Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

RUTH

 

The little book of Ruth gives us one of the loveliest stories in the Bible. In it, one may find strong representations of Jesus, the Church, and the Holy Spirit all interacting harmoniously and lovingly, as we ourselves can anticipate in our future spiritual relationship with God. At a higher level than the tale itself, Ruth plays the role of the Christian Church, while Boaz represents Jesus Christ. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi is sometimes mistakenly misrepresented here as Israel or an individual, but in truth the story carefully and deliberately places her in the role of the beautiful and noble Holy Spirit.

This narrative that begins with such desolation of spirit finds Naomi returning from Moab back to her homeland in Judah, having lost her husband and two sons. The loss, emotionally wrenching as it is, also places her in jeopardy of starvation. As she begins her sad trek back, she releases her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth, having lost their husbands, to return to their families in Moab. Amid much tearful keening over this parting, Orpah sets off back to her family. Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to part. In her adamant insistence on staying with Naomi, she delivers the following immortal words of devoted love as she clings to her beloved mother-in-law:

“Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and also more, if ought but death part you and me.”

Naomi must have imparted to her daughter-in-law Ruth much wisdom and understanding, particularly of the loving nature of God. She also demonstrated this love through her own interaction with her daughters-in-law. Ruth was able to internalize this profound heart knowledge, returning this love with the fervor that Jesus commanded in Matthew 22:37 and 38 as He echoed the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5:

“Jesus said to [the Pharisee], You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.”

Upon her arrival at Naomi’s homeland, Ruth’s circumstances rapidly began to change as God Himself returned Ruth’s love for Naomi with unforeseen blessings. Ruth’s departed husband had a close relative in the wealthy Boaz, who showed an interest in her from the first time he laid eyes on her. Appreciating that interest, Naomi gave Ruth an understanding of Jewish law, under which a close relative of a widow’s late husband could claim her as his own wife; moreover, Naomi also gave Ruth advice on how she might win his affection. In a few short but stirring paragraphs the tale becomes a love story between Boaz and Ruth, with the romance culminating in their marriage. The union produces a child, placing Ruth firmly into the Jewish fold as grandmother to the great King David. In the first chapter of Matthew, Ruth is further honored with inclusion into the bloodline of Jesus Christ.

Much later in time, the Apostle Paul echoes this union between Boaz and Ruth in Ephesians 5:31 and 32:

“For this reason shall a Man leave his Father and Mother and cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”

We of the Church have a beautiful and noble Mother-in-law as well. In fact, She is the same Person who Naomi represented to Ruth: our wonderful, loving Holy Spirit. With Her guidance, the Church shall marry Jesus and will participate, as the beautiful story of Ruth suggests, in a fully-gendered relationship with Him, and that also will bear fruit, as plainly described by Paul in Romans 7:4:

“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”

This romantic relationship is beautifully captured in the Song of Solomon, which describes anything but the brittle sterility of a non-gendered union.

The marriage between Boaz and Ruth reprises an earlier marriage that also foretold the union of Jesus Christ with His Church. This was the marriage told in Genesis Chapter 24 between Isaac and Rebekah, wherein Isaac was a figure of Jesus and Rebekah represented the Church. This union also bore fruit in the twelve Patriarchs who formed the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel and in Judah carried the bloodline to Jesus.

Appropriately, during the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, called in Hebrew Shavuot, it is traditional to read the Book of Ruth. This tradition links the Pentecost with the Holy Spirit through Naomi and her representation. Since the Holy Spirit rushed in to indwell believers at the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, the Feast of Pentecost has even more directly honored the Holy Spirit among Christians. Yet further, this indwelling of the Holy Spirit was foretold in the coming upon the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple of the feminine Shekinah Glory, as described in Exodus 40 and 1 Kings 8. I note this connection in the Introduction to my novel Buddy, and expand on it in my book Marching to a Worthy Drummer.

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SPIRITUAL EUCHARIST

 

When we think of feeding, we automatically relate to the stomach and material food, even when the topic is connected with God. Our material focus on food limits our understanding of what Jesus really meant when He spoke of food, even in the context of His Word. What does the Word have to do with feeding? There’s nothing material about the Word, and it can’t do anything for our stomachs.

