Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A God-centered alternative

I had one of those "Ah-hah!" moments a couple weeks ago, and I kind of wonder if it was about something that everyone around me had figured out ages ago and had never told me! It's something that now seems so obvious that I'm sure I'm the last person to have figured it out.

I think my slowness to understand this matter up until now is directly related to a Me-centered orientation in my faith. It's all about Me being saved, My needs being met, My prayers being answered. But the Bible isn't man-centered -- it's God-centered. And to be more specific, it's centered around the glory of God -- God being magnified in both heaven and earth. As John Piper writes in God is the Gospel, "The ultimate aim of the gospel is the display of God's glory and the removal of every obstacle to our seeing it and savoring it as our highest treasure. 'Behold your God!' is the most gracious command and best gift of the gospel" (p.56).

And yet for many, many years, as I read a very familiar gospel-passage in the Bible, I read it with me in mind rather than God's glory, and as a result, I was often left frustrated by it. The passage is Romans 5:1-5. Because so much of that passage has to do with how we live on this earth, I've failed to see how much it has to do with heavenly things, and specifically, God's glory. Paul refers to having "peace with God" -- something we dearly need here in this troubled world (v.1); Paul refers to the "grace in which we stand" right here in our everyday lives (v.2); Paul refers to the tribulations we face on the earth (v.3); and he refers to persevering and to our character and to hope, all essential qualities for the here and now (v.4).

But it's because of how relevant all those verses are for dealing with the everyday stuff of life that I've been tripped up by what Paul wrote next: "...and hope does not disappoint..." (v.5). What does he mean by that? If that's also applicable to the here and now, why do I keep experiencing disappointment after disappointment as prayers go unanswered, Fiona's kidneys get worse, and friends around me have significant troubles of their own?

I don't know about you, but I think my frustration with that phrase has been due to "Me-centered Christianity." That means I've seen this Romans 5 "hope" as something needed on this earth because we need it for things on earth (like for Fiona's healing). But I no longer think Paul was speaking here of a hope we need for things on earth, but was speaking of a hope for God that we need because of the things of this earth!

In other words, Paul's got bigger and better things in mind to hope for than the now-things of this earth. The hope he's writing about in verse 5 is the same hope he was writing about in verse 2: the "hope of the glory of God"! That's the hope Paul says we're to rejoice in (v.2). And it's that kind of rejoicing that requires perseverance, character and hope to achieve in this world of suffering (v.3-4). The hope Paul had was not for now-things. It wasn't focused on relief from some momentary affliction. His mind was on something far higher and far more satisfying -- something that caused his heart to rejoice in the midst of sufferings -- the glory of God.

God's glory is something exciting, to be sure. It's meant to give us hope in an uncertain world that is actually only a temporary residence for us. And by having such a heavenly mindset that longs and hopes to see the glory of God, we can remain encouraged no matter what this world throws at us. That should not only make me a happier person, but it should hopefully make my life far more appealing to people around me who have no such hope.

Does this mean I no longer hope for unpleasant things to change in the here and now? Of course not. But it means that as I focus on a hope that never disappoints -- the hope of the glory of God -- I will have greater stability as I seek God regarding the uncertain things I face in this world. And that heavenly focus enables me to live more happily in the tension of the things God has done "already" and the things that remain "not yet."

© 2008 by Ken Peters

No comments: