THE DIVINE DRAMA OF LOVE
BY: JAMES A. FOWLER
A survey of God’s active expression of LOVE in the format of a drama with six acts.
It is important to recognize that when we refer to the “Divine Drama”, we are not indicating that God is just the One who wrote the script for this drama. God is not just the playwright!
Neither is God just the director of the drama – the one who tells people where to go, how to perform, etc.
In this Divine Drama, God is indeed the playwright and the director, but more importantly He is the lead actor. He is the Hero of the story.
God must never be detached or separated from the action of the drama. When this happens, the drama becomes but a spontaneous humanistic improvisation in the context of a deistic detachment, and God is neither the playwright, nor the director, nor the lead actor, but a spectator to the humanistic experiment.
God is intimately involved in every act and action of this Divine Drama. It is HIS story, and as “His story” it is “history”, though not only in past tense.
Since “God is Love” (I Jn. 4:8,16), this divine drama is a “love story.” Granted, there is much action and adventure. There is mystery and tragedy. There is what some might consider “sci-fi” because it is supernatural. There are even parts of the story line that might be difficult to get past some of the censors today. But above all, we need to recognize that this divine drama is a “love story” – The Divine Drama of Love.
“In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1)
Not “in the beginning God … was alone in the black, vastness of space.”
Not “in the beginning God … was pulling the strings on the cosmic puppet show.”
Not “in the beginning God … was operating big machinery on a big construction project.”
Not “in the beginning God … was studying His moves over a big chess board.”
Not “in the beginning God … was planning a cosmic biological or social experiment.”
Not “in the beginning God … laid out the laws of the universe and of behavior, and then sat down in the heavenly courtroom on the Judge’s bench to enact justice concerning the performance of the laws.
Not “in the beginning God … picked the petals of a daisy, and said, “I love him; I love him not.”
Christian theology must begin with Who God IS, not with what God does, or has done. God does what He does, because He IS Who He IS. So much of theology begins with God making a plan, determining precepts and laws, making decrees, predetermining events, electing this one or that one. The Divine Drama must begin with WHO the lead character IS. God does what He does, because He IS Who He IS. This drama is the divine Being in Action – His Being is always expressed in consistent Action. We are not considering a static statue, but a divine drama of action! God’s action is always expressive of His own Being, which is invested in the action. Whenever there is action in this drama, it is Him in the action – not just the one doing or performing the action, but His Being in Action. The “Being” of God is not just static existence. God’s Being is dynamically relational. What God does in this drama is not just “remote action,” or “virtual reality.” God is not sitting back with a “joy stick” or a “mouse.” He is not sitting above the action conferring “benefits,” or interjecting miraculous twists of the story-line.
God, the lead actor in this Divine Drama is obviously personal. He is the relational three-in-one Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the relational action of which has been an eternally perfect relationship of perfect love and intimacy. The ideal, perfect, and ultimate relationalism of Love has been, and is, eternally present in the Trinity. The action of the drama is based on the fact that this Triune God is the essence of all proper and perfect interpersonal relationships.
The character of this Personal “lead actor” God – is LOVE. “God is LOVE.” (I Jn. 4:8, 16). This is not to say that “God has some love to dispense.” God is not giving out “love potion #9”. God IS love, inherent in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Love is constantly flowing from one to the other among the persons of the Trinity. In fact, Love demands and necessitates the “otherness” of the Trinity! God could not have been LOVE prior to the creation of “others”, unless He was plurality – unless there was otherness in the oneness.
Since love, by definition, cannot be passive, for it must be dynamically expressed to another, there was an abundance of action in Act One of this drama.
“In the beginning God … was eternally the Trinity.”
“In the beginning God … was eternally Love.”
“In the beginning God … was the Lover in the drama of His own Trinity.”
There was much activity in Act One of this drama. There was the activity of His own Being, prior to any creative activity. How long did Act One last? It is an eternal action. Act One does not terminate with a curtain, before the subsequent Acts of the drama.
What has happened in Act One? The introduction of the lead character of the drama – God the Divine Lover. We have observed the action of God’s eternal heart of LOVE.
And by way of commentary: God’s love is true love. It is agape love. It is not conditional love: “I’ll love you if … you perform …” It is not selfish love (this is an oxymoron): “I love you for what I can get out of it.” Love always seeks the highest good of the “other”, with no selfish thought of what the other does, or what I get.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1)
The philosophical discussion of creation ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” doesn’t “play” well in the drama. All one gets from nothing is nothing. Creation is ek theos, “out of God,” for He is the source and origin of all things.
The issue in this first creative stage of the drama is not “things” anyway. The material realm is just the “stage” for the drama. It becomes a theatre of the absurd when those who are supposed to participate in the drama spend all their time arguing about how the stage was built. It is really a sad phenomena when some choose to deify the stage by seeking to protect and idolize the physical environment.
The issue in Act One is that God is Love. The issue in Act Two is “others”, for love must flow to “others”. The phrase “the heavens and the earth” is broad enough to include heavenly beings or angelic beings. Such creatures are not specifically addressed in Genesis 1, but they are alluded to elsewhere in Scripture, as we shall see.
The eternal Triune God of Love is inclusive. He is not exclusive, trying to “cut others out”. He desires to invite “others” to participate in His interaction. That is what Love does! He wants to draw “others” into the joy, and the laughter, and the love of Trinitarian relationships.
God created a “heavenly host” of “others” – spirit beings who could participate in the relationalism of interactive Trinitarian Love. Since love cannot be forced or coerced, these created heavenly/angelic beings were created with freedom of choice. They were free to choose to spurn and reject the love of God.
Lucifer, the “light-bearer”, chose to do just that. The Scriptural evidence is somewhat sketchy, as God did not see fit to give us all the details of the angelic betrayal and divorce, but we can look at some of the Scriptures that were recorded:
Isa. 14:12-15 (KJV) – “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, who didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to Sheol, to the sides of the pit.”
II Pet. 2:4 – “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment…”
Jude 6 – “And the angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”
John Milton, in his classic of English Literature, Paradise Lost, captures the imagery of the great betrayal of God’s Love.
“Author of evil, unknown till thy revolt …
How hast thou disturbed
Heaven’s