An Interpretive Lens For Viewing Truth! Part 1
The Bible tells the story of God’s grand purpose for creating the world, focusing on His reason for designing humans as free moral agents in His image. This purpose of God is a valuable lens, through which we view many theological realities, especially the nature of eternal destinations.
God made the world as the perfect environment to foster real relationships with people who can freely choose to love or reject Him. He wants as many of us as possible to become His children, sharing His values, character, and especially His generous, sacrificial love demonstrated in
Scripture clearly teaches that only those who love God and His ways will live forever. There is no purpose for any others to be kept alive for eternity. Neither traditionalism nor universalism facilitate the achievement of God’s ultimate goal.
This series of posts will articulate the purpose of God revealed in scripture and validated by experience. With that purpose in view, we will see how the gift of immortality granted only to God’s children fits in His eternal purpose, while competing views fail the purpose test. This unique perspective provides a framework that strengthens our kinship with God as we come to embrace His purpose.
“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” (Ephesians 3:8-12, emphasis added)
Thank you for joining me on this important quest to discern and apply God’s eternal purpose. It is my hope that in seeking for God’s purpose together, His purpose will become our own. Though the lens of God’s purpose, we will grow to interpret everything from His perspective.
God made the world with a very specific purpose in mind. Everything He has done or will do is motivated by His grand purpose.
Sometimes, as Paul revealed to the Ephesians, the purpose of God appears mysterious, or hidden. Amazingly, the fact that God’s purpose isn’t always obvious or might even seem unknowable fulfills His purpose. God wants to reveal Himself and His purpose to those who really want to
know it, as He declares through the prophet: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
Some people are confused when they compare what they see in the “real world” to the teachings they hear from some Bible teachers. Seekers and believers alike want to know: Why am I here? What happens after death? If there is a God and He is love (1 John 4:8), why is there so much
pain, suffering, and difficulty in the world? How can I make sense of the world through study of the Bible, when it can be so confusing and seemingly contradictory?
Once we understand God’s purpose, the world and our place in it makes sense. We receive an eternal perspective that moves us to live as we were made to live. We discover a peace and freedom that transcends world news or strife in our own lives. Ultimately, we find ourselves joining with God in His purpose, fulfilling the very reason that we were created. When searching for ultimate answers, it is critical to choose the most reliable source of truth available. In my decades of study, I have found the Bible to be far more trustworthy than any other source. If you’d like to understand why I find the Bible reliable, consider reading my article, “Why Care About the Bible and What It Says?”1 .
What kind of world did God create?
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1)
“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
While the list of the problems in today’s world would fill many volumes, the Bible says it didn’t start out that way. The creation account in Genesis paints a picture of paradise, where mankind was made to live in a close relationship with God in a perfect environment. God walked closely with Adam and Eve, speaking with them personally, directly, and openly.
The defining characteristic of people is that we are made “in His image” (Genesis 1:26). The nature of the imago Dei, of being God’s image-bearers, is a deep discussion that has been debated for millennia. For this discussion, the Genesis story provides enough clues to define
what God had in mind when He made us in His image.
First, we were given an authority over the earth that emulates God’s authority over the universe. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Sometimes the term “rule” has negative, authoritarian connotations, and as we look at the world the abuse of power is clear. However, had we managed, or governed in God’s image as He intended, the world would still be a garden-like paradise.
Regardless of how things are now, the first task of God’s image-bearers is to manage the earth for Him, just as He rules the universe. How does God rule? Deuteronomy 32:3-4 says, “Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of
faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” Everything God does is good, right, and just. As the Maker of everything, He could do anything He wanted, act any way He desired. He could be horribly evil and do sadistic things for fun. However, the Bible says, “The
steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV). God’s rule is defined by love, faithfulness, and goodness. It was clearly His intent for us to rule in the same way.
Our role as God’s image-bearers is shown in another job God gives to Adam: “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). The job of naming the animals may not seem significant, until we compare earlier verses: “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night” (v. 1:4), and “God called the expanse heaven” (v. 1:8). Do you see the identical tasks here
between God and mankind? God named many things, and then He delegated the naming of the animals—whom we were assigned to manage wisely as God manages the universe. I imagine it as almost a father-son apprenticeship, where God says, “Ok, Adam, you know I named the big
things, now I want you to name these little things so you can be like me.”
God also created mankind to listen to Him, to follow His instructions. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (v. 2:16-17). We know from Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve decided not to follow this instruction, and as a consequence, the world was cursed and death struck mankind.
Let’s consider what we can learn from God’s first recorded instruction to mankind. First, God made us with the freedom to choose whether to follow His commands. We were, and in fact, still are, able to freely choose to show our love to God by doing what He asks us to do. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Our real freedom of will is crucial to understanding God’s eternal purpose.
Notice that the knowledge of good and evil itself was not forbidden, but eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While we can’t know now what that tree actually was, we can deduce that it was a forbidden way of learning about good and evil. God actually preferred that
we learn good and evil through obedience, as the command itself defines good and evil to us. Obey my good instructions for you, and you will live, God was telling them; otherwise, your foolish choices will kill you.
In large part, the question of why the world is filled with so much evil is answered in the first three chapters of Genesis. We see that God made a real world, where He interacted in an authentic relationship with people He had made from the “dust of the earth” (Genesis 3:19). He gave us a role that was in His image and likeness: to work, create, name things, and manage the earth. He made us with the potential to learn good and evil by following His instructions from the beginning, but we chose the harder way of learning through the consequences of our sin. We
could have chosen to adopt His character, His goodness, justice, and mercy, and managed the world in that way. Instead, we chose our own way, and the world reflects the consequences of our evil choices.
God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth
creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.
― C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity2
The Bible shows that death came to mankind because of our disobedience. In Genesis 3:19, the ending of God’s explanation of the consequences of going our own way (sin) is “until you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death is simply the ending of life. If you’d like to explore the meaning of this verse in detail, consider Dr. Glenn Peoples’ series that starts with “Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the Mind-Body Question.”3
God’s purpose was not thwarted by man’s disobedience. Starting right at the Fall, Genesis 3:15 records the first peek into God’s plan to stay with mankind and achieve His ultimate purpose, a plan that the tempting serpent would eventually be crushed by the heel of the woman’s seed. The
Bible shows God working through the ages to accomplish His purpose, through the Flood, the promise to Abraham, the establishment and rescue of Israel from Egypt, the kings and prophets, all culminating in the revelation of Jesus Christ.
We’ve seen that God made a real world, and made mankind to be like Him, with the ability to freely choose to manage the world as God manages the universe. We decided not to obey God, and the consequences remain with us to this day. However, God didn’t give up, but stayed with His purpose. These things are set the stage for us to understand God’s eternal purpose and our place in that purpose.
Part 2 coming soon…
- www.afterlife.co.nz/2013/bible/why-care-about-the-bible-and-what-it-says [↩]
- http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/437424 [↩]
- http://www.rightreason.org/2014/dust-n-breath-1/ [↩]