the reason for God: last chapter

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This is the last post in a 15-week study. More information and resources can be found here.

It has been my prayer that the participants – as well as those of y’all who have stopped by during the last 14 weeks – have had your faith challenged in a fresh way. May He continue to pursue you and draw you closer to Himself.

The Reason for God – Chapter Fourteen: The Dance of God

Keller quotes from Simone Wiel’s book Waiting for God to start the chapter, “In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that [Christ possession], of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God.” (p. 222)

Keller writes, “I believe that Christianity makes the most sense out of our individual life stories and out of what we see in the world’s history,” and he uses the previous chapters to prove his point. This final chapter’s goal is to, “…draw together the various threads of the narrative.” (pp. 222-23) Keller continues, “The Bible has often been summed up as a drama in four acts — creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” (p. 223)

The Divine Dance

So, what is the difference in Christianity Keller wants us to understand?

“Christianity, alone… teaches… The doctrine of the Trinity…means that God is, in essence, relational,” Keller answers. (p. 223) John’s Gospel is quoted to describe the unique positions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and how the relationship is for the glorification of the Three. Keller explains to glorify each other means, “To glorify something or someone is to praise, enjoy and delight in them… To glorify someone is to serve or defer to him or her… Your ultimate joy is to see them in joy.” (p. 223)

There is no self-centeredness in the Triune God and it shows us how we are to interrelate. Keller writes, “When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center not he interests and desires of the other.” (p. 224) This is exactly how They interact. None wanting the glory but rather Each pursuing to glorify the other. “Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others,” Keller says. (p. 224) He continues by explaining the Greek word perichoresis, “…means literally to “dance or flow around”… they [Greek Christians] meant that each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being.” (p. 224)

The Dance of Love

So, who is God and what you think of Him, according to Keller, can give us an idea of what you think of love. “If God is unipersonal… Power is primary… if God is triune… God really has love at his essence… Eastern religions believe the individual personality is an illusion, and therefore love is, too… for the Christian… it [love] is the purpose of God because he is essentially, eternally, interpersonal love,” Keller argues. (pp. 225-26)

Community, represented by the Triune God, Keller writes, is the ultimate point of our reality and result of our loss of self. (p. 226) “When Jesus said you must loves yourself in service to find yourself (Mark 8:35), he was recounting what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been doing throughout eternity… Unless you are willing to experience the loss of options and the individual limitations that comes from being in command in committed relationships, you will remain out of touch with your own nature and the nature of things,” Keller postulates.

This is born true in the community of the world, as Christians understand its creation. “We [Christians] believe the world was made by a God who is a community of persons who have loved each other for all eternity,” Keller writes. (p. 226) God created a world that works only based on who He is. Therefore, community is the essence of love and selfishness is the essence of hell. In actuality, “Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made,” Keller concludes. (p. 227)

The Dance of Creation

“Jonathan Edwards… concluded that God is infinitely happy,” Keller says. (p. 227)

Why?

“Within God is a community of persons pouring glorifying, joyful love into one another,” Keller continues, “…God is infinitely happy, because there is an “other-orientation” at the heart of his being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others.” (p. 227)

Keller then rebuts the argument that God does not want to be glorified by saying, “He wants our joy… and the only way we… can have this same joy, is if we center our entire lives around him instead of ourselves.” (p. 227) Historian George Marsden summarized Jonathan Edwards thoughts on the subject of creation, “The ultimate reason that God creates… is not to remedy some lack in God, but to extend that perfect internal communication of the triune God’s goodness and love…” (p. 228)

Keller continues, “God did not create us to get the cosmic, infinite joy of mutual love and glorification, but to share it.” (p. 228) We are not separate but rather sharing in the glory of the creation. In that sharing, we are not central either; Jesus is. “We were made to center our lives upon him, to make the purpose and passion of our lives knowing, serving, delighting and resembling him,” Keller contends. (p. 228)

Losing the Dance

When did the perfection of the Trinity, man, and the earth screech to a halt?

