Sunday, October 10, 2010

Back from the Depths

The year was 1916 and Tsar Nicholas II, ruler of all Russia had undertaken to acquire a large measure of wine from one of the world’s most esteemed regions. It was a simple plan, an elegant plan. Purchased in a picturesque French province, the wine was loaded onto a large vessel. From there it was to be ferried east across frigid boreal waters to the distant shores of the empire. Then, upon making landfall, it would be carried to the imperial palace and a waiting monarch.

It was a simple plan, an elegant plan. But, it was not to be. As with all good stories, there was a twist. And this one was a doozy. The great war we’ve come to call World War I was then underway, and a world at war is a perilous place. In the interest of brevity, let’s just say that during the journey one hostile German U-boat and a well placed torpedo conspired to send the craft and its contents sinking beneath the frosty waves of the Gulf of Finland.

One might fairly imagine this would mark the tragic end of the tale. But, not so. You see, after better than 80 years on the seafloor, the vessel and its cargo were rediscovered. While the last ruler of the Russian Empire would never taste a drop of his wine, were he alive today he would yet have his chance. And I suspect he’d be pleased to know that his wine has taken its place among the most costly in the world, with single bottles fetching six figures.

The story of Christ is much like this. It’s a story about something very valuable that was lost only to be regained. It’s a the tale of a restoration that took place when nothing seemed less likely, a stunning reversal that lends its own special glory. In the last post we spoke about the means of this restoration. We looked at the Hero’s Journey of Christ and saw that it culminated in the attaining of a supreme prize, one vital aspect of which is the power to bring you, and ultimately the entire world, back from the depths.

To feel the force of this, we have to take a step back. The picture scripture paints of you is not pretty. There is an unrelenting darkness holding sway over your life. In more lucid moments you know it, feeling yourself lying vanquished under a life-diminishing, soul-extinguishing power you are unable to fight. And the biting perversity lies in this: You are a willing slave to this thing, this cannibalizing force that brings you to destroy you.

As if this were not enough, you live in enmity with the very Power who created the world. Before him you stand justly condemned. Living out your days under his wrath and curse, you inhabit a world that is likewise cursed. And you are utterly devoid of any strength to climb out of this mire or do the least thing that is spiritually good. We could go on and on, but suffice it to say, it goes downhill from there.

At the heart of the Christian story is the idea that, on the basis of his great conquest, Christ is able to make all of this come untrue. That’s right. And one critical piece of this involves removing entirely the thing that has caused the breech between you and your Maker. The guilt of our sin, in its totality and awful power is destroyed, vanishing before a still greater power, the death of the eternal Son of God.

Some of you reading this will have heard for many years now that Christ secured forgiveness for all your sin. But somehow, tragically, it remains largely unreal. You don’t believe it, really believe it as you move through life. Very rarely do you savor the knowledge that your sins are not credited to you, that they no longer cling to you.

When you fall you still feel condemned, not realizing that it is precisely this that keeps you from standing firm. You don’t yet know as you must come to know, that in Christ, though God may discipline you as a son, there in no condemnation, no wrath, no curse. Ever. You don’t realize that you are so clean in him that it is as if you had never sinned. Never.

You don’t grasp that it is just as if another had committed all of your crimes and then paid the terrible price. You don’t really believe that in Christ you are subject to new laws of being, that you are no longer under the killing law, but living in the expansive liberty of a place called grace. You think that if you were really to believe this dangerous truth you would throw off all restraint, not knowing it’s the only thing that can free you to serve God from the heart.

But, dare to believe again, as if for the first time. Believe that you have been rescued from the depths unscathed, but your sins have not. Then go and learn the meaning of these words: “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Ultimate Boon

It’s a very curious thing. Were it possible to eavesdrop on tales told beside Aztec hearths, you would find them echoed in stories whispered around campfires this very night. Sift through the fables of the far east, and you find yarns told on the Silk Road bear striking resemblance to Greek myths. Ponder the folktales of India and you’ll catch broken glimpses of epics recited under Arctic skies.

It's a concept as simple as it is profound. When we survey the legends of mankind there are certain key themes, certain fundamental features that appear time and again. Cut across the centuries, scour every corner of the globe, and in time you’ll discern a refrain. The instruments may change, but the songs are the same.

How can we account for this? To what unseen connectivity do we owe these uncanny parallels? Whatever the answer is, I more than suspect it has bearing on the matter we raised last time: What are you? What is a human? What were you, are you, might you be? Is it not possible that important clues are to be found in the stories we tell ourselves?

One of the most tantalizing ideas in comparative mythology is that there is a common core behind many of our tales. What's more, it has a particular shape. Indeed, the similarities both structural and thematic are so pervasive that some suggest many stories are simply permutations of a single fundamental tale. The best known incarnation of this idea is in the body of work produced by Joseph Campbell. In his seminal work, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, Campbell posits that there is a single proto-story, a “monomyth” lying behind a great many of our classic stories.

In this great archetypal tale, which Campbell calls the hero’s journey, the protagonist crosses a threshold into another realm, there to face great trials and accomplish certain tasks. The greatest of these involves undergoing a death-like experience he terms ‘the belly of the whale’ or ‘the abyss.’ Passing through this supreme ordeal, the hero effects a great atonement and returns to his former world with “the ultimate boon,” a great gift or gifts he may bestow upon his fellows.

If it occurs to you this sounds terrifically like the story of Christ, I think you’re on to something. But what are we to make of this? Is his story simply one in an endless parade of tales expressing this same basic plot? Or is something else, something far more wonderful, going on here? Is it just possible that in the man Jesus Christ, myth, as C.S. Lewis asserted, became fact? Might it not be that in him the substance of humanity’s folk-stories has become actual?

J.R.R. Tolkien held that the power of myth lies precisely in the fact that, though clothed in fictional garb, they are telling us something that is fundamentally true. Yet, in the case of Christ, we’re dealing with something of an entirely different order. The gospels, wrote Tolkien, contain “a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories.” And yet, astonishingly, it is a story that has “entered history and the primary world.” He goes on, “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits....This story is supreme, and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord of angels, and of men, and of elves. Legend and history have met and fused.”

It’s an electrifying idea. The stories we tell ourselves give expression to our deepest hopes. It might even be said that through them we intuit, if obscurely, what must take place to restore us as a race. Here we see that it has happened. One has has come, like the great Hero of the monomyth, and crossed the threshold into the realm that is our world. He journeys along a path replete with trials which culminate in the supreme ordeal of the cross and his going down into death itself.

The book of Hebrews beautifully unfolds what happens next. Passing through the rent veil of his own body, Christ dies, rises and enters the abode of the Most Holy, not a sacred space in a man made temple, but the true dwelling place of the infinite Spirit that is God. There, by virtue of his own supreme self-sacrifice, he obtains the Ultimate Boon, the Great Gift, what the writer of Hebrew calls “Eternal Redemption.”

What exactly did Christ lay hold of in his supreme hero’s journey? What are the great gifts and powers acquired by him for those who would follow? In coming posts I want to explore these things in some detail. Soon we will see that the spiritual life is made possible by Christ’s journey, indeed is a kind of participation in the journey of that great Pathbreaker who is rightly called the ‘Desire of all nations.’

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Chimera

He’s the most isolated man on earth. The last surviving member of an uncontacted and undocumented tribe, he lives out his days in a remote swath of the amazon basin enwreathed by tens of thousands of acres of densest South American jungle. Like you and I, he is a human being. But, unlike you and I, he is alone, very alone, and that largely by choice. All attempts to make peaceful contact since his 1996 discovery have failed - the last memorably punctuated by an arrow in the vitals of a search party member.

It’s not often that we get to see or even dare imagine something like this, a man stripped of all of the props and trappings of the world until he’s just plain man. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. This now solitary figure had a family. He had a life. But, at this moment, he is the final live ember in a dying fire. Now the only voice he hears is his own. Who knows but that in the deafening silence of the rainforest he doesn’t still speak and sing to himself in a dialect that’s just a heartbeat away from extinction?

