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The Logic of God’s Love

Categories: Bible,Know It,Principles

 

From Doug Stevens, a Pastor-in-Residence at Restoration and Founder of the Renewal Project

The literal translation of logos from the Greek is “word,” which is entirely inadequate for understanding the depth and force of this concept.  Logos is not merely the word for “word,” but carries the connotation of meaning, of explanation, of premise, of the starting point for discovering the truth — the reality — about something.

We call the study of living things biology, the study of animals zoology, the study of the functioning of cells histology, the study of cognition and emotion psychology.  The L-O-G-Y at the end of the word indicates our intention to master the subject, to capture and comprehend its essential nature, structure and action.  The logos of anything is the interpretive key, the organizing principle, that opens the door to knowledge.

The Gospel of John starts with an introduction to the Logos — who was “in the beginning,” who was “with God,” who actually “was God,” and “by whom all things were created.”  John is co-opting Greek philosophy and proposing that a person, this Jesus of Nazareth, was the embodiment of the Logos, the key to knowing the God who is by definition transcendent, remote, high and holy, above and beyond us, awesome and at the same time unknowable (“ineffable” is the technical term).  John’s claim to locate the Logos in history among humans is audacious, to say the least.

For classic Greek Philosophy, as first proposed by Heraclitus in 500 BC, the Logos is some version of Reason.  Man can reason his way by objective thought and quantitative calculations to ultimate understanding, and with enough effort and data to a grandiose Theory of Everything.  But critics have pointed out that Reason is subject to the distortions of emotions and motivations, which are much of the time hidden and unacknowledged.  And so, our Reason is more like Speculation, based on hunches, wishes, peer pressure and built-in biases.

For ancient Oriental Mysticism, the way forward is much more exotic and intuitive.  Follow your Imagination — the capacity for manipulating the elements, for realigning and even redefining what appears to the senses.  Mysticism is extremely, unapologetically subjective, a quest for power that tends toward Magic, the conjuring of alternative realities by a variety of creative and occult practices.

There have been many brave and clever attempts to combine the best (or at least the most attractive, or most marketable) of Eastern and Western approaches into a consolidated, if somewhat unwieldy, even chaotic, world view.  The New Age phenomenon is a potent and popular example.  Can some expression of this postmodern project succeed?  Can the inherent contradictions be resolved, or bypassed, or represented as a sign of paradoxical profundity?

John’s Gospel has another background.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the prologue of the Bible from the Book of Genesis, reveals that God spoke the universe into existence.  He simply spoke a Word: “Let-there-be …” and all that is came to be and, under God’s sovereignty, to become.

In the Book of the Exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt, God spoke a Word: “Let-my-people-go …” and then compelled the stubborn, arrogant slave-master to release them.  God’s Word, inaugurating the national status of Israel, was codified into Law, with the Ten Commands given at Sinai as preface.  God’s Word was God’s covenant with God’s people, giving them an identity and imposing God’s design for all of their relationships — now to be viewed as sacred, no longer as simply transactional, or as utilitarian, or fated by caste.

In the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, Wisdom impersonates the Logos.  The Word becomes intensely practical and specific in the nitty gritty of everyday life.  God speaks into the nooks and crannies of personal experience, where we tend to get distracted or confused or lazy or inordinately self-centered, and calls us to the uncommon sense of righteous strategies.

The Prophets of Israel and Judah recapitulate the Law, reminding God’s people of the Truth we may abandon, deny or completely forget.  The Prophets speak directly, clearly, fearlessly and with the authority of the Logos.  They warn of severe consequences — and yet hold out a stirring hope for those who attend to the Word.

Classical Greek Philosophy, and its offspring the Enlightenment, in a noble quest for Reality (what is objectively, demonstrably real), shares the prize for highest human achievement with the esoteric insights of Eastern Mysticism (what the mind can imagine, what Powers of mind and mythology can be unleashed).  It’s the best we can do, by ourselves, with our considerable intelligence and talents, in a closed system.

It’s not enough.  Reason degrades into the vagaries of Speculation; Power descends into the dark labyrinth of Magic.  The sages of the East meet the geniuses of the West … and we’re still scrambling to get to the heart of the matter, to the deep explanation, to the foundational premise, to the elusive Logos.

 

But the biblical revelation noted above is not satisfying either.

