The Lion and His Table

The Lion and His Table
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Church: 7b The Essence of Biblical Worship--Part Two

The Church: 7b The Essence of Biblical Worship--Part Two

Worship entails being aware of and responding to God’s glorious and holy presence.  Various narratives from Israel’s history emphasise this point.  The holy of holies, with the real presence of God in the midst of His people, symbolises this aspect of worship for those who now worship God in Spirit and in truth.  What Christians, aware of their own sinfulness, add to this worship is their entering God’s glorious and holy presence through the Lord Jesus Christ, the mediator and intercessor of our faith.
A Sinful People and a Holy God
God’s purpose for Israel in the Old Testament narrative is to make of her a holy people for himself.  Moses was to tell the Israelites,
Exodus 6:6-8   'I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.  8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'"
Israel would be released from slavery in Egypt for three reasons:
1. God had earlier established a covenant with the Patriarchs and promised them the land of Canaan;
2. Israel was treated as slaves in Egypt and would be freed from their burdens;
3. God wished to make Israel into a people for Himself.
 Tied to the first point is the history of the people of Canaan.  God does not take their land away from them until their sins have reached a tipping point.  For example, God says to Abram that his descendants ‘shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’ (Gen. 15.16).  God warns Israel not to sin like the Canaanites, who were vomited out of the land for their wickedness (Lev. 18.25).
The second point does not stand on its own: Israel’s liberation from Egypt is, at the same time, a matter of God forming Israel into a nation under His own rule.  The story of the exodus does not lend itself to a liberation theology without it also being a subjugation story of Israel under God’s Law: the exodus from Egypt is equally a story of the Law at Sinai.  If the first point on its own could lend itself to an Apartheid theology—God choosing a particular people without regard for others—the second point on its own could lend itself to a Liberation Theology—God being on the side of the slaves, marginalized, and poor.  Yet neither theology is correct, and the correction comes most especially when one realizes point three: Israel is to live according to God’s Law or else be destroyed just as the Canaanites, and they are to be liberated from the oppression of Egypt in order to live under God’s Law.
Moreover, Israel’s relationship to the land is essentially one of never securing the right to possess it.  They do not take the land during the time of the Patriarchs because they haven’t the numbers and because the wickedness of the Canaanites as a whole—unlike Sodom and Gomorrah—has not yet reached its zenith.  Israel is held off in the wilderness from entering the promised land for forty years because of its own sinfulness.  It enters the promised land as a holy people, led by the angel of the Lord to conquer the sinful Canaanites.  However, they fail to do so precisely because of their own sinfulness.  We might be inclined to read the story of the conquering of Canaan from the perspective of justice: how could God possibly destroy a people and let one nation depose another from its home territory?  The Biblical story, however, should be read in terms of Israel’s failures.  Israel fails to enter the land for forty years because of its own sinfulness.  The Canaanites are vomited out of the land for their gross iniquities.  The Israelites fail to cleanse the land and instead take on the wickedness of the Canaanites (a story powerfully illustrated in the repetition of Sodom’s sin by the town of Gibeah, Joshua 19).  Moreover, they are ultimately thrown out of the land, taken into exile, because of their wickedness: what God does with the Canaanites he does with His own people, and for the same reason: sin.  The story of Israel, therefore, is not of a holy nation that replaces an unholy nation.  It is rather the story of a nation that never lives up to the holiness God requires and that is ultimately judged just as the other nations.
In the historical records of the Middle East, one will find rulers bragging of their great victories, the glorious reigns of their rulers generation after generation.  Remarkably, and uniquely, the record of Israel’s kings in the Biblical historical records is one of God’s just punishment for repeated misrule and sinfulness.  Even the sins of the greatest Israelite king, David, are recounted.  What people have ever told their story with such awareness of their own sins?  Israel’s history is the history of a people uniquely aware of their own sinfulness before a holy God.
God’s Decision to Dwell Amidst a Sinful People
The remarkable part of all this, however, is that God chooses to dwell amongst this sinful people.  The theological understanding of this appears in Exodus 33.  In this remarkable chapter, following on the story of the sinfulness of Israel in worshiping their golden calf idol and breaking the Ten Commandments, God offers Israel the land of Canaan without his presence:
Exodus 33:3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."
God essentially says that He will fulfill His promise to the patriarchs but let Israel become just one of the nations—not a chosen, special people for Himself.  He warns Israel that, if He were to go with them, He in His holiness would consume them (Ex. 33.5).  But Moses responds by saying that, if God’s presence does not go with His people, He should not send them into the land of Canaan (Ex. 33.15).  Through the negotiations, God agrees to go with Israel.
God’s presence in Israel remains problematic: He is a holy God dwelling in the midst of a sinful people.  1 Samuel 3 tells the remarkable story of Israel bringing the ark of the covenant to the front line of battle against the Philistines in the hopes that God would fight for them.  Instead, the Philistines overthrow the Israelites and capture the ark.  Yet the ark is a problem for them, toppling their own god’s statue, Dagon, and either killing or giving the population of Ashdod and Ekron tumors (1 Sam. 5).  Another 70 persons were killed in Beth-shemesh when the ark is taken there, and the people ask, ‘Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? To whom shall he go so that we may be rid of him?’ (1 Sam. 6.20). 
Samuel, as God’s appointed prophet over Israel, then helps Israel prepare for God’s presence among them.  He calls on them to put away their foreign gods, direct their hearts to the LORD, and to serve Him alone (1 Sam. 7.3).  Subsequently, however, the place where God’s presence dwells in Israel, Shiloh, is devastated due to the people’s sinfulness.  Jeremiah remembers this:
Jeremiah 7:12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.
King David later has the ark of the Lord taken to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6; 1 Chr. 15), and it is eventually placed in the Holy of Holies of the Temple that King Solomon builds (1 Kings 8; 2 Chr. 5).  The presence of the Lord in the Temple, however, departs in the days of Ezekiel (Ezek. 10).  God’s people are themselves exiled from the land and await the return of God’s Spirit to restore them from exile and to renew them in righteousness (Isaiah 59.20-21; Ezek. 36.26-27; 37.14; cf. Jer. 31.31-33).  Ezekiel concludes with a vision of a restored Jerusalem that is called, ‘YHWH is There’ (Ezek. 48.35, my translation).
Worship in the Presence of a Holy God

This history of God’s holy presence among a sinful people is captured well in Isaiah 6, where the prophet appears before God in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  Before God’s glorious presence, Isaiah is made aware of his own sinfulness and that of the people of Israel:

Isaiah 6:1-7 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.  2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.  3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."  4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.  5 And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"  6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."

