Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Relationship (vs. Action)

I don't think God ever really forms things out of clay the way we often think of it; He just creates a relationship.

Art Katz noted in a sermon on Creation that before God entered the picture, there was chaos, because this is the natural state of things. Walter Brown in "In the Beginning"


adds that at this point, all of the elements to make everything - protons, neutrons and electrons - were present, but it was only when God created the scientific relationships that govern electron bonding that any potential became manifest. That is because matter is an idea; a relationship. When God created, He conceived the relationship, and then let the raw materials work according to it, without further intervention.

It seems, for example, from Brown's description of Creation, that God just separated the water from the land so that the land was suspended in the water, with water above and below.


He then drew back, and let the minute imperfections in the density of the firmament work out the form of the land and seas. Dense areas sagged and water streamed in on top, causing it to sag further. Lighter, thinner areas rose to become mountains, and by the end of the day, the foundations of the earth were laid as the densest portions deformed under the weight of the rock above, touching down to the bottom of the subterranean sea as a pillar of the earth.

We often view God as a Sculptor - and rightly so, because that metaphor is used in the Bible. However, I don't think that His way of sculpting contains any of the trial and error that is the essence of human sculpting. We are the only human element in this sculpting process, so we are the only source of the trial and error involved in the process. The only "action" God does is to create the relationship between Sculptor and clay, and it is our own action and response that creates the subsequent molding. This is not to say that God has no part in the process that follows; rather, the full extent of the whole process was contained in God's first action - which again, was not an action in the human sense of willful exertion, but the Heavenly sense of the creation of a relationship.

I think it may be true to say that God never acts, but only creates relationships. An action is sudden, immediate and immutable. A relationship enters gently, gradually, and changes in response to both parties.

Getting back to the Creation story, on one hand, God could have created the earth instantaneously. On the other hand, He could have molded the earth out of clay the way we would laboriously form and pinch and incise and scrape a hunk of modeling clay to create a model of the earth. Rather, He seems to have issued one command, and then watched as the process unfolded over the space of a full day - within the week that had the busiest schedule in history. This is the only stage of Creation that God does not call "good" - likely because it was not finished by that evening (Gen 1:8).

I think this is very telling of God's character. I think that when He does an "action" in our lives, it unfolds in the same way. He simply creates a relationship with us, and then steps back to allow our human trials and errors dialogue with the relationship He has started. In this way, we are molded throughout the years of our Christian walk. He is never far away, but neither is He the nagging parent that seeks to correct our every misstep. He is the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2), but let me propose that in the interceding portion, He is not constantly involved; He is constantly available, but our free will must be untainted, for this is the foundational aspect of the relationship that He started with us. We must also "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). We are responsible for working it all out, though God is, of course, with us through it all ([next part of that verse]: "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" [Phil 2:13]).

He is not only with us, and not only within us, but we are part of Him, and He of us; we are in His very bones:

For no man ever 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.

The action that begins (authors) and finally culminates in (finishes) a marriage is a relationship, plain and simple. The result of this perfected relationship is that two spirits become one flesh. God's spirit - his Own Spirit, that was originally locked inside His Eternal Body - He gives to abide in us. So that our spirit and His coexist in His body, in his flesh, and in His bones. Or more precisely, in the body, flesh and bones of his Bride, with whom He will become one flesh.

So even though God only begins - authors - our salvation, and then after all these years, finishes it, He is in no way absent or aloof. He combines us into Himself - that's how much He doesn't want to miss any part of what goes on.

This is how we, the clay, get molded. When God begins a relationship with us, he holds us close. Like Jesus saying of Jerusalem: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Luke 13:34).' So many of the people of Jerusalem would not allow Jesus to begin a relationship with them, but if you open that door, Jesus' immediate response is to 'gather you under his wings.' The meaning of this phrase in Hebrew also referred to the "tzitzit," or "tassels on the corners of your garments" (Num 15:38), which were the "wings" of the prayer shawl. Jewish wedding ceremonies are often conducted underneath the groom's prayer shawl. In the same way, when Ruth came to Boaz to ask him to marry her, she asked him to spread his prayer shawl over her, for he was a near kinsman. Ruth came to Boaz, contrary to custom, and opened up the door to a marriage relationship. Boaz's immediate response was to gather her under his wings; a beautiful picture of the church approaching Christ, and being accepted by Him into marriage (Ruth 3:9).

