Why is there so much evil still?

Christianity says that Christ destroyed the works of the devil, and Christ reigns supreme over all powers and authorities. But if that’s true, why is there so much evil still?

One obvious reason is that a lot of people love evil. They enjoy being tyrants and bullies and making people squirm. They like using their talents to their own advantage, and lying their way to the top. Deceit pays, so does pushing your weight around. It makes you feel superior and powerful.

But evil people are never safe. They make enemies. They get caught. People rise up against them. Their worlds fall apart, their egos are crushed, and the media relishes their come-uppance at last. Evil has shown again and again that it eats up and spits out those who feast on it.

Evil is so powerful, though, it can suck in even those who hate it. Only Jesus managed to resist it. And why was that? Because he trusted his Father to “save him from death,” Hebrews 5:7. When he felt the power of evil suffocating the life out of him he cried out to his Father to rescue him, and his Father always answered.

And now Jesus does the same for us (verse 9). He does for us what his Father did for him. But it’s still our choice whether we trust him, or not. Paul made that clear in Romans 6:12-13, which in the Phillips translation reads: “Do not, then, allow sin (evil) to establish any power over your mortal bodies, in making you give way to its lusts (and temptations). Nor hand over your bodily parts to be, as it were, weapons of evil for the devil’s purposes. But, like men rescued from certain death, put yourselves in God’s hands as weapons of good for his own purposes.”

Faced with the temptation to do something evil, we can either give in to it or be rescued from it. Jesus chose to be rescued, and now he’s there to rescue us, because we’re in exactly the same boat he was in: “These bodies of ours are constantly facing death (and evil) just as Jesus did.” It’s interesting to read, then, why God allows it. It’s to make “clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe,” 2 Corinthians 4:10.

Evil can be overcome, yes, but only by Christ. So it’s only when every person realizes that and trusts him that evil will stop. In the meanwhile, for those who don’t want anything to do with evil, “the Son of God keeps him safe, and the Evil One cannot touch him,” 1 John 5:18.

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Why do people do such terrible things?

Humans have done terrible things to humans, but all justified in the minds of those doing them, of course – in self-defence, combatting evil, fighting for freedom, or “because it’s God’s will.” And then in movies and other propaganda we’re constantly fed the idea that justice justifies revenge, “payback time” and settling disputes by violence, and even brutal violence by good people.

So atrocities continue, and God allows them. Why? “In order that sin might be recognized as sin,” Romans 7:13. We can’t see sin for what it is, that’s our problem, so we keep on sinning.

So how do we recognize sin for what it is? By what it produces. And look what it’s produced: never-ending atrocities and death, and insane, twisted minds that hate and kill and don’t think twice about it.

But “sin is deceitful,” Hebrews 3:13. It’s very clever. It makes us think we’re right even when we’re blatantly wrong, like the husband who says he loves his wife but he’s having sex with someone else. Who does he think he’s kidding? But there’s “another law at work inside us, waging war against our minds” that’s very good at deceiving us, Romans 7:23. So what’s the source of this law of sin? According to Paul it’s “The ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” Ephesians 2:2.

But note what he’s saying here. Yes, there’s a real devil at work, but where he works is in the disobedient. Disobedience, then, is what gets things started, as we see in the Garden of Eden. God gave a clear command to Adam and Eve but along comes a serpent with a pathetic excuse for disobeying it, and they’re hooked. It didn’t take much for them to disobey God.

And nor does it today, either. Any excuse to disobey God will do, but unfortunately that opens the door to the devil and he can convince us of anything after that, including the idea that God supports our atrocities, witness the prayers of people on both sides of a conflict believing God will bless their bullets.

So what makes us disobey? It’s our weakness for putting self before God. That’s why we need the mind of Christ, because he never put himself before God. Result? Sin never deceived him, he was never tempted into disobedience, and the devil couldn’t mess up his mind. And we can have that too. How? By the Spirit who is now at work in those who are obedient, Acts 5:32. And therein lies the solution to all atrocities. It’s a mind in tune with the Spirit of God, not the spirit of the devil.

Why would God allow Christians to become senile too?

Being reduced to a helpless state by senility is hardly the “abundant life” Jesus promised Christians, is it? Where’s the “inexpressible joy” from receiving the goal of our faith, too? And if you can’t experience the fruits of the Spirit anymore, what’s the purpose of being alive?

But what does “being alive” mean? Am I alive only when I’m consciously in charge of my thoughts and actions, or while my life is still under my control and my experiences are real to me?

That is not the definition of being alive in Scripture, however. We are only alive when God makes us “alive in Christ,” Ephesians 2:5, because up to that point we “were dead in our transgressions and sins,” verse 1. We died long before our bodies began to die and our minds began to deteriorate. We were already in a state of senility. Because of sin, our lives were already beyond our control.

But the good news is, Christ took that dead life of ours to the cross with him “and your life is now hidden with Christ in God,” Colossians 3:3. It doesn’t matter, therefore, what state of mind we’re in now, because “Christ is our life,” verse 4, meaning we have his life in us. So we may completely fall apart mentally and physically in this life but, verse 4, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  We may go senile now but Christ will make sure we’re in top shape when he returns.

So whether our bodies die prematurely, suddenly, or after long and lingering suffering, the end result is exactly the same – “He (Christ) will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 1:8. Senility is not something to fear or be ashamed of, therefore, because whatever state we end up in now Christ can still make it utterly blameless.

But why would God let us become senile in the first place, where it seems like we’re of no use to him or to anyone else? If God allowed it, though, there has to be a good purpose to it. Our senility may be of great use to someone else. Having to look after someone with Alzheimer’s takes a lot of care and self-sacrifice on the part of carers, which may be just the opening Christ can use to live his life of care and self-sacrifice in them.

God also promises in Romans 8:28 that no matter what happens to us, he’ll work it into something good. So if God lets us go senile, there will be good still being done.

Why is trusting God so difficult?

It’s in us, it seems, to trust anyone but God. All the serpent had to do was say to Adam and Eve “Trust me, God’s lying,” and they believed him, no questions asked, and no proof required. God said they’d die, but the serpent said they wouldn’t. They believed the serpent. They didn’t believe God. But why? Why was it so easy trusting the serpent and so difficult trusting God?

Because, Ephesians 2:2-3, two things conspire against us as humans – our sinful nature and the devil’s influence. The devil, verse 2, is “the prince of the power of the air,” a superhuman force of evil who controls humanity by one simple device: he appeals to our senses. We’re suckers for anything that looks good, sounds good, feels good and tastes good, and with a little temptation the devil has us all “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts,” verse 3, just like Adam and Eve.

He tried to take control of Jesus by the same device, tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, so that Jesus focused on himself and not on God. But Jesus had resisted the driving force of his senses for 40 days already and trusted his life to God, and that’s what won the day for him. And he won the day for all humanity too, because he now lives his trust in God in us.

He has to live his trust in us, though, because he knows all too well – having watched us humans in action for thousands of years – that it’s not in us to trust God. We’d rather follow our own instincts, depend on our own resources, and go our own way instead, illustrated in all its unfortunate reality and grim results by the children of Israel in the Old Testament.

But God resolved that by sending Jesus Christ as a human being to live a life of trust in God for us, which he’ll now live in us, Galatians 2:20. “The life I now live,” Paul writes, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Not by his own faith, but by Jesus’ faith, the results of which are quite startling, 1 John 5:18. “We know that no child of God keeps on sinning, because the Son of God keeps him safe and the Evil One cannot harm him.”

The devil can’t get to us like he got to Adam and Eve because Jesus keeps us safe from his devices and temptations. How? By living his faith in God in us. Result? We believe what God says, not the whispers of the devil.

How can a loving God be so angry as well?

Part 1 – What do we make of Jesus condemning people to hell?

Several years ago Christians placed posters on London buses pointing people to a website that said, “You will be condemned to everlasting separation from God and then you spend all eternity in torment in hell.”

One wonders what Christians are hoping to accomplish by that – and especially in tough times when people are more likely to be looking to God for help and comfort. But there is no denying that God gets angry and threatens people with hell, as we see in Matthew 25:41, 46, where Jesus talks bluntly about eternal hellfire and punishment, and John 3:18, where Jesus also talks about people being condemned already, and John 3:36, where John the Baptist talks about God’s wrath remaining on people who reject Jesus.

Can Christians be blamed, then, for preaching these scriptures? Certainly not for quoting them, no – but yes, when they take them out of context. To hit people with a website that talks only of hell and does not include the context, gives a lop-sided view of God.

The context in John 3:18 and 36, for instance, isn’t primarily about hell, it’s primarily about Jesus being the key to our eternal life. Three times that’s mentioned in this chapter: In verse 15, “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life,” in verse 16, “whoever believes in him shall not perish,” and in verse 36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” And verse 17, too, which states that God did not send Jesus into our world to condemn it, but rather to save it.

It’s a marvellous picture of God’s intense love for us, which Jesus backs up with some hard evidence having seen and heard God personally (verse 32). But what about verse 18, that “whoever does not believe (in him) stands condemned already,” and verse 36, that “whoever rejects the Son will not see (eternal) life, for God’s wrath remains on him?” Isn’t God about anger and condemnation as well? Yes, he is. In the same chapter, therefore we have two pictures of God. He’s not only love, he also gets extremely angry. To properly picture God, therefore, we have to include both sides of him. But how can God be angry and loving at the same time? And which of the two (love or anger) should Christians be emphasizing most?

For the Christians sponsoring the ads on the buses, the answer leans heavily toward God’s anger. For other Christians, however, the gospel is primarily about God’s love. And, ironically, both sets of Christians find support for their respective views of God from the same book and chapter.

But if both views of God can be found in John 3, then both views must be true, right? And both views must be included to get a proper picture of God too, but how do you do that? How do you place a God who gets passionately angry with us beside a God who passionately loves us? No wonder Christians tend to lean one way or the other, because it’s difficult putting both pictures of God together.

There is a single link, though, that connects his love and anger. It’s in verse 36. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life.” The link is the Son, or Jesus, and whether we humans believe in him or reject him. God’s love and God’s anger revolve totally around that.

It’s in sending Jesus to save us, for instance, that God expresses his passionate love for us. And when we see that, accept it and believe it, God is enormously pleased – so pleased, in fact, that he says through John the Baptist, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” Notice that? “HAS eternal life.” Eternal life is ours already.

But that’s how important and wonderful it is to God when a human being sees his love as he expresses it through his Son, because there is no greater expression of his love. Jesus was it. Sending Jesus was God’s greatest act of love. What more could God have done to prove his love for us? Through Jesus’ sacrifice he has totally removed the penalty for all human sin, taken away all guilt, all fear of judgment, all worries about God being out to get us, and flung the gates open to eternity to frail, fallible, finite human beings for nothing more being asked of them than believing it’s all true.

“Therefore, there is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”Romans 8:1. That’s how passionately God loves us for accepting his Son’s sacrifice and the love behind it. And it tells us something wonderful about God, too, that everything for God hinges round his Son, and when we respect his Son, it means everything to him. We have this wonderful, intimate picture of God in John 3, then, in the passionate love he has for his Son, and the passionate love he has for us for loving his Son too.

But isn’t John 3 about God’s anger, as well? Yes it is, and Jesus explains why. “This is the verdict,” verse 19, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” And in verses 32-33, “He (Jesus) testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it (on the other hand) has certified that God is truthful.” In other words, when people reject the clear evidence of God’s love, shown and expressed through Jesus, they’re calling God a liar. But the reason they’re calling God a liar isn’t legitimate, it’s only because “evil hates the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed,” verse 20.

They don’t have any legitimate reason for rejecting God, it’s just that God gets in the way of what they want to do, so they find excuse to reject him. We have atheists doing exactly that right now, using the wrongs of Christianity to justify rejecting God. Teenagers do the same thing with their parents. They come up with all kinds of excuses for rejecting their parents because they don’t want their parents discovering what they’re up to. Parents mess things up. Parents show them what’s wrong with what they’re doing, so they stay out of their parents’ way “for fear that (their) deeds will be exposed.”

And that’s infuriating as well as heartbreaking for the parents, because they love their child dearly but their child clearly shows he doesn’t believe it, or doesn’t want to believe it, so that he can justify doing whatever he wants. And how do parents feel when that happens? Their passions are inflamed. They’re intensely angry. They’ve sacrificed time and money, allowed the child as much freedom as possible, encouraged him all the way, and never made him feel small or inadequate, to make their love as obvious as possible, and what does their child do? He acts as if his parents don’t love him at all, and never have.

It’s very easy to hate a child when this happens, because the passions parents feel at this point are shattering. How could their child do such a thing? They loved him so much and this is what he does?

It’s a horrible time for a parent because the anger he feels is so intense it consumes him. He can’t concentrate, he dreads coming home, and he hates even seeing the child, let alone talking to him. And nothing in the world can calm a parent’s anger, either, not while the child remains stubborn. Neither does God’s anger diminish one bit for someone who rejects his Son. He “will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

When clear and obvious love is rejected it not only hurts it creates a fury as equal in passion to love. Ask any boy or girl who’s been jilted, or any husband or wife whose mate deserts them for someone else. Their anger and bitterness knows no bounds. They would have no trouble throwing the offending person into hell. “May you rot in hell” is a familiar phrase in movies, but it describes exactly the passions felt when love is rejected.

I can understand why a parent could reach the point of saying to his beloved child, “Go to hell,” because that’s exactly what Jesus says in Matthew 23:33 to those who rejected him. I can also understand a parent turning a cold shoulder on his child and refusing to even talk to him, because “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (John 3:18). When a child rejects his parents’ love, he’s condemned himself to a life without their love. That’s the risk a child takes when he knows he’s loved but rejects it. It’s also the risk we humans take with God, because we too stand condemned already to a life without his love if we reject the obvious love he showed us through his Son. “You made your bed, you lie in it.”

There is instant forgiveness on repentance, of course, as we know from the story of the Prodigal Son, because God’s love, just like a parent’s love, never diminishes. But God made us very much like himself, with this volatile mixture of love and anger, both of which course through his veins as inseparable companions. What stirs one or the other, though, is our response to his love expressed in his Son. That’s the trigger. Respect the obvious love God expressed in the sacrifice of his Son and we live in his love for eternity, but reject his obvious love and we’ve condemned ourselves to a life of his constant anger.

In seeking to see God as he really is, then, it has to include both his anger and his love. He’s a God of deep passions. When he loves he really loves, and when he’s angry he’s really angry. But it’s what these passions of his are stirred by that fills the picture with vibrant colour. It’s us. It’s his Son. It’s the deep feelings he felt when sending his Son to us, and the deep feelings he feels when we respond to his Son. This is what God is about. He loves us so much in sending his Son to us that it stirs him wonderfully to see us accept him, but it also stirs him terribly to see us reject him.

Are Christians right, then, in posting ads on buses directing people to a website that talks of God condemning us to everlasting separation? Yes, they are, because it expresses God’s anger exactly. But if that’s the only picture of God they give people, it’s horribly lop-sided because it doesn’t mention why God is so angry. What they neglect to mention is what stirs God’s anger – it’s feeble human excuses for rejecting his obvious love for us, that he so clearly expressed through his Son.

And anger at that point is good, because it can wake a person up. When a child does not respond to his parent’s love it’s their anger that may reach him instead. It can really shock a child when his loving parents turn their backs on him. How could they do that, the teenager asks? Well, it’s the same question people ask of a loving God who expresses his intense anger in Scripture, but hopefully it dawns on people that anger is a sure sign that all is not well, and it’s high time to find out why.

So, Christians aren’t wrong in expressing God’s anger, but top of the list and first choice for Christians when portraying their picture of God is not a God of anger, it’s a God of love, because even his anger is stirred by love too.

Part 2 – God in the Old Testament; another confusing picture…

In Part 1, the question was: How can a loving God be angry – and so angry that Jesus said, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 24:41). In Part 2 the question is: How could a loving God cause all that mayhem and destruction in the Old Testament? A few examples:

     Deuteronomy 7:1-2, 16, 20 – “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations…and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally…You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity…Moreover, the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished.”

     Deuteronomy 20:13, 16 – “When the Lord your God delivers it (a city) into your hand, put to the sword all the men in itdo not leave anything alive that breathes.”

     Joshua 6:21 – “They devoted the city (Jericho) to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.”

     1 Samuel 15:2-3 – “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel…Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

And think of all the women, children and babies God destroyed in The Flood, in the terrible plagues on Egypt, in the wars God directed the Israelites to wage against their neighbours, and in the multiple thousands of Israelites killed for their disobedience. And 1 Chronicles 21:14 Satan stirred David to count how many fighting men he could muster, in response to which “the Lord sent a plague on Israel and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead.” And what about poor Job? God clearly said Job was a good man, but he allowed Satan to kill all Job’s children, all his servants, and either kill or steal his livestock.

Atheists, of course, jump at these scriptures to justify rejecting God. To Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynist (woman-hater), homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal (obsessed with his own greatness), sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

But isn’t this exactly the picture of God that emerges from the Old Testament? It certainly was to a man who phoned me a while back and for the next hour listed all the awful things God did in the Old Testament – in chronological order too – finishing it off with “And that’s why I don’t believe in your God.”

