This post poses a thought. It’s one of those things that just goes, “Click!” one day, as you’re praying/studying… something falls into place… with sort of an, “Of course!” feel to it… But, it’s really hard to put into words that would make sense to describe.
I offer this thought here for your perusal, your consideration, your comment. I do NOT present it as being “True to the exclusion of all other understandings or perspectives,” so if you don’t agree, think nothing of it. Feel free to cast it aside.
This thought follows from “Christmas Trees and Solar Flares“, from the indivisible, unparsable nature of God as “I AM”. That “I AM”, is not only God’s Name, but also His Nature… “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.” [Deuteronomy 6:4].
I was reading through John 10, as Don Merritt was teaching on the Gospel of John. I was arrested by the following verses, in Jesus’ teaching about His being the Good Shepherd.
“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it downI on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” [John 10:17-18]
I was arrested here. Alarm bells seemed to go off at the word “commandment”. Why? I wasn’t sure. But we see the Lord speak very carefully and clearly, repeating His key concepts, not to be misunderstood, that He will lay down His life by His own choice and His own authority. He speaks of sovereignty, of power, of His right to do this. But THEN, in the very next verse, His concluding verse of this thought, He says, “This COMMANDMENT I received from My Father.”
Now, I realize the obvious implication that in verse 17, He is making clear that no PERSON on earth… not the Sanhedrin, not Caiaphas, not Pilate, has the authority to take His life unless He Himself lays it down. But even so… this juxtaposition of “the authority and autonomy of Jesus”, laid alongside the “trump”, the “overarching authority of the Father”, exerted as a “commandment” to JESUS… jarred me somehow.
It wasn’t a sense that this was WRONG, exactly. No, the truth was there… it fit. But It was the “flavor” of the word “commandment” that just didn’t seem consistent with the heart of the Father in and around His relationship with Jesus, His Son. It was the “hard edges” of the word. The “starkness” of the imperative case. It just… well…. sort of went “clang” in my spiritual ear.
So, (as described in A Really Nifty Tool) I ran the word “ἐντολή (entolē)” to explore this “command” of the Father. As described in the earlier post there, the word is used in some form in the New Testament 67 times. Prayerfully exploring all the “flavors and nuances” of use, it seemed this word is used primarily to reflect the phrase, “utterance of God”… (or someone, “said”). Some of the referents are to what we would consider “Ten Commandments” and “the Law”, and the Spirit seemed to lead to consider these last. “Set them aside for the moment…” seemed the instruction.
Now, again, bear in mind there’s no irreverence here at all… but it’s almost as if God “calmly speaks Truth”, not in a monotone… but in a steady tone of grace, of love, of instruction… and we… man… “interpret” that tone according to whatever posture we hold at the time. Certainly we see this phenomenon among interpreters, translators, of the Bible. Moods and the emotional connotation of one version or another can differ widely according to era, culture, and denomination.
I’m thinking that, just as congregants so often “hear a sermon” according to their need, and what the Holy Spirit writes upon their heart… regardless of what the Holy Spirit had in our own hearts when we crafted or delivered the message… Just as Scripture continues, time after time, to reveal new truths and insights to the mind and heart of God each and every time we read it, depending on where we find ourselves emotionally and spiritually in those moments… We are subjective creatures, creatures of consciousness. We interpret input according to our own perspective.
Jesus knows that and knew that, and we see Him speak accordingly many times in the Gospels. His discourses carry layers of meaning, according to the attitude and posture of the hearer.
So… what if God the Father… speaks/sings/loves/thinks/creates as the Constant I Am… and His language is simply… “Is-Ness”? For Him to “declare” anything at all… is for that simply “to be”. We may perceive that utterance, that declaration, as whatever we, in our own spirit, need it to be for His purposes of grace?
I started to wonder if when God speaks… He is simply revealing Himself? Always. If, when He speaks, He is opening Himself, teaching, communing with man?
Now… with this new “softened” perspective, Jesus suggested I look again at all those “commandment” verses, including those with reference to “the Law”.
And it was amazing. Suddenly, it seemed as if I could hear God just “teaching”, “instructing” on “how life works”! It was astonishing, amazing!