God is not at all absent during the sculpting process. Although our own free will has to guide every compression, scrape, incision, cutting, and smoothing out that occurs in the sculpting process, God's Love is pressed right up on the other side of every manipulation that we make in our clay; and our clay is the body, and flesh, and bones of the Bride with whom He will become one flesh.

It should be noted that there is a further implication of this Potter and clay metaphor: the reason a potter or sculptor has to work a hunk of clay so thoroughly is that if there are any air bubbles in it when it gets fired in the kiln, it will explode. To abide in Christ is to constantly be asking Him (from where He is, pressed up against our clay, but not actively molding it Himself) where our air bubbles are, where we have to pinch and squeeze, and re-mold afterward. If we do not continue in this practice, we run the very real risk of entering into the fires of tribulation, and self-destructing on account of the air bubbles we harbour in ourselves.

God is intimately involved, yet strictly censored in regard to His action within us, because He limits Himself to Relationship as opposed to Action. I think this is what John is getting at throughout his first letter. Everything he says is so broad, so simple, and yet so impossible as far as we can understand. And yet John says this is the only way it is; the only way it can be.

How can he say, for instance: 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God' (?!) (1 John 3:9).

The reason he can say that is because of his earlier statement: 'If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness' (1 John 1:8,9).

The implication is that of course we have sin in us, but we also have a ready means of working out that sin as soon as we detect it, or rather, as soon as we allow the Holy Spirit to detect it within us.

Let's be cheeky for a moment, and try substituting "air bubble" for "sin," to keep the metaphor going:

'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit air bubbles; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot have air bubbles, because he is born of God.'
'If we say we have no air bubbles, we decieve ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our air bubbles, he is faithful and just to [pop all of] our air bubbles, and to cleanse us from all air bubble-ness.'

The only way to read 1 John on the level at which it was written is to first contemplate the nature of what it means to abide in Christ. One important aspect is that abiding is not the passive, sedentary action that the word suggests to us; it is rather the very essence of "the working out of our own salvation," - an active relationship in which we work out - with God - all the air bubbles through the "transformation [that comes] by the renewing of [our] minds, that [we] may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:2).

This is the "rest" that we paradoxically "labour" to enter (Heb 4:11). I think the genius of this truth is that as long as we hold on to anything of ourselves (that lives only for itself), that part of us will not have rest and peace. The rest will never be complete, because it will necessarily end at some point. But the rest we have in Christ is hope which is "an anchor of the soul, a hope sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 6:19,20).

Was God's rest on the seventh day of Creation 'for Himself' in the same way that we might take a Saturday morning 'just for me' after a long work-week? I tend to think, rather, that He took that time 'just for us' - His Creation:

For he who has entered into His rest has himself rested from his works, as God did from his.
Hebrews 4:10

If the man in the above passage rests fully from all works that define him, God also rested from all the works that defined Him (the works of Creation), and seemed to say: 'today I want to focus on you.'

If we take our rest with a mind to replenish our own reserves, our rest will be fleeting and grudging. If we take rest with a mind to approach closer to that anchor-place of hope that has already passed within the veil (Heb 6:19), we free ourselves from the necessity to give passing rest to that which is only going to get tired again. We are given the grace to rest in the Finished Work of Christ, completely outside of ourselves, even while we continue to labour within ourselves to perfect that work through communion with Christ.

This is a mystery: that we can say with absolute assurance that God is actively "moving" in our lives in a huge number of ways, and yet all movement comes only from our own actions, based in our own will. God has found a way to help us where His help is forbidden; to dwell with us while our sins create an impenetrable wall between us and Him. He cannot deny Himself, so He does not break His own rules; but He finds elaborate ways around them.

Note that in the verse above, our minds have to be 'renewed by being transformed' - not in order to prove the best way to exercise our free wills (which, after all, is the place where all the air bubbles come from) but to 'prove the perfect will of God,' which will in that moment finally be 'good and acceptable' to us (we will be able to see then that God's will is, in fact, Good, and we will be able to accept it). That is the moment wherein our wills finally subsume into His; but we only get to that moment by a constant sculpting relationship with Him, where all the manipulation of the clay has to come from our wills, which are in the process of being perfected, so that they might eventually be replaced by His will, which is, indeed, Perfect.