Keller says, “…in Genesis 3 we read of the Fall.” (p. 229) Adam and Eve were given explicit instructions about the Tree and fruit of the Tree in the Garden of Eden. Rather than follow the instructions out of love, “…Just for my [God] sake… we failed. We became stationary, self-centered.” (p. 229) Through our failure, the relationship unraveled and creation’s dance was interrupted. We tried to become the center and have everything spin around us and we simply cannot exist in the intended position God is to have held. Our self-centeredness disengages us from the physical, mental, moral, natural and spiritual worlds. “Nothing makes us more miserable than self-absorption, the endless, unsmiling concentration on our needs, wants, treatment, ego, and record.” (p. 229)Thankfully, God has not left us to our own devices.

“The Son of God was born into the world to begin a new humanity, a new community of people who could lose their self-centeredness, begin a God-centered life, and, as a result, slowly but surely have all other relationships put right as well.” (p. 230) Jesus obeyed His calling and died on a tree for us while Adam abandoned his calling for a tree and to the detriment of us. Our Lord “…came into the world and died on the cross to deal with our sins, he was circling and serving us.” Jesus received nothing from it so why do it? “He began to do with us what he had been doing with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. He centers upon us, loving us without benefit to himself.” (p. 230)

Returning to the Dance

“If the beauty of what Jesus did moves you, that is the first step toward getting out of your own self-centeredness and fear into trust relationship with him… He invites you to begin centering everything in your life on him… If you respond to him, all your relationships will begin to heal… sin is centering your identity on anything but God.” (pp. 230) Without him, you are only committing to those relationships and activities that lead to your fulfillment but, when you feel Jesus speaking to you, you must make a choice. “We can make him the new center of our lives and stop trying to be our own Savior and Lord. We can accept both his challenge to recognize ourselves as sinners in need of his salvation, and his renewing love as the new basis of our identity.” (p. 231) If we accept, then we begin to recognize that a life lived for others is a true life. You only reach your full potential by reaching it for others because C.S. Lewis says, “…outside the system of self-giving is… simply and solely Hell… that fierce imprisonment in the self… Self-giving is absolute reality.” (p. 231)

The Future of the Dance

So, what is the future? If you follow Jesus what happens in the end? “…in the final book of the Bible… we see heaven descending into our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection,” Keller says (p. 232) This will be the new Garden of Eden, per Isaiah. “The Trinity virtually “rejoiced” the world into being. Out of delight God created a universe of beings to step into his joy, and the new-made stars sang of it… God moves toward his world in care and love… and though sin and evil have marred the world… at the end of time, nature will be restored to its full glory and we with it.” (p. 232) The end will really be the beginning as God restores the world and us to the glory He intended originally. Keller states, “The human race finally lives together in peace and interdependence.” (p. 233)

The Christian Life

“…Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it,” according to Keller, “The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but to care and cultivate the face of the earth…” (p. 233)

Keller says no other religion has this as a central tenant. He quotes Vinoth Ramachandra, “The Biblical vision is unique. That is why when some say there is salvation in other faiths too, I ask them — “What salvation are you talking about?” No faith holds out a promise of eternal salvation for the world — the ordinary world — that the cross and resurrection of Jesus do.” (p. 234)

So, what does authenticate Christian life and faith look like?

Keller answers, “God made us to ever increasingly share in his own joy and delight within himself. We share his joy first as we give him glory… second, as we honor and serve the dignity of other human beings made in the image of God’s glory; and third as we cherish his derivative glory in the world of nature…” (p. 234)

Another view Keller states is, “Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely, and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God. To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success.” (p. 235)

The Gospel makes sense to our God-given senses. It in no way violates anything of, from or for God. Only in our fallen state do we lose sense of the purpose. We are to meet in community with others and God. The Trinity is a community and so God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit call us to a life of community. Here Keller adds, ” …the Christian life means not only building up the Christian community through encouraging people to faith in Christ but building up the human comity through deeds of justice and service [mercy].” (p. 235)

So the point of this adventure called life is reach the point where we can exclaim along with all the other adventurers, “I’ve come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is stye land I’ve been looking for all my life, though i never knew it,” Keller ends. (p. 236)

Question: Has reading this book strengthened your convictions? If so, how? Is there a particular chapter or truth that stands out?