Significance of Israel’s Narratives for Christian Worship

For the Christian, who can look back to the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross and the ripping of the Temple curtain separating humanity from so holy a God as He whose presence is in the most Holy Place, the shout of ‘Woe’ is replaced with the praise of ‘Hallelujah!’  Christ has made it possible to enter the presence of God without fear.  Anticipating this work of Jesus, Zechariah says of the baby Jesus in the Temple,

Luke 1:68-79 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,  70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,  71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.  72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,  73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us  74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,  75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,  77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,  79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

The author of Hebrews makes this point by contrasting the first covenant with that established by Jesus:

Hebrews 9:11-14 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),  12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,  14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

Jesus is the mediator between God and humanity, as we read in 1 Timothy and Hebrews:

1 Timothy 2:5-6  or there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,  6 who gave himself a ransom for all-- this was attested at the right time.

Hebrews 8:6  But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.

Hebrews 9:15  or this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. (Cf.Heb. 12.24)

Isaiah spoke of a coming suffering servant who would intercede for sinners because he ‘bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ (Is. 53.12).  Jesus both died for us and has been raised to the right hand of God, where He intercedes for us (Rom. 8.34).  Jesus, says the author of Hebrews, permanently holds the office of priest to intercede for and save those who approach God through Him (Heb. 7.25).


In worship, therefore, we come before a holy God even though sinners. We do not presume to do so without approaching Him through our mediator and intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus has made a way possible to come before God—the way of the cross.  He died for our sins, taking on himself the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53.6).  As Paul writes of Jesus,

Titus 2:14  He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

No worship service should be without an awareness of God’s holiness, and no worship service should be without a deep appreciation that Jesus has removed our sin through his own blood shed for us.

Worship that replaces the Lord’s Table in the middle of the room with something else, such as a band of musicians, is likely worship that elevates human talent above an awareness of the holiness of God and the sacrifice of Jesus to enable us to enter into God’s presence.  Worship that is more about the music and the preacher’s rhetorical abilities is likely not the worship that takes one into God’s presence with thanksgiving and praise.  Worship that has no space for quiet reflection, confession of sins, and seeking God will likely not experience God’s presence in all His glory and honour, grace and mercy.  Worship must reverently lead us into God’s holy presence with thanksgiving to Jesus Christ, our Saviour, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12.2).

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Issues Facing Missions Today: 41. Is it ‘Islam’ or ‘Radical Islam’?

Issues Facing Missions Today: 41. Is it ‘Islam’ or ‘Radical Islam’?

Western liberals wish to avoid the politically incorrect issue of whether terrorists from Middle Eastern and North African countries do what they do because of their Islamic faith or not.  Is this a religious matter, or is it terrorism without any religious motivation?  Even when the terrorists claim that they murder because of their faith, liberal Westerners embarrassingly try to insist that this is not the case.  They try to criticize the terrorists for misunderstanding their own faith, as though they are somehow more able to explain Islam than Muslims.  Some will say that the agents of death are not true Muslims but ‘radicalised Muslims,’ but others will avoid the term ‘Muslim’ altogether.

Why would someone attempt this rather peculiar ‘doublespeak’ (a term coined by George Orwell in his work on politically correct totalitarianism—Nineteen Eighty-Four)?  One reason, apparently, is that liberals in the West have for decades tried to sweep religion under the cultural rug.  They have exiled religious faith to private places—behind church walls or in houses—anywhere but in the public square.  They have legislated against holding Christian convictions if they translate in any way to public life.  So, if any Muslims do commit violence because of their faith, they must, the denial mill purports, have been provoked—as in the now infamous story knowingly invented and shamedly told about an offensive video in Bengazi, Libya as the cause of an attack on the American embassy in 2012.

A second reason appears to be that President Barak Obama began his presidency by attempting to mend relationships with Islamic countries.  He has, however, repeatedly found himself in the embarrassing position of trying to address unrest in the Middle East when denial of the issues becomes impossible.  He would prefer to think of this unrest in terms of attempts to establish democracy or in terms of the previous administration's bungling into foreign wars or in terms of oppression and ethnicity (especially when Israel is part of the equation).  In other words, President Obama lacks the will or ability—or both—to analyze a deeply religious part of the world in terms of religion.  He is not alone.  Believing that reality is constructed, not a matter of facts, Western liberals seem to believe that their version of others’ beliefs is just as viable, if not moreso, than what people say.

As a result, public discussion in the West cannot rise to the real issue of whether terrorism is normative Islam or radical Islam.  Is the heart of Islam being exposed in the horrific attacks over recent years, or is this some cancerous aberration of some ‘true’ and peaceful Islam?  Divisions in Islam appeared right after the death of Mohammed, of course, and one cannot really speak of a ‘true’ form of Islam—only major traditions.  Also complicating any answer to the question are the facts that sacred texts ought to be read in Arabic rather than translation and that what is written needs to be read in some context with explanations.  This is the missing dialogue as the Western media attempts to present events without religious analysis. 

The following quotations might be a start for those who are capable of reading documents before passing judgements and able to listen to uncomfortable views without feeling that their predetermined views are being threatened.  Sadly, this rules out many in the government, on university campuses, and in news agencies in the West.