As in the case of the universe's naturally chaotic state, it is the relationship that God introduces that creates and defines us, and God does not pronounce it "good" until it is finished. But it will be finished one day, since He is the author and finisher of our faith, and "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Unseen Realities Glimmering
Curtis MacLean
Oil on board

Sometimes the artistic process can tell you a lot about life, if you pay attention.
This painting started out as a warehouse window - I was pursuing a concept that I did not feel too strongly about - eventually I just couldn't bear to make something I wasn't engaged with. The important thing here, though, is that I made the decision to rub out my work with a sanding block only a few hours before the painting was due for critique. I had known for a long time while working on the painting that rubbing it out would be the right thing to do, but I wanted to convince myself that I could still work with it. 
It's like convincing yourself that you can work with the life you have, when you know that what you need to do is just rub everything out.

The painting is a remnant. 
What's left is the base of the painting that couldn't be erased - and to me, it's really beautiful. Like a picture of spiritual purging. I held on to my original idea for so long because I knew there was something worthwhile there - but everything worthwhile about it was only revealed when everything else was removed. That which is truly real is invisible, and I feel like I captured some of that unseen reality in the course of the process of this painting; hence the title.
Time for some spring cleaning.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Sometimes I think I just want to be void.

Sometimes I don't want to acknowledge all of the substance that goes into my existence - the weight that hangs on every action. Because if you always are conscious of that, you can NEVER REST. You can never just vegetate. And sometimes I think the human soul needs that. But whenever I give in to vegetation, I inevitably end up in sin, because I stop caring about the eternal framework that surrounds me. Allowing yourself not to know, when you do know, is wrong. But it seems that it would be fake to just wrench my mind back into that eternal mindset of all-pervading substance, when nothing in my own soul indicates that any of that exists right now.

Buddhists embrace the void. And they typically practice the most humane conduct of any human group. But leaving a void open in the world always means it will be filled by the powers that rule this world, and Buddhism is thus a conduit for demonic activity. Humane conduct is only human, Love is supernatural.

But when you are not feeling remotely supernatural, and perhaps only half-human, how can you do anything short of just turning off for a while?

It would be nice to settle down into that vanity, and work with it, and then call it something. Call it art. Did I just call all of my art vanity? I suppose Solomon would agree...

I think I know the answers.

Don't look for anything of substance within your own spirit.

When at a loss, praise God.

But I suppose putting those changes into effect in my life just takes discipline. But love is definitely a type of discipline, and that is hardly ever recognized. To love someone is a conscious decision, an act of continual discipline, a covenant. And it is the exact opposite of vanity.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


There is a peace that comes in sadness and humility; in total dejection. It is a peace that comes from a cessation of striving, of justifying your actions, of being cheerful when you do not feel so. Nothing more is required now. Only this weight of knowledge that you can taste. In total defeat, humility and sadness become the things that you breathe and taste, and since there is nothing else in you, you move into the sadness like a new home far away from the one you grew up in. And the peace comes from knowing how God has it all together, and you have nothing together. And this no longer inspires the slight affront to your ego that it formerly would have.

A nobility of meekness is a beautiful thing, but to arrive there, you must go by the way of ignobility and humiliation. You must forget about yourself as an individual, as a thinking, rational being, as an entity taking up space. These things will be added later, but at the beginning of the process, you are robbed of the accoutrements of nobility and gentlemanliness. 

And when you've lived for a while in that sadness, with meekness, you soon realize that there is nothing sad about the place where you are. You become aware of the bottom-of-the-well-place where you have lived, and you simply begin to climb up.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire 
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
- T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

Monday, June 2, 2008

1 John 3:14b - 16

He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Whoever does not love is dead. Whoever hates, kills. Whoever loves, lays down his life to receive it back forevermore.

Love is so bound up in life - its giving and taking - because love is life itself.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Art Katz writes on page 78 of Apostolic Foundations: ' is not now except in the light of that which comes after.

He is referring to the promises which will be fulfilled when Christ returns. In the world's view, 'now' is the direct consequence of what has come chronologically before, and modern science maintains that the present is the key to the past. From this new standpoint, however, the present would have no purpose to be, except that it be fulfilled. 'Now' would not be if there were not an 'after' to give it purpose; indeed all purposes which have ever been enacted in time will be judged on the day of judgement. Therefore all purposes should be considered only in the light of that coming day. Every good and bad motivation which has ever been played out in the universe will be brought to its rightful fulfillment on that day. Therefore the purpose, and ultimate reality of the present is bound up in that specific point of the future, and without each other, neither would exist.