There’s another side to God in the Old Testament, however, that’s the complete opposite to the picture this man and Dawkins have of him. For example:

Exodus 34:5-7 – “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him (Moses) and proclaimed his name, ‘the Lord.’ And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

Numbers 14:19 – “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

Deuteronomy 7:6-8 – “The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples…it was because the Lord loved you.”

Jeremiah 31:3 – “I have loved you (Israel) with an everlasting love.”

Ezekiel 18:32 – “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

And those who repented did live, like the Ninevites who listened to Jonah, and like king Ahab who listened to Elijah. But when do atheists ever talk of Nineveh and Ahab?

It’s not surprising they don’t because the story of Ahab reveals a very different view of God. In 1 Kings 21 Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard for a vegetable garden, and he offers a better vineyard in exchange, but Naboth refuses because the vineyard is part of his family inheritance. Ahab gets angry, sulks and refuses to eat. His delightful wife, Jezebel, cooks up a plot to have Naboth accused of cursing God, and Naboth is stoned to death. Ahab doesn’t ask how Naboth is suddenly dead, he just trots off down to take over Naboth’s vineyard.

At which point, God gets involved. He tells Elijah (verse 10) to meet Ahab in the vineyard and say “Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?” – which Elijah does – but before Ahab can answer, Elijah jumps in with “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood – yes, yours.’”

And that’s not all God says; it gets worse, verse 21: “I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel…Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.” This includes his wife, Jezebel – dogs are going to eat her too.

But why is God so angry? Because, verse 25, “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.” In other words, Naboth’s brutal murder was typical of Ahab and Jezebel, both of whom, long ago, had set their minds on doing whatever vile acts they wanted, and thumbed their noses at God while doing them.

But shock and surprise, verse 27, “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.” Ahab the Vile repented. And further shock and surprise, verse 29, God tells Elijah, “Because Ahab has humbled himself, I will not bring disaster in his day.”

For years, verse 26, Ahab had “behaved in the vilest manner,” provoking God to anger and causing the whole nation of Israel to sin (verse 22), and now an innocent man had been murdered to meet Ahab’s wish for a vegetable garden close to the palace. But when Ahab shows obvious signs of remorse, God spares him.

And where Ahab was the nastiest man of his generation, Nineveh was the cruelest, vilest city of its generation. Its arrogance and violence knew no bounds. On a stone pillar found in its ruins was this statement from one of its rulers: “3,000 captives I burned with fire. I left not one hostage alive. I cut off the hands and feet of some. I cut off noses, ears and fingers off others. The eyes of numerous soldiers I put out. Maidens I burned as a holocaust.”

The evidence of Nineveh’s brutality was so great that TV specials made of the city’s discovery by archaeologists had to be filtered for public consumption. Imagine a child hearing that Ninevites would slowly impale their victims by sliding them down sharp poles, or that they made handbags from their victims’ skins.

“But,” God told Jonah (4:11), “Nineveh has more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Despite the horrific things going on in Nineveh, God was touched by their ignorance. He even had concern for their animals. So, did God at any point stop loving the Ninevites because of their atrocious behaviour? No, he gave them a chance to repent, just as he did to Ahab.

And just like Ahab, the king of Nineveh listened (3:8-9). He declared a city-wide fast and issued this proclamation: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish,” which is exactly what God did (verse 10).

So, that’s two stories that tell of God’s amazing patience – that are nothing like Richard Dawkins’ single view of God as violent, vengeful and bloodthirsty. There are clearly two pictures of God that emerge from the Old Testament: the God of great anger, yes, but the God of great mercy, too.

The question now is: How do you put both pictures of God together? How can a merciful, compassionate God who spared Ahab and Nineveh, be so ruthless and cruel with Jericho and the Amalekites?

Nineveh provides a clue, because both sides of God emerge in his dealings with the Ninevites. In the book of Jonah God is extremely merciful with them, but later in the book of Nahum he is extremely angry. So in Nineveh we have the God of anger and the God of mercy both showing up in the same city.

But why, on one occasion, would God be so forgiving, and on another, be so angry? Is there a link between the two that explains why God would act so differently? Yes: On both occasions, it’s the response of the people to God’s love that determines his response in return.

There’s an order of events here that brings out this point so clearly. First off the mark is God: In an act of supreme mercy on his part, he sends Jonah to severely warn the city to mend its evil ways, or else. And what did the Ninevites do? They responded to God’s love. Result? God was merciful, and he did no violence to them at all. In other words, it was the response of the people to God’s obvious act of love that determined his response in return. And on this occasion the people repented, and in return God was merciful.

It was a remarkable incident involving a massive display of God’s mercy, and open-hearted repentance by the worst city in existence, and it should’ve gone down in their history books forever, with a day set aside every year to remember and celebrate the amazing love of God. It’s certainly a story remembered in the Bible – but it wasn’t remembered in Nineveh, unfortunately, and before long the Ninevites were right back to their brutal, barbaric ways.

What made that so awful – and made God so angry – was that God had extended enormous kindness to the one city that least deserved it. His love for them couldn’t have been more obvious, not only in warning them but in instantly respecting their repentance as well. But the Ninevites found excuse to put that memory aside and go back to their barbarism and cruelty. And for that, they brought on themselves God’s intense anger. “I will pelt you with filth,” God says through Nahum (3:6-7), “I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins – who will mourn for her?’”

In 612 B.C., and without any warning from God this time, a combined army of Babylonians, Medes and Scythians laid siege to Nineveh and totally destroyed it. In the words of one archaeologist, speaking about what he found in the ruins of Nineveh, “I’ve never seen anything like this mass of tangled bodies with weapons in the midst of them. The desperation of the defense is now manifest.” The fate Nineveh deserved – that did not fall on them in Jonah’s time – had now fallen on them in Nahum’s time. It was utter and appalling destruction.

And what decided the difference in how God dealt with them? The response of the people to his love. “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble,” Nahum writes in Nahum 1:7, “He cares for those who trust in him,” and God had proved that point beyond all doubt in sparing Nineveh its well-deserved destruction in Jonah’s day. But the Ninevites turned their backs on the memory of God’s love, so “with an overwhelming flood he (God) will make an end of Nineveh.” Reject God’s love? Then expect his anger.

In other words, God is exactly the same in the Old Testament as he is in the New. It’s the rejection of his love, clearly demonstrated through the life and death of Jesus Christ, that brings on God’s wrath in the New Testament (see Part 1). And now we see in the Old Testament the same thing happening, that it’s the rejection of God’s love that eventually brought a grisly end to Nineveh.

The lesson in both Testaments is clear: God’s patience is immense, as is his compassion, but when his love is treated with disdain and contempt by those who’ve had his love clearly demonstrated to them, his patience and compassion eventually give way to a terrible anger.

It’s the same with parents. When their clear and obvious love for their child is met with constant defiance, it makes them very angry. And what a shock for the child when his parents’ mood turns ugly, privileges are removed, curfews are enforced, the atmosphere at home turns to ice, and the child may even find himself on the street. But how can this be, he asks himself? One minute his parents are bending over backwards to show their love for him, but the next they’re yelling at him and chucking him out.

So, why the sudden difference in his parents’ attitude toward him? It’s all in the child’s response. For years his parents have made it obvious they love him. They’ve forgiven him again and again for his rotten attitudes and arrogance, put up with his mess, ignored the lies he’s told to his friends about them, and supported him in every way. There comes a point, though, when a parent says, “enough is enough,” because the child is obviously just using their love to get away with doing whatever his defiant little mind desires.

So, what the child needs to learn is that love defiantly rejected creates great anger. You can’t reject love forever without creating anger, and if you think you can, son, then read the Old Testament, because even God, the great God of never-ending and supreme love, doesn’t take rejection of his love forever, either.

A defiant child needs to experience the anger that rejection of love creates. It may be what wakes him up. And isn’t that the reason all these horrific stories of God’s anger have been preserved for us in the Old Testament? They’re all wake-up calls as to what happens when God’s love for us humans is constantly and defiantly rejected. But so are the other stories too, of what happens when evil people respond to God’s love and repent.

And Nineveh is such a perfect example of both. It’s a massive lesson, preserved in its poignant perfection for all people for all time, that when the Ninevites responded to God’s love, God spared them, but when they turned their backs on God’s love, his anger was terrifying.

When an atheist says, therefore, that God was nothing but a “capriciously malevolent bully” in the Old Testament, I have but one word in return for him: Nineveh.