These quotations are from the Sahih Bukhari, which is one of the books of the Kutub al-Sittah.  The Kutub al-Sittah contains six collections by Muhammed al-Bukhari of sayings of Islam’s founder and form part of the Haddith.  The Kutub al-Sittah is given particular authority by Sunni Muslims (of which ISIS would be a representative).[1]


From Volume 4, Book 52: Jihaad

Allah's Apostle said, "You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, 'O 'Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.' " (4.52.176)

Allah's Apostle said, "The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. "O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him." (4.52.177)

Allah 's Apostle said, " I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' and whoever says, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' his life and property will be saved by me except for Islamic law, and his accounts will be with Allah, (either to punish him or to forgive him.)" (4.52.196)

I asked Allah's Apostle, "O Allah's Apostle! What is the best deed?" He replied, "To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times." I asked, "What is next in goodness?" He replied, "To be good and dutiful to your parents." I further asked, what is next in goodness?" He replied, "To participate in Jihad in Allah's Cause." I did not ask Allah's Apostle anymore and if I had asked him more, he would have told me more. (4.52.41).

The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, "They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. pagans)." I also heard the Prophet saying, "The institution of Hima is invalid except for Allah and His Apostle."  (Sahih Bukhari 4.52.256).

Allah's Apostle sent us in a mission (i.e. an army-unit) and said, "If you find so-and-so and so-and-so, burn both of them with fire." When we intended to depart, Allah's Apostle said, "I have ordered you to burn so-and-so and so-and-so, and it is none but Allah Who punishes with fire, so, if you find them, kill them." (4.52.259).

Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn 'Abbas, who said, "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.' " (4.52.260).

I asked Ali, "Do you have the knowledge of any Divine Inspiration besides what is in Allah's Book?" 'Ali replied, "No, by Him Who splits the grain of corn and creates the soul. I don't think we have such knowledge, but we have the ability of understanding which Allah may endow a person with, so that he may understand the Qur'an, and we have what is written in this paper as well." I asked, "What is written in this paper?" He replied, "(The regulations of) blood-money, the freeing of captives, and the judgment that no Muslim should be killed for killing an infidel." (4.52.283).

From Volume 8, Book 82: Disbelievers

Some people from the tribe of 'Ukl came to the Prophet and embraced Islam. The climate of Medina did not suit them, so the Prophet ordered them to go to the (herd of milch) camels of charity and to drink, their milk and urine (as a medicine). They did so, and after they had recovered from their ailment (became healthy) they turned renegades (reverted from Islam) and killed the shepherd of the camels and took the camels away. The Prophet sent (some people) in their pursuit and so they were (caught and) brought, and the Prophets ordered that their hands and legs should be cut off and that their eyes should be branded with heated pieces of iron, and that their cut hands and legs should not be cauterized, till they die. (8.82.794)

From Volume 9, Book 84: Dealing with Apostates

Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said, "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. (9.84.58; also in 9.89.271)

[1] For a searchable English translation of the Sahih Bukhari, see:

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Issues Facing Missions Today: 39.16 Mission as Renewal Ministry


Our sixteenth point to evaluate in the proposed Missions 101 course is

Point 16: ‘Foreign missions is really something of the past: Asia is now sending missionaries, North and South America and Australasia are Christian, the Church is growing fastest in Africa, there is no open door in the Middle East, and Europe is where the Church started.’

An obvious focus in our course in response to this dubitable perspective is to discuss the unfinished task in evangelistic mission.  For that I might suggest engaging the project of mapping the unfinished task in missions undertaken by Mission Frontiers.[1]  What I would like to consider, however, is another matter that arises: the proposition that not all mission work is pioneering, evangelistic work.  My interest is not here about holistic missions, whereby the task of mission is expanded such that it can never be a finished task (‘you always have the poor with you,’ Mark 14.7; Mt. 26.11; Jn. 12.8).  Rather, my contribution here will be to reflect on mission—Great Commission missionary work (Mt. 28.18-20)--as renewal ministry.  In this regard, mission to the West (or in South Africa and countries in Europe, North America, and Australasia) comes into clear focus.

Sometimes evangelism and church planting provide the appropriate focus of missions in a certain region; sometimes Biblical teaching and Church renewal rise to the forefront of missionary efforts.  All such concerns are characteristics of Great Commission missionary work (Mt. 28.18-20).  Paul’s missionary work was pioneering (‘not where Christ has already been named,’ Rom. 15.20).  Yet his ‘second missionary journey’ began with revisiting the churches established during his earlier missionary travels.  His letters, moreover, were attempts to teach established churches from a distance even as he pressed ahead with new pioneering activities.  These letters were, on some occasions, concerned with correction and renewal.

Mission to the West may involve a replanting of the Church in fallow ground, in fields that have returned to hardened soil infested with thorns and thistles.  In such circumstances, the Church’s missionary activity is once again evangelistic, and denominations and churches in the region need to support new evangelism rather than protect existing yet dying parishes.  Furthermore, much of renewed mission to the West needs to involve revival or renewal work.  The line between churches still alive but needing revival and churches already dead is sometimes difficult to determine. 

Dying, Dead Religion

In his excellent work on the history and dynamics of Church renewal, Richard Lovelace stated:

Periods of spiritual decline occur in history because the gravity of indwelling sin keeps pulling believers first into formal religion and then into open apostasy.  Periods of awakening alternate with these as God graciously breathes new life into his people.[2] (40).

