The Church of No Anticipation (Part 1)

MonkeyIn the late 1920’s, a researcher with a name reminiscent of a character from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale – Otto Tinklepaugh – conducted a series of experiments at the University of California at Berkeley. Tinklepaugh’s subjects were macaque monkeys. He wanted to see what they would “learn” in a variety of settings.

In one experiment, a monkey was put on a chair. A piece of lettuce was placed under one of two empty cups on the floor while the monkey was watching. The monkey was removed from the room. After a few minutes, it was returned and released.

Here is an excerpt from Tinklepaugh’s notes:

Subject rushes to proper cup and picks it up. Seizes lettuce. Rushes away with lettuce in his mouth, paying no attention to other cup or to setting. Time, 3-4 seconds.

Tinklepaugh repeated the experiment using bananas, with the same result. There was a difference, though: The monkeys showed greater enthusiasm when uncovering the banana.

It should come as no surprise that monkeys love lettuce, but that they love bananas even more. Most people know this. What is surprising is the monkeys’ response to a slight alteration of the banana version of the experiment. Once the monkey was removed from the room, Tinklepaugh did something sinister: He exchanged the banana with a piece of lettuce.

Here is his record of what happened next:

Subject rushes to proper cup and picks it up. Extends hand towards lettuce. Stops. Looks around on floor. Looks in, under, around cup. Glances at other cup. Looks back at screen. Looks under and around self. Looks and shrieks at any observer present. Walks away, leaving lettuce untouched on floor. Time, 10-33 seconds.

A Life Lesson

Tinklepaugh’s experiment reveals something disturbing about the dark enchantment of anticipation, which is insightful for those of us who are interested in the present state of Christianity.

Note the setting of this experiment: A creature of God is exposed to the life that comes from God alone, and then given access to it – a life that is intended to fill, satisfy, nourish and sustain the creature.

But note something else: The single factor that has the potential of seriously undermining a perfectly natural and organic process, is the prospect of a type of life that is more appealing than the provided life. Furthermore, when the anticipated “higher” life fails to appear, the effect of the resulting disappointment is so intense that it overrides the creature’s normal appetite for life sources that appear less exhilarating, no matter how accessible or nutritious they may be.

Thus, there is a correlation between the excitement stirred up by anticipation (I’m gonna get me a banana!) and the eventual absence of life (Lettuce sucks!). The irony is obvious: Those who are most passionate about receiving life are oftentimes those who go away most hungry.

Note that that the only thing that trumps that which is most valuable and desired, is an improved version of the same thing – not another thing altogether. This explains why Satan does not appear to his minions as a red horned goat-man with a sulphurous body odour, but as an “angel” (or “messenger”) of light.

If it is life that we seek, then the greatest temptation is not to discard life, but to become greedy for it – to want more of it than that which is proper, available and timeous. Satan knows this, which is why he uses it so effectively to deceive people who are looking for God.

None of this should come as a surprise. The first three chapters of Genesis reads like a version of Tinklepaugh’s experiment, except that the subjects are human: Life provided, life eclipsed by higher life, life lost.

The very thing that God intended for his creation, conformity to his image and likeness, was flashed by Satan: “…you will be like God.” The appeal offered a shortcut to the destination that they were heading to, yet without the disciplinary restraint of the growth process and its comparatively humdrum nutritional requirements. The result, according to the Genesis author, was “desire”[1] – a sense of anticipation gone out of control, a feverish enchantment stirred up by the prospect of arrival without sacrifice.

The New Testament authors understood this dark magic well, and identified it as the core problem of humanity. According to them, both the “old self” and the “world” are corrupt because of one reason only: Deceitful desire.[2]

Furthermore, they understood the gospel and cross of Christ as uniquely designed to counter this force. Paul tells us that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,[3] and that they are uniquely free to live a life void of the momentum generated by desire and anticipation.

They live by faith, which means they are immune to the lusts of the eyes. They trust in the provision of their master, and bananas no longer mesmerise them. They understand that life comes from above, and stones turning into bread seem boring in comparison.

Our Present State

If we understand this, we would rightfully become suspicious of life-offerings that are out of reach, but that promise to become accessible based on some or other precondition. We would be skeptical of any form of energy, excitement or momentum that is generated as a result of anticipation. We would understand that idolatry has very little to do with the objects of our desires, and everything with the rule of desire in our hearts. We would understand that the single greatest potential idol in all of the world is Jesus Christ, and that he becomes so when commitment to him (along with its benefits) is presented as some or other ideal to be fulfilled, rather than as an immediately accessible reality through faith, regardless of whether it is accompanied by bells and whistles.

In short, we will stop believing in the type of Christianity that requires words like “dream,” “vision,” “destiny” and “best life” to sell itself, for we shall see it for what it is: A cheap trick designed to make Christ desirable to people who have never been liberated from the governance of desire in the first place.

The problem is that the desirable Jesus is never there when we get to him, and he has not been for there two thousand years. The even bigger problem is that we have responded to his absence not by questioning whether his anticipated form was real to begin with, but by creating a church machine designed to deal with grumpy monkeys.

Our counseling rooms are emergency wards for the disappointed. Our prayers are pleas for the evasive breakthrough to manifest. Our revival services are designed to churn out newer and better versions of the banana Jesus, forever hoping to maintain the levels of excitement that were stirred up by our initial idolatrous depictions of him. Our worship services are choreographed to incite anticipation. Our evangelism strategies are aimed at the needs of the seekers. Our books are saturated with jargon that promises deliverance, healing, prosperity, a better tomorrow and everything conceivable that we do not have but want.

And, of course, all of it is cloaked in religious rhetoric. We truly believe we have turned from the world to Christ.

We have created a monster, and we are working feverishly for him, thinking that we are working for God.

(End of Part 1. Part 2 will deal with the solution to our predicament.)

[1] Genesis 3:6

[2] See Ephesians 4:22 and 2 Peter 1:4

[3] Galatians 5:24

Who Are We?

FingerprintOne of my favourite smart people in all the world is a fellow by the name of George Lakoff. I like Lakoff for a number of reasons, but mostly because of his knack to trace ideas and opinions back to their origins – origins that most of us are blissfully unaware of.

In his 1996 book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, (I blogged about it here) Lakoff refers to American politics and makes the point that the real difference between “conservatives” and “liberals” has to with their understanding of morality: Conservatives hold to a “Strict Father” morality and liberals to a “Nurturing Parent” morality. Everything else is commentary.

One logical conclusion (there are many others) of Lakoff’s insights is that we bring our ideas to the party of our choice – a choice that has first been made based on those very ideas. Thus, our ideas are not shaped by our party, but amplified by it. Politics becomes an extension of our ego. This explains why so many of us are willing to lay down our lives for the party’s cause.

What we learn from experience…

C S Lewis relates a fascinating story in his 1947 book Miracles: “In all my life I have met only one person who claims to have seen a ghost. And the interesting thing about the story is that that person disbelieved in the immortal soul before she saw the ghost and still disbelieves after seeing it. She says that what she saw must have been an illusion or a trick of the nerves… If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy that excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.”