What a story! Thinking about this man in his extreme isolation sets a person to wondering what a man even is. It’s no secret that those of us in the civilized world are so over-civilized we’re prone to forget. So defined by the externals and our relationship to things, oftentimes it's hard to locate the person at the center of it all. If we can’t google ourselves, if there’s no electronic paper-trail proving that we’re alive and influencing the world, well, maybe there is no us!

It’s a strange situation, this. Caught fast in the whirlpool, we’ve allowed the incidentals of life eddying about us to obscure the essentials. As a result, without recourse to resumes and lists of things we’ve done or own, we wouldn’t know where to begin were someone to ask us the very sensible question: What are you?

This, you see, is a very important question. We’ve begun to take up the theme of what God has done to effect the redemption of man. But you won’t have any idea what this means unless you know what a man is. And so it’s not too much to say that the whole of the spiritual life rides on just this - Knowing what you are and what you were and what you may one day be.

So, how can we even begin to answer this question? For starters, any description of humanity worth its salt has to honestly countenance the total picture of what we are. And what we are is not easy to pin down. There’s a strange, undeniable duality here. I think Pascal got it right when he exclaimed: “What a chimera then is man! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the glory and shame of the universe!”

The penetrating accuracy of Pascal’s assessment stems from the fact that he doesn’t lose sight of either of the poles of what it means to be human. His description does what it must do, capturing the essential paradox of what you are. Truth be told, you are a contradiction, a strange something, a being divided - You are Man, maker of lullabies and landmines, gardens and gulags, sonnets and spears.

And this is exactly what you would expect in light of the Biblical account of humanity. To locate man in the scriptural scheme of things is to find one who is both lofty and, by his own hand, laid low. Made by God, for God and even, in a manner of speaking, like God, we were fashioned to be kings of sorts over creation. But instead of ruling all things under God, we find ourselves enslaved to all things in a world inverted.

You are a piece of work, you. You’ve really messed this thing up. Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Your every experience bears this out. You taste the glory and the infamy, the heavy savor of your identity. You are the image of God, but a fallen image, a marvel and a horror, a temple desecrated. It’s going to take a lot to locate you, to save you from yourself.

Ah, Man, you are the most isolated thing on earth. You are a human being, and you are alone, very alone, and that largely by choice. All attempted efforts to make peace with you failed, as they were destined to fail - all, that is, save one; That one was punctuated by an attempt to kill the one who came looking for you. But, then, that was the plan.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cracking the Code of the World

Cast plastic resin, cobalt blue, glossy finish. Two mounted disks revolving about a fixed pivot. Concentric rings of letters and numbers in low relief. The Secret Decoder Ring - holy grail of cryptology, time-honored discloser of encoded mysteries, unscrewer of the inscrutable. Maybe you had one of these growing up. This was one I remember fishing out of a box of breakfast cereal once upon a time.

It’s a great toy. Why? Because it taps into that part of us that reveres mystery, that little pilot light in our souls that’s ever burning and flames high in the presence of veiled truth. It’s that thing in you that loves nothing more than learning the secret that reveals the concealed. This is the part of you that knows that you don’t even know you, that you are yourself a profound enigma moving through a reality that just crackles with hidden depths. It’s the soul-level thirst for something that will unriddle the riddles of life, something that can crack the code of the world.

Right now I’m living in east Asia and - let’s be honest - my best efforts notwithstanding, everyday I swim through swarms of symbols I can’t begin to understand. It’s true. Nevertheless, the fact that I can’t make heads or tails of much of it doesn’t keep me from perceiving that they mean something.

As we noted last time, there’s a sense in which the entirety of life is like this. There’s meaning to be had out there, and it’s palpable. And here’s the thing. If we genuinely want to live the spiritual life, the life we were made for, it’s imperative that we grasp, in some measure, this inner-logic of the world. The spiritual life is, after all, not a life of fantasy or make believe- as some may have it -, but one lived in concert with deepest truth. It’s a life that finds its individual meaning in conforming to the overarching purpose that guides all things.

In the second chapter of Colossians, Paul gives expression to his desire that his readers attain to “the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” According to the sacred text, it is Christ, the God-man, who is the key that unlocks the meaning of the world.