Formal religion, I would suggest, is that form of religion whereby liturgy becomes rote; Scripture’s authority is attacked while the community’s own dialogue is considered authoritative; dynamic belief is reduced to a mere, philosophical worldview; the call to radical discipleship of Jesus is equated with either social conservatism or a cultural, liberal activism, no longer challenging—not even uncomfortable; mission becomes little more than foreign, short-term excursions and de-emphasizes proclamation of the Gospel; invitations to conversion are replaced with concerns for religious dialogue; unity of the faith is understood as tolerance of diversity rather than agreement about the singularly true Gospel of Jesus Christ; the power of God is understood only as forgiveness and redemption and not also as transformation and God’s working of miracles; finances are devoted primarily to operating costs, salaries, and buildings; and so forth.  If so, then the formalization of religion is, as Lovelace suggested, the doorway to apostasy.

Yet there is hope.  Mission is God’s mission.  Renewal is renewal by the Spirit of God.  Nothing is so dead that God cannot resurrect it.  To seek such revival, though, requires realizing that what were once Christian communities witnessing the Gospel have become sick and, all too often, have already died.

Characteristics of Renewal

More important than determining whether a church or denomination has died is to focus on the characteristics of revival and the dynamics of renewal.  We more easily confirm what is alive than that something is dead—we call a doctor to confirm a death, but a child can say if something is alive.  Lovelace suggested five distinguishing marks of a genuine work of the Spirit of God in renewing the Church: the church that is being renewed by the Spirit (1) exalts Jesus Christ, (2) attacks the kingdom of darkness, (3) honours Scripture, (4) promotes sound doctrine, and (5) pours out love toward God and humanity.[3]  

It is actually important to expand this sort of a list, acknowledging that it is difficult to provide a complete list or ordering of the characteristics of renewal.  The leader of the first great awakening of the Church in New England, Jonathan Edwards (18th c.) expands on several of the characteristics of revival noted by Lovelace and would also have us add some more characteristics.  What follows are some further elements of renewal from Edwards’ Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England, part I (written in 1740).

Regarding honouring the Scriptures, Edwards says,

If we take the Scriptures for our rule, then the greater and higher our exercises of love to God, delight and complacency in him, desires and longings after him, delight in his children, love to mankind, brokenness of heart, abhorrence of sin, and self-abhorrence for it; the more we have of the peace of God which passeth all understanding, and joy in the Holy Ghost, unspeakable and full of glory; the higher our admiring thoughts of God, exulting and glorying in him; so much the higher is Christ’s religion, or that virtue which he and his apostles taught, raised in the soul (Thoughts on the Revival, I.II.I).

Relatedly,[4] Edwards stated that revival is marked by a conviction of the truth of the Gospel (cf. Lovelace’s ‘sound doctrine’):

to a firm persuasion that Christ Jesus is the Son of God, and the great and only Saviour of the world; and that the great doctrines of the gospel touching reconciliation by his blood, and acceptance in him, are matters of undoubted truth.  They have had a most affecting sense of the excellency and sufficiency of this Saviour, and the glorious wisdom and grace of God shining in this way of salvation; and of the wonders of Christ’s dying love, and the sincerity of Christ in the invitations of the gospel. 

Several additional characteristics of revival that Edwards notes include the following five.  There is (6) a deep repentance over sin.  For this point, Edwards draws attention to several revivals in the 17th century, including one in 1625 in the west of Scotland.  Many people, he says, were

so extraordinarily seized with terror in hearing the word, by the Spirit of God convincing them of sin, that they fell down, and were carried out of the church, and they afterwards proved most solid and lively Christians (I.II.III).

Another characteristic of revival is (7) a concern for propagation of the Gospel.  Edwards speaks of a ‘deep distress for the souls of others’ (Thoughts on the Revival, I.II.II).  Related to this, are (8) actual conversions.  The advancement of the Gospel to new frontiers and among new ethnicities characterizes revival:

there have been many of the remains of those wretched people and dregs of mankind, the poor Indians, that seemed to be next to a state of brutality, and with whom, till now, it seemed to be to little more purpose to use endeavours for their instruction and awakening, than with the beasts.  Their minds have now been strangely opened to receive instruction, and been deeply affected with the concerns of their precious souls; they have reformed their lives.... (I.IV)

A ninth, related characteristic of revival is (9) a seriousness about the things of God.  Edwards states in regard to the New England revival that:

There has been a great increase of seriousness, and sober consideration of eternal things; a disposition to hearken to what is said of such things, with attention and affection; a disposition to treat matters of religion with solemnity, and as of great importance; to make these things the subject of conversation; to hear the word of God preached, and to take all opportunities in order to it; to attend on the public worship of God, and all external duties of religion, in a more solemn and decent manner; so that there is a remarkable and general alteration in the face of New England in these respects (I.IV).

Edwards expands his comment about a sense of seriousness about God:

They have also been awakened to a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life, and the reality of another world and future judgment, and of the necessity of an interest in Christ.  They are more afraid of sin, more careful and inquisitive that they may know what is contrary to the mind and will of God, that they may avoid it, and what he requires of them, that they may do it, more careful to guard against temptations, more watchful over their own hearts, earnestly desirous of knowing and of being diligent in the use of the means that God has appointed in his word, in order to salvation.  Many very stupid, senseless sinners, and persons of a vain mind, have been greatly awakened. (I.IV)

Finally, revival of the Church is characterized by (10) a change in people’s practices:

There is a strange alteration almost all over New England amongst young people.... [They have forsaken] frolicking, vain company-keeping, night-walking, their mirth and jollity, their impure language, and lewd songs....  And there is great alteration amongst old and young as to drinking, tavern-haunting, profane seaking, and extravagance in apparel.... (I.IV)

Edwards reiterates the role Scripture plays in guiding Godly conversations—another practice evident in churches experiencing revival.  Relatedly, a stricter observance of the Lord’s Day, confession of wrongs to one another, making restitution, awareness of the worthlessness of mere religious performances (I.IV).