Lewis is not alone in his observations. Demosthenes said: “Nothing is easier than self deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” Aquinas pointed out that “we construe the world according to the principles of our own constitution.” Aldous Huxley confessed: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.”

As the old adage goes, we see the world not as it is, but as we are.

We See Jesus…

All of this becomes rather scary when we apply it to the realm of the Christian religion. In short: We see Jesus not as he is but as we are.

According to Rastafarians, Christ was a black man. The flower children thought of him as the first Hippie. Cuban freedom fighters drew paintings of him holding an AK 47. John Avanzini and the proponents of the prosperity movement teach that Jesus was a wealthy man who wore designer clothes and lived in a mansion. The Ascetics saw him as the great mystic. The Zealots wanted to turn him into their political liberator. The Pharisees expected him to be a Pharisee.

The list goes on and on: Jesus the apocalyptic prophet, Jesus the travelling sage, Jesus the inspired Rabbi. It seems as if everyone who has ever been excited about anything, has also, in the process, enlisted Christ as an apologist for their cause.

As William Blake wrote:

The vision of Christ that thou dost see

Is my vision’s greatest enemy:

Thine has a great hook nose like thine,

Mine has a snub nose like to mine….

Both read the Bible day and night,

But thou read’st black where I read white.

The Heart of the Matter…

This brings me back to Lakoff. If we dig a bit we will see that the great and seemingly complicated schisms of the Christian faith can be traced to a few basic presuppositions that are at odds with each other.

This is a book in itself, and we cannot explore it here. Suffice it to say that our doctrinal idiosyncrasies are oftentimes nothing but vehicles for a basic and rudimentary self-expression. The theology that resonates best with us is the theology that we most want to hear, and we most want to hear it because it best expresses who we are and where we see ourselves going.

This means that denominationalism is a social/cultural phenomenon rather than an ecclesiastical one. Jesus said: “There will be one flock with one shepherd,” (John 10:16). We say: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

But note the words preceding Jesus’ statement: “They will listen to my voice…” Here is the crux of the matter. Only when we listen to his voice will we be delivered from the dominating influence of those convictions and assumptions that we have been adopting and nurturing since early childhood – all in the hope of constructing the semblance of a real and lasting identity.

Of course this is what idolatry is all about, and the totem pole with its carved images is its perfect metaphor. But note: The price that we have to pay for this adventure is the inevitable dissociation from those who identify with a different series of images. As we learn from both the Babel story and the history of the church: It is the yearning for an identity and a name, expressed in a monument, that underlies all division, factionalism and partisanship.

To listen to his voice is the beginning of real and lasting fellowship. It is to depart from the traditions and opinions of men, even those ideas that are so profoundly and eloquently stated that they leave the hearer in awe.

To listen to his voice is to die to your own, and a good place to start is to acknowledge your own as but an echo of the voices of others. It is to step out of the constructs of human scheming and ingenuity into the glorious freedom of God’s thoughts, the fullness of which is found in Christ.

Are we liberals or conservatives? Calvinists or Arminians? Reformed or Orthodox? Pentecostals or Cessationists? The list goes on and on, with each category expressing allegiance to some or other formulation in space and time of that mystery which can only be grasped in union with Christ.

And so we are none of these, and we do not need them as categories for self-identification.

No, our identity begins and ends with Jesus Christ, the perfect expression and representation of the One True God.

Wat moet ons met Jurie van den Heever doen? (3)

Jurie van den Heever Wat moet ons met ons kerk doen copy
My weergawe van Jurie se voorblad simboliseer die woorde van Rom.1:22-25: “Terwyl hulle voorgee dat hulle wys is, het hulle dwaas geword…
hulle wat die waarheid van God verruil het vir die leuen en die skepping vereer en gedien het bo die Skepper wat geprys moet word tot in ewigheid.”

(Apologies to English readers. This is the third reflection on an Afrikaans book that is causing some disturbance in the Christian community over here in South Africa.)

“Maar ons spreek die wysheid van God, wat bestaan in verborgenheid wat bedek was en wat God van ewigheid af voorbeskik het tot ons heerlikheid, wat niemand van die heersers van hierdie wêreld geken het nie — want as hulle dit geken het, sou hulle die Here van die heerlikheid nie gekruisig het nie.” 

Paulus aan die Korinthiërs

Ons het reeds die punt gemaak dat die tipe Christenskap waarteen Jurie in opstand kom ons meer vertel van Jurie en sy sienings as van die Bybelse idee van geloof: Christene is mense wat kinders bang maak met die hel. Christene aanbid ‘n God wat ‘n moordenaar en boelie is. Christene gebruik die hiernamaals as ‘n magspel om lede te werf. Wetenskaplike bevindings help ons om beter en veilige lewens te lei omdat ons nou weet dat epidemies, aardbewings en vuurspuwende berge nie meer aan ‘n opportunistiese en wraaksugtige opperwese toegeskryf word nie. En so aan.

Die implikasie is vanselfsprekend: Geloof in Christus is lekker vir ouens wat so bietjie agter-die-klip is.

Die idee dat God ‘n inhiberende beheervraat is, en dat hy bedreig voel deur ons vryheid, is nie nuut nie. Volgens die Genesis verhaal is dit hierdie gedagte wat die mens laat wegdraai het van God, en wat die ideaal van onafhanklikheid en selfverwesenliking in hom/haar geplant het.

Ongeloof word dus moontlik gemaak sodra God onder verdenking is. En dit doen ons sommer maklik deur die “kerk” se wandade uit te wys, en dan te maak asof God die argitek van die kerkorde en haar tradisionele absurditeite is.

Boem! Die koeël is deur die kerk, en sommer deur God en Jesus ook.

Die Bottom Line…

Die enkele gedagte wat in Jurie se boek uitstaan as ‘n wanvoorstelling van die verskil tussen geloof en ongeloof, is die idee dat ons “ons fiktiewe posisie as kroon van die skepping” moet verruil vir die “voorreg om ‘n integrale deel van die Kosmos te wees.” So kan die self getransendeer word en is die uitsig “nie meer vanuit ‘n posisie van mag en eiebelang nie.”

Steven Pinker word aangehaal in die verband: “… occupying another’s vantage point and imagining his or her own emotions as if they were one’s own.”

Dit bring my by die vraag wat ek laas op hierdie blog gevra het: Versluier Jurie met opset wat in die Bybel staan, of is hy onbewus daarvan?

Die voorstel dat selfloosheid en die kweek van ‘n empatiese bewussyn bevorder kan word deur geloof in God en Christus af te sweer, spreek van majestueuse teologiese onkunde en/of verwarrring.

Die rede is voor die handliggend: Elke woord wat ooit uit die mond van God gegaan het, en wat gespreek is deur engele en profete en op talle ander maniere, en uiteindelik gekulmineer het in die lewe en lering van Jesus Christus, het ten doel gehad om die inherente narsisme van die mensdom te stuit.