My response: Absolutely. And one thing that drew me to this book was a desire to have a better understanding of my faith and, therefore, a better answer when a question is posed that challenges that faith. I used to be fearful of an exchange in which I might not have an “answer for my faith”. Now, I am actually, kinda-sorta looking forward to it.

One chapter stood out for me from the rest of the book: Chapter Ten – The Problem of Sin. And oh-my-goodness, did the Holy Spirit use this chapter to speak to my heart. The overall idea was best summed up by the quote Keller used from Simone Weil, “One only has a choice between God and idolatry.”

I think of this chapter so often… when I get overly upset over something, when I’m disappointed, when I’m angry. I ask myself, “What am I trying to lean on instead of Jesus? What or who am I idolizing?” It brings me back to my knees before the Lord every time.

Which is just where I need to be.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11

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Comments

  1. Reading this book has caused me to evaluate my relationships – with the Lord and with people. After all, my relationship with God is reflected in how I relate to people. I have been too focused on my self and my own feelings, too easily offended by things that really don’t matter. No thing is more important than a person! I am learning to focus more on the heart and soul of everything ~ the person. There are broken and hurting people all around me. Each exhibits his or her hurt in a different way. I don’t have to know why they are hurting, but I can serve them by simply loving. Several chapters in this book resonated with me, but the final chapter has touched me most. I love this statement:
    To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success.
    We have adopted such an ‘entitlement’ attitude, and it’s easy to get caught up in that. What do we really ‘deserve’? I desire the joy that comes from a right relationship with Jesus, and that includes loving with abandon. Even with the expectation of suffering and hardship. Not to earn His favor. But if God humbled Himself to the point of death, for my sake, then surely I can stop living for myself. Living for self is ultimately so isolating and unfulfilling. I have looked into the eyes of the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed. I have seen their joy in receiving even the slightest attention, affection and love. That God might use me to show His love is unfathomable. But as long as I have breath, that is my desire. Imagine walking into a dark room. It takes only a bit of light to make an impact. Conversely, it takes a lot of dark to impact light. Lord, help me to be the little bit of light. And together, as the body of Christ, imagine the measure of our love!

    • I loved that statement, too! I have also felt a conviction to die to self…and pray God will show me areas of self-idolatry.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Amen, Connie! As the body of Christ, we must keep our eyes focused on Him and BE the salt and light this world needs so desperately.

    • I love your thoughts on this subject Connie. I too have found myself evaluating my relationship with God and with others while reading this book. If it weren’t for my relationship with Christ I could so easily crawl into my own little safe place and forget about the needs of others, but because of Christ my heart is to do the will and good pleasure of my heavenly Father and that is to love with abandonment even if I sometimes struggle to do so. So glad he doesn’t call the perfect.

  2. There were so many good chapters, but an area that really impacted me was the section on hell. I know how my self-centeredness breeds more self-centeredness, so I can understand Keller’s statement, “hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever.” Keller also noted that “all God does in the end with people is give them what they want most including freedom from Himself. What could be more fair than that?” So many people think that, after rejecting God during their life on earth, once they die and experience hell they will change their minds and want God, but Keller shares the error in that thinking through the passage in Luke on Lazarus and the rich man.

  3. NiHaoYall says:

    Oh gosh, yes. The chapter on hell, along with Mere Christianity, have completely changed the way I view hell and the choices we make that take us, daily, closer to heaven or closer to hell.