The task of Great Commission missions (Mt. 28.18-20) involves teaching disciples all that Jesus commanded.  This would include sound teaching of the Kingdom of God, of the Gospel, of Holy Scripture.  Such teaching is foundational for new believers, essential for growing as disciples of Christ, and the key for any correction of error.  Missional work involves not only evangelistic efforts but also training in discipleship and teaching in order to revive the Church where it has fallen into error and laxity.  Revival and renewal of the Church is an essential part of missions.  Where the Church needs correction and renewal, such as in many parts of the West, the task of mission continues.  While some regions of the world require a planting or replanting of the Church, other regions need a mission of renewal along the lines described by Richard Lovelace and Jonathan Edwards.  Thus, evangelistic missionary efforts may proceed geographically, but renewal ministry and Biblically sound teaching is more universal and ongoing.

[2] Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of
Renewal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1979), p. 40.
[3] Ibid., p. 42.  Also, over several chapters, Lovelace discusses the preconditions of continuous renewal (under the topics of knowing god and knowing ourselves, the depth of sin, the flesh, and the world), the primary elements in renewal (justification, sanctification, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and authority in spiritual conflict), and the secondary elements in renewal (orientation towards mission, dependent prayer, the community of believers, theological integration, and disenculturation).
[4] My own efforts to promote sound doctrine have particularly in recent years been directed towards the heretical affirmation of homosexual practice in mainline denominations and some other churches, colleges, and institutions in the West.  My co-author, S. Donald Fortson, and I have just completed the final editing for this work, which is especially a study of primary sources in church history, Scripture, the Ancient Near East, Judaism, and ancient Greece and Rome.  It should be in print by January, 2016: Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016).

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Issues Facing Missions Today: 40 Naming God in the Face of Suffering and Tribulation

Issues Facing Missions Today: 40 Naming God in the Face of Suffering and Tribulation

Introduction: Islam speaks of the 99 names for God.  Names in many cultures have meaning.  They reveal something about the person—the day of his or her birth, an event, something significant about the child, and so forth.  So, too, our naming of God.  Moses famously asked after God’s name in Exodus 3 and was told by God, ‘I AM has sent you’ (3.14).[1]

The following study concerns naming God in the context of tribulation.  This is a deeply personal concern, but it is also missiological: the revealing of God in an evil world full of suffering and persecution—as the two witnesses prophesying in sackcloth in Revelation 11.  For this study, Revelation 15 and 16 will be the focus texts as they provide significant depth to our understanding as Christians about naming God when there is suffering and evil.  We are not only interested in knowing what to call God.  We are interested in knowing how to name God in tribulation, in the situation of the first readers of this book.  We will also critically engage the theology of the Roman Catholic, postmodern theologian, David Tracy.

I remember a woman from Rwanda's words after the genocide in the 1990's in her country: 'Sometimes things are so bad that one forgets God,' she said.  The book of Revelation is a reminder not to forget God in times of tribulation, persecution, injustice, and unrighteousness.  It is also a book that reveals, uncovering the hiddenness of God in suffering through the revelation of the Lamb.

David Tracy and Naming God

David Tracy, a Roman Catholic theologian, has made it his project to name God.  How shall we name God?  Following Hans Urs von Balthasar, Tracy thinks theology took a bad turn when Thomas Aquinas turned to Exodus 3 to answer this question.  God's revelation to Moses that He was the 'I am who I am' began a trajectory of naming God in terms of 'Being'.  But Western scholars like von Balthasar and Tracy are dusting off a 6th century Middle Platonist theologian of significance in Eastern Orthodoxy, Dionysius the Areopagite, who understood God's names in a hierarchy of possible names, with 'Being' occupying the lowest level.  At the very top of God's names, said Dionysius, God is named 'Good'.  For the Catholic theologian von Balthasar, God is 'Beauty.'

Now, all this rather changes things for theology.  If God is 'Being', then theology focuses on epistemology, on knowing God.  But if God is 'Good', then theology has to attend more to ethics, or if 'Beauty,' theology must attend more to doxology.  How shall we name God?  In a somewhat related way, we might here interject, missiologists also struggle with this question: 'Should we name God using the names for deities already used in a non-Christian religion and culture?'  What difference does this make for theology?  As Christians, we name God through the revelation of Jesus, as we see in Revelation.  Thus, God is named not in some generic way that can just as well be a name in some other religion but in the very concrete person of Jesus.

Tracy takes some further steps in his project of naming God.  He understands these to involve 'Postmodern' theologising.  If Modernity has to do with building solid structures on absolute foundations, Postmodern viewers point out the fragments left unused in such buildings.  'Look at what is left unused, look at the fragments,' they say. Not only so, but Postmodern viewers begin to pick at the foundations of Modernity's structures, begin to fragment them and watch them crumble. If you want an example, think of how Liberation Theology fragmented Catholic theology by shifting the focus from the Magisterium to the Marginalised of society.  God was not in the robes, icons and grand cathedrals of the Church but in the poor and powerless.  Look at the fragments: not God as divine Being but God as the face of the poor.

Tracy sees the incarnation, cross, and Second Coming of Jesus as fragmenting the totalising theology of Christendom.  And he carries this through in exploring two fragmenting names for God: God the 'Hidden One' and God the 'Incomprehensible One'.  Both God's hiddenness and God's incomprehensibility fragment the theology of Modernity with its totalising systems and claims to certainty.  For Tracy, Martin Luther offers a beginning for a theology of God's hiddenness.  There are two senses of God as the 'Hidden One' in Luther: God's revealing Himself in contraries, and God revealing Himself as sheer power. Tracy says,

… most of the time and with great consistency, Luther spells out this position on God's hiddenness through his articulation of his theology of the cross. The heart of Luther's insight into God is, of course, that God's revelation is through hiddenness—that is, that God discloses God's self to sinful humans—sub contrariis—life through death, wisdom through folly, strength through weakness. A hidden God is not merely humble but humiliated—deus incarnatus, deus absconditus. The hidden God is deus crucifixus—the crucified God (Moltmann). That is the God also implicit in much liberation and political theology and implicit, in my opinion, in the recovery of an apocalyptic sense of history itself is found in Luther.