Die sogenaamde Augustiniaanse idee van die “erfsonde,” wat soveel ontsteltenis veroorsaak in Jurie en Sakkie en Piet en Hansie se kringe, en wat afgemaak word as ‘n vyfde-eeuse konstruksie, moet geïnterpreteer word teen hierdie agtergrond.

Die Bybelse storie is van begin tot einde konsekwent en eenvoudig: Êrens in die geskiedenis van die mensdom het daar ‘n gebeure plaasgevind wat ons bewussyn geswaai het na die self en die belange van die self. Dit het gelei tot die fenomeen van “begeerte,” naamlik die drang en sug na dinge, mense en insidente wat die pelgrimstog na selfaktualisering en selfverwesenliking kan moontlik maak.

Die donker kant van hierdie avontuur is natuurlik ‘n onafwendbare afgestomptheid en gevoelsarmoede teenoor diegene wat nie waarde kan toevoeg tot die “ek” ideaal nie.

Terwyl ons lekker kan vuisslaan oor die historisiteit van die tuinverhaal, is die boodskap daarvan duidelik en ondebatteerbaar: Om betower te word deur die projeksie van ‘n toekomstige self wat groter en wonderliker is as die self van die hede, is om weg te kyk van die God wat “is” en nie “word” nie, en om vervreemd te word van ‘n vorm van levensonderhoud en groei wat uit hom uit spruit en alle hunkering na ander vorme van “word” oorbodig maak.

Kom ons kyk vir ‘n oomblik verby die vreemdheid daarvan dat die eerste motiveringspreker in die mensegeskiedenis ‘n slang was, en ons let op die boodskap agter die storie: Die essensie van menslike motivering, soos ons dit ken en verstaan, kan teruggetrek word na ‘n duister en bose mag wie se eksplisiete doel die verheffing van die self en die vernietiging van die liefde is.

Die sogenaamde “erfsonde” is dus niks anders as ‘n universele geneigdheid om die belange van die self bo die belange van ander te stel nie.

Ek is jammer, Jurie, maar ek dink dit is ‘n geniale beskrywing van die probleem van die wêreld waarin ons leef. Jy en Sakkie is welkom om julleself uit te sluit, maar ek is met hierdie vervloekte ding gebore, en dit het die rigting van my hele lewe bepaal.

Die woord wat die Bybel gebruik vir hierdie universele toestand van die mens is “ongeregtigheid.” En hier moet ons onmiddellik afstand doen van Calvinistiese konstruksies en ander denominasionele konnotasies wat ons aan die woord mag heg (die Engelse “righteousness” wat in Afrikaanse Bybels “vryspraak” geword het, eerder as die Hebreeuse tsedek en Griekse dikaiosune wat “justice” beteken).

Ongeregtigheid in die Bybel is dus niks anders as die onvermoë om reg te laat geskied aan ander nie, m.a.w. die onvermoë om ander te ag met dieselfde intense belang wat ons vir onsself koester en preserveer.

‘n Wraaksugtige Opperwese?

Die refrein van God se “wraaksug,” wat Jurie se boek kenmerk en hom so lekker vir Dawkins en sy tirade teenoor God laat aanhaal, is ‘n mistasting. Dit is duidelik dat Jurie nie God se aard en karakter verstaan nie.

Let daarop dat God se belang in die moord van Abel voortspruit uit die “bloed van Abel” wat uitroep uit die grond. Kain se sogenaamde “skuld” voor God onstaan as gevolg van dit wat hy aan sy broer gedoen het, nie omdat hy een of ander arbitrêre drif of drang of wet in God teëgestaan het nie.

Die rede hoekom God vir Kain aanspreeklik hou is nie wraaksug nie, maar liefde. As God bloot vir Kain sou “oorsien,” sou hy saam met Kain skuldig geword het aan ongeregtigheid. Abel word die “slagoffer” van Kain se ongeregtigheid, en God tree in as Abel se verdediger en dring aan op ‘n regstelling om die ewewig van geregtigheid te herstel.

Kain het ‘n lewe geneem, en nou skuld hy ‘n lewe.

Dis soos die boelie se pa wat hom voor stok kry omdat hy sy jonger boetie afgeknou het: “Jy het Junior seergemaak. Ek is lief vir Junior, daarom hou ek jou aanspreeklik. Jou skuld bly staan totdat jy regmaak met Junior. En jou regmaak beter op dieselfde vlak wees as jou oortreding.”

Hoe op dees aarde verander dit God in die boelie?

Die offersisteem van die Ou Testament is niks anders as ‘n verlengstuk van hierdie liefde van God nie, dus ‘n voorsiening vir die Kains van die wêreld om “reg te maak,” en vir die Abels om kompensasie te ontvang.

Die punt is dat God ook lief is vir die boelie, en dat Junior boonop self skuldig is aan sy eie tipe boeliery. God se liefde en geregtigheid vereis nie net ‘n betaling nie, maar help ons ook om die betaling te maak. Hy vereis die lam, maar dan voorsien hy dit.

Dit is genade, en dit is nie goedkoop nie. Daarom word restitusie dwarsdeur die Bybel voorgeskryf as deel van die regmaak of versoeningsproses, en altyd in ooreenstemming met die oortreding.

Die vader se liefde het ‘n finale doel: Hy wil hê die boelie en sy jonger broer moet versoen, en mekaar liefhê soos hy hulle liefhet. Dit is die “Konkryk van God en sy geregtigheid,” ‘n term wat grootliks ‘n niksseggende kerklike cliché geword het.

Beroof God se Wet ons van ons Vryheid?

God se “Wet” staan in diens van hierdie relasionele geregtigheid – ‘n stel reëls wat ons verbied om ons naaste te benadeel, met eksplisiete voorskrifte vir boetedoening indien ons dit wel doen.

‘n Oog-vir-‘n-oog maak nie die hele wêreld blind nie, soos Ghandi beweer het nie, maar gebied relasionele geregtigheid deur die oortreders daarvan aan die ontvangkant van hulle eie ongeregtighede te plaas. So word die ewewig van Deuteronomium en Levitikus se “skale van geregtigheid,” wat wêreldwyd op hofsale verskyn, herstel.

As ons nie hierdie onderbou het in ons benadering tot die Nuwe Testament nie, word Jesus se konstante verwysings na geregtigheid niksseggende mistiese praatjies. Dan word hy Jurie se “nobody” en “gewone mens” – met ‘n irrelevante boodskap.

As ons dit egter het, dan merk ons op dat Jesus die hele wet en profete opsom in die woorde “doen aan ander soos jy wil hê hulle aan jou moet doen,” en “jy moet jou naaste liefhê soos jouself.” Hier is die geregtigheidsformule – die onmoontlike opdrag om dieselfde bewussyn te koester teenoor andere as wat ons vir onsself het.