As we’ve observed, when God entered our world, becoming just like you, he came to bear and indeed be the meaning of history. But how are we to understand this? Are we just speaking in further riddles? What does it mean to be the meaning of history? Here we must tread lightly, because we’re dealing with ultimate truths. Fortunately, the New Testament doesn’t leave us in the dark on this score. Paul goes on to say: “In Christ all of the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been given fullness.”

Fullness. It’s one of my favorite words in scripture. In Christ the vacuousness and vanity that marks the plight fallen man in a fallen world gives way to fullness. It’s a fantastic word. But how exactly does Christ take the shell of our lives and the hollowness of human history and bring fullness? He does it by welding our broken lives to the superabundance of his own. He does it by taking the wreckage that is you and fusing it to his own person, a person in whom God lives in all of his overflowing realness. This he does that he might swallow up all of your poverty and give you his richness. Not a bad exchange.

Paul goes on to expound a mystery that is at the vital center of scripture, that Christ is able by virtue of his infinite Spirit to unite to himself people like us so that his life becomes your life, his death your death, his resurrection your resurrection. Your storyline, which you have frankly ruined, is eclipsed and his storyline becomes yours. In this way his life becomes the life of the world, the life of all those throughout history who come to him, and coming, believe.

This is the God of scripture. This is the God who gives fullness. And, in the words of an old writer, “If God be not thus, he is less than the God we crave for and the world needs. This is the holy love that deserves to be almighty.” A truer word was never spoken.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Hieroglyph

“You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning.” ~ C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory.

Man’s best friend is not alone in finding himself confined to a world that is long on facts and short on meaning. Man himself, you've certainly noticed, is altogether capable of moving through a life that is all data and no conclusions. He too can inhabit a world that is basically shorn of any kind of real meaning.

But is this the proper way to read the world? As an answer to this question, consider the following: Suppose a man were to journey through the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Surveying wall after wall of hieroglyphs, his only conclusion is that the Egyptians were keen on miniature drawings of hawks and snakes and suns and so forth. In this case, would we not say, “Man, don’t you see that all of this means something? A hawk isn’t just a hawk. That beetle isn’t just a beetle. Those are symbols pointing beyond themselves. There is far more here than meets the eye.”

In much the same way, as we’ve spoken of the great narrative that encompasses history, it is exactly this kind of thinking that we're contesting. It's the notion that the world is all a lot of commotion signifying nothing we dispute. A story, you see, is not just the reportage of a sequence of brute, isolated facts. No, any story worth telling or being told has a plot, has meaning woven into it.

Ours is a hieroglyphic world. The things and events and people and great, forking networks of cause and effect mean something. And, as we saw last time, understanding the intensely personal nature of this tale is the first step towards discerning what this something is. The meaning of this story, you see, is inseparable from the key players in it. In addition to featuring the likes of you and me, it centers on a Person. And not just a person, but the Person, the One from whose absolute person-hood all others proceed like dim reflections or faint echoes. He is the one who broke into time from beyond it to become its center, to gather all of the strands of history in his hand and and lead it to a chosen conclusion, to be history’s meaning.

Knowing this, knowing that the story finds its center and culmination in him, is crucial to understanding the vast sweep of history in all its branching enormity. Miss this and it all looks like so much frothing chaos, from the large movements of civilizations down to the tedium of your own life. Then again, if we were to miss this, we would certainly not be the first. Even when Christ was among us, there were many who failed to grasp what they were witnessing.

Do you remember what Jesus used to say when he would set a parable before the people? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I used to think that this was just rhetorical flourish, a catchy way of saying “Hey, if you’ve got ears - and I know you do - listen up.” But I was wrong. That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying, “If you have ears that can hear this, then understand.” Or, more properly, “If it has been given to you to perceive the truth of what I am now declaring, then understand these things.”

There were certainly many in the teeming masses who only heard stories about fish and wheat and cities on hills and did not perceive that he was wielding these symbols to speak of something infinitely greater. He was pointing to food, true spiritual food, and many were content to look at his hand. To them we can only say, “Man, don’t you see that all of this means something. A fish isn’t just a fish. That lost coin isn’t just a coin, it’s you. Living water isn’t just a drink. Those are symbols pointing beyond themselves. There is far more here than meets the eye.”