The second sense of God's hiddenness in Luther goes deeper.  Tracy says,

At the very least, this literally awful, ambivalent sense of God's hiddenness can be so overwhelming that God is sometimes experienced as purely frightening, not tender, sometimes even as an impersonal reality—"it"—of sheer power and energy signified by such metaphors, such fragmentary metaphors as abyss, chasm, chaos, horror.

Without understanding God as 'Hidden', the argument goes, we cannot understand God and suffering in the world.  If we understand God in a totalising theology as 'All knowing' and 'All powerful,' then what can we say of God when faced with injustice, plague, famine or suicide bombers?  If we are too rash in making claims about knowing God, His character, His Being, then how can we explain His hiddenness in such tragedy?  The lament psalms speak of God's hiddenness; the wisdom literature of God's incomprehensibility.  But for Tracy, the hiddenness of God is best captured in apocalyptic literature.  Here, faced with injustice, suffering, and even martyrdom, the Church turns from its totalising theological rhetoric to the genre of apocalyptic.  Tracy finds this apocalyptic perspective in the Gospel of Mark, in Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians, but especially in the book of Revelation, itself an apocalyptic work.  A marginalised and oppressed community in the Roman Empire responds to its power with an apocalypse in which the Beast's number of 666 equals 'Nero Caesar', in which Babylon is a code name for Rome, in which Emperor worship and Empire wealth are pictured in terms of beasts and a drunken whore.  But also in the Apocalypse the blood of martyred saints cries out from underneath the altar of sacrifice, "Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?" (Rev. 6.10).

Revelation 15 and 16

Ah, but is the book of Revelation really about God's Hiddenness in the way in which Tracy understands this?  Even in this verse (Rev. 6.10), God is named as 'Sovereign Lord, holy and true.'  And the souls under the altar do not resolve their experience of injustice through God's Hiddenness but through His Justice: 'how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?'  This could be discussed in terms of Luther's first sense of God's hiddenness, in contraries, but not in the second sense of God as Abyss, Power, Chaos.  So, let us look more carefully at Revelation's naming of God.

Our focus is Rev. 15 and 16.  As Richard Bauckham notes, Rev. 15 is the culmination of two separate sections in the book.[2]  Chapters 4-11 find their culmination in chapter 15, as do chapters 12-14.  The resolution of both sections is in the opening of the heavenly Temple.  Rev. 11 ends with a revealing of the ark of the covenant in this Temple.  One could easily move directly from the end of ch. 11 to ch. 15.  By multiplying visions and recapitulating themes, John is able to emphasise both delay and inexorable progress towards the end.  The delay of ch. 15 comes with the recapitulation of the heavenly battle with the dragon and the earthly battle with the beast in chs. 12-13.  Ch. 14 pictures the victory of the Lamb upon the earth, and ch. 15 returns to heaven to show the conclusion of the drama: the opening of the tent of witness.  In ch. 13, a beast rises out of the sea, a symbol of chaos, but in ch. 15 the heavenly sea is a sea still as glass--there is no chaos.  In ch. 13 are revealed the two beasts, one from the sea and the other from the land.  In ch. 14 is revealed the Lamb on Mt. Zion.  In ch. 13 there are those who bear the number of the beast, 666.  In ch. 14 there are the 144,000 who bear the number of the lamb and his Father.  These constrasts culminate in ch. 15, with the revelation of the temple of witness.

But what name of God is revealed to these two groups, those following the beast and those following the Lamb?  With the opening of God's Temple is the revelation of God's glory; He is named.  There is no one name for God, but the revelation of God is a revelation of His glory, to which people respond.  His glory fills the Temple so that no one can enter it (15.8).  In ch. 16 there are two contrasting responses to the revelation of God's glory, two very different namings of God.

Positive Responses
Rev. 15.3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: "Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations!  4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed."
16.9 but they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory.

16.5And I heard the angel of the waters say, "You are just, O Holy One, who are and were, for you have judged these things; 6 because they shed the blood of saints and prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!" 7 And I heard the altar respond, "Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!"
16. 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.

Revelation 16:14 These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.
16.21they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.

The positive namings of God in chapters 15-16 speak of God as Pantokrator--Almighty.  This name is found elsewhere in Revelation.  It is connected with God's control over all things more than an abstract notion of omnipotence.[3]

Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come."
Revelation 11:17 singing, "We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.
Revelation 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: "Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations!
Revelation 16:7 And I heard the altar respond, "Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!"
Revelation 16:14 These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.
Revelation 19:6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Revelation 19:15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
Revelation 21:22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

This name, 'Almighty', is 'El Shaddai' in the Old Testament.  It is the name by which God makes known His justice.  But God's name connected to His revelation of His covenant with Israel is 'YHWH.'  God the Almighty is also the God of the covenant.

Exodus 6:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land." 2 God also spoke to Moses and said to him: "I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name 'The LORD' I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. 5 I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the Israelites, 'I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'"

Both 'YHWH' and 'El-Shaddai' are revelations of God's glory.  Both are associated with God's covenant with Israel.  But 'YHWH' is the name of deliverance, redemption, salvation, and presence.  It is not spoken, for it is holy and is the name that names God's very glory.  To His enemies, God's glory means judgement.  He is the Lord God Almighty.  In Rev. 15-16, God's enemies see His glory poured out in bowls of wrath upon their wickedness.  They name Him, but with curses.  But to His covenant people, God's glory means presence, dwelling with His people, redeeming them, protecting them, fulfilling His covenant promises to them.

In Rev. 21:22, John says that he saw 'no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.'  The twofold glory of God is His Almighty Justice and His Lamb.  Slowly, inexorably, Revelation moves along to the full revelation of God.  He is named.  As He is named, His hiddenness is removed.  The Apocalypse is not about God's hiddenness but His being revealed in all His glory in the world.  But this glory is terrible to behold for the unrighteous who have not given God the glory.  It is terrible for Sodom, Egypt, Babylon or Rome to behold the revelation of 'El Shaddai', the Lord God Almighty.