But according to God, man possesses a soul, an attribute more precious and important by far than a stomach, or, in fact, anything material about our body. Jesus spoke of the relative importance of the soul. In Matthew 10:28, for example, He defined the soul as essential and the body as dispensable:

“And fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The salvation of God, that enormous thing that Jesus died on the cross for, applies to the soul rather than to the body. In the spiritual realm, the material part of man is of little or no importance next to the soul. The Word of God, then, insofar as it leads to salvation, and, following that, an ongoing relationship with God, is an input, a nourishment, of the soul. It is spiritual food, without which the soul would wither and die. In that sense, the Word is the most important food that we can obtain. Despite the demanding nature of our stomachs, material food is of far less consequence to our well-being than the Word of God.

Jesus Himself made a direct association of His Word with food. Further, John notes in His Prologue (verses 1-18 of John 1) that Jesus is the Word of God, the very embodiment of it.

In John 6:30-35, Jesus equates Himself with the Bread of Life:

“They said, therefore, to him, What sign show you, then, that we may see, and believe you? What do you work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world. Then said they to him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; he that comes to me shall never hunger, and he that believes on me shall never thirst.”

Again, in John 6:48 Jesus equates Himself with the bread of life, embellishing on its spiritual importance in verse 51:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

In response to this declaration, there were people that just couldn’t lift themselves out of the material world sufficiently to comprehend the spiritual nature of Jesus’ claim:

“The Jews, therefore, strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

A good many Christians, including pastors and theologians from the time that Jesus spoke until and including the present day, undoubtedly have voiced the same question with respect to this passage in John’s Gospel.

Significantly, in John’s Gospel, Jesus equated Himself, and thus His Word, with bread just after performing two miracles, both of which were intimately related to the connection among Peter, Jesus and God’s sharing of His glory with man. The first of these miracles was Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. The second was Jesus’ walking on water and Peter’s short-lived accomplishment of the same.

In Luke 22:15-20, Jesus again associates Himself, the living Word of God, with food and wine:

“And he said to them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will not any more eat of it, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”

The communion ritual of the Eucharist has been passed down in the Church to this day in honor of these words of Jesus. But for both Catholics and Protestants alike it is seen as an act unrelated to the understanding of Jesus as the Word of God. The deeper meaning of the Eucharist, however, is spiritual, as demonstrated by Jesus in linking His blood with the New Testament. We partake of this Eucharist as we partake of our daily bread: by digesting Jesus’ Word in our hearts and living it.

There is another passage in Scripture, this time in Revelation 10:9-11, that treats the Word of God as spiritual food:

“And I went to the angel, and said to him, Give me the little scroll. And he said to me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make your belly bitter, but it shall be in your mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little scroll out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey, and as soon as I had eaten it my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, You must prophesy again about many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.”

That Jesus considered the spiritual food of the Word to be of like nature but far more significant and real than physical food is demonstrated in Matthew 4:2-4, when, after Jesus fasted in the wilderness, satan approached Him, tempting Him:

“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

THE QUEEN MOTHER

 

In Chapter 2 of Scott Hahn’s book Hail, Holy Queen (one of my favorites), he comments on Jesus’ response during the wedding at Cana (John 2) to His mother’s words that “They have no wine.” At these words, Jesus tells her “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

Many Bible commentators, Scott asserts, take Jesus’ words here as a rather harsh put-down to His mother, Mary. Scott defends Jesus’ response, noting that the phrase “what have you to do with me” actually can convey respect.

Without attempting to put words into Scott’s mouth or ideas into his head that he would take strong objection to, I see in this book numerous instances of what many readers readily could interpret as quite brilliant defenses of the vision of a feminine Holy Spirit. In doing so, Scott often seems to camouflage attributes rightly belonging to the Holy Spirit in the person of the Virgin Mary, just as the Catholic Church seems to do in a more general setting. Whether this tendency is intentional on Scott’s part, only he can say. I seem to remember that he has denied such an intent.