Because how can God be called a malevolent bully when he spared the worst city in existence? And what about king Ahab? Both examples are clear and startling displays of God’s immense patience. So are atheists who blatantly use the Old Testament to prove God is a bully, while totally ignoring the other side of God so prominently displayed in the same scriptures – and God puts up with them.

But in the same scriptures that atheists use against God there is also a clear message that God doesn’t put up with defiant rejection forever. And there’s no clearer proof of God’s love in the Old Testament than God’s love for Nineveh. It’s like the Cross in the New Testament. Nineveh and the Cross both demonstrate God’s love for us, proving to us that God loves us even at our worst, and when we respond to his love, God responds in return by lifting off the penalties we deserve. He did it for the Ninevites who responded to Jonah, and he does it for those who respond to his Son today.

Nothing changes with God. He loves us, he demonstrates his love for us, and then he waits in his immense patience for our response. And if we reject the obvious proof of his love, God is still immensely patient, but we also learn from Nineveh that his patience can also turn into terrible anger.

The picture that emerges from the Old Testament is of a God of love and huge mercy with even the worst of people, but when people don’t respond to his clear and obvious love, they risk his intense anger. There are two sides to the coin, summarized for us by God himself in:

     Exodus 34:6-7 – “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” That’s one side of the coin, but now the other side: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” God never stops loving us, but “wickedness, rebellion and sin” do not go undealt with forever either.

But what’s behind all the other grisly stories in the Old Testament, like the Flood, the wholesale destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the brutal wiping out of entire cities in Canaan by the Israelites, the command by God to eradicate the Amalekites, and the frequent killing of children?

Atheists still have all these grim stories to fall back on to prove their point that God is a malevolent bully – so what do we make of those stories, too? 

Part 3 – God the baby killer; how can that be?

In Parts 1 and 2, the question was: How can these two pictures of God – the loving God and the angry God – be put together? In both Old and New Testaments it’s the same problem, too; a God of great love appears beside a God of great anger.

In Part 3, the question is: How could a loving God cause the Flood, the wholesale destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the brutal wiping out of entire cities in Canaan by the Israelites, and order the eradication of the Amalekites – all of which included the killing of children? Take Jericho, for instance:

     Joshua 6:21 – “They (the Israelites) destroyed with the sword every living thing in it (Jericho) – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” The same thing happened to the Amalekites, too:

     1 Samuel 15:3 – “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

But why would God, the great God of love, mercy and compassion, deliberately order the killing of Amalekite babies?

God gives his reasons. There’s some history involved, and it takes a little digging, but there’s a clue in Romans 9:13 where God says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (for despising his birthright, Hebrews 12:16).” God’s hatred of Esau is an important first clue because one of Esau’s descendants was Amalek. God’s displeasure with Esau, then, was passed on to the Amalekites, and we see how in Malachi 1:2-3 – “’Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the Lord says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.

So, where Israel got all God’s blessings, the descendants of Esau got a wasteland with jackals for company. The Bible locates the Amalekites in the southern Negev desert (Numbers 13:29), in a large area stretching from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, in today’s Saudi Arabia. It was described by Mark Twain in 1867 as “a desolation that not even imagination can grace the pomp of life and action.” It was a total wasteland, just as God promised.

It gave the Amalekites an intense hatred for anything Israelite. When news got to them, therefore, that Israel had finally managed to escape the Pharaoh’s grip and the Israelites were headed for Amalekite territory, the Amalekites took up arms and rushed to Rephidim.

But Rephidim was a long way away. It was at the north east end of the Red Sea, and at the far western tip of the Amalekite kingdom. So this was a deliberate march of some distance to attack the Israelites, not a haphazard wandering of millions of Israelites into their territory, requiring the Amalekites to forcefully defend themselves. No, this was the Amalekites grabbing the chance to attack their nemesis on their own turf.

Rephidim was the perfect spot too, because there was no water. When the Israelites arrived in Rephidim, they were already weak and parched from traveling through rugged country, but with no water they were in serious trouble, which, as usual, they blamed on Moses, Exodus 17:1-4.

The Amalekites watch all this going on but don’t attack right away. They wait until Moses strikes the rock to supply water (verses 5-7) and the Israelites have moved out of the hills into open ground, with nowhere to hide or escape to. And that’s when the Amalekites swoop into the attack. But not at the front of the Israelite column. Instead, they pick off the stragglers at the back, bringing this scathing rebuke from God in Deuteronomy 25:17-18 – “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.”

And who were the people most likely lagging? The weak and the vulnerable, like the elderly and parents with young children and babies.

God was not amused, verse 19: “When the Lord our God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

The Israelites were never to forget this day, nor God’s command to completely eradicate all sign and memory of Amalek. God then shows the Israelites what he has in mind for Amalek in the battle that follows. Moses is on top of a hill, viewing the skirmish with his arms raised, and when Aaron and Hur keep his arms raised the Israelites charge through the Amalekite ranks cutting them to ribbons (Exodus 17:10-13).

After what’s left of the Amalekite army retreats, God tells Moses in verse 14, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely erase the memory of the Amalekites from under heaven.”

So that’s twice God says he wants the memory of Amalek erased forever, with a clear reminder to the Israelites, “Do not forget!” The Israelites then continue to the land of Canaan and enter it, leaving Amalekite territory behind. No Amalekite city or land is under threat now from the Israelites, because the Amalekites live outside the land God promised to Israel.

But what do the Amalekites do?

Given the chance to attack Israel again in Judges 3:12-14, they join forces with the Moabites and Ammonites and reduce Israel to 18 years under Moabite rule. And in Judges 6:3-6 “Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.”

No crops? No livestock? And every year the Amalekites would do this? This was deliberate, vicious genocide through starvation. And who would that starvation have affected the most? Israelite children and babies. But it was like a sport every year to the Amalekites to charge into Israelite territory in the spring, hit every Israelite farm, wipe out its food supply for that year and leave the land utterly ravaged, without a crop or a cow in sight, even when they knew Israel was God’s chosen nation. Did it make any difference? Not one bit. They had “no fear of God,” Deuteronomy 25:18.

They should have feared God, though, because they knew all about Israel’s amazing escape from the mighty Egyptians and the crushing of Egypt’s entire army in the Red Sea. “The nations will hear and tremble,” was the song sung after the Red Sea (Exodus 15:14), but not the Amalekites. They didn’t tremble at all at the might of God. They had the same complete disregard and disrespect for God as had Esau, whom they descended from.

No wonder God told Moses in Exodus 17:15 “The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation,” because war was the only defence against such a vicious bunch of cutthroats who feared no one, including God. With people like them, it was either kill or be killed. They were the brutal terrorists of their day, determined to cause mayhem at every opportunity, no matter who got caught in the crossfire, including children. They were driven by an ingrained hatred for the people God had specifically chosen as his – and they knew they were his too, but that didn’t scare them, either.

And for 400 years they didn’t change. They never changed from the day they first attacked Israel at Rephidim. Well, after 400 years of their constant opposition to God, their hatred of Israel and their cruelty to the weak, enough was enough, and in 1 Samuel 15:2 God announced “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.”

God had never forgotten that incident, because of its outrageous intent and tactics. The Amalekites had shown their true colours that day, and they were an ugly people indeed. And had their intent and tactics ever changed since? Not at all. It was time, therefore, to put an end to these bloodthirsty, genocidal maniacs, and the job was given to King Saul. His orders were clear: Attack, destroy, and don’t spare life or limb of either human or animal (1 Samuel 15:3).

But first, warning was given to the Kenites in the region to give them a chance to escape because “you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt (verse 6).” They treated Israel completely differently, and after 400 years God hadn’t forgotten what they did either. Kindness or cruelty, God remembered both. It clearly matters to him a great deal how the weak and vulnerable are treated.

To the Amalekites it obviously didn’t matter at all, so in went Saul with a huge force of 210,000 men. He swept the country from end to end (7), sparing only Agag their king and the best of their animals.

God was not pleased with Saul, however, because he’d given specific instructions to Saul to “completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out” (18). But Saul had not wiped them out as instructed, and for his rebellion and arrogance (23) God rejected him as king of Israel.

But why was God so angry that Agag was spared?

There’s an answer to that in the book of Esther, and a man in that story called Haman, another vicious, genocidal killer. It was Haman’s intent to eradicate all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Why? Because Queen Esther’s Jewish uncle Mordecai refused to bow to Haman when he was made Prime Minister. Deeply miffed, Haman sees a chance to not only kill Mordecai but all the other Jews too, by extracting an irreversible decree out of the king to have all Jews killed.

He’s very sneaky, too. “If it pleases the king,” Haman purrs in Esther 3:8, “let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury.” Money speaks and Haman knows it. So, verse 13, “Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and little children.” It’s not just “destroy,” notice, it’s “kill and annihilate” as well. It perfectly expresses Haman’s utter hatred of the Jews. And note how the decree specifically includes “little children.” What we’ve got in this Haman, then, is a genocidal maniac with an insane taste for hating and killing Jews, including their children.

