Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Much more than that!

The Scriptures employ a wide range of pictures to help us grasp the many facets of our relationship with God. If you consider them in a sort of ascending order, there is a noticeable and utterly breathtaking progression.

Formerly, of course, we were enemies of God, subject to judgement and condemnation. We were dismissive of God or outwardly rebellious; yet he has wooed us, won us, drawn us, called us and saved us. We were running way from him; but in his love he revealed himself to us, encouraged us to turn around and run towards him (repentance) and has changed our hearts so that instead of resisting him, we yield to him. From our former state we have been raised from one degree of glory to another.

We are the clay and he is the Potter. We start out as little more than a clod of earth; perhaps distinctive in colour and texture, and with some potential, but without much glory or use. His loving, creative hands shape us, mould us, form something beautiful and worthwhile from an otherwise unpromising lump. He puts form and character into our random rawness. The firing process purifies us and we end up as a vessel into which he will joyfully pour his Spirit, to the point of overflowing, and will continue to do so. And from within this vessel of clay come streams of living water, an outflowing of refreshing for the world.

Moving up a notch, we are the sheep and he is the Shepherd, which is a little better position on the food chain but hardly flattering; sheep don’t have a reputation as the most graceful and intelligent creatures in the world. However, it has to said that sheep work well as a team, knowing how to follow their master, and serve a valuable function for society in terms of wool for clothing and blankets, milk and later meat for nourishment and with a helpful lawnmoving service thrown in. Yet he cares for us, watches over us, counts us out of the fold and back in again. He knows us by name, will protect us from enemies such as thieves and wolves, will lay down his life for us. He will seek us out and rescue us when we go astray, bringing us home with great rejoicing.

Moving upward, we are the servants of the Master, which at least lets us into the house, even if we have to wipe our feet, watch our manners, and not talk too much. We have the dignity of belonging to the household, of work and of serving a just and honest Master. Our tasks may be lowly, but we know the Master is concerned to keep us healthy; he does not beat us into submission but deserves our respect by his faithfulness to us.

Are you content to be a servant? The ladder of metaphors is about to make a swift ascent.

God also calls us his children and calls himself our heavenly Father, which brings us into the privileged possibility of real emotional closeness — love is not one of the things a drinking vessel or chamber pot and its craftsman share together, nor does a sheep truly know the heart of the shepherd, though it may enjoy the fruits of his kindness a servant may be granted access to the home, but a child truly belongs. A Father loves and protects and trains and seeks the best for his children; a Father gives good gifts, nurtures, teaches and disciplines his little ones. He gathers them around him and tells them his secrets and shares family life with them, communicating to them that they belong and are valuable. So precious. And provides an inheritance of more riches than they can imagine. He would shed his blood for his own. Still, there is something more than even the best parent-child relationship.

Friendship levels the playing field in a way family never can, at least not until the kids have grown up; perhaps not until they have attained adulthood themselves. Friendship opens a level of communion that a five-year-old can’t know with his mother and father. Friendship speaks of two-way flow, mutual trust and support, honour and esteem. There may still be elements of discipleship, and there will certainly be a pooling of strengths and weaknesses, with one providing assistance to the other. In this friendship, the support and help always flows from God, but he esteems us as friends, granting us the honour of that title. We were once enemies of God, rebelling or careless about him; now we are friends.

Do you rejoice in eing a friend of God? While this is completely amazing, there is san even higher and deeper level of intimacy and partnership awaiting us at the top of this metaphorical ascent.

We are lovers. The courtship began with a honeymoon in the Garden. It deteriorated into disaster and unfaithfulness for a long time but has culminated in the wedding feast of the Lamb. ‘I will take delight in you,’ he says to us, ‘as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will I rejoice over you.’ This is so that we might say in return, ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me; his banner over me is love.’ The ultimate level of closeness and intimacy (considering we were once enemies of God) is reflected in this title. Let us not be dismissive of the role of the Church as the Bride of Christ, but rejoice greatly that we are to be comforted, caressed, protected, loved, esteemed, honoured, welcomed, sought after and nurtured as a bridegroom with his wife. How glorious is that! And it's the first time that the phrase so often used of newlyweds is actually appropriate: they live happily ever after.

Judge/enemy - Ephesians 2:3
Potter/clay - Jeremiah 18:3-6
Shepherd/sheep - Psalm 23:1
Master/servant - John 13:14
Father/son - John 1:12
Friend/friend - John 15:14
Lover/lover - Song of Solomon 7:10

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