (or early on in the days of that house, through a big ol’ tent also known as the tabernacle.  But we can keep right on calling it a tent and save on syllables.)  And God’s human “house” usually missed the symbolism and got very hung up on the physical structure that was meant to represent God’s real house—His family-line, His sons and daughters.  In fairness, He didn’t make His point clear from the start.  He wrote His story the way all good authors do, not revealing all His meanings till closer to the end.  (But don’t worry!  Lots of mystery yet to be explored.  The meaning behind every point has yet to be clearly revealed.  And that’s because the Story hasn’t ended yet.)

Maybe now it’s becoming a little clearer to you why I’ve referenced at the beginning of this post both the passage from Exodus, speaking about the tent that God commanded to be built for Himself, and the Model Prayer Jesus gave to His friends (found in Matthew 6) where He taught them to call God “Our Father.”  Both display the theme, “God is building Himself a house.”  Another way to state that theme is this: “God is all-relational.”

It’s astonishing to me that the only real expert on God the Father taught us to address God not as Creator, not as the Almighty, not even as Lord; but as Father!  It seems that this is God’s role that goes to the centre of His heart.  That’s what I mean by “all-relational.”

It’s God’s dual role of Creator/Father that “The Carpenter” in the title references.  Because I was thinking of the “house” God is building (that living house of sons and daughters), I chose the title I did for this post (and series of posts).  I hope you’ll think of “the Carpenter” in relation to God’s fatherhood and “the Cradle” in relation to His sons and daughters.  But I’ll have more to say on this subject again.