While not intentionally disagreeing with Scott’s attempt to defend the benign intent of Jesus’ words to Mary in John 2, these words evoke in my own mind the thought that perhaps Jesus, while responding to Mary, was thinking of how the wedding at Cana was but a foreshadow of His future marriage to His Church in the spiritual realm. Perhaps He was anticipating with great joy the time when His hour would finally come, when His spiritual Mother, the Holy Spirit, would participate in His future wedding to His Church. In fact, Dr. Hahn himself appears to come to that same conclusion in his Chapter 2. If such were indeed the case, this exchange between Jesus and Mary can be viewed as providing a beautiful Scriptural reference in support of the Holy Spirit’s femininity.

Farther along in the book, in Chapter 3, Dr. Hahn addresses the woman of Revelation 11:19 through 12, of which I extract parts below:

“And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven – a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and, behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and did cast them to the earth; and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered, to devour her child as soon as it was born.

And she brought forth a male child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up onto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”

Many evangelical Christians associate the woman of Revelation 12 with the nation of Israel. Scott Hahn notes that some theologians identify her as the Church, and proceeds to discuss why this identification doesn’t quite fit the Scriptural description. He then applies a more fitting identification of her as Mary, adding a beautifully profound association of her with the ark of Revelation 11:19: “If the first ark contained the Word of God in stone, Mary’s body contained the Word of God enfleshed.”

The passage in Revelation 11:19, which immediately precedes Revelation 12’s description of the woman clothed with the sun, actually seems to belong to that later chapter.

While Scott’s association of the Ark with Mary may be quite true, here again I perceive a yet higher association, one that, while not taking away from Mary’s role here, adds yet another layer to it. Noting that the location of the drama in Revelation 11 and 12 is in the spiritual domain, I would rephrase Scott’s assertion as “If the first ark contained the Word of God in stone, and Mary’s body contained the Word of God enfleshed, the Holy Spirit contained the Word of God in Spirit.” I see the ultimate Woman of Revelation 12 as the Holy Spirit. To me, that image is quite beautiful.

Lately, I’ve taken to re-reading in the evenings the historical books of Scripture; Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. At the present time, in going through 2 Kings, I’ve noticed that as the kings and their deeds were recounted, mention was given of their mothers. In Chapter 4 of Hail, Holy Queen, Dr. Hahn addresses the importance of the Queen Mother to the King’s regime. His explanation of her status is most interesting: the practice of the kings of that era of taking multiple wives led to the awkward situation of selecting to whom would be bestowed the honor of serving in the primary position of queen. This situation was wisely avoided by placing the mother of the king in that exalted position. Scott Hahn revisits Revelation 12 in this chapter, enthroning Mary, as mother of Jesus, as the woman of such queenly stature as described in Revelation 12:1 and 2, as co-Regent of Jesus in His ultimate role of kingship over the earth.

While there may be some truth to Scott’s assignment here, I see a far more profound truth, and one more harmonious to the Scriptural text, in assigning to the Holy Spirit this same function.

DISCOVERING HIDDEN BEAUTY

 

For a long time now, modern Churchgoers have questioned the motive and, even more seriously, the guiding Hand of the Holy Spirit behind Paul’s descriptions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 regarding the proper role of women in Church. Was Paul a misogynist, as some have claimed? Was he really listening to the voice of God when he wrote those passages?

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

Given Paul’s beautiful description of the marriage between Christ and His Church in Ephesians 5:22-33, it is highly doubtful that Paul was a misogynist.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the savior of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

“Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife, see that she reverence her husband.”

It is inconceivable to me that Paul could have written the above passage under an attitude of disdain toward women, or worse, a rebellious streak of independence from God. It is far more likely that here, as well as in the two passages cited earlier, that Paul wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who had something more profound to impart to the reader of Scripture than we have so far been able to grasp.

The problem with attempting to attribute Paul’s discussions of the woman’s role in Church to going off the reservation is that he was not the only one in Scripture to say what he did. Isaiah 3:12 and 1 Peter 3:1-5 have much the same to say:

“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.”

“In the same manner, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the behavior of the wives, while they behold your chaste conduct coupled with fear; whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of the wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden person of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quite spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands.”