So vertel Jesus storie op storie om aan ons te verduidelik dat geen vorm van fanatiese wetsonderhouding die ongeregtigheid van die menslike hart kan demp nie. Die probleem is nie die Wet nie, maar dit wat binne ons aangaan. Daarom het hy nie gekom om die Wet te ontbind nie, maar te vervul.

Hy verduidelik dit deur te praat van ‘n praktiese geregtigheid wat groter is as die wettiese geregtigheid van die Fariseers en Skrifgeleerdes – ‘n geregtigheid wat die tirrannie van begeerte en die drang na selfgelding neutraliseer, en ons in staat sal stel om ons vyande lief te hê en dienaars van andere te wees.

Paulus het presies dieselfde storie: Jesus het gekom het om die skuld van ons ongeregtighede te betaal, maar ook om ons te verlos van die oorsaak daarvan. Dit het hy gedoen deur ‘n daadwerklike hartsverandering binne in ons te bewerk – ‘n bonatuurlike wedergeboorte deur die Gees van God – wat ons in staat stel om te deel in God se natuur van liefde en geregtigheid.

Die vereiste? Ons moet bereid wees om ons selfvertroue te vervang met ‘n vertroue op God. So sal die regverdige deur die geloof lewe. So sal ons ons narsistiese lewens verloor en die lewe van God vind wat ons in staat stel om selfloos en empaties te lewe.

Ons hoef dan nie meer offers te bring nie, maar ons word die offer – soos wat Jesus gedoen het. Dit beteken ons is bereid om ons lewens af te lê vir ander en hulle hoër te ag as onsself. Dit is geregtigheid. Dit is die Koninkryk van God.

Die “Vervulling van die Wet”

Hierdie fenominale kapasiteit vir liefde vervul die intensie van die Wet. In Paulus se woorde: Die liefde doen die naaste geen kwaad nie; daarom is die liefde die vervulling van die Wet.

Diegene wat deur die “Gees gelei” word is nie onder die Wet nie, want hulle doen alles en meer wat deur die Wet vereis word. Die verskil is dat hulle dit spontaan en onbewus doen. Hulle is die kinders van God, en deel in hulle Vader se natuur.

Die gedagte dat hierdie boodskap ‘n persoon in ‘n “posisie van mag en eiebelang” plaas wat lekker opgelos kan word deur jouself te sien as ‘n integrale deel van ‘n godlose Kosmos is absurd. Die Kosmos het nog nooit enigiemand tot verantwoording geroep vir dade van onreg teenoor minder bevoorregtes nie. Die Kosmos het nooit haar lewe vir ons gegee om ons te verlos van ons narsistiese selfobsessies nie, en om die ellelange lys van aanklagte wat teenoor ons staan vir ons relasionele wandade uit te wis nie.

Ten Slotte… 

Meer as enigiets anders is dit die valse voorstel van hierdie sentrale boodskap van die Bybel wat Jurie se boek ongeloofwaardig maak. God word uitgewys as die probleem, eerder as ons. As ons maar net ontslae kan raak van God, dan sal alles uitwerk.

Volgens die evangelies is dit hierdie tipe argumentering wat gelei het tot Jesus se kruisiging. Die skuldiges het hulle skuld projekteer op die onskuldige, en hulleself verontskuldig.

Let daarop dat Jurie Bybelwetenskaplike op Bybelwetenskaplike aanhaal om sy konklusies te staaf. Hierdie ouens weet meer as ons almal, sê Jurie. Hulle het agter die gordyn ingeloer, en ons moet na hulle luister.

Dit fassineer my dat nie een van hierdie intellektuele reuse die eenvoudige liefdes- en geregtigheidsboodskap van die Bybel snap soos dit in ‘n paar paragrawe hierbo uiteengesit is nie.

En dit laat my wonder of ‘n persoon fenominale geleerdheid nodig het om blind te raak vir iets wat so opsigtelik is…

Wat moet ons met Jurie van den Heever doen? (2)

Jurie van den Heever Wat moet ons met ons kerk doen
My weergawe van Jurie se voorblad simboliseer die woorde van Rom.1:22-25: “Terwyl hulle voorgee dat hulle wys is, het hulle dwaas geword…
hulle wat die waarheid van God verruil het vir die leuen en die skepping vereer en gedien het bo die Skepper wat geprys moet word tot in ewigheid.”

(Apologies to English readers. I am still reflecting on an Afrikaans book that is causing some disturbance in the Christian community over here. The author, a well known South African palaeontologist, suggests that churchgoers should drop the idea of an almighty, omniscient and all knowing God, who has a son named Jesus, for a “natural spirituality” or “ecomorality.”)

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” G.K. Chesterton

In sy boek Wat Moet Ons Met Ons Kerk doen, stel Jurie van den Heever God en Christenskap op so ‘n wyse voor dat geen regdenkende mens iets daarmee te doen sal wil hê nie. So berei hy sy lesers voor vir sy eie groot antwoord: ‘n “Natuurspiritualiteit” of “ekomoralitiet” wat losweg geskoei is op die volgende beginsels:

  • Daar hoef geen God erken of aanbid te word nie. (Inderdaad, want daar is “bewese navorsing” wat die idee van ‘n Almagtige, Alwetende en Alsiende God weerlê!)
  • Gebed as ‘n “gesprek met ‘n opperwese” is nie ‘n opsie nie, want dit bestaan nie. Dit is bloot ‘n vorm van selfterapie.
  • Daar bestaan nie iets soos ‘n menslike “siel” of “gees” nie. Die mens is ‘n somtotaal van biologiese funksies.
  • Daar is geen sprake van lewe na die dood nie. Die hiernamaals is ‘n mite en fopspeen. Enige godsdiens wat die idee van ‘n nadoodse voortbestaan steun is besig met ‘n “magspel om steun te werf.” (!)
  • Daar is geen eindoordeel of finale geregtigheid nie.
  • Jesus was ‘n “nobody amongst nobodies” – ‘n “verstote Jood” wat misluk het in sy poging om Israel godsdienstig te vernuwe. Van sy uitsprake en voorspellings het nie “steek gehou nie.” Die rede hoekom hy aan God as sy vader gedink het is omdat hy in werklikheid ‘n vaderlose uitgeworpene was. Natuurlik het hy nooit opgestaan uit die dood nie, nie opgevaar na die hemel nie en is daar geen sprake daarvan dat hy ooit sal terugkeer aarde toe nie.
  • Die God van wie ons lees in die Ou Testament is iesegrimmig, inmengerig en manipulerend. Die ateïs Richard Dawkins is korrek as hy van hom praat as ‘n “unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
  • Daar is goeie nuus! Die biologie bied ‘n gesonde en spiritueel bevredigende alternatief vir ‘n “fundamentalistiese godsbegrip.” (Anders as die Bybelse God is die aarde heilig en onderhou lewe!)
  • Die slotsom is eenvoudig: Enige formulering oor die betekenis van ons aardse bestaan kan nie sonder ‘n “wetenskaplike onderbou en veral die insette van die ewolusionere Biologie geskied nie.” Die biologie bied ‘n uitsig op die kosmos wat veel meer sê as wat enige tradisionele vorm van geloof kan hoop om te doen. Dit spreek tot ‘n spirituele dimensie.