The still point of the turning world is not a place which exists in the middle of this planet - a particle of matter that spins in a fixed place rather than moving in revolution around the middle axis. It is a theoretical point in space, always too perfect and precise to be occupied by any atom of matter, no matter how small.  However, faith in, and understanding of that theoretical, perfect still point is required before the imperfect particles surrounding it can come into being, as otherwise they would have nothing around which to organize themselves. This is why faith precedes substance. This is why the unseen is more real than the seen. What is seen is only that which has been built upon the foundation of unseen realities, and if those unseen realities departed, there would be found no place for the physical things. That is why, when in John's vision in Revelation 20:11 Christ returned to bring in a new heaven and earth, "...the earth and heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them."
At this point, at the end of history, the unseen realities underlying this world will change, to be replaced by a new world, and the old will no longer have any basis to exist.

It is like when a shadow is cast. In order for the shadow to exist, there must be a physical body to define it. The shadow has no substance of its own, but must appear or disappear depending on the light of its environment, and the movement of the form which is casting it. We often think of faith as the shadow - the ephemeral thing that accompanies us, and is affected by the lightness or darkness of our lives. But faith is the real reality. Faith is the physical, substantial form which makes the shadow possible, and if the placement of the form moves, the shadow must also move. The rational reason why a mountain will move when it is commanded in faith is that the shadow does not have the authority to operate apart from that which creates it. This is the basis for miracles. Jesus said that he who asks receives. Because if we ask in faith, we redefine physical reality. The dead are raised, limbs grow back, souls are regenerated - because we live in a corrupted shadow-world, but God has granted us access into the real world. We have eternal life, even now. We are citizens of heaven. We live in a reality that transcends the stuff of earth that surrounds us.

Hebrews 11:1 
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Faith is not a fleeting human conjurance, or even a human idea; it is the very evidence and substance of the things that will come into being through it. The substance of things to come owe their existence to faith, and the faith owes its existence to that which will follow, and fulfill it. That is why when one prays in faith, one does not simply ask anything of God, and expect that He will provide it. The prayer of faith apprehends the thing that God wants to do, and indeed will do, and this Purpose alone is what is prayed for. The prayer of faith becomes possible when one is truly dead and hidden with Christ in God. 

Colossians 3:1-4
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

This passage bespeaks a place of faith, existence and prayer that is totally encapsulated in the real world; not coloured by our own ambitions or subjective desires. "...Christ, who is your life..." There is nothing else except Christ that defines the life of one who lives by faith. And thus, there is nothing except the Purpose of Christ to define the prayer of one who prays in faith. Oswald Chambers, in addressing the command to "pray without ceasing" gave this radical definition of prayer: "Prayer is the breath in our lungs, and the blood from our hearts."
In order to live with such radical prayer, one must live with equally radical faith.

I believe that God waits for us to pray before He acts. He could certainly go ahead and accomplish what He knows is best, but He suffers His Purposes to be carried out through the prayers of His saints, because He wants to have a relationship with us. He wants to teach us to be like Him not solely through the example of His works, but through union in the accomplishment of those works. And that union is only birthed in a place of faith where the unseen is understood to be the foundation of the seen.

The Still Point of the Turning World.. continued

I want to add a bit more to my last post. I was listening to a message by Art Katz, and he brought up the fact that maybe the last thing that stands between a Christian and his or her walk with God is one's own sense of spirituality.. 

It's like Abraham. His spiritual walk with God was defined by his son Isaac; all of what he had been waiting for from God was encapsulated in the birth of Isaac, for it was through Isaac - and only Isaac (even another son to be born later would not be sufficient) - that everything promised to Abraham would come to pass. But God required that Abraham sacrifice his son, apparently therefore forfeiting all the promises to come through him. 

But Abraham was willing to do so, because he believed that God would even raise his son back from the dead, if that was required. In this, Abraham signified that even his own spirituality; the unique promises that set him apart from all others, and to which alone he held onto for spiritual security, he was willing to give up. The still point of the turning world cannot be reached unless one is willing to give up even that which one perceives as being synonymous with the desires of God, as only the true Purposes of God are worthwhile. 

Wolfgang Simpson, a German saint, once witnessed a windstorm in one of the dense old-growth forests of his country. Before the storm, the interior of the wood had been majestic, with the soaring trees above, and a clean floor below, uncluttered with other vegetation. Afterwards, when most of the trees had fallen, lush vegetation began to grow up. It had previously been hindered in its growth because the tall trees blocked the sunlight. His analogy, then, was that our own spiritual lives might seem majestic and stately, but it could be that this very status which we have grown used to is the thing which is blocking the growth that God wants to begin.

And in the end, God did not require the death of Abraham's son, but only the death of Abraham's own will, his own ambitions and sense of himself as himself, apart from God's desire for his life.