Knowing from 2 Peter 1:20 and 21 and from Paul himself in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 that all Scripture is inspired of the Holy Spirit and applies to all generations, I sense that something much more profound and supportive of the dignity of womanhood is in play here than what is commonly understood. Perhaps a major clue to our understanding of Paul’s words is encapsulated in Ephesians 5:33: “. . .let every one of you. . .so love his wife even as himself; and the wife, see that she reverence her husband.” Notice in this sentence the different roles played by the man and his wife: the man loves, even sacrificially, while the woman reverences him. This difference harmonizes with the difference in roles spelled out for male and female from the very beginning in Genesis 2:

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help fit for him. . . And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.”

Out of this passage one can quickly discern a significant difference in roles: the man is to be the initiator, and the woman the responder. We can directly understand this difference today in a more practical and earthly setting, merely by observing the two genders in their actions and interactions among others. This difference is more basic than cultural: it is the way that we were designed by God. It has nothing to do with equality; male and female have exactly the same standing before God, as Paul noted in Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, here is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Scripture also is quick to point out that the man’s role involves the burden of responsibility, to the point of sacrifice, and that should a man fail to assume his proper role, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to take his place. To back that statement up, I refer the reader to the example of Deborah in Judges 4.

God made male and female different for the purpose of harmony: the woman serves as a complementary other to the man. A responsive woman performs that purpose as a complementary other to the initiator man.

In my opinion the issue extends beyond the complementary way that God designed men and women. According to Genesis 1:26 and 27,

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

This passage, along with the story of Eve’s creation out of Adam in Genesis 2, appears to point back to the very form in which the Godhead itself exists, with the Holy Spirit interacting with the Divine Will that we know as the Father as His responsive Other, the Divine Means. If in fact there is truth to this perceived connection, and if indeed the Holy Spirit is functionally feminine as I strongly suspect, Paul’s demand of women that they remain silent during Church services represents nothing less than the call for women to behave as proper types of the Holy Spirit.

What an honor it would be for Christian women to represent the Holy Spirit! If such is the case, as I believe with my heart, the passages in Paul cited above, rather than maligning womanhood, exalts this gender with an awesome connection to God.

THE ROMANCE BETWEEN JESUS AND HIS CHURCH

 

While He resided on earth, Jesus, despite some unjustified speculations to the contrary, remained celibate. That refusal to marry has been a cause of consternation to some, who see in that a lack of fulfillment, an incompleteness in Jesus.

While indeed rendering Him incomplete, Jesus’ celibacy also rendered Him faithful, for Jesus was betrothed to His Church.

That eloquent passage in Hebrews 11 of godly people who endure suffering for their faith, ends with the following phrase that tells us that these heroes of the faith did not receive the fullness of God’s blessings themselves, because of us and our own contributions:

God having provided some better thing for us that they without us should not be made perfect.”

This statement implies that it must be equally true that “neither they nor us, without Jesus, should be made perfect.”

In quoting Adam in Genesis 2:24, Paul explained to us in Ephesians 5:31 and 32 a mystery of enormous significance, that Adam’s declaration in Genesis 2:23 and 24 applied not only to mankind, but to Jesus as well:

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

Given this statement of Paul’s in the light of Jesus’ celibacy during His time on earth, a second and greatly significant restatement of that ending passage of Hebrews 11 could be made: “. . . even Jesus, God having provided some better thing for us, without us should not be made perfect.”

Scripture actually gives us a sound reason to perceive that the union between Jesus and His Church will be a romantic one. The Song of Solomon is rather explicit in that regard, verses 12 through 17 of Chapter 1 being representative:

“While the king sits at his table, my spikenard sends forth the smell thereof. A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night between my breasts. My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant; also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.”

Perhaps the most appropriate commentary to the Song of Solomon is the one given in the Schofield Bible in its prelude to the Song:

Nowhere in Scripture does the unspiritual mind tread upon ground so mysterious and incomprehensible as in this book, whereas saintly men and women throughout the ages have found it a source of pure and exquisite delight. That the love of the divine Bridegroom, symbolized here by Solomon’s love for the Shulamite maiden, should follow the analogy of the marriage relationship seems evil only to minds that are so ascetic that marital desire itself appears to them to be unholy.