Ek wonder oor die venyn in Jurie se boek.

Ek wonder oor die ekstreme verwerping van klassieke spiritualiteit in alle vorme, en hoekom iemand ‘n behoefte sou hê om dit te herdefinieer en te reduseer tot ‘n blote verwondering oor/bewondering van die materiële. (Is die Mona Lisa meer bewonderingswaardig vir mense wat sukkel om Leonardo binne-in die skildery te vind, en daarom aflei dat sy haarself op een of ander wyse geskep het? Verwar ons nie dalk raaiselagtigheid met verwondering nie?)

Ek wonder hoekom Jurie bereid is om sy akademiese integriteit te kompromiteer deur absurde stellings te maak, soos dat daar “bewese navorsing” bestaan wat die dogma van ‘n “Almagtige, Alwetende en Alsiende God” weerlê, asook die bestaan van “‘n siel” en “die wederkoms.” Hoe op aarde bewys ‘n mens dit? Ons weet mos die afwesigheid van ‘n bewys is nie ‘n bewys van afwesigheid nie.

Ek wonder oor Jurie se blatante oneerlikheid, as hy die eksplisiete stelling maak dat enige godsdiens wat die idee van ‘n nadoodse voortbestaan steun besig is met ‘n “magspel om steun te werf.” Dit is nie waar nie. Met die stelling beskuldig hy elke groep opregte gelowiges deur die eeue, wat glo of geglo het in een of ander vorm van ‘n spirituele bestaan buite die grense van hul huidige aardse liggaam en vlees, van duister motiewe. Die sin is so ‘n growwe veralgemening dat geen eerstejaar op universiteit oorgesien sal word vir dit nie.

Ek wonder oor Jurie se voorstel dat daar belangrike aanpassing in die “kerk” nodig is. As ons alles moet glo in sy boek, dan bestaan daar nie iets soos ‘n kerk nie en is daar ook geen gronde vir ‘n kerk nie. Dan is sy voorstel net so sinvol soos om Sinterklaas se huis te probeer herbou of die plaaslike tandemuisklub te probeer hervorm.

En ek wonder natuurlik oor die slotsom van die boek – dat mense soos Jurie eintlik die rol van die geestelike leier en profeet in die samelewing moet oorneem. As Jurie beweer dat die biologie tot ‘n spirituele dimensie spreek en ‘n uitsig op die kosmos bied wat veel meer sê as wat enige tradisionele vorm van geloof kan hoop om te doen, dan beweer hy maar eintlik dat ouens soos hy veel meer sê as diegene wie op ‘n tradisionele wyse oor geloof dink, besin en praat, en dit sluit Jesus en Paulus in. (Onthou, die enigste wyse hoe die biologie en paleontologie met die leek kan “praat” is deur die bemiddeling van diegene wie dit bestudeer en ken.)

Maar te midde van al my verwondering oor Jurie, wonder ek die heel meeste of hy onkundig is rondom dit wat werklik in die Bybel staan, en of hy dit met opset versluier.

Meer hieroor volgende keer…

Wat moet ons met Jurie van den Heever doen? (1)

My weergawe van Jurie se voorblad simboliseer die woorde van Rom.1:22-25: “Terwyl hulle voorgee dat hulle wys is, het hulle dwaas geword…
hulle wat die waarheid van God verruil het vir die leuen en die skepping vereer en gedien het bo die Skepper wat geprys moet word tot in ewigheid.”

(Apologies to English readers. I am reflecting on a new Afrikaans book that is causing some disturbance in the Christian community over here. The author, a well known South African palaeontologist, suggests that churchgoers should drop the idea of an almighty, omniscient and all knowing God, who has a son named Jesus, for a “natural spirituality” or “ecomorality.” How can one not say something?)

“A man can no more diminish God´s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling `darkness´ on the wall of his cell.” -C.S. Lewis

Wat maak ‘n mens met Jurie van den Heever en sy nuwe boek? (“Wat moet ons met ons Kerk doen?”)

Ek sou graag niks wou doen nie. Toe ek tien jaar gelede my verhouding met denominasionele Christenskap gebreek het, het ek belangstelling verloor in kerkpolitiek en alles wat daarmee gepaard gaan.

Ek het ook belangstelling verloor in geeslose fakulteitsteologie en die absurde idee dat daar ‘n kousale verband tussen akademiese geleerdheid (van watter aard ook al) en kennis van God bestaan.

So ek hou gewoonlik verby boeke soos Jurie s’n.

Maar ek kon nie help om op te merk dat Jurie se boek vir ‘n rukkie hier in Bloem se Exclusive Books ‘n “bestseller” geword het nie. Dit beteken dat mense die boek lees, en (soos dit dikwels gaan met nominale kerkmense) dat van hulle glo wat hulle lees.

En so het ek met ‘n sug my kopie gekry (teen ‘n pynlike prys van 10 Cappuccinos), en ook begin lees…

Jurie se “Kerk”

Die boek gee ons wel insig in die probleem van Jurie se kerk (Hy is klaarblyklik steeds ‘n NG lidmaat – vandaar die “ons”), maar dit het eerder met Jurie se denkwyse en benadering tot teologie te doen as met sy gevolgtrekkings. Jurie openbaar op ‘n besondere wyse die psige van ‘n lidmaat wat ontnugter is met ‘n kerkgod wat geskep is in die naam van godsdienstradisie en menslike oorlewering. (Daarmee suggereer ek hoegenaamd nie dat alle NG mense ‘n kerkgod aanbid nie.)

Dit is Calvyn en Calvinisme net waar jy kyk, en natuurlik Augustinus. Kuyper en Dooyeweerd steek ook kop uit.

En hier is Jurie se voorstel: Ons moet breek met ‘n middeleeuse Augustiniaanse paradigma wat daartoe gelei het dat die Christelike godsdiens en teologie nou in ‘n krisis verkeer. Maar let op: Dit is nie net NG lidmate wat moet herbesin oor hul geloof nie, maar sommer ons almal.


Dis Jurie se reg om sy kerk aan te vat, en te besin oor haar teologie. Maar hy behoort dit daar diep binne in sy kerk te doen. Wat hy nie moet doen nie is om God en Jesus Christus op die markplein aan te vat, en sy aanval te verdedig met absurditeite wat lewensvreemd is vir gelowiges wat buite sy kerktradisie staan.

Hierdie is ‘n ou laai van ongelowige/afvallige susterskerklidmate en -professore. God is onder verdenking want die “kerk” het allerhande vreeslike goed aan ons gedoen, soos om apartheid te regverdig uit die Bybel, en ons te verbied om te dans, en ons te dreig met ‘n hel waar demone ons gaan martel as ons na Rodriguez se musiek luister, en en en. Nou is ons kwaad.

As die kerkgod val dan tuimel sy aanbidders saam na benede. Dit maak seer en dis ‘n verleentheid. So kom ons kyk wie ons kan saamtrek.