But the revelation of God's glory for His covenant people is a revelation of a special name only for His people. Rev. 14.3 speaks of the new song that the 144,000 who follow the Lamb sing:

and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth.

Rev. 15 calls this song the song of Moses.  It is also called the song of the Lamb.  They are the same song, because they are both a song of God's covenant mercies, His judgement, and His redemption.  Only the redeemed can sing it, those who follow God's anointed one. For God's covenant people, God is Almighty to save.  For them, God's glory means His holiness, that there is no one like Him in righteousness and justice.  For them, God's glory means that He is true, faithful to His covenant.  His glory, the depth of His being, is named, not as 'Being.' 'YHWH' in Revelation is the title 'Alpha and Omega' or 'the one who is, who was, and who is to come.'  As Richard Bauckham says, the titles equivalent to YHWH indicate 'not God's eternity in himself apart from the world, but his eternity in relation to the world.’[4] This is seen, he argues, in the alteration of the 'who was, who is, and who is to come' title (1.4; 1.8; 4.8) to 'who is and who was' (11.17; 16.5) in eschatological contexts.  As we will see, this is especially true because in Revelation the full revelation of God's glory is made through the Lamb.

Rev. 15 speaks of God's glory in the Temple, which is the full revelation of God.  The basic meaning of the Hebrew word for 'glory' is 'weightiness', and this seems to me to be a better way to speak of what Tracy is in part trying to say without taking the concept in the wrong direction, as Tracy seems to do.  'Hidden' and 'incomprehensible' are only two possible aspects of 'weightiness.'  There are also 'holy' and 'love', as Tracy elsewhere notes.  In our passage, when the glory of God fills the heavenly Temple, no one can enter.  He is 'wholly other,' 'hidden,' and 'incomprehensible.'  But He is so only in a certain, limited sense.  He is so in His holiness, not as a God of chaos or unpredictability, as Tracy would have it.  In fact, God's hiddenness is a revelation of His character as Holiness.  And His incomprehensible character is not unpredictable but fully predictable in the revelation of Righteousness and Justice.  This holy glory issues forth in ultimate and inevitable judgement on all that is unholy.

We see this in the echo in Rev. 15 of several OT passages where the glory of the Lord fills the Temple. 2 Chr. 7.1-2 says that when the glory of the LORD filled the temple, the priests could not enter the house of the LORD.  The people then worship and give thanks to the LORD by naming God: 'For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever' (v. 3).  In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees the glory of God in the Temple.  The seraphs called to one another 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory'.  But this means for Isaiah that he becomes aware of his own sinfulness before God and that of the people.  In Ezek. 43 and 44, when the glory of the LORD fills the temple, God declares that Israel will no longer defile His holy name.  The glory of the LORD filling the temple means that God's closer presence demands goodness, holiness, righteousness, and where this is not the case, there will be judgement.  In Rev. 15.8, the glory of the LORD fills the Temple so that none can enter the Temple, and out of this glory and presence come seven angels with seven bowls of judgement to pour out on the unholy and unrighteous world.  The apocalyptic depth of God is not the incomprehensible Abyss of Valentinian Gnosticism or David Tracy, but the glory of God, the weight of His goodness, holiness, and righteousness made known.

In Revelation, the apocalyptic naming of God, the making known of His glory, is focused on the revealing of the Lamb, of Christ.  Have you ever wondered why in Revelation there is one throne for God and for the Lamb?  This is a profound statement.  The Lamb is the revelation of God.  Several times a voice from the throne speaks (16.17; 19.5; 21.3).  Two people need two thrones, but the Lamb and God have one throne.  The Lamb has already conquered through dying on the cross.  The glory, the holiness, the Almighty power of God are known through the Lamb who was slain and who reigns from the throne of God.  He has conquered by His sacrifice.  He is already reigning upon the throne of God.  He will come again to Judge the earth.  While still future, the Lamb's coming to bring justice to the earth is no longer part of God's hiddenness, for John has taken us through the open door of heaven to see that it is true.  The Apocalypse, far from being about God's hiddenness, is indeed a revelation of God.  It is the revelation of His glory through the Lamb.

This is why Revelation continuously moves toward worship and why this worship is directed to the LORD and the Lamb.  It is not God's incomprehensibility that takes one beyond reason, beyond a cataphatic (knowledge of God through affirmation) naming of God to an apophatic (knowledge of God through negation) naming and then to an excess of meaning beyond language.  Rather, worship is the proper response when God is rightly named.  It is worship, not God's incomprehensibility or His hiddenness that struggles with rational categories and can, with the Spirit's gifting, lift worshipers into new dimensions of praise.  This is not awe at the edge of a great Abyss, as the Gnostics would have it, but awe at the edge of knowing God.

Exodus 34, Deuteronomy 32 (Song of Moses) and Revelation 15

What is it to name God in contexts of suffering, persecution, injustice, unrighteousness?  This was the question of Moses and the Israelite slaves in Egypt just as it was the question for the first Christians who received the Revelation of John in the 90's A.D.  The purpose of Revelation is to help Christians name God in presence of suffering and persecution at the hands of the Roman Emperor, Domitian.  Let us conclude with a closer comparison of Moses' naming of God in Exodus 34, the song of Moses, and what we find in Revelation.

God's revelation of Himself as YHWH to Moses in Ex. 34.6-7 is as follows:

6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

The literary techniques of delay and recapitulation in Revelation express God's mercy, grace, and slowness to anger.  God's abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin in Exodus have to do with God's covenant relationship with Israel.  This too is expressed in Revelation with repeated words about the protection of those sealed with the name of the Lamb.  Yet this is not the God of Universalists, for Exodus and Revelation agree that the revelation of God involves judgement--by no means clearing the guilty, as Exodus has it, or pouring out bowls of judgement on all unrighteousness on the earth, as Rev. 16 has it.  In all this, the revelation of God in Exodus and Revelation are agreed.