  4. I think I’ve been procrastinating writing this last response because I don’t want this study (or this book) to end. :) I was completely strengthened in my convictions by reading through the book. It was such a relief to me to be strengthened like this. I see so much Christianity “waffling” or “caving” to popular culture, secularism, humanism, or just plain old greed on such a regular basis (myself included at times) that sometimes I doubt what I know to be true. So, this book really solidified my faith. A couple things I’m taking away from this study…1. The idea of a “Stepford” God. I love the quote on p. 117: “If he is not who he says he is, why should we care what he has to say about anything else?” and on p. 118: “If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction.” Yes, yes, yes! I see so many people–Christians included–picking and choosing what they want to believe and obey, and then they are shocked and dismayed at the consequences that naturally arise. God is an ALL or NOTHING God. You can’t ride the fence with Him…thankfully! 2. I can’t remember what chapter it was in, but the idea TK brings up that everyone has the Truth of God in their inner being, but many people repress that knowledge in order to serve SELF. That thought has helped me in my prayer life , especially praying for others. “Lord, help XYZ to see the truth that they were created to see. Lift the blinders from XYZ’s eyes. Lead XYZ out of their repression into the glory of your Truth! Amen!”

    Thank you, ladies, for a great and challenging study! The Lord bless you all!

  5. I just keep coming back to this quote: ““The Bible has often been summed up as a drama in four acts — creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” I feel like that’s the story of my life! And I’m also sure I’m not alone on that!! I love where I’m at now…in the restoration process, and I will be here likely for the rest of my life. This book helped me stay on track. The process of “restoration” keeps me humble and keeps me close to God, always needing Him and wanting a deeper relationship with Him.

    This book has taught me many interesting lessons, and I think the content I connected to the most was about sin and forgiveness. I will probably be using The Reason for God as a reference book now!

    Thanks again, ladies, for your steadfast commitment to this study. It’s been a pleasure!

  6. The chapters that have lain heaviest on my heart dealt with forgiveness (much, much work to be done there) and sin. Hell, too – that chapter gave me a great deal about which to think.

    I am grateful this study has pushed me to look hard at myself & my relationship with God as it is (or was, at the beginning of the study) & the relationship I want with God. It was no surprise to me, before I ever cracked open the book, that I need a lot of work. But I feel now as though I have some tools and a direction. Can’t ask for more than that…

    I am also grateful for, and to, all of you who commented throughout the study. Your comments have encouraged & enlightened me. Thank you all for sharing your hearts here.

    Stefanie, my heart is full…thank you.

  7. I really struggled with the first part of the book, perhaps because at the time we were in the middle of selling our house with a lot of unknowns looming over my head. I may need to go back through the first section again when I can devote more time and thought to it. It really wasn’t until we got into the second part of the book, when things were finally settling into place, that I found myself really enjoying the read. I just love the way the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart concerning the things I am struggling through. To find myself convicted of a matter is to find a truth that will lead me away from the things that hurt and closer to my freedom in Christ. Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 opened my eyes just a little bit wider to how my struggles are often related to my fears, which really come from a form of self-centeredness (idolatry). I like what Keller said in Chapter 11 about building our identity in Christ, how it leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. “I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don’t need to notice myself- how I am doing, how I am being regarded- so often”. This is such a freeing truth for someone who struggles with so many insecurities and a truth that I need to remind myself of often.

    Although I missed commenting on several chapters I have so appreciated everyone else’s thoughts and have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in this study. I am sure I will be reading back through this book often. Thank you, Stefanie, and everyone who made this time together so special!

  8. I have so loved this book. Several chapters have really convicted me, such as the ones on sin, hell, forgiveness. The last chapter really opened my eyes to looking at things through God’s perspective in a way I have never thought of. In this chapter many thoughts of Keller really hit me. He wants us to have the joy He has. Mark 8:35 states, “Jesus said, ‘you must lose yourself in service to find yourself.'” God created a world based on who He is. God is infinitely happy, because there is an “other orientation” at the heart of His being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others. Jesus’ loving and dying for us without any benefit for him. We begin to recognize that a life lived for others is a true life. You only reach your full potential by reaching it for others. Out of delight God created a universe of beings to step into His joy. These thoughts are not necessarily new to me, but reading them at this time in my life, it was like I really understood them, or really saw them for the first time.

    This book has been such a blessing to me. I struggled with it at first, but am so glad for this study so I would stick with it. I fear that I would have put it down and not finished it if it weren’t for this study and wow what I would have missed. Thank you Stephanie for doing this study and thank you to all the ladies commenting and helping me along on this wonderful journey to a better, closer relationship with God. This book is truly a must read for everyone.

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