Excerpt from Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible

In addition to understanding the Bible’s overarching theme in the with-God life and its transformation of the People of God, it is also helpful to view the Bible panoramically across the expanse of time. From the beginning and into the unlimited future of God with humanity we can see the unity of the Bible in the interplay of two aspects of the with-God life: human character transformation and divine mediation—that is, God’s ways of arranging to be with us. Every interaction in the biblical records shows this interplay.

Adam and Eve “fell” because, though innocent, they lacked character. Innocence is not virtue. Innocence, for all its beauty, is a form of ignorance and lack of character. God certainly could have stood over Adam and Eve (“been in their faces,” as we sometimes say) and prevented them from succumbing to Satan’s clever appeals. Instead, God arranged for them to be “on their own,” and the result was then expressed in what they did. This allowing us to be “on our own” in order to develop character within us is an arrangement God still abides by and respects.

To develop Adam’s and Eve’s character—and ours too—God has to be “absent” as well as present in human life. Just as our parents care for us around the clock in infancy and early childhood and then gradually withdraw their presence from us as we physically mature, so God is intently present to us at our spiritual infancy and then allows us to be increasingly “on our own” as we spiritually mature. Through the ages God purposely works to establish a balance between his “manifest presence” and his “seeming absence,” so that we will develop character: the character required of those who will not only “exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ,” but also will “reign forever and ever” with him, hence realizing his ultimate purpose for humanity (Rom 5:17; Rev 22:5).

As in the garden of Eden, God balances his manifest presence and seeming absence through divine mediation by providing appointed figures, forms of worship, social structures, cataclysmic events, Scripture, and other revelations. These forms of mediation change over time, always building on what has gone before. At the outset of human history—from Adam to Abraham—God works directly with individuals: speaking with them, appearing to them in angelic form, instructing them in dreams, and so forth. When God is “absent” to them, his presence is mediated only by the knowledge that he is “about” and “will be back.”

Beginning with Abraham, by contrast, God begins working indirectly, mediating his presence through the social structure of the family unit: “In you,” God says to Abraham—that is, through your family—“all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). This mediation develops over a long and painful history as Abraham’s descendants become tribes, a people, and then, under the monarchy, a nation that rises to great power, dominating its neighbors. All the while, God’s presence with the people of Israel is the central, unifying reality in its history.

From Abraham through the monarchy, God’s presence—and absence—is mediated through Scripture, traditions, and rituals of the religion of Israel: the Torah, the judges, the levitical priests, the prophets, and more. These survive the collapse of the monarchy and the dispersion and continue to mediate God’s presence not only to the exiled biological children of Abraham, but also to the Gentiles and their kings and leaders.

During the intertestamental period, the religious institutions of Israel continue to prosper in their own homeland, even under Greek and Roman rule, and throughout the Mediterranean world. During this time new possibilities of character development and relationship to God develop within the framework of the ethnic Israelite culture.

Then, into this Greco-Roman, Mediterranean world Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who personally mediates the presence of God, is born. By the means of his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus breaks open the ethnic vessel within which the treasure of God’s presence had developed. The entire history of God-with-his-people now becomes, through Jesus Christ, the treasure of all peoples and fulfills the ancient promise to Abraham: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Now “there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human” (1 Tim 2:5).

After Jesus’ ascension into the heavens we see God’s all-inclusive people, the “light of the world” and “salt of the earth,” being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who also personally mediates God’s presence for the formation of Christ’s character in individuals and “all nations.” This direct mediating of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit continues to develop up to the present. Alongside this continues the indirect mediating work of Scripture (the Word of God written), preaching and prophetic utterance (the word of God spoken), and sacraments (the Word of God made visible).

Ahead lies an eternity beyond human history, when we will “know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). There character formation and transformation will no longer require the mediation of God’s presence and absence to us, for Christ will fully dwell in us and we in him. Then the fullness of Christ’s character within us will eliminate any need for mediation, and we will be in direct and everlasting communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Omnipresence becomes manifest presence. No wonder Paul exclaims: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:20-21).

You can find this and other excerpts of the supplemental material from the Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible at our website: Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible.

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