It’s hard to put this feeling into words. But for many MANY years, I saw “commandments” (whether “Do this!”, or “Don’t do that!”) as being “lines in the sand” drawn by God. He would “command” unpleasant stuff, or “forbid” attractive stuff… just as a “loyalty litmus test” of some sort. As if He commanded Adam and Eve not to eat fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… simply to “test” them, because He knew that fruit was attractive, appealing, and tasty, and He wanted to see how strong the resolve of our ArchParents!
I remember an incredible day, many years ago, when (having always held this “loyalty check” view), God asked me what difference it would make if He WEREN’T this “model of a mean parent”? What if… His words to Adam and Eve were a well-intentioned WARNING. He said all that could be said at the time… Don’t eat the fruit there, death will result. A simple message. He cares for their needs after that.
It was astonishing to me, turned everything upside down. So… then… what about His “curses” to Adam and Eve when He expels them? What about the expulsion itself?
Again, what if we ascribe only love and benevolence to God? Not pique, temper, or retribution? Well, then we’d have to reinterpret His words, with a different, a loving, heart. Is there any problem with that? No, not really… the words change TONE, and therefore meaning, but they don’t change His words at all. Bearing in mind that particularly now, at the very beginning of the world, Adam and Eve know very little about “how everything is wired”, or “how things will work”. What if God is not being vindictive and petty, but simply explaining that because of what they had set in motion, and the nature of Creation as fashioned by God’s word and power, certain results had been set into motion?
What if all that utterance, in Genesis 3 from 16 through 19, is “statement of the case”? What if, rather than a vindictive and arbitrary expression of temper and pique, God’s words are statement (a grieving statement at that), pronouncing the simple Truth of what Adam and Eve had now set into motion? All authority and power, all the dynamic of this situation, are indeed vested in God. He alone, motivates all that is. But the “trajectory” of this arrow of time, has now been deflected from God’s original blessed will, into zones of shadow and “less than the blessed” of its original design.
What if… far from “cursing” them, He was “warning” them, “preparing” them, “blessing” them, for the tribulations to come?
The possibility totally blew my mind. Suddenly, I started looking at the WHOLE Bible, as though it represented the God revealed by Jesus. I could readily see everything God ever did and ever said, once MY heart was changed from “mistrusting His agenda” as petty or vindictive… and realized it is ALL Jesus’ heart. Rejoicing in compassion, grace, forgiveness… grieving with the unavoidable playing out of the Laws of Creation when man stacks the dominoes against ourselves.
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Anyway, there’s the thought…
It began as the discomfort of realizing that the word “command” implies both a threat (of punishment if a command is disobeyed), and the attachment of authority and force to one of two or more alternative choices. I could not imagine ANY circumstance wherein, after clearly defining and insisting upon His own authority and autonomy on the disposition of His own life, Jesus would then immediately follow that declaration with its utter negation in the next verse, by the word “command”. Since clearly Jesus isn’t wrong, and cannot be so… then the flaw in the understanding has to come from my interpretation of the Scriptural word used… the Greek word “ἐντολή (entolē)”. Once the homework was done, an entirely new layer of God’s heart seemed to open.
God… as I AM… speaks “Is-Ness” into Creation always. This is an ongoing, wondrous, revelation of Himself, Creation, and our relationships with Him, Creation, and one another. God’s utterances are not arbitrary or spontaneous. He speaks the IS, speaks Existence, only and always. And all of it… ALL… is redemptive, good, loving towards humanity. This, is as HE speaks.
However, how we HEAR… what we perceive as and when we sense Him speaking, will depend on our own subjective posture in that moment and circumstance. We may hear Him as “commanding”, or “threatening”, or “punishing”, or “warning”, or “comforting”, or “illuminating”, or “rejoicing”. He is always Revealing… but what we perceive will vary by our own attitude, need, and focus in those circumstances.
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This thought makes many things go, “Click! Aha!” for me…
But I am not so arrogant as to think that it must necessarily do so for you, or that if you utterly reject this as inconsistent with Scripture and your convictions, that you are wrong. Not at all. And it’s my desire to be very gentle in presenting this thought, along with my interest in any comment or thoughts you may have.
What do you think?
More to come. This all has interesting prayer implications we will look at
Grace to thee — The Little Monk