Why God Created THIS World: Integrating Delight in the Giver and His Gifts

For those of you who were unable to attend services at Bethlehem last weekend, here is the sermon I preached.

Why Did God Create This World?

It condenses much of the material that we’ve covered in class. As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Why God Created THIS World: Integrating Delight in the Giver and His Gifts

  1. Joe’s comment both in class last week and his sermon on Sunday about “leaning in” to the reality, reminded me of this quote from the Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. I first thought of this quote while listening to Joe speak of loss. The real, painful, breathtaking loss-ness made me think of Sheldon Vanukin’s autobiographical book “A Severe Mercy”. When Sheldon speaks of the death of his wife, he speaks like Lewis does about friendship. And Joe speaks like them.

    Granted, Lewis is talking about EARTHLY friendships, but the corollary with our relationship with God most certainly trumpets in the conversation we have been having in class. This is invigorating for two reasons: first, there is immediate implications for the NECESSITY of human community for our own growth. Secondly, and most gloriously, if our love of God works like friends, where the more we see of another, the more we see of God, our friendships might bear much “saintly fruit” as well. And now Lewis:

    “Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but “A’s part in C,” while C loses not only A but “A’s part in B.” In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.” Of course the scarcity of kindred souls – not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices – set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3) The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”

  2. Joe, I’m sure you have these because they contain the words “pleasures” and “gift”, but I thought I’d share how the Lord brought these verses to mind as you spoke last night. Wrapping up, you said something like, ‘you don’t always have to connect a gift to a bible passage, a pleasure can just be a pleasure’. I thought of Psalm 16:11, “…at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” I don’t know Hebrew, but is there a sense in which God’s right hand can be a metaphor for his agency? And whereas before I had always thought of this verse referring to heaven, or to spiritual blessings, now my mind jumped to James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights….”, which makes it clear that the source of EVERY good thing is God. Maybe it’s not real sound thinking, but I now thought “forevermore” could mean infinite – meaning, without number, so that verse could mean, ‘God is the source of infinite pleasures, that is pleasures without number! And I thought sure, there are so many good gifts and they come so fast and furiously some times, a person can’t always think of a theological truth to go with them, but a person centered on God can always “just” receive them with gratitude and enjoy them, and sometimes the Holy Spirit will make a teachable moment out of it.

  3. I’m going to make an illustration of my comment (about “just” enjoying a gift and making a theological connection later) into a second comment!
    Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who shared the story of her mother’s death. As she spoke I saw the love and sorrow in her eyes, heard the intensity and passion of her voice, and felt a corresponding rush of emotion as I listened to her story, thinking, “this is holy ground”. Yesterday I just loved my friend as we rejoiced in God’s goodness with each other and I enjoyed my time with her. This morning, as I read John 14, the Holy Spirit whispered, “the intensity of the emotion you and your friend felt as you considered her mother’s death is like what it was like when Jesus spoke to his disciples before his death. It added another dimension to reading that section and I got more out of it. I’m very thankful for your teaching which is bringing words and categories and more awareness of these connections between God’s spoken and written and living Word.

  4. Jonathan Edwards and gratitude in pain:

    In her book Radical Gratitude, Ellen Vaughn rehearses the distinction that Jonathan Edwards makes between two types of gratitude. Edwards describes both natural gratitude and gracious gratitude. Natural gratitude, Edwards describes, as that gratitude that wells up in our hearts for things that are truly pleasant: pumpkin crunches and all. Our hearts over-flow in thanks to God for the goodness that we enjoy and our little, balloon-like heart grows.

    Edwards also describes “gracious gratitude” according to Vaughn as that gratitude which thanks God for who he in the face of unbearable circumstances. Circumstances bear down in horror and we hate them. We do not say “thank you, God, for the bone sticking out of my arm right now” because that cheapens the meaning of thanks, making it essentially to mean “what I mean by thank you, Lord, is a sort of base, bottom-level gratitude for existence.” One can, however, imagine the circumstance in which existence does not appear as a positive good– as in, you might actually rather be dead. In that moment, the thank you is disingenuous. According to Vaughn, Edwards tries to preserve the dignity of thanks by distinguishing the thank you we say in horrific circumstances as a thanks for who God is IN SPITE of the circumstances. This distinctions saves you from having to pretend that you are thankful for the circumstances.

    If Vaughn accurately reflects Edwards on this point, she provides an interesting critique to popular author Ann Voskamp; We don’t say thank you for the storm, but we will say thank you to the God who holds us in the storm.

    I don’t know how genuinely the distinction can be made or how far it can be pushed. I don’t know that it helps me “lean in” to the hard moments very well.

    As a means to really trying to find joy in and make sense of the place of those horrible moments in the Christian life, there are, perhaps, two similar but distinct ways to think about thankfulness in the horror.

    One could describe horror as a retro-actively thankfulness. We might express that in two ways: one is thankful for the end of the journey but not for the journey itself or one is only thankful for the journey because of its end. They are similar, but they are both a rather utilitarian thankfulness.

    The other solution, of course, is to consider oneself a masochist. Christ does call us to suffer or at least to imitate him in his sufferings. This might just be the suffering chapter, and we say thank you for the chance to be like Jesus.

    I don’t know that these final two options satisfy me more than Edwards. As finite creatures, do we really enjoy things in new ways because of the contrast– things we could never have enjoyed to such a degree?

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