Keller quotes from Simone Wiel’s book Waiting for God, to start the chapter, “In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that [Christ possession], of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God.” (p. 222)
Keller writes, “I believe that Christianity makes the most sense out of our individual life stories and out of what we see in the world’s history,” and he uses the previous chapters to prove his point. This final chapter’s goal is to, “…draw together the various threads of the narrative.” (pp. 222-23) Keller continues, “The Bible has often been summed up as a drama in four acts — creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” (p. 223)
The Divine Dance
So, what is the difference in Christianity Keller wants us to understand?
“Christianity, alone… teaches… The doctrine of the Trinity…means that God is, in essence, relational,” Keller answers. (p. 223) John’s Gospel is quoted to describe the unique positions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and how the relationship is for the glorification of the Three. Keller explains to glorify each other means, “To glorify something or someone is to praise, enjoy and delight in them… To glorify someone is to serve or defer to him or her… Your ultimate joy is to see them in joy.” (p. 223)
There is no self-centeredness in the Triune God and it shows us how we are to interrelate. Keller writes, “When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other.” (p. 224) This is exactly how They interact. None wanting the glory but rather Each pursuing to glorify the other. “Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others,” Keller says. (p. 224) He continues by explaining the Greek word perichoresis, “…means literally to “dance or flow around”… they [Greek Christians] meant that each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being.” (p. 224)
The Dance of Love
So, who is God and what you think of Him, according to Keller, can give us an idea of what you think of love. “If God is unipersonal… Power is primary… if God is triune… God really has love at his essence… Eastern religions believe the individual personality is an illusion, and therefore love is, too… for the Christian… it [love] is the purpose of God because he is essentially, eternally, interpersonal love,” Keller argues. (pp. 225-26)
Community, represented by the Triune God, Keller writes, is the ultimate point of our reality and result of our loss of self. (p. 226) “When Jesus said you must lose yourself in service to find yourself (Mark 8:35), he was recounting what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been doing throughout eternity… Unless you are willing to experience the loss of options and the individual limitations that comes from being in command in committed relationships, you will remain out of touch with your own nature and the nature of things,” Keller postulates.
This is born true in the community of the world, as Christians understand its creation. “We [Christians] believe the world was made by a God who is a community of persons who have loved each other for all eternity,” Keller writes. (p. 226) God created a world that works only based on who He is. Therefore, community is the essence of love, and selfishness is the essence of hell. In actuality, “Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made,” Keller concludes. (p. 227)
The Dance of Creation
“Jonathan Edwards… concluded that God is infinitely happy,” Keller says. (p. 227)
“Within God is a community of persons pouring glorifying, joyful love into one another,” Keller continues, “…God is infinitely happy, because there is an “other-orientation” at the heart of his being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others.” (p. 227)
Keller then rebuts the argument that God does not want to be glorified by saying, “He wants our joy… and the only way we… can have this same joy, is if we center our entire lives around him instead of ourselves.” (p. 227) Historian George Marsden summarized Jonathan Edwards thoughts on the subject of creation, “The ultimate reason that God creates… is not to remedy some lack in God, but to extend that perfect internal communication of the triune God’s goodness and love…” (p. 228)
Keller continues, “God did not create us to get the cosmic, infinite joy of mutual love and glorification, but to share it.” (p. 228) We are not separate but rather sharing in the glory of the creation. In that sharing, we are not central either; Jesus is. “We were made to center our lives upon him, to make the purpose and passion of our lives knowing, serving, delighting and resembling him,” Keller contends. (p. 228)
Losing the Dance
When did the perfection of the Trinity, man, and the earth screech to a halt?
Keller says, “…in Genesis 3 we read of the Fall.” (p. 229) Adam and Eve were given explicit instructions about the Tree and fruit of the Tree in the Garden of Eden. Rather than follow the instructions out of love, “…Just for my [God] sake… we failed. We became stationary, self-centered.” (p. 229) Through our failure, the relationship unraveled and creation’s dance was interrupted. We tried to become the center and have everything spin around us and we simply cannot exist in the intended position God is to have held. Our self-centeredness disengages us from the physical, mental, moral, natural and spiritual worlds. “Nothing makes us more miserable than self-absorption, the endless, unsmiling concentration on our needs, wants, treatment, ego, and record.” (p. 229)Thankfully, God has not left us to our own devices.