Even now the words of Christ hang in the air. If you have ears to hear, let them hear - let them hear that God in all of his fullness dwelled in the man Jesus Christ. Let them hear that in him God was both disclosing himself and reconciling a lost world.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Willing Suspension ~ Part III

Paranoia - In its more exotic flavors, it is taken to be a species of madness. You’ve observed the man, in fiction if not in life, who walks through the world with a heightened sense of his context, who seeks to discern hidden meanings in the trivial details of living. Why? Because this man believes that someone out there has designs on his life. Someone, he is convinced, is out to get him.

On the other hand, we who are sane know better. We understand that the happenings of our daily lives are largely arbitrary, that there really is no one at large choreographing the dancing particulars of our days. We are certain that nobody is behind the scenes steering us toward some great end.

Yes, that is the way the world works.
Or does it?

Ah, the clarity of madness! Is it not possible that the paranoid man in his delusion has cornered an element of truth that escapes you? Might it not be that the apparent soundness of mind you enjoy is masking a deeper reality? The answer, I’m afraid, is yes.

The further we wade into the great backstory of the world, the more apparent it becomes that the world is lit from behind with the light of a mind. Nothing is incidental or arbitrary. The long arc of history, of which your life is a part, is bending to some chosen end. Of course, contrary to the dark suspicions of the madman, neither the design nor the designer is sinister. (Then again, just between you and me, there’s a good chance he is, in point of fact, out to get you. Yes, I’m quite sure of it. So, go ahead, be appropriately paranoid.)

Now, if it were simply some kind of impersonal principle like fate at the rudder, you might be able to just shrug it off. But this is personal. This ship in which you find yourself as a stowaway isn’t being driven by the wind. There is a someone at the helm. Ours, you see, is a world that is shot through with intentionality, a world shaped by deliberation. Purpose plays across its surface and lurks in its depths. It is emphatically, intensely, unmistakably personal.

What bearing does this have on our conversation? We’ve spoken about the nature of the spiritual life, knowing and being known by God. And we’ve examined the call to believingly enter into the great story of redemption. This personal dimension is the connecting piece. You see, knowing God and owning this story are one and the same. For, believing and embracing this narrative is not simply a matter of assenting to the specifics of a plot - as vital as these are - but in entrusting yourself to a Person.

In John 10, where Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his people, he says something that, understood, is perfectly haunting: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them,” declares the Christ. If you ask me why, in the final analysis, I believe, it comes down to this - I recognize his voice. To be certain, I have looked at the evidence and do find it quite compelling, but, at the end of the day, it’s his voice that I cannot not hear and hearing believe.

To a certain extent, I think the magnitude of what Christ is can be felt even by those who do not finally come to him. Einstein once remarked: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers, however artful. No one can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

Examples of this could be multiplied endlessly. Augustine, who did come to believe in midlife, once said he had read all of the great men of antiquity, yet not one of them ever said, as did Christ, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” He was right. No man has ever spoken like this, and no other man credibly could.

Fourteen centuries later the eccentric and brilliant Danish writer SΓΈren Kierkegaard spoke famously of belief as a kind of leap. In one place, he recounts his own experience saying, “I leapt from the precipice only to find myself caught - caught by a nail scarred hand.”

Kierkegaard was right, you know. Entrust yourself fully to this one, and you will find that your trust is well placed. For we who willingly suspend our disbelief find that there is one who willingly suspended himself between heaven and earth to reconcile God and man. It is he who permitted himself to be transfixed to the fourth wall, the boundary between our world and eternity, to the end that it might be done away with. And even now from behind the world he speaks.

Listen closely. You might just hear a voice you recognize.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Willing Suspension ~ Part II

“I charge you, you who have this book in your possession, whatever you may do, do not speak of this work to any other man.” An old medieval text I happened across some years ago prefaced itself with these words. Which book? Don’t ask me. I can’t tell you.