Is it any surprise, then, to discover Haman was an Amalekite, and a direct descendant of king Agag (Esther 8:5)? No wonder Haman wanted all Jews dead. Genocide for Jews was in his DNA. And how many hundreds of years have passed since Samuel killed Agag? But the Amalekites’ tune hasn’t changed one bit, because here’s one of Agag’s very own descendants proclaiming “death to all Jews.”

Did God know what he was talking about when he told Israel to never forget what the Amalekites were like, and to kill them all? Yes, because if they didn’t kill the Amalekites, the Amalekites would kill them – and if not in this generation, it would be in another generation, because the Amalekite hatred of Jews never ended. No wonder God said kill their children too, because any child left alive would simply inherit this ghastly inborn hatred of Jews, just as Haman had.

Haman’s plan backfires, however, because Esther gets the king’s permission to allow the Jews to defend themselves, resulting in the death of all ten of Haman’s sons, and all 75,810 people in Persia who hated Jews too (Esther 9:5-17).

It hardly seems a coincidence that Esther was from the house of Kish, the same house King Saul came from, whose job it was to wipe out the Amalekites in the first place. So, where Saul failed, God used a descendant of his to finish the job off.

And the Jews from this point on took God’s command “Do not forget” seriously. They created a special day to commemorate the victory of Esther over her Amalekite foe, called Purim. It’s a day held in high esteem, with its fair share of hijinks too, with Haman being burnt in effigy, his name being written on the bottom of people’s shoes, and hissing every time his name is mentioned. The Jews have not forgotten.

And the Amalekites haven’t been forgotten either. Their story and their reputation has been kept alive all the way from Queen Esther’s day until today, but this is how deeply the Amalekites have affected both the Jews and God. Why? Because the Amalekites had no fear of God, no respect whatsoever for his people, and not a shred of kindness for the weak and vulnerable. They exploited every occasion that came their way to maim, starve, humiliate and crush Israel. And despite God’s amazing patience with them over 400 years, they never changed one iota. Hatred for Jews and disregard for God were imprinted on their brains like a tattoo.

If, then, as one person wrote, we were to “catapult the practices, the genocide and the barbarism of these cultures and peoples into the 21st century, and broadcast it around the world via TV News” would there not be “a global outcry for severe military action and punishment?” Well, of course there would be (think Nazi Germany and the holocaust) – so why do atheists react against God being angry when the Amalekites were guilty of the same practices, genocide and barbarism for 400 years?

Does it justify God ordering the killing of Amalekite babies? Yes, for two reasons: first of all, we know from the story of Haman what happens if Amalekite babies are allowed to live. They become maniacal, genocidal Jew-haters and killers of the weak and vulnerable. It’s in their blood. From Rephidim to Esther every Amalekite baby was a potential Haman.

Secondly, God was only dealing out to the Amalekites what the Amalekites had always dealt out to Israel. The Amalekites didn’t think twice about starving Jewish babies to death, or picking on the weak and vulnerable. They had no pity.

Atheists still use this story though, as reason to reject God. But dig into the history and we see God in this light, that first of all, he’s merciful – witness the fact that he was angry with the Amalekites from the very first contact they had with Israel, but he let them live for centuries after that. Secondly, he’s just – witness the fact the Amalekites got exactly what they deserved. God does not let evil continue forever. There comes a point at which his mercy turns into judgment, and evil is finally dealt with.

And thirdly, we also see what God values, summarized rather coincidentally in Esther 10:3, the last verse in the book of Esther. Notice the stark contrast in Mordecai to the attitude of Haman and the Amalekites: “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.”

Mordecai versus Haman, or Kenite versus Amalekite – both comparisons give us a wonderful insight into God and his very personal feelings as to what he loves and what he hates, and how they’re both directly connected to our kindness, or lack of it, to the weak and vulnerable.

Does that sound like a vicious, cold-hearted God? Quite the opposite, and the story of the Amalekites could not be better proof of it.

Ephesians part 2 – No more walls

One of the clear and encouraging signs that –

We’re truly members of Christ’s body, seated with him right now in the heavenly realms sharing in what he’s doing on this earth, and that –

We’re truly living the ways of heaven in our tiny neck of the woods, so that we too, along with Christ, are bringing heaven and earth together as one, and that –

We’re making headway against the powers of darkness in our little corner of the world so that the Kingdom of God becomes visible wherever we are (all of which was touched on in Ephesians Part 1) – is the knocking down of walls.

It’s not just ‘knocking’ walls down, either, it’s utterly destroying them, pounding them into rubble and carting them away, so that where the walls once stood there is nothing to show that they were ever there in the first place.

And that’s the picture Paul creates in Ephesians 2 to describe what happens in the minds of Christians when we grasp the meaning of Christ’s death. It’s the picture of a wall tumbling down. Paul even names the wall too: In verse 14 he calls it the “dividing wall of hostility.”

We know all about dividing walls of hostility in our day too, of course – like the Berlin Wall that divided the Germanys, and the wall stretching 400 miles in Israel today dividing Jew and Arab. There are at least thirteen other dividing walls of hostility built around the world too, like the ones in Cyprus, Egypt, India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and several European countries, including the wall in Northern Ireland that stretches 21 miles separating Christians of all people from each other. And there is already a wall stretching 81 miles separating the United States from Mexico, with talk of extending it along the entire border.

So we, like Paul, live in a world where ugly walls separating people are a familiar part of the landscape, because walls in this world are seen as an effective means of protecting people from hostile enemies, or keeping people apart who cannot resolve their hostility toward each other. But was there a wall like that in Paul’s day? Yes, there was, and tragically it was inside the one place on earth where heaven and earth were supposed to come together, not be apart.

That one place on earth was the Temple complex in Jerusalem, the place that Jesus called “My Father’s house.” So this was the place where God dwelt, and where humans could come into God’s presence and commune with him. But inside this very place that brought heaven and earth and God and human together there was a wall, or Balustrade, called the Middle Wall of Partition that stopped Gentiles from entering the Temple’s inner courts, like the Court of Israel (which was for purified Jews only), the Court of Prayer (which Jewish women could enter but not Gentiles), the Court of Israelites (for Jewish men only), the Court of Priests and the Holy Place (for priests only) and the Holy of Holies (which only the High Priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement).

We have a description of that Middle Wall of Partition from Josephus. It was four and a half feet high with thirteen openings. It created a sort of square within a square. The outside square was the entire Temple Mount surrounded by a high wall (450 feet high at one point, and probably the spot where Satan tempted Jesus to jump), and within that high wall square was this other smaller square, with its much lower wall, that only purified Jews could enter. Outside that small square, but still inside the high walls of the main Temple complex, was the Court of the Gentiles, a large area where in Jesus’ day animals and birds were sold for sacrifices and the money-changers set up their tables. So Gentiles were allowed to enter the Temple complex to offer gifts and sacrifices, but they could only go as far as the Middle Wall of Partition and not a step further.

At the openings through the wall, severe warnings were chipped into tall stone pillars telling Gentiles to stay out, or else. In 1871 archaeologists excavating the Temple site actually found a stone with such a warning written on it: “No man of another nation is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the temple, and whoever is caught will have himself to blame if his death ensues.” And Paul knew from personal experience how seriously the Jewish authorities upheld that warning too, because he almost lost his own life back in Acts 21:28-29 when the Jews accused him of taking Trophimus, a Gentile Greek, beyond this inner wall.

So when Paul talks of this “dividing wall of hostility” separating Jews and Gentiles in Ephesians 2:14, he’s clearly referring to this Middle Wall of Partition in the Temple complex. The King James Version even uses the term “Middle Wall of Partition” in that verse. But when Paul wrote Ephesians in 60 or 61 AD he said this Middle Wall of Partition had already been knocked down by Christ’s death. And in only ten years time the wall would literally be destroyed too, when the Romans tore down the Temple complex in 70 AD.

But why did God allow that to happen? The Temple was a magnificent building, a masterpiece of beauty and engineering that amazed people, including Jesus’ disciples, as they watched it being built. And it followed the pattern of Solomon’s Temple as closely as possible too, but with one interesting exception: When Solomon prayed at the dedication ceremony of his Temple, he included this request to God in 1 Kings 8:41-43 – “As for the foreigner (or Gentile) who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name….then hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”

Compare that to the Middle Wall of Partition in King Herod’s Temple that kept foreigners away – under threat of death too – from the inner Court of Prayer, creating the unfortunate impression that God wasn’t interested in listening to the prayers and requests of Gentiles. They could offer sacrifices to the God of Israel, yes, but they couldn’t bring their needs to him like the Israelites could.