“The Son of God was born into the world to begin a new humanity, a new community of people who could lose their self-centeredness, begin a God-centered life, and, as a result, slowly but surely have all other relationships put right as well.” (p. 230) Jesus obeyed His calling and died on a tree for us while Adam abandoned his calling for a tree and to the detriment of us. Our Lord “…came into the world and died on the cross to deal with our sins, he was circling and serving us.” Jesus received nothing from it so why do it? “He began to do with us what he had been doing with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. He centers upon us, loving us without benefit to himself.” (p. 230)
Returning to the Dance
“If the beauty of what Jesus did moves you, that is the first step toward getting out of your own self-centeredness and fear into trust relationship with him… He invites you to begin centering everything in your life on him… If you respond to him, all your relationships will begin to heal… sin is centering your identity on anything but God.” (pp. 230) Without him, you are only committing to those relationships and activities that lead to your fulfillment but, when you feel Jesus speaking to you, you must make a choice. “We can make him the new center of our lives and stop trying to be our own Savior and Lord. We can accept both his challenge to recognize ourselves as sinners in need of his salvation, and his renewing love as the new basis of our identity.” (p. 231) If we accept, then we begin to recognize that a life lived for others is a true life. You only reach your full potential by reaching it for others because C.S. Lewis says, “…outside the system of self-giving is… simply and solely Hell… that fierce imprisonment in the self… Self-giving is absolute reality.” (p. 231)
The Future of the Dance
So, what is the future? If you follow Jesus what happens in the end? “…in the final book of the Bible… we see heaven descending into our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection,” Keller says (p. 232) This will be the new Garden of Eden, per Isaiah. “The Trinity virtually “rejoiced” the world into being. Out of delight God created a universe of beings to step into his joy, and the new-made stars sang of it… God moves toward his world in care and love… and though sin and evil have marred the world… at the end of time, nature will be restored to its full glory and we with it.” (p. 232) The end will really be the beginning as God restores the world and us to the glory He intended originally. Keller states, “The human race finally lives together in peace and interdependence.” (p. 233)
The Christian Life
“…Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it,” according to Keller, “The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but to care and cultivate the face of the earth…” (p. 233)
Keller says no other religion has this as a central tenant. He quotes Vinoth Ramachandra, “The Biblical vision is unique. That is why when some say there is salvation in other faiths too, I ask them — “What salvation are you talking about?” No faith holds out a promise of eternal salvation for the world — the ordinary world — that the cross and resurrection of Jesus do.” (p. 234)
So, what does authenticate Christian life and faith look like?
Keller answers, “God made us to ever increasingly share in his own joy and delight within himself. We share his joy first as we give him glory… second, as we honor and serve the dignity of other human beings made in the image of God’s glory; and third as we cherish his derivative glory in the world of nature…” (p. 234)
Another view Keller states is, “Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely, and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God. To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success.” (p. 235)
The Gospel makes sense to our God-given senses. It in no way violates anything of, from or for God. Only in our fallen state do we lose sense of the purpose. We are to meet in community with others and God. The Trinity is a community and so God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit call us to a life of community. Here Keller adds, ” …the Christian life means not only building up the Christian community through encouraging people to faith in Christ but building up the human community through deeds of justice and service [mercy].” (p. 235)
So the point of this adventure called life is reach the point where we can exclaim along with all the other adventurers, “I’ve come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I’ve been looking for all my life, though I never knew it,” Keller ends. (p. 236)
Question: Has reading this book strengthened your convictions? If so, how? Is there a particular chapter or truth that stands out?
Reading this book has caused me to evaluate my relationships - with the Lord and with people. After all, my relationship with God is reflected in how I relate to people. I have been too focused on my self and my own feelings, too easily offended by things that really don't matter. No thing is more important than a person! I am learning to focus more on the heart and soul of everything ~ the person. There are broken and hurting people all around me. Each exhibits his or her hurt in a different way. I don't have to know why they are hurting, but I can serve them by simply loving. Several chapters in this book resonated with me, but the final chapter has touched me most. I love this statement:
To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success.
We have adopted such an 'entitlement' attitude, and it's easy to get caught up in that. What do we really 'deserve'? I desire the joy that comes from a right relationship with Jesus, and that includes loving with abandon. Even with the expectation of suffering and hardship. Not to earn His favor. But if God humbled Himself to the point of death, for my sake, then surely I can stop living for myself. Living for self is ultimately so isolating and unfulfilling. I have looked into the eyes of the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed. I have seen their joy in receiving even the slightest attention, affection and love. That God might use me to show His love is unfathomable. But as long as I have breath, that is my desire. Imagine walking into a dark room. It takes only a bit of light to make an impact. Conversely, it takes a lot of dark to impact light. Lord, help me to be the little bit of light. And together, as the body of Christ, imagine the measure of our love!