Of course, the simple fact that I was forbidden to tell you means that I very much want to. That’s why if I ever write a book I’ll open it with a similarly grave injunction. It leaves you feeling like you’re in on some kind of secret and makes talking about it nigh unto irresistible. Genius, I say! Marketing genius!

There are some things that sound terrifically simple - like not talking about that book - which are in fact extraordinarily difficult, some commands that are easy in the hearing and difficult in the execution. So it is with the willing suspension of our disbelief. It is the simplest of things, and yet the hardest, impossible even. Yes, impossible.

There’s a poignant scene in the gospels in which Jesus is brought to a man whose son suffers greatly from violent seizures. Encountering Christ, the man says, “If you can do anything, have pity and help us.” Jesus seizes upon these words, “If you can? If you can? Everything is possible for him that believes.” Hearing this, the man utters something that is confusing, sincere and remarkable all rolled into one: “I believe! Help me in my unbelief.”

Well put. Very well put. Help me in my unbelief! I believe, or at least want to. So, help me. Please. It’s honest, human. I like it.

Returning now to the matter we took up last time: What is it that accounts for your believing some things and disbelieving others? “Evidence,” you will perhaps reply. “It all comes down to evidence.” But, not so. If you think it’s merely a matter of weighing evidence and deciding accordingly, I have to seriously question whether you have ever met another human being and paid any attention. If we learn anything from history, it’s that absolutely staggering amounts of evidence can be marshaled before men and they may leave with their eyes all the more tightly shut. Not only do some come away none the wiser, they are more steeled in their resolution not to believe, galvanized in their resistance. The Bible is thoroughly riddled with examples of this.

Scripture speaks of a world that is positively over-brimming with evidence regarding the reality and nature of God. You may disagree, but you at least have to ask yourself this simple thing: Why? Is it really the kind or quantity of evidence, or does it have something to do with you? Just think about it.

Whether or not there is a God and the Bible is his book, is for you to decide, and decide you must. But, what is it that prompts you to decide one way or the other? Or, to frame it differently, how is it that two men can look upon exactly the same evidence and arrive at very different, even antithetical conclusions? This is the real question.

Here’s a thought: It’s not just about seeing, it’s about perception; It’s not just about what you see, but how you see. See?

Speaking now personally, as someone who has considered these things for my entire adult life, I do think there is a terrific amount of corroborating evidence clustered around the Christian story. In fact, from where I stand, nearly everything conspires to demonstrate its truth. To paraphrase what another has said: It’s like the sun. It’s not just that I see it, but that by it I see everything else.

Nevertheless, in the hearts and minds of men it doesn’t ultimately come down to this, to sheer evidential weight. According to the scriptures, whether or not we believe is ultimately a spiritual matter, something having more to do with our hearts than raw data. For this reason, quite often the first step on the path of the spiritual life is uttering the cry, “Help me in my unbelief! Help me see aright. Help me discern the meaning behind this world swirling about me. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear.”

But we’re just getting warmed up. If you think the most difficult things to swallow in scripture are seraphic visions, darkened suns and tongues of fire, then you haven’t seen anything yet. Ha! The true difficulty lies not in believing that men have seen visions of God or rise from the dead. If there really is an infinite and eternal Spirit who called the world out of nothingness, then believing those things are possible is not a function of gullibility but stark realism. It almost goes without saying. You would almost be surprised if it didn’t happen.

No, the truly difficult thing is believing that the God who comes through so vividly in the sacred text is capable not only of raising Jesus from the dead, but of raising you from the dead. True story. Infinite power is infinite power, wherever it is applied. Don’t you see that for God it’s just as easy to fashion a galaxy or give sight to the blind as lift a piece of straw? It’s one and the same. But, if you want to really feel the electric wonder of exercised omnipotence, train your eyes on statements like these:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” ~ Romans 5:8

“He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” ~ Micah 7:19

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin - it is by grace you have been saved.” ~ Ephesians 2:4-5

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:11-12

These are the commanding heights of scripture. This is what all of the rest - lost paradises, transfigurations, and blazing mountains - is all about, God manifesting his illimitable goodness and surpassing glory in the redemption of a world.