Met groot respek: Ek ken nie hierdie god van wie jy praat nie, Jurie. Hy het niks met my uit te waai nie, en dit voel vir my ‘n bietjie verwaand dat jy insunieer dat ek en ander oor ons geloof moet besin omdat jy joune verloor het (of nooit gevind het nie). Jy laat my dink aan ‘n vreemdeling wat my in die middel van die nag wakkerklop en vertel dat ek my vrou moet los omdat sy huweliksverhouding nie op dreef kom nie. Hy het my innige simpatie, maar ek gaan nie na hom luister nie. En ek sal almal in die straat af vertel om hom ook te ignoreer.

Weet Jurie dat daar talle gelowiges wereldwyd is wat nie ‘n saak het met Augustinus se teologie nie, en hordes wat oortuig is dat Calvyn nooit die God geken het in wie se naam hy sy teologiese opponente laat opsluit, martel en verbrand het nie?

Weet hy van die Hervormers se terreurveldtog teenoor groepe soos die Anabaptiste, en dat lg. sal giggel vanuit hul bloedbevlekte grafte as hulle moet hoor dat iemand oor Christenskap wil herbesin op grond van goed wat Augustinus en Calvyn kwytgeraak het?

Weet hy dat die “kerk” (die ander een) ‘n formidabele mag was om apartheid tot ‘n einde te bring?

En so kan ons aangaan…

Die Christenskap waarteen Jurie ten velde trek is ‘n karikatuur wat soos Frankenstein se monster aanmekaargeweef is vanuit ‘n seleksie van denominasionele persepsies en onkundige afleidings, meesal vanuit die Calvinisme en hiper-fundamentalisme, en is (genadiglik) nie verteenwoordigend van die Christelike geloof soos dit in die eerste eeue bestaan het nie, en steeds in menige vorme buite institusionele denominasionalisme bestaan nie.

 Jurie se god

Die god waarteen Jurie in opstand kom is net so karikatuuragtig.

Om maar een voorbeeld te noem: Jurie drup van sarkasme as hy die Bybel se skeppingsverhaal gebruik om na God te verwys as ‘n “nutsman.” En dan noem hy God ‘n leuenaar omdat Adam en Eva kwansuis nie oombliklik gesterf het soos God gesê het nie.

‘n Mens sou graag vir Jurie wou herinner dat die “dood” ietsie meer is in die Bybel as om bloot jou laaste asem uit te blaas, maar dit sal nutteloos wees. Jurie weier botweg om die Skrif te gebruik om die Skrif te interpreteer (‘n majestieuse hermeneutiese beginsels), want hy glo nie in die inspirasie van die Skrif nie. Die Bybel het ook maar net ge-ewoleer, soos alles rondom ons. Daar is nie sprake van enige intelligensie agter die skerms nie.

Dit is dus onmoontlik om vanuit ‘n geloofsperspektief ‘n sinvolle gesprek met Jurie te hê. Dit is jammer, want ek sou graag vir hom ‘n paar goed wou sê. Soos dat geen boek in die wereld meer eksplisiet is oor die versluiering van God as die Bybel self nie, en dat God oral daarin getuig van sy gewoonte om sy spore uit te vee vir mense wie hom soos ’n navorsingsobjek wil benader.

Hierdie karaktertrek van God het niks met moedswilligheid te doen nie, en alles met liefde. As die ontdekking en kennis van God, en ons toegang tot hom, met dieselfde voorwaardes gekom het as wat vereis word deur die fossiele in die grotte waaroor Jurie so lekker praat, en wat onlangs weer in die nuus was, dan was ouens soos Jurie ons profete en ons was die leke. En dan het die ongeletterdes van hierdie wereld nie net ‘n sosiale agterstand gehad nie, maar ook ‘n geestelike een.

Die Bybel sê dit werk andersom. God ontsluier nie homself, of antwoord die vraag oor sy bestaan, op ‘n wyse wat afhanklik is van die nuutste “navorsingmetodiek” waaroor Jurie so opgewonde is nie, en waartoe hy uitmuntende toegang het as ‘n geleerde wit professor nie.

Nee, hy doen dit op ‘n manier wat toeganklik is vir ‘n weeskind in die strate van Calcutta en ‘n enkelouer in droogtegeteisterde Midde-Afrika wie haar kinders aan die lewe hou met broodkrummels en gebed.

Jurie sê hy slimmer as sy. Haar gebede is “selfterapie” en niks meer nie. Daarmee verwoes hy die hoop van elke slagoffer van ongeregtigheid wie ooit in sy/haar diepste nood vir God aangeroep en op hom vertrou het toe niks anders meer gewerk het nie.

Jurie kan nie aanvaar dat God homself kan openbaar buite die sfeer van dit wat ons “wetenskap” noem nie. Hy kan nie aanvaar dat die wyse waarop die Bybel oor God se selfopenbaring praat ooreenstem met die wyse waarop ‘n vrou kies om haarself te ontsluier vir haar man nie, en dat dit haar prerogatief is om dit te doen soos en wanneer sy wil nie, en dit te beperk tot ‘n verhouding van wedersydse liefde en kennis wat kopkennis (en Jurie se geliefde “rede” waarna hy so dikwels verwys) transendeer nie.

Nie alle ontdekkings hang af van die inisiatief of slimmigheid van die ontdekkingreisiger nie, veral nie as dit heilige grond is wat ontdek word nie.

En dit laat my weer dink aan die man wat my wakkerklop in die middel van die nag. “Ons moet herbesin oor jou verhouding met jou vrou,” se hy vir my. “Ek het navorsing gedoen, en die Victoriaanse beskouiing van die huwelik is nonsens. Jy moet uit hierdie ding kom. Daar is geen intimiteit of seksualiteit in jou huwelik nie. Ek sien niks nie en en ek vind geen bewyse daarvoor nie. Ek weet. Ek is ‘n Paleontoloog.”

Ek onthou ‘n vakansie lank gelede. Ek het my 1985 Honda XR500 saamgevat, en soggens vroegskemer by die huis uitgesluip terwyl almal geslaap het. Ek het langs die wit strande afgery tot by die langste strand, met die koelte van die seebries in my gesig. Daar het ek tussen die golwe geswem en dryf, waarna ek op die strand gaan sit en kyk het hoe die son opkom oor die magtige Indiese Oseaan. Ek het my verwonder oor alles – die seemeeue, die branders, die sout op my lippe, die onuitspreeklike heerlikheid van die lewe wat God vir ons geskenk het. God was oral, en hy was so sigbaar soos die dag wat rondom my ontvou het. Ek het met hom gepraat, en gepraat – in verwondering oor sy beeldskoonheid, en oor die voorreg om te kan wees. Daarna het ek ‘n entjie opgestap met die strand, tot waar ek kon kofffie kry en sit en skryf oor God. Ek was betower, en vredevol, en gelukkig.