 

In Genesis, the Word is credited with creating all that is — and then this creation is contaminated, corrupted.  In Exodus, the Word calls a people into existence (who were enslaved, rendered anonymous, “not a people”) — and this reconstituted tribe often fails to obey the Word, and so fails to model and spread the Word.

The Proverbs present an ideal that fills up an entertaining volume — that is largely ignored, even by its primary author, the erratic King Solomon.  The Prophets are condemned, silenced and exiled, or worse.  Even those who hear their Word cannot live up to it.  The Word inspires us, obligates us, and then judges us for our inevitable infidelity, for our inability to grasp its meaning and apply its purpose.

As hopeful humanists, we have launched the search for the Logos and gone off in all directions looking for IT — not certain what we are looking for, wandering everywhere and nowhere, drowning in frustration and falling into despair, except when we are boosting a novel theory that gathers devotees for fifteen minutes, and sometimes longer, which ends invariably in disappointment and cynicism.

As spiritual seekers and students of Scripture, we have heard the Spoken Word and read the Written Word.  We are on the right track, but it leads to the edge of a cliff, only increasing our insatiable longing.

The New Testament, after 400 years of agonized waiting at the edge of the promise, introduces us (finally! “in the fulness of time”) to the Living Word.  To the Word become flesh, to God become man, to the presence of God among us, “God-with-us.”  In the birth of Jesus the Christ, the people of this privileged planet are treated to a tangible encounter in human history with the God who comes to us up-close-and-in-person.

The Incarnation of God, in Jesus of Nazareth who is the Son of God, is the shocking good news that reorients all of life.  Jesus the Logos is the interpretive key, introducing us to God — God’s character, God’s investment in and affection for all of humankind, and God’s mission to restore a broken and bloodied world.  Unveiling the luminous Logic of the Kingdom of God.

That God would visit us with the intention of rescuing us, forgiving us, blessing us, strengthening us, straightening our path, reconciling our relationships and securing our future … is beyond belief, and our capacity to discover much less enact on our own.  News that is too good to be true … but it is.

This is a New Creation, a Second Exodus, the embodiment of Wisdom, the gift of a humbled heart and an empowering Spirit, an infusion of grace upon grace after grace, endlessly.  He, the LOGOS of God, is the life that defeats the hegemony of death, the light that cannot be extinguished by the darkness.  And the darkness can get awfully dark.

 

My wife and I stood in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, less than six weeks after the one-man massacre that ended 26 lives — men, women and children — and wounded 20 others.  The horror of that fresh memory haunted us as we stood in the center of a room that has been turned into a memorial.  Placed where the victims were sitting on that November 5th Sunday morning were 26 chairs, each with a first name and a single red rose, except for the pink rose representing the unborn child who died along with the others in that terrible mass murder.

 

Any conscious, caring human being must be overwhelmed standing there surrounded by the stark evidence of unspeakable evil.  The darkness of the sadness was suffocating.  I have confronted similar soul-crushing scenes in Rwanda and Cambodia and Haiti and Bosnia and Colombia, as well as in Mississippi, in the Bronx, on the Rez in Arizona, in Oakland and in East Contra Costa County California … and in the aftermath of my own sin-saturated stupidity.

But someone has painted this ravaged room reserved for worship … white.  The floor, the ceiling, the walls, the platform, all the chairs in the church were awash in white.  A dazzling white.  As if the darkness could not permanently blot out the light.  As if this chamber of horrors had been turned into the anteroom of heaven.

As if pain and suffering and death and loss could be reversed by the Word of promise, by the intervention of a Savior risen from the dead.  That in the daring Logic of the Logos, Love is the miracle that triumphs over all enemies, all haters.  That this is the will of God, the plan of the ages, the promise to all those who put their trust in God’s eternally valid, radically transforming Word.

The Word/Logos that initiates the universe, and the same Word/Logos that sustains what it made, anticipates the sending of the Son who makes sense of our existence, of this world and our purpose in it.  Who becomes the one always reliable reference point guiding us through the maze of options and threats, opportunities and seductions that clutter the landscape.  Who welcomes and escorts us into the presence of our Abba, our merciful Father.  Who fills us with the courage to do the right thing in the most confusing and challenging of circumstances.