Where we advance in Revelation beyond Exodus is in focusing this naming of God on the Lamb, on Jesus Christ.  This new dimension allows Christians in contexts of suffering, persecution, injustice and unrighteousness to name the same God of Moses with greater understanding and depth.  The Lamb reveals the hidden glory of God.  This revelation is twofold, a positive revelation of God's covenant mercy and a negative revelation of God's judgement.

First, the revelation of God's grace, slowness to anger, covenant love and faithfulness are revealed in Rev. 5 when the Lamb is revealed:

9 They sing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; 10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth."

This is why the Lamb is worshipped:

5.12 "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

The song of Moses reveals the same God of mercy and covenant love.  Now, compassion could be thought to flow from God as El-Shaddai, the Lord God Almighty.  This is logical, although not accurate for either Moses or Revelation.  This is a matter of understanding God in terms of personal power: the one with all power has the freedom to behead or to show compassion and may and will do either as He pleases.  This view of God is one where God functions like some medieval sovereign or Arabic prince, or an African dictator wielding personal power in judgement or mercy.  But for Moses, God's compassion is associated with His covenant faithfulness: it is not out of His power to do as He pleases but out of His being bound in covenant relationship with His people that God pours out His compassion.

In Revelation, God's glory is also seen in covenant love, but it is seen more clearly and fully because of the revelation of the Lamb, who was slaughtered to redeem a people from all peoples.  Here compassion intensifies; covenant is not exclusive but inclusive, and compassion becomes sacrifice.  The Lamb challenges us to understand compassion this way.  A theology for development ministry, e.g., needs to see compassion flow from covenant relationship with a people rather than from the power of resources that can be showered on a needy people.  But a Christian ministry of compassion follows the Lamb further: compassion invites all, and it becomes sacrificial and redemptive.

Revelation also reveals God's judgements through the Lamb.  Rev. 15.3-4 gives the words to the song of Moses and of the Lamb that is sung at the beginning of final judgements with the full coming of God's glory.  This is not a song apart from the Lamb, as though mercy and justice are separated.  The revealing of divine judgements is also the work of the Lamb who was slain for covenant faithfulness and love.

3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: "Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations!  4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed."

Here too we see a consistent testimony between the God of Moses and the God of the Lamb as to the identity of God.  The song of Moses in Deut. 32 ends with these words:

43 Praise, O heavens, his people, worship him, all you gods! For he will avenge the blood of his children, and take vengeance on his adversaries; he will repay those who hate him, and cleanse the land for his people.

In Moses' song, judgement does not merely stem from God's Law but also from God's mercy, lovingkindness, and faithfulness in His covenant with Israel.  Judaism was not a legalistic religion but one of covenant faithfulness.  Judgement in our societies often follows directly from Law: the breaking of Law results in punishment.  But Moses' song reveals more about divine judgement: it proceeds from God's goodness and compassion.  This brings a whole new meaning to just judgements: judgement is more than deserved when people not only break God's Law but also spurn His covenant faithfulness.

Yet here again we see a difference between the song of Moses and the Lamb.  For Moses, this kind of justice could only apply to Israel, who reject God's covenant faithfulness.  It leaves open the question of those outside this relationship.  But the song of the Lamb includes all nations, for the mercy that Israel knew in God's covenant with them has been extended to all nations through the blood of the Lamb.  The Lamb has, it is repeatedly made clear in Revelation, redeemed some from every tongue, tribe, people and nation.

It is Jesus, the slaughtered Lamb, who reveals God's compassion and judgements in Revelation.  This naming of God was made known to Moses, but its depth, the full glory of God, is revealed in Revelation.  Far from showing God as hidden or even incomprehensible, the logic of God's character is revealed through the Lamb of Revelation. 


Our challenge as a missional church is to name the God of Moses not just for the covenant people but for the nations and to do so where there is suffering, injustice, unrighteousness, and persecution.  We can only do so by naming God with reference to the Lamb.  In this way, the Song of Moses becomes the Song of the Lamb on our lips, a full revelation of God's glory in both covenant invitation and righteous judgement to all nations.

[1] 'In the history of Western theology and philosophy, no greater change occurred in the naming of God, than when Thomas Aquinas read Exodus 3:14 in the Latin translation of the Deus sum qui sum 'I am who I am', and developed what Etienne Gilson nicely named Thomas's Metaphysics of Exodus 3:14. Thomas thereby insisted that God's principal name was not, as it was for his contemporary Bonaventure and the whole Dionysian thought prior to him, the Good, but Being. That is to say God's principle cataphatic or positive naming was Being, the one Being whose very being it is to be. The one being where there is no distinction between essence and existence for God's very essence is to exist. That is a brilliant metaphysical insight, but it shifts everything theologically' (David Tracy, ‘Form and Fragment: Recovering of the Hidden and Incomprehensible God,’ in Werner Jeanrond Aasulv Lande, eds. The Concept of God in Global Dialogue (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005).  [Page numbers were taken from a different printing of this text online and therefore pages for quotes in the essay will not be given.]
For Dionysius the Areopagite, God’s hiddenness was in his incomprehensibility.  For Martin Luther, God’s hiddenness was in his revelation through the cross: ‘life revealed in death, wisdom through folly, strength through weakness.’  Tracy notes a second sense of God’s Hiddenness in Luther: ‘At the very least, this literally awful, ambivalent sense of God's hiddenness can be so overwhelming that God is sometimes experienced as purely frightening, not tender, sometimes even as an impersonal reality—"it"—of sheer power and energy signified by such metaphors, such fragmentary metaphors as abyss, chasm, chaos, horror.’

[2] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation; New Testament Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993).

[3] Ibid., p. 30.
[4] Ibid., 29.