Dit het my jare geneem om uit te vind dat hierdie ongelooflike emosie nie vlietend hoef te wees nie, maar dat dit so deel van ‘n persoon kan word soos asemhaal. Om God te sien, en dankbaar te wees, en te vergeet van jouself en jou ambisies, is binne bereik van ons almal. En daarmee saam die onuitspreeklike vergenoegdheid en vreugde wat die saad is van alle selfloosheid en liefde en geregtigheid teenoor ander.

Selfterapie? Daar is net twee moontlikhede, Jurie. Of jy weet nie waarvan jy praat nie, of ek is die briljantste terapeut wat nog ooit geleef het. Veral as ek in ag neem hoe mislik, miserabel en depressief ek was voor my terapie.

(Word vervolg)

Why I will be Praying with Angus on Saturday

images-23I have never been to one of Angus Buchan’s meetings.

This is not because I have anything against Angus, or his meetings, but because I stopped attending huge Christian gatherings many years ago.

There are a number of reasons for this, and I am not even sure I understand all of them. When I stepped out of denominational Christianity, I stepped into a world where crowds did not matter, where personal relationships took precedence over group dynamics, where celebrity preaching and performance worship were exchanged for nights with friends and their Bibles around kitchen tables.

So I don’t have a problem with huge Christian gatherings. I just happened to embark on a route where I stopped running into them.

I do have a problem with something else, though: Bandwagons.

As a young Christian, someone told me that as light attracts insects, revival fires tend to attract strange people with strange agendas and even stranger teachings. Anyone familiar with the history of spiritual awakenings will know what I am talking about.

Whether we like it or not, Angus Buchan’s ministry has become a type of brand here in South Africa (brandwagon?). As it is with great brands, a lot of people are attracted to it for the sake of the spectacle. You can make money out of a brand. You can promote your cause because of a brand. You can spread your teachings under the name of a brand.

Some of us believe that this is the greatest danger facing Angus’ ministry: People who would like to use his wagon for their band. And so we resolved at our fellowship to start praying for Angus instead of just praying with him.

For those with misgivings about Angus: Remember that there is no problem with someone functioning as a type of “spiritual uncle” for South Africa, as long as such a person does not see himself as a mediatory figure between God and the rest of us, or make any absurd assumptions about his authority. This is why a lot of us appreciate the fact that Angus does not have some or other ridiculous title tied to his name, that he does not wear a religious costume and that we cannot pin him to a denomination.[1] Also, it is as clear as daylight that he has been instrumental in turning many South Africans to God.

These are great credentials, and they dare not be ignored by those of us who have turned our backs on institutionalised Christianity.

But I will be lying if I say that some of us are not concerned. There’s been a lot of Dominion talk amongst some of Angus’ supporters – the type of triumphalist theology that is especially popular amongst certain segments of the Religious Right in the USA, and that sometimes gives one the impression that God is more interested in penetrating the governments of this world than establishing his own Kingdom as an alternative to them.

There are also emails flying around promoting questionable spiritual warfare tactics, and strategies to bind and loose, and recipes for breaking curses, and so on – and some of them seem to be riding on the back of Saturday’s gathering.

And then there are those who are crusading for something called a New Apostolic Reformation, and who connect their particular vision (which happens to be highly controversial) to Angus’ gatherings.

The point is that quite a few of us have lost the taste for all of this. We have been there , we have done it, we have a cupboard full of T-shirts. And so we gravitated towards a different understanding of Christianity – one that doesn’t see strongholds as places and entities outside of us to be overthrown, but as our own miserable opinions that differ from God’s wisdom and will – opinions that take our thoughts captive and leave us entitled, greedy, narcissistic and unjust, and that call for a heart circumcision followed by a progressive renewal of our minds.

At least this is how we interpret Paul’s teaching on strongholds.[2]

Of course you may differ, and indeed it is your right. I just don’t think Angus’ wagon is the place to do it. Neither do I think it is the place for promoting any of the stuff mentioned above.

You see, none of my misgivings has anything to do with Angus’ call to come and pray for our country and for one another. And so I have no objections about Saturday. On the contrary, I think it is a wonderful and noble thing for the body of Christ to show their solidarity and unite in fervent prayer. (I would have thought the same if Joe Soap organised it.)

I also think that the snooty liberal professors at some of South Africa’s famous theological faculties, who speak condescendingly about Angus and his gatherings, accomplish nothing except to provide further proof that they are in fact heretics. How can anyone with a heart for God criticize an earnest appeal to believers to unite in prayer?

This is why someone like me, who have drifted away from the big stadiums and big names, and who have no inclination of returning there or endorsing anyone’s agenda, felt a stirring within when I began to think about this particular gathering.

And this is why I decided that I will be there. We are followers of Christ. Let us pray together! What could be more wonderful than that?

But let us cut the background noise. Let us leave our pet doctrines and agendas at home. Let us commit ourselves to what this is, and not try and turn it into something else. South Africa has enough hijackers as it is.

[1] I am not trying to be nasty. Jesus spoke against ecclesiastical titles and tailoring one’s clothes for the sake of making a spiritual impression. And Paul condemned factions in the church. See Matthew 23:5-12 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 2:1-5.

[2] See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 11:3

Mansions in Heaven?

pexels-photo-87378One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. Matthew 12:6

The idea that heaven looks like a celestial version of a luxurious suburb where the rich and famous live, lined with multi-storey “mansions” that have been prepared for us by Jesus, derives from the King James Version’s translation of Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3:

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

The word “mansions” is an unfortunate mistranslation of the Greek “moinia,” which is the plural form of “moné,” a word which is more accurately translated as dwelling place, abode, lodging or room. Thus, modern translations have dropped the usage of “mansion” and typically use “room” or “dwelling place.”

But here is the interesting thing: As always, the Bible is its own best interpreter, if one would only look. The word moné only appears twice in the entire Bible, and its second appearance is but a few verses on, in John 14:23:

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Thus, the dwelling place that Jesus said he would prepare for us in the Father’s house is the very dwelling place that he said he and the Father would bring back and make with us!

Even more amazing, Jesus spoke these words to clarify his statement in verse 20:

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This sentence makes it abundantly clear that the dwelling that has been made possible by Jesus is reciprocal, namely us in Jesus/the Father and, at the same time, Jesus/the Father in us.

How will all of this this happen?

Verses 16 to 19 answer this:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.

With this in mind, we are ready to re-read verse 3 which immediately follows the KJV’s “mansions” statement:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

For Jesus to receive us “unto himself,” so that we can be “where he is,” is to receive us into the very dwelling place “in the Father” that he alone had enjoyed since eternity before time. This is the “dwelling place” that he had to go and prepare for us in order to receive us into it so that we can be “in the Father” as he is “in the Father” and so that both he and the Father can indwell us.

It now seems incredible that one could miss the obvious meaning of Jesus’ statement. The “coming again” of verse 3 is clearly not a reference to Jesus’ second coming on the clouds, but a reference to his coming through the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed by another one of Jesus’ statements in the very passage that we are busy with. Note verse 26:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

The Ultimate Aim: Abide in Christ

If any doubt remains, note that the whole of John 14 serves as a precursor to John 15, a chapter that gives us the following statement right in its introduction:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.[1]

Firstly, note the reference to the reciprocal indwelling: Us in Christ, and Christ in us.