The book is the expression of pure marital love as ordained by God in creation, and the vindication of that love as against both asceticism and lust – the two profanations of the holiness of marriage. Its interpretation is threefold: . . .(3) as an allegory of Christ’s love for His heavenly bride, the Church. . .”

Jesus himself hints at His future joy with the Church as His Bride in the wedding at Cana, John 2:1-11:

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana, of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they lacked wine, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have not wine. Jesus said to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come. His mother said to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, Draw some out now, and bear it to the governor of the feast. And they bore it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was (but the servants who drew the water knew) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and said to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine and, when men have well drunk, then that which is worse; but you have kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana, of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

With an understanding of Jesus’ romantic relationship with His Church in mind, a careful reading of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah in Genesis 24, the Song of Solomon, Isaiah 54, and Jesus’ first miracle in John 2 of changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana, plainly reveals beforehand the mystery that Paul revealed in Ephesians 5.

THE ROMANTIC BOND

 

Of all the possible relationships people may have among each other, the romantic bond uniquely involves three features harmoniously and synergistically combined: functional unity, mutual possession, and shared intimacy.

Of itself, the feature of functional unity is common among relationships. It is the essence of teamwork, wherein individuals, each having specialized tasks, operate together in coordinated fashion to achieve higher-level objectives. Functional unity serves as the most sought-after expectation of armies, factories, sports teams and virtually every human endeavor that requires multiple persons working toward a common goal. Most relationships, however, require instruction and training to achieve that feature of human interaction, and firm supervision to maintain it.

In a good romance, however, teamwork is achieved far more naturally than in other relationships, requiring neither instruction, training, nor coercion. Gender-based specialization automatically delineates the normal roles of the participants, enabling them to interact together in complementary fashion without giving much thought to the process. Moreover, this functional synergism within the romantic bond uniquely complements the other two distinctive features, mutual possession and shared intimacy.

Outside of romance, possession is essentially off the table for normal human relationships. As in slavery or prison, possession of one human being by another is always, with but one exception, unhappy and forced. That exception is a passionate romance, which involves mutual possession as not only a voluntary act by the partners, but a comfort as well, and an expectation that each places on the other. Any situation that threatens that possessive bond, such as a potential romantic interest outside that relationship, is seen in a vehemently negative light. Two of God’s Ten Commandments address that very issue.

Scripture itself sometimes conveys that same sense of possession regarding relationships within the Godhead, between God and humanity, and between individuals. Unfortunately, instances in which possession is the topic is very often misinterpreted by Christians as meaning something entirely different than what the text plainly states. An example of that is found in Jeremiah 10:12:

“[God] has made the earth by his power; he has established the world by his wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens by his discretion.”

This passage has often been interpreted to mean the essential opposite of what it intended to convey. In the common misinterpretation, the words “power”, “wisdom” and “discretion” are taken as attributes of the Father. As this interpretation applies these claims to the Father alone, it effectively denies their potential application to the other Members of the Godhead. In other contexts within Scripture, and particularly throughout the Book of Proverbs, all three of these so-called “attributes” are associated with the Holy Spirit rather than the Father. In an alternate interpretation these “attributes” can be taken to be possessive in nature toward the Holy Spirit. In that context the “attributes” belong to the Father’s Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit who belongs to the Father. Under that very natural alternate interpretation a completely different understanding of that passage results, one with romantic implications.

Another example tends to corroborate the possessive interpretation of the passage noted above, wherein the object of the possession is an Entity rather than a mere thing or attribute. The Scriptural passage for this example is Ephesians 5:25-28:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.”

In verse 28 of this passage, the body of the wife is possessively related to the man. The man owns his wife’s body, just as she owns his. Paul was very explicit in this connection in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5:

“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to the wife due benevolence; and likewise also, the wife to the husband. The wife has not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband has not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud you not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”

The possessive ownership of each others’ bodies, while taken for granted in romantic relationships within humanity, is often avoided in the context of the relationship between Jesus and His Church. Yet Paul was quite explicit in his establishment of that as well, as Ephesians 5 continues in verses 29 through 32:

“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

But why, if the Church’s marriage to Jesus is to be a meaningful one in the context of our marriages to each other, did Paul in Ephesians 3:28 declare us to be neither male nor female in the spiritual realm? The obvious answer is that we as individuals are simply components of the composite Church, which herself is gendered. Paul alludes to this differentiation between individuals and the composite Church in 1 Corinthians 12:12-17:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

Given the common misunderstanding of Ephesians 3:28, Ephesians 5:28 is often misinterpreted as supporting the common claim that the Church is the one and only spiritual body of Christ, inferring that the Church is the exclusive repository of that body. In the more natural context of possession, however, the Church belongs to Jesus as a body integral with His own, in the same sense that a wife’s body belongs to her husband as an integral component of his own body, just as Adam in Genesis 2:24, Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Paul in Ephesians 5:31 directly stated.

Of the three features of romantic love, the third, shared intimacy, is the strongest bonding agent to unite the couple. Other human relationships can involve intimacy, but never to the extent of the sexual union between a man and a woman in their romantic partnership. God designed it that way to impart to the gender-based relationship its unique fullness, to set the couple apart from others as a special inviolate unity. It is the intimacy of their shared sexuality, or the promise of it, in synergy with their shared possession of each other, that gives their romance its very strength of passion. Nothing other than that intimacy provides individuals with a bonding force of that strength or beauty.

WORSHIPING GOD

 

How does one go about worshiping God? In America today, there probably are as many styles and motives of worship as Jelly-Belly flavors – maybe even as much as Jelly-Bellys themselves.

We’re pretty sure that God isn’t dwarfish – most of us perceive Him as rather larger than we are. That size difference evokes a sense of God’s magnificent power, and many Churches affirm that majesty in their communal worship. Others see in that difference in size and power that God possesses considerably more “things” than we do, and consequently adjust their style of worship toward pleas to share the wealth.

Still others, knowing of the promise of the Holy Spirit indwelling believers, seek to tap into that power, just like Simon attempted to do as described in Acts 8:9-24:

“But there was a certain man, called Simon, who previously in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that for a long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and was amazed, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he was fallen upon none of them; only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent, therefore, of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee; for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.”

This incident has left us with the word simony, which has come to mean, according to one dictionary, “The act of buying or selling places of honor in the church”, a practice that was particularly rampant in the medieval Church and contributed to Martin Luther’s choler against it. People never learn.

Simony is practiced today in a more subtle form among the Church laity, wherein tithing is related to expectations regarding personal finances and workplace successes. But all of the worship practices noted above, including the obsequious slobbering, tail-wagging groveling associated with the worship of God’s majesty, have one glaring characteristic in common: they all are, at their core, dreadfully self-serving. They all constitute nothing but lobbying God for favors. Of such practices, Scripture says in John 9:31:

“Now we know that God hears not sinners; but if any man be a worshiper of God, and does His will, him He hears.”

Self-service is not what God intended worship to be. According to the Bible, what God wants out of us is a restoration of communion with Him, as He initially enjoyed with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He even went so far as to sacrifice Jesus on the cross to provide the way for that to happen.

How, then, should we worship God in a manner pleasing to Him? Above all, we must know the God whom we worship. The only reliable way to know God is to read Scripture, His Self-revelation to us. That, of course, is a process, one which can be supported by the fellowship offered by the Church. Rather quickly, the reader of Scripture comes to understand the true majesty of God, which is pure love, always taking the form of noble selflessness and evoking the same from us. As we come to understand His greatness in love, our worship always should include the spirit of thanksgiving for what we do possess, most of all being His loving, gracious inclusion of us in His extended family.

As suggested in the passage in John quoted above, our worship also should involve active obedience to His will, as it is thoroughly described in Scripture. As Paul plainly notes, our salvation has nothing to do with works; nevertheless, as James also plainly notes, godly works come naturally through the Holy Spirit who indwells believers who have accepted the offer of salvation through Jesus’ vicarious work on the cross in our behalf, moves them to service to God and gifts them with the wherewithal to do so. This does not mean that the Christian need immediately seek out the nearest soup kitchen, but rather that he or she should be available for service as moved by the Holy Spirit. Christians who do serve the Lord in that way quickly learn that such service brings them ever closer to God in a wonderfully loving, productive relationship.