But was that the impression God wanted Gentiles to get when they saw the Temple? Absolutely not, as we see in Isaiah 56:3 – “Let no foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’” Instead, verses 4-7, to any foreigner who chose to please God and hold fast to his covenant, “to them I (God) will give WITHIN my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better that sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him….these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer….for my house will be called a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS.”

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Herod’s temple – that kept all other nations but Israel OUT of the house of prayer – was ripped down only ten years after it was completed. It didn’t properly represent God at all, because the place where God dwells makes it very clear that “All who seek are welcome here.” And Solomon understood that. He knew that God only placed his Name on a Temple that made it abundantly obvious to foreigners that they could come in and pray their hearts out, just like any Israelite, and God would hear every word.

So what on earth made the Jews exclude Gentiles from the Court of Prayer in Herod’s temple?

There’s a clue back in Ephesians 2, when Paul writes directly to Gentile Christians in the Church, reminding them in verse 12 that, yes, at one time they “were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” It was perfectly within God’s plan, therefore, to separate Israelites and Gentiles. And Paul acknowledged that too, in Romans 9:4-5, when talking about “the people of Israel,” that “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ.”

It’s understandable, then, that the Jews wanted to put some distance between themselves and the Gentiles – in recognition of Exodus 19:5-6 too, that “out of all nations” God had chosen Israel as his “treasured possession” and his “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” and Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” And when it came to their relationship with people of other nations, the Israelites should “make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy” (2), nor should they intermarry with foreigners, or allow their children to marry foreigners (3). Clearly, then, God wanted Israel to be separate from the Gentiles, and he promised horrible disasters if they allowed the Gentiles to influence them in any way (31:16-18). Separation was the key word.

But was that because Israel was superior to other peoples? Is that why God chose them? No, it wasn’t, because in God’s own words in Deuteronomy 7:7-8, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.”

On the one hand, then, Israel was meant to be separate, but not because they were superior. God had chosen them for two simple reasons: First of all because he loved them, and secondly, to stay true to his covenant promise to Abraham because of Abraham’s faithful obedience. And for those two reasons alone, God had lovingly and faithfully rescued Israel from the clutches of Egypt.

But it’s also what God rescued the Israelites for that shows how wrong that Middle Wall in the Temple was, because separation did not mean exclusion.

It was never God’s intent in rescuing and separating Israel from the Gentiles to give the impression that he only loved Israel and no one else, or that he only cared for Israel and excluded people from other nations. He made that very clear in Deuteronomy 4:6 at the point when Israel was about to enter the Promised Land full of pagan nations worshipping all sorts of weird gods and idols. So why send Israel into a mess like that? Because, God said, if you, Israel, stick to my commands, you will “show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

It was God’s intent that the eyes of these pagan people would spring open with amazement when they saw how blessed the Israelites were. And he wanted those pagans to be deeply impressed by what they saw too. In other words, God wasn’t treating these people of other nations as just pieces of meat that needed to be eradicated and destroyed for their demonic rituals, he was sending Israel into this mess to show these pagans something wonderful.

And why would God do this? Because, as Moses reminded Israel in verse 7, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them whenever we pray to him?” Or as The Message phrases it, “What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us, always ready to listen to us.”

In other words, what these nations would see was how different Israel’s God was. He was nothing like their gods. Their gods were distant and it was never certain that they were actually listening or even involved in people’s lives at all. But here was Israel’s God blessing his people mightily because they could pray to him and he would listen, and he would answer them, giving them wisdom and understanding that was truly amazing.

When Israel entered the Promised Land, therefore, it wasn’t all battles and destruction as though God hated the people of other nations. It was God’s intent that other nations would see in Israel how close and intimate he was to humans, and that here was a God who really cared. Israel, therefore, was meant to be a bright shining light, just like the bright shining sunlight reflecting off the white walls of the Temple, that other nations would notice and be attracted to and discover to their delight that here was a personal God who could be approached with freedom and confidence. In the people where God had placed his Name, therefore, it was clear that here was a God who clearly loved people.

And isn’t that exactly what Solomon understood in the Temple where God placed his Name too, that it was the one place on earth where strangers and foreigners were utterly welcome to come and pray and have their prayers answered? Was God excluding Gentiles, therefore, from the place where he placed his name? Absolutely not: God made it clear that where he placed his Name was a house of prayer where anyone seeking him for help and answers was welcome. The Temple not only attracted people because of its beauty, it was also inviting as a quiet spot for people of all nations to pray their hearts out to an intimate, personal God who would answer their prayers.

But this was God’s plan from the time he called Abraham. It was to make Israel separate, yes, but never to exclude Gentiles. Abraham himself was a Gentile, but from this pagan Gentile would come the nation of Israel and the amazing promise in Genesis 12:3 that “ALL PEOPLES on earth will be blessed through you.”

So God would make Israel separate and different from all the other nations, yes, but as a blessing to them, not to exclude them. And it’s interesting that God allowed Israel to end up in a pagan nation too, stuck as slaves in Egypt, because it would add weight to his command in Exodus 22:21 that “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

God made Israel strangers in a foreign land so they’d not only know what it felt like to be strangers and treated like dirt by the locals, but also what it felt like to be abandoned by their God and have no one to turn to for help. God put Israel through that so their hearts would go out to strangers and people of other nations, rather than look down on them, or build walls to keep them out.

God went one step further too, by telling the Israelites in Leviticus 19:33-34 that any stranger wanting to live in their land “shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” One has to ask, then, how a Middle Wall of Partition ended up in the Temple when God told the Israelites in Leviticus to treat strangers as one of their own, and to love them as they would any fellow Israelite. And how could Gentiles be excluded from the inner courts of the Temple when God had explicitly told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 23:7, “You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.”

Imagine that; not only weren’t the Israelites allowed to exclude Gentiles, they weren’t even allowed to tell ethnic jokes about them.

But God still hadn’t finished tuning the hearts of the Israelites to strangers and foreigners, because in Deuteronomy 23:8 he adds this little gem, that “The third generation of children born (to Gentiles living with the Israelites) may enter the assembly of the Lord.” All third generation Gentiles were free to join the Israelites as brothers and sisters, with free access to every blessing God gave to Israel. In just three generations, therefore, it was God’s intent that Israelites and Gentiles share the same privileges as equals, meaning there was NO separation, no exclusion, and certainly no dividing wall of hostility. Living with the Israelites, in other words, was a great place to be, because the Israelite God welcomed everyone with open arms.

But how is all this relevant to us? Well, in 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul told the Christians in his day that THEY should be separate too: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” Paul writes, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” And in verse 16, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the Temple of the living God”….“Therefore,” verse 17, “come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.”

Paul is quoting directly from several verses in the Old Testament here, all of them meant for Israel. So our instructions, therefore, are no different to those that God gave to Israel. We are to be separate from non-Christians just like the Israelites were to be separate from non-Israelites. And the reason for us being separate is because we are God’s Temple, meaning that we too now, just like Israel and its Temple, are the place and the people who bear God’s Name.

So just like Israel we avoid all contact with the gods and idols of the world we live in, which Paul again made clear to Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:21, that we “cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.” None of what this world worships, in other words, should have any influence on us, which is exactly what God told Israel back in Deuteronomy 18:9-14. God wants the Christian Church to be just as separate from our world as Israel was separate from the pagan nations of its world. Separation is the key word, and it identifies God’s people today just as effectively as it did in the days of Israel.

But stay a little longer in 1 Corinthians 10 and we hear Paul saying in verses 32-33, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way…that they may be saved.” So when Paul talks about separation he clearly does not mean exclusion.

But how can you be separate from people and try to please them at the same time? Well, that’s exactly the challenge Israel was faced with. They were meant to be separate from other nations, but also to open their arms to them. And if anyone understands that delicate balance, it’s Queen Elizabeth, because for more than 60 years she’s been very open about her Christianity and her belief and trust in Christ alone, but all during that time she has never made non-Christians and people of other faiths feel inferior in her presence, or strange.

Like any Christian the Queen is the Temple of God wherever she goes. As such she carries God’s Name with her, and like Solomon said in 1 Kings 8:43 she wants all people to know “that this house I have built bears your Name.” She wants people to know that the way she treats and views people came from the God she worships, because that’s the way he is.

In The Servant Queen and the King she serves, written in celebration of her 90th birthday, it says “the Queen does not pretend that she believes all religions are the same – she is a devoted Christian,” and she makes no secret of that in her Christmas messages. “For me,” she said in 2014, “the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” That’s stating plainly and publicly in a world where she is probably the best-known person alive, that there is only one God in her life.

But immediately, in the next sentence, she then says: “A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, Jesus stretched out his hand in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” So her exclusive faith in Christ has not excluded her from respecting people of other faiths. She respects them as much as she does those who share her beliefs. In other words, she treats them like brothers and sisters in exactly the same way God told the Israelites to treat strangers living in their land as brothers and sisters.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a devoted British Jew said this of the Queen: “Jews have deep respect for the Queen. They value her because she values them.” And then this quote: “She makes them feel, not strangers in a strange land, but respected citizens at home,” which is exactly in tune with the instructions God gave to Israel, to make strangers and foreigners feel respected, loved and welcome.

In the Queen’s reflection of God and in her part of God’s Temple, therefore, there is no Middle Wall of Partition. There’s not even the hint of a wall.

Quoting The Servant Queen again, “She has worked hard for peace and reconciliation all her life,” a lovely example of which is told by Rabbi Sacks: “The day was 27 January 2005, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the place, St. James’ Palace (the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom). The Queen was meeting a group of Holocaust survivors. When the time came for her to leave she stayed; and stayed. She gave each survivor (of a large group) her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story. It was an act of kindness that almost had me in tears.”

But we know why the Queen is this way, and why she is such a master at balancing separation and inclusion. It’s because of Ephesians 2:17-18, that Christ “came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” She understands that the Temple that bears his Name is a wide open door to people of all nations. It always was an open door in the Old Testament too, but even more so since Christ died, because “through the cross,” verse 16, “he put to death their hostility.”

Paul is specifically talking about ripping down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, but he goes on to explain in Ephesians 3:6 that the great revelation he’d understood from Christ’s death is that “the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus.” And that includes the chance for both Jew and Gentile to “approach God with freedom and confidence” (12). In other words, there is no wall in the Temple dividing anyone anymore. All people have free access to God. As in Solomon’s Temple anyone can pray to God and he will answer.

So the great blessing promised to Abraham that all nations of the earth would be blessed through his descendants continues, first through Israel and now “through the Church” (10) in how WE in the Church now view and treat people.

And hopefully it’s obvious in our little part of the Temple that there is no Middle Wall of Partition. And we take the bread and wine to remind ourselves of that, that the dividing wall of hostility has been utterly eradicated and carted away by Christ’s death. And if it’s being ripped down in our OWN heads too, then it’s a sure sign, quoting The Message in 2 Corinthians 7:1, that “our entire lives (are becoming) fit and holy temples for the worship of God.” And that’s great news because the Temple was the one place on earth where God was seen for who he really is, a God with open arms to all people.

Ephesians part 1 – When a person is “in Christ”….

So what stirs Christians to taking bread and wine (or Communion/Eucharist/ Lord’s Supper) in memory of Christ’s death that lifts it beyond just being a ritual that “Christians do”? Is there a book in the Bible that our own little cell in Christ’s worldwide body of the church, can plough through and return to again and again to keep the meaning of the bread and wine clear in our heads?

The book of Ephesians came to mind because it takes us back to why we call ourselves ‘Christians’ in the first place. We are Christians first and foremost because we believe that God’s entire plan for all creation began in Christ – and that it’s unfolding at this very moment in Christ, and that one day it will be completed in Christ.

That little phrase in Christ, therefore, reminds us that everything God has done, is doing, and will do in our future, is in Christ, and Paul certainly brings out that point in Ephesians.

But we are also Christians because we believe that God has included us in what he’s doing in Christ, and Paul brings out that point too in Ephesians when he describes Christians as being ‘in Christ’. It’s a phrase he uses often in his letters to the churches, but especially in Ephesians, to describe not only what God has been doing in Christ for all humanity, but also to point out that Christians are in Christ as well, and what that means for us.

So Paul’s covering at least two points in Ephesians when he uses the phrase ‘in Christ’, both of which he hints at in Ephesians 1:3 when he kicks off his letter with: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly places with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Paul zeroes in on the Father, in two ways: First of all, that the Father is the Father of Christ – but, secondly, that the Father is involving us in what he’s doing in Christ, because he’s equipped us too with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places where he’s working out his plan. So the Father is involving both Christ and us in his plan.

And note that Paul uses the word “HAS” in verse 3 when he says the Father “has blessed us,” meaning it’s something the Father has already done. Paul doesn’t say the Father ‘will’ bless us one day with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; he says the Father already has.

Being blessed by the Father with all his wonderful blessings, then, isn’t something we have to wait for when Christ appears to set up God’s kingdom on the earth. For the simple fact that we, as Christians, are ‘in Christ’, we are already living in that place where God ‘in Christ’ is setting up his kingdom and pouring out all his blessings in full.

And we need help remembering that, because we’re stuck in this world still, making it very hard for us – as we live out our lives here – to grasp that we’re actually living in another realm where every spiritual blessing has already been given to us. But this is the point Paul makes in verse 3 when he says the Father has blessed us “in the heavenly places.”

Where has the Father blessed us? He’s blessed us ‘IN’ the heavenly places. Paul doesn’t say the Father blessed us ‘from’ the heavenly places; he says ‘in’. In the heavenly places, therefore, must be where we are right now, because how can we receive every spiritual blessing God has already given us if we aren’t IN the place where the Father handed those blessings out? According to Paul the Father has already handed out every spiritual blessing to those in Christ in the heavenly places – because that’s where we already are – in the heavenly places.

We need reminding, then, that right now we’re living in another realm where all these blessings exist already, and we’ve already got them, in full.

We’re already in heaven, in other words. We don’t have to wait until some future time to be taken to heaven, because we’re already in it. It ties in with Colossians 3:3, where Paul says, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” And that’s present tense too. Our lives at this very moment are tucked away with Christ, which means we are where he is, right? And where is he? He’s in the heavenly places. And because we’re in Christ we’re right there with him.

Paul dropped this little bombshell in Ephesians too, when he tells us in Ephesians 2:6, that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

There’s that little phrase ‘in Christ’ again, but look at the context: It’s attached directly to us being in the place where Christ is. And where is Christ? Paul says he’s in the heavenly realms. And where are the heavenly realms? Paul explains that too, in Ephesians 1:20, that when God raised Christ from the dead he “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

So the heavenly realms are where God the Father himself resides. It’s that invisible realm in which God directs everything going on in heaven and on earth, and according to Paul we’re right in the middle of it, because Christ is there with his Father in the heavenly realms, and we’re seated there with him.

To be in Christ, therefore, means being where he is. But that’s not all it means, because Paul also said we are “seated with him,” meaning we’re right alongside Christ sharing in what he’s doing. So what IS Christ doing? Well, according to Paul, in verse 21, Christ is ruling over all creation “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet,” verse 22, “and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body,” verse 23, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Not only, then, has the Father given Christ authority and power over everything going on in our world right now – and in the new world to come – he’s also seated us with Christ to share in what he’s doing. It was in the Father’s plan to seat Christ beside him as ruler over everything – but it was ALSO in the Father’s plan to have the church sharing in Christ’s rule as well. That’s why Paul says in verse 23, “God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”

In other words, the church is totally included in everything Jesus does. But of course it is, because Paul says the church is Christ’s “BODY” (23). Christ is the ‘head’, yes, but he’s incomplete without his body. And according to Paul, the church is SO closely attached to Christ it actually contains “his fullness” (23).

But that’s the way the Father designed it, that Jesus and his church, as head and body together, would fulfill his plan. So, first of all, the Father “puts everything under Christ,” 1 Corinthians 15:27, but the Father also gave Christ a church seated beside him in the heavenly realms, so that Jesus could fill his church with himself, and together they would “fill everything in every way,” the final aim of which would be God, one day, being “all in all” (28).

Paul talked in the same terms in Colossians 2:9, that, first of all, “in Christ all the fullness of God lives in bodily form.” In Christ, therefore, we have a perfectly healthy head, fully capable of directing the Father’s plan to its final goal. But WITH him, verse 10, is this marvelously healthy body of people attached to Christ who “have been given fullness in Christ.” And again, that’s not something we have to wait for as Christians, to be given to us at some future date, it’s something we’ve already been given.

Christ, therefore, has a fully capable body he can work with, that’s been given everything that he is – his entire “fullness,” Paul says. Christ too, then, can rest assured that he has a wonderful body, the church, that’s filled to the brim in every cell with every bit of the same heart, mind, and ability he has, enabling head and body together to complete the Father’s plan.

So, all praise to the Father, going back to Ephesians 1:3, that he blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ, because it means that neither we nor Christ need ever worry or wonder if we’re up to fulfilling the job we’ve been given to do.

