Partnership with God

    This Fall I taught a Bible class at my local church, along with Kyle Creamer, Nate Underwood, Emily Stutzman Jones (Lipscomb’s Director of Sustainability), Rob Touchstone (founder of the Well Coffeehouse), Tim Catchim (creator of OneLife Ministries), and Ron Block (Alison Krauss & Union Station).

    It was an incredibly rewarding experience, which helped me clarify a lot of my own thinking, and gain valuable insight from the perspectives of others.

    The title of the class was “God’s Family Business” (drawing from Galatians 3-4), and the theme was partnership with God. We took as our text the entire story of scripture, and looked at it through the lens of a God who creates us for partnership, and continually calls us back into partnership with him.

    The story, when told this way, is simple.

    God is revealed as a God who creates and cultivates life, who calls life forth, and takes joy in its appearance. As the culmination of his creative process, he creates a being like himself, and commissions this being to do the same work he does: to create and cultivate life, to name and categorize creation, to fill the world and bring it peace.

    This being is called humanity.

    From its first moments, humanity will partner in the work of God. This is God’s magnificent intention, the thing which brings God ultimate delight — not simply to have created, but to have created a being like himself, a partner and collaborator in the ongoing work of creation.

    If all goes as planned, humanity will spread out into the world, bringing beauty and joy and peace wherever it goes, creating new things, and bringing new life.

    But before long, humanity has broken the partnership, and the world as a whole spirals into violence.

    So God sets out to redeem the world, to rescue it from self-destruction. And he does this by seeking to partner with human beings to enact that redemption. If the problem with the world is that it has broken partnership with God, God will renew the world by renewing this partnership.

    So God calls Noah to save the world by constructing a giant technological artifact. And in doing so, Noah partners with God, and fulfills the original human commission to cultivate life—rescuing not just human beings, but animal life as well.

    God has worked redemption by renewing the partnership between God and humans. The Bible calls that partnership “covenant”, and it comes up again and again in the Biblical story.

    When humans break partnership, God sets out to redeem them by renewing that partnership—with groups, nations, individuals.

    But ultimately, every attempt at partnership is broken. And so finally, God sends his Son.

    Jesus Christ is the ultimate partnership between God and humanity. In his body, he is the organic unity of the human and the divine. He himself is the New Covenant, the new agreement which reconciles God and humanity, sealing the partnership permanently.

    As such, he is the ultimate human. All the intentions and aspirations of God for the human race are finally culminated in him. He does not exercise the rights and authority of God (Philippians 2:6), but the possibility and potential of humanity living up to its true nature.

    And that is vast indeed. God had given humanity charge of all creation (Genesis 1, Psalm 8), and yet, according to the author of Hebrews, humanity had still only glimpsed a small part of what they had been given charge over—which even included the world to come (Hebrews 2:5-8).

    And because Christ was in full partnership with God, everything that humans had inherited went to him.

    If that was all there was to the story, the rest of us might be out of luck. Until Christ, humanity had been unable to maintain partnership with God. And though Christ had achieved this perfect partnership and unity, things still did not bode well for the rest of the world.

    Except for this: Christ calls us into organic union with him. As the most intimate partnership between God and humanity, Christ himself seeks partnership—and strives to become intimately connected with all the rest of us.

    And so Christ calls us to become part of his body, and seeks to become part of our bodies. He invites his disciples to “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood”, to consume the New Covenant, to “partake of his body”. We become what we eat, so to speak, and in partaking of Christ, we become organically transformed into him (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:27).

    As Paul and others see it, this means that we are now part of Christ, participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4), sharing his suffering, enacting his works, partaking of his glory. We follow Christ’s trajectory of suffering and glorification, of weakness and of reigning (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

    As Christ’s body, we share in the work of Christ, which is the work of partnership that God originally intended for humanity (Ephesians 2:10). We create and cultivate life, we explore and categorize creation, we bring healing and renewal and life to the world.

    Most provocatively, there’s nothing in Christ’s world-transforming work that we are not called to participate in. We are involved at every step of the way, from healing the sick and feeding the hungry (Matthew 10:8; Matthew 25:34–36) — through much greater works to come (John 14:12). We reign with Christ as he defeats all enemies including death (1 Corinthians 15:25–27; Hebrews 2:5–8; Revelation 2:26–27; 5:10; 20:4–6), even judging the world and raising the dead (1 Corinthians 6:2–3; Matthew 10:8).

    In Genesis 1, God is pictured as engaging in six days of solo creation. That work culminates with the creation of humanity—a being intended to partner in God’s creative work. And then, on the seventh day, God rests.

    Going forward, humanity was supposed to join with God, beginning a whole new act of creation that would flow forth from the partnership between God and humanity.

    But with the partnership between God and humans broken, the creative work came to a halt.

    Fortunately, Christ restores the partnership. And so early Christians identify Christ’s resurrection as occurring on the “eighth day” of the week, the day after the seventh day, the day that new creation begins.

    This new creation is not a scrapping of the old creation, it is a continuation of it—a new addition emerging from the joyful partnership between God and humanity.

    And so, at the ultimate edge of the Biblical vision, we are seen as moving forward in partnership with God, continuing the work of creation, participating in the renewal of the entire cosmos.

    The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:16-21)

    With the relationship between God and humanity renewed, humanity is restored to its original mission. And all creation delights in anticipation of the glorious, generative reign of humanity in partnership with God.