Jesus, the living Logos, is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created … all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” {Colossians 1} 

“In these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he also made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” {Hebrews 1}

In the last Book of the Bible we have this description of Jesus the Son, the living Word of God: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” {Revelation 5}  Which is the same exclusive language used to honor and adore God.

And then, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” {Revelation 7}

Finally, “Look, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me …  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life …” {Revelation 22}

The Logos is God’s final Word, his last speech, his best gift.  The Incarnation of the Living Word is a tremendous risk, violating every concern and protocol of conventional religion.

God cannot cross paths with man.  For man’s sake — we cannot stand in the presence of God, we will be undone, exposed as guilty, riddled with shame, consumed by judgment.  And for God’s sake — God cannot humble himself, become vulnerable, meet us in our mess, serve us, suffer for us, die for us … can God?!  The claim is crazy, scandalous, inconceivable.  It is not a scenario that a pious person would ever invent or suggest.

This surprise must be the work of God, flowing from an incredible, unreasonable, previously unimagined reservoir of love.  God meeting us where we are — not where we should be, not half-way, not with pre-conditions of our presumed sanctification.  Letting us in on a fantastic secret.  Commissioning us to incarnate Truth and Grace, the sacred syntax of the Logos.

I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch in Berkeley.  I’m a Cal grad so it’s always cool when I get to retrace my steps near the campus … a campus in constant uproar when I was a student there in the late 1960s.

As I hurried on my way I sensed that God was going with me, and wanted to borrow my body and my voice, if the need might arise — which it does, much more frequently than I am prepared for his call.

Across the street, in the direction I’m heading, is a man almost completely obscured by a sandwich board that appears to have his depressing circumstances summarized on the sign.  I only read the first sentence.  And was planning to walk past.  Well, not exactly planning, just ignoring him.  But the logic of the Kingdom redirected me, as it sometimes does.

So, Christ asked to borrow my voice to greet his friend.  What?  OK, that’s weird, but whatever.  “Hey,” I said, forcing myself to sound cheerful.  He responded with some inarticulate sound and then looked up, maybe a little startled.  “How you doin’?” I asked, with a nonchalant tone … not exactly projecting my Lord’s heartfelt interest.  Not yet.

He set the sign aside, stepped on to the sidewalk and walked toward me.  “I’m doing well,” he said, covering up his pain.  “It’s been kinda rough lately.”  And here comes more commentary than I was asking for.

“I’m three months sober, but it’s getting harder.  I’m waiting for the VA to tell me they have an opening.  Staying clean on the streets isn’t easy.”

An awkward silence.

But prompted again, I asked if I could pray for him.  Couldn’t think of what else to say.

“Yes!” he exclaimed, “that would be great!”  And he moved close enough for the hug I was supposed to give him.

Here we were in an extemporaneous embrace.  I wondered if it was legal to pray in public in this secular city, but was encouraged by the One in charge of my life to take a chance.  So, I prayed.

When I finished, he stepped back and gave me this huge smile.  Which led me to offer some pocket change.  “Could you use a little help, a little money today?”  He had never asked but was obviously delighted by my spontaneous gesture.

I opened my wallet looking for a five or a ten but, to my chagrin found a twenty.  I thought about asking for change … but decided to give it all.  With the Word whispering in my ear, I really didn’t have a choice.

And then, I said, without meaning to, “Let me give you my card.  I want to hear from you when the VA takes you in and you’re doing well.  Call my cell.”

Giving my number to a stranger?  What if he abuses the privilege?!  What if he does … someone said in a still small voice.

I went on my way, somewhat perplexed and massively energized by this exchange.  Realizing I’m not alone, that I’m never alone, and that my life (my time, my money, my interest) is not my own.  I want my words to approximate God’s Word, my tone his compassion, my message in word and deed an affirmation of the value of the person in front of me, of their potential in Christ, of an invitation to reassess current assumptions and discover the real meaning and uplifting purpose of their lives.

Frederick Buechner writes, “Once believers have met God in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of humankind.  If holiness and the awesome power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too.”

Aware of this — of Christ incognito — and persuaded by the logic of God’s implausibly self-giving way, a new “formula” for living becomes viable, even irresistible and, by the grace of God, operational in our experience.  Living according to the Logos of God’s Love generates a personal, powerful, universal appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Simon Guevara

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