Secondly, note the word “abide.” As you may have picked up, it closely resembles the noun “abode” spoken of earlier, and is in fact its verb form. This is not only true in English but also in Greek. The Greek word for abide, believe it or not, is “menó” which happens to be the root word from which “moné” is derived!

Thus, to abide in Christ, as we are told to do in John 15, we first need the abode of John 14! Put differently, we cannot dwell in Christ unless he has first prepared a dwelling place for us in which to dwell!

The logic and simplicity of Jesus’ teaching is astounding once we see it, and provides us with profound insight into the central aspect of the Spirit’s ministry: To enable God to dwell in our midst, according to all the Scriptural promises in the Old Testament, by dwelling in us and allowing us to dwell in him.

One of the main problems, it seems, is that we derive our understanding of the Spirit’s work from the book of Acts rather than from the teaching of Jesus, especially as it has been recorded in John’s gospel.

Whereas Acts focuses on the effect of the Spirit’s outpouring, Jesus’ teaching focuses on the reason behind it.

The difference is monumental: Note that Acts is all about the activities of a church who have experienced a divine life exchange due to the fact that they have received the dynamic life and presence of Christ in the place of their old carnal lives.

This is the result of the Spirit’s infilling, and can be compared with the way in which a young man’s schedule and habits may be completely changed as a result of having entered into a relationship with the woman of his dreams.

But to say that the purpose of a romantic relationship is to receive the power and ability to change one’s lifestyle is to put the cart before the horses and to lose all romantic perspective!

Yet this is exactly what we have done by elevating the power of the Spirit above the relational dynamic between God and humanity made possible by it.

The Location of the Father’s House

Finally, let us note that the KJV’s “mansions” that we have now identified as “dwelling places” or “abodes,” are prepared by Jesus in the “Father’s house:”

In my Father’s house are many mansions…

What and where is this house of the Father?

Again, Scripture is its own best commentator. When Jesus was twelve years old he stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Feast of Passover, without his parents’ knowledge. They looked for him for three days before finding him in the temple. When they finally did, this is what he said to them:

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?[2]

Similarly, earlier on in the gospel of John we read the well known story of how Jesus drove the money-changers and religious merchandizers out of the temple in Jerusalem.[3]

Note Jesus’ words while he was doing so:

“Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

When Jesus spoke about “my Father’s house,” he was referring to the temple! There is not a single example in the entire Bible where he, or anyone else, uses the phrase in any other way.

This is where it gets really interesting. The incident with the money-changers continues in John’s gospel to include the following conversation:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Whilst we are told that Jesus was referring to the “temple of his body,” there is a clear play on words here. The “destruction of the temple” hints to an event that Jesus predicted elsewhere,[4] and that was literally fulfilled in 70 AD when the Roman armies sacked Jerusalem under Titus.

But it also refers to his crucifixion, which explains what he meant when he said that he would raise it up in three days.”

Here Jesus begins to expand our understanding of the temple. It will no longer be a building made with bricks and built by human hands. It will be the resurrected body of Christ.

As we know from the rest of the New Testament, Jesus was not only referring to his physical body, but to the regenerated saints who would become his dwelling place, thus his “body.” We are raised with him, we are in him as he is in us, and so we are called his “body:”

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.[5]

So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.[6]

It follows naturally that if we are the resurrected body of Christ, then we are also the rebuilt temple that he spoke of to the Jews, namely the place of his indwelling through his Spirit. This is not just a logical inference, but the exact way in which the Bible refers to believers:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.[7]

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?[8]

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people.”[9]

In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit.[10]

If the “Father’s house” is the temple, and we become that temple, then it follows naturally that we also become the “house:”

But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope of which we boast.[11]

…you will know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.[12]

Once we see the glorious outcome of it all, it becomes extremely simple to understand why Jesus had to prepare a dwelling place for us in his Father’s house before we could become that house. The “rebuilding” of the house necessitated such a preparation, and makes perfect sense when we consider another verse that refers to this issue:

…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[13]

The bricks of the temple had to be replaced with living stones, and Christ had to prepare a place for those stones to be laid. Thus, we are given a ”dwelling place” in the Father’s house, but we also end up becoming the very fabric of that house, enabling God to dwell in us through his Spirit even as we dwell in him.

The Chambers in the Temple

There is one last point to consider, and it is to be found in Peter’s words quoted above. Note that the living stones are also identified with the priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices.

To “dwell in the temple” was no New Testament invention, and neither was the idea that there were specific “rooms” or “abodes” in the temple to enable such a dwelling. This is clear right from the beginning of the history of the temple:

Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” Then David gave Solomon his son the plan of the vestibule of the temple, and of its houses, its treasuries, its upper rooms, and its inner chambers, and of the room for the mercy seat; and the plan of all that he had in mind for the courts of the house of the Lord, all the surrounding chambers, the treasuries of the house of God, and the treasuries for dedicated gifts; for the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, and all the work of the service in the house of the Lord; for all the vessels for the service in the house of the Lord…[14]

The description of the chambers in the temple bring to mind Jesus’ words “in my Father’s house there are many rooms,” and illustrates the ridiculousness of imagining that he was referring to heavenly mansions that resemble the estates of the Hollywood elite.

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about these chambers in his famous Wars of the Jews:

Now, about the sides of the lower part of the temple there were little houses, with passages out of one into another; there were a great many of them, and they were three stories high…[15]

These chambers had a variety of functions, which included priestly service. This dated back from the time of God’s first “house”, the Tabernacle:

…the four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. And they lodged around the house of God, for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning.[16]

It goes without saying that the disciples who were listening to Jesus’ words in John 14:2 would immediately have thought of these priestly chambers and the functions associated with them. This was Jesus’ way of preparing them for the very truth that he would establish a new “priesthood” in his “Father’s house,” and that this would be linked to his return to them, when he and the Father would make their home with those who have placed their faith in Christ..

This could only take place through the “Spirit of truth” who would be sent to “dwell with them and be in them.” Here we find the true ministry of the Spirit, and a fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose, namely to have an offspring in his image and likeness with whom he would dwell eternally.

 (The above is an excerpt from Romans: the Big Picture)

[1] John 15:4

[2] Luke 2:49

[3] John 2:13-22

[4] See Matthew 24:2

[5] Ephesians 1:22-23

[6] Romans 12:5

[7] 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

[8] 2 Corinthians 6:19

[9] 2 Corinthians 6:16

[10] Ephesians 2:21-22

[11] Hebrews 3:6

[12] 1 Timothy 3:15

[13] 1 Peter 2:5

[14] 1 Chronicles 28:10-13

[15] For Josephus’ description of the temple, see The Wars of the Jews, V 5: 1- 6

[16] 1 Chronicles 9:26-27