Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:3-7
This is my final installment in this series of articles on hearing God. I began with the Jesus quoting Isaiah quoting God telling us that not all who hear from God really hear. I suggested that our greatest hindrance is that we project what we want to hear over what God actually says. With that, I have been highlighting a few themes, things God actually says again and again, that would be good starting places for those of us who desire to have ears tuned to really hear God.
Today’s theme is the trumpet call of God throughout the Word calling His people to LIVE. Here are a few reasons why I think this Word falls so often on deaf ears: The call to live implies that we are not currently doing so. The alternative to living is dead and we do not readily acknowledge that we are dead. This is an age-old discrepancy. In the Garden of Eden, when the serpent questioned the validity of God’s prohibition of the fruit from a particular tree, Eve confirmed that “God did say [in Genesis 2: 16-17], ‘You must not eat of the fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:3) The serpent’s comeback was “You will not surely die…” but instead life would be better because she would be like God, knowing good and evil. That sounded appealing, so Eve ate the fruit and shared with Adam. Deed done.
Here’s the question: Did God tell the truth or not? Did they die or not? Clearly, Adam and Eve continued to have breath, pulse and brain activity. If the presence of these bodily functions constitutes the only form of life that you acknowledge, then you will question the veracity of God right at the beginning of the story. “See, they ate the forbidden fruit and they didn’t die. God is either a liar or was manipulating them to keep them under His control. Way to go, Adam and Eve, for seeing through the lie and asserting your independence!” If physical life and death are the only valid states, then this is the only logical position, even if you are uncomfortable saying it out loud.
But if God’s definition of life is something different, something spiritual and not physical, then the presence of breath, pulse and brain activity can exist in a dead person. Indeed one can be born, grow up and live to a ripe, old age and be dead the entire time. If life is right relationship with God, that life was lost with Adam and Eve’s decision. They, being the parents of us all, have reproduced in us a race of breathing dead people. When they died, we all did. Nothing any of us could ever do would reverse the condition. Only God could rectify the situation. The entire story of God and man has been, from Genesis 3 on, the story of God’s work to restore men to Himself. He revealed Himself, taught His ways, gave wisdom and understanding in order to prepare for the reconciling act of Jesus on the cross that regenerated the dead to life.
So what is genuine life? A soul in right relationship, in communion and at peace with God. It is what we were made for, what was lost and what was restored through the purchase of Jesus with His blood. It is eternal, existing both in the physical tent of the body and in heaven. What it would look like if our first parents had not fallen, we will probably never know. Jesus died to restore our souls. Our flesh continues to breathe in a fallen world and in a fallen state. The restoration of our souls does not change much for our bodies. We are given the Spirit of self-discipline to enable us to live differently, to exercise authority over the urges of our flesh rather than be enslaved to them. We are occasionally blessed with miraculous intervention in regard to our health and wellbeing. But the Word makes it quite clear that trouble, hardship, affliction and physical death, sometimes even violent or painful death, are still our lot in the physical world. The difference is that that physical world and the physical existence is not our life anymore. It is merely a temporary state that will be swallowed up in what is real, in the only life that is truly life.
For those reborn, the context for everything – hope, desire, value, expectation, priority, comfort, security, ambition, need – changes completely. Before it was founded on the physical and emotional wellbeing of themselves and those they chose to care about. Now it is founded upon God. Their love for Him consumes their hearts and their trust and confidence in Him and His wisdom and goodness covers everything else. They acknowledge that what they do in the body matters because it demonstrates that love, trust and confidence. But what happens to the body doesn’t matter very much because it is not the totality of their life.
Reread the encouragement from Peter that I quoted at the top of this article. It is the perspective of a living person, one in right relationship with God, viewing everything with the eyes of an eternal being who knows that this physical state is of little consequence in the grand scheme of life. Now read and meditate on the rest of the Word and learn what it means to live. Stop trying to grasp at promises for physical prosperity or wellbeing like a drowning person whose survival instinct is striving to promote or preserve their physical life. Hear what God promises about real life and learn to live it. Don’t be distressed when He tells you that real living requires abandoning habits, values and priorities that you had when you were dead. There is peace in the real life that shines in the midst of trouble. There is joy in the real life that persists despite any temporal circumstance. There is hope in the real life that lives even as the physical world disintegrates. God saved us to live. Don’t settle for just breathing.