As Christians we probably do wonder, of course, being the weak humans that we are, and living in a world where so much of our time is spent on taking care of our physical needs, and having to worry about money, health, relationships with family and neighbours, and trying to keep up with all that needs doing.

And we probably think we’re not all that spiritual too. Days go by, perhaps, when all we can think of is getting through the day, collapsing in a heap at supper time, and being brain dead for the rest of the evening until falling into bed in a semi-coma before our head even hits the pillow. And as far as Bible study, it’s tough with failing health or a busy, busy life, to keep one’s eyes open beyond three verses.

Where is the obvious evidence, therefore, that we’ve been given every possible spiritual blessing there is already, and that in us, at this very moment, all the fullness of Christ lives in bodlly form? And yet here’s Paul telling us that we’ve been tanked up with every bit of spiritual equipment we need as Christ’s body to share in all that Jesus is doing in the heavenly realms, ruling over all creation as head and body together, and filling the whole creation and the entire universe with everything Jesus is “in every way” (verse 23). But if I can’t see any evidence of that, and I’m not excited by it, am I missing something? Am I even a Christian?

Well, this is where the bread and wine helps us remember something else important about what it means to be ‘in Christ’. Not only does the phrase ‘in Christ’ describe what God has done for all humanity in Christ and what he’s given us in the church to share in what Christ is doing right now, it also answers our question about how on earth we can be Christ’s body filling this world with his fullness in every way, when we’re stuck down here in this mess with little evidence that we’re having any influence at all.

It’s in Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:10, when he says “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

So there’s that little phrase ‘In Christ’ yet again, but this time it’s in the context of us being God’s workmanship. And we can add at this point that we’ve been his workmanship from the time “he chose us in Christ” before this world was even created (1:4). So we shouldn’t be too concerned, then, that we’re stuck in this mess, seemingly without much influence, when this was God’s idea in the first place, and he planned it this way from the beginning.

It’s all part of God’s workmanship and design, therefore, that we be here now in these frail human bodies of ours in a knock-the-stuffing-out-of-us world that makes us wonder at times if we’re even Christian because of how little we seem able to do. But along comes Paul who assures us in verse 10 that God had everything “prepared in advance” before any of us even existed, meaning that everything, including what we’d be doing as Christians, is working out exactly according to plan, because that’s what being ‘in Christ’ means.

‘In Christ’ means we are God’s work of art, and he is a brilliant artist because he can transform a plain canvas like ourselves – with our personalities, circumstances and relationships, and our typical every day habits and struggles – into a wonderful picture that catches people’s eye, so they are drawn to Christ in ways we may have no idea about, enabling us (without US probably knowing it as well) to play our part to perfection in filling this world with Christ’s fullness just as God intended, even in our frailty.

In other words, it’s happening, whether we can see evidence of it, or not, because God is an amazing artist. He’s a whiz with a paintbrush, turning out the most exquisite works of art on the plainest of canvases, because that’s the way he chose to do things before our world existed.

We can safely say, therefore, that the artist is at work in our lives, because that’s what we exist as Christ’s body for. Somehow, in God’s estimation and wisdom, he saw in us the perfect canvas for his artwork. And with every perfect sweep and dab of his paintbrush he’s made it possible for a church full of frail, stumbling humans to share in what he’s doing in Christ for all humanity.

But it raises an obvious question, because how can we be in two places at once? It sounds great that we’re in the heavenly realms seated with Christ and hidden with Christ, filled to the brim with every spiritual blessing. But the reality we experience every day is that we’re here on the earth still, and it doesn’t feel very spiritual at all, right? And how can we be weak, physical humans while at the same time be filled with the fullness of Christ? Or as some might say: How can we be upstairs and downstairs at the same time, living as the landed gentry with all the luxury and goodies on the upper level of the house, while also being scullery maids and shoe shiners in the basement? How can we ‘up there’ in the heavenly realm and ‘down here’ on the earth at the same time?

What makes this somewhat easier to understand is that the heavenly realm is actually here all around us. There is no separation between an ‘up there’ and ‘down here’, because when Christ died and God raised him from the dead, the process of “bringing all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” began, Ephesians 1:10.

In Christ, therefore, the heavenly realm and the earthly realm are being brought together, and we in the church are the first to experience it because we are Christ’s body. Rather than us disappearing off to heaven and leaving this earth behind forever, therefore, we’re actually bringing heaven and earth together with Christ right here, because we’re his body. He’s the head, under whom heaven and earth come together, but we’re his body, so we’re as much in this bringing earth and heaven together as he is.

And we do it in the same way he does it, by living in the heavenly realm in bodily form. Remember Paul saying in Colossians 2:9 that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”? So Christ has the fullness of God in him, but he’s also in bodily form too. In Christ, therefore, both spiritual and physical exist as one, and since we have his fullness in us (verse 10), then both spiritual and physical exist in us as well. In Christ the head and us his body, both heaven and earth come together as one. It means, then, that as physical beings we can live in the heavenly realm, just as Christ does.

That’s why the Father has given us spiritual blessings, so we can function and live in the spiritual realm where Christ is. The Father equipped us with all that we need to be like Christ in every way so we can live in the heavenly realm with him, being his body and sharing in what he’s doing. It’s like equipping astronauts with all they need to function in space. They’re living in a totally foreign realm that humans can’t normally exist in, but kitted out with the right equipment they can live and work in space perfectly well.

It’s not a foreign concept, therefore, for us to be able to live in a heavenly realm while still being in our human bodies. But what makes this even easier to grasp is that God raised Christ “to be head over everything for the church,” Ephesians 1:22. And where is the church? It’s right here on the earth. So Christ’s command centre, from which he rules all creation in power and glory, isn’t up in heaven somewhere, it’s right here. He brought the heavenly realm with him and set it up here on earth.

So we don’t have very far to go to be in the heavenly realms. They’re here on the earth all around us, as the first step in God’s plan to bring heaven and earth together under Christ. But the second step in the Father’s plan is kitting out a church on the earth with the perfect spiritual equipment to assist Christ in bringing heaven and earth together.

And we need that perfect spiritual equipment because the earth is also the command centre for the principalities and powers of evil. So there are other spiritual forces at work in this invisible heavenly realm on the earth. That’s why our biggest battle as the church, Ephesians 6:12, isn’t “against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We’re in that realm where the spirit forces of evil are also at work, and every day we have to contend with them, because that’s where we are living now as Christians.

But God has perfectly equipped us to deal with the forces of evil, so that even as frail humans we can live the ways of heaven on the earth. And that’s what makes our lives meaningful and exciting, because every day we make the rule of Christ real on this earth. Every day we fill our little part of the world with Christ’s fullness, rather than the insanity of evil. And we’ve been given the power to do that, to choose good over evil in all that we say and do, enabling us to actually live heaven on earth wherever we go, driving back the forces of darkness, and replacing them with the rule and fullness of Christ.

This is what we’ve been chosen to do as Christ’s body. We’ve been lifted into the heavenly realms on this earth, and this is where we live, with Christ, taking on the battle with him to establish his kingdom and his fullness on this earth, so that one day this earth is ready for the Father to take up residence here forever.

And that’s the point of our existence as the church, that it is all for the Father that that we live, because we know that it’s all for us that he lives. He wants to make his home with us. That’s why he created us and created this planet. That’s why he sent his Son to die here, to deal with the forces of evil on this planet head to head, so that the heavenly realms will be free of them and there’s nothing left eventually but the lovely kingdom of God ruling the earth.

But the Father has given us the chance to join the fight too, because this is our home as well. And we can have an impact on what happens on this earth, because the Father equipped us with all the weaponry we need to clear out any pockets of evil in our area of the woods. And it’s this we remember every time we take the bread and wine, that because Christ died God’s plan of making this whole earth a place he can call home is now being made a reality in us.

Every day, then, we are making our little part of the earth a place the Father would happily call home. It’s a little bit of heaven where we are, making the bread and wine we take very meaningful because this is what Christ’s death made possible.

It gave the chance for the likes of us frail humans to bring heaven to this earth as living witnesses to the Father’s plan. We are walking, talking audio and video displays of God’s workmanship and amazing artistry. The songs of heaven are being sung out loud and clear in a world that’s deaf and blind, and according to Paul in Ephesians 3:10, they’re being heard by “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” They are watching the heavenly realms light up with little spotlights of heaven in the church, like seeing the pinpricks of light at night on earth from the space station.

It may not be visible to us, but it’s certainly visible to the forces of darkness, and it’s the bread and wine that helps us remember that what we do in our daily lives every time we choose good over evil, is now the Father’s way of including us in clearing out evil from the heavenly realms in Christ, and he sent the Holy Spirit to make it possible for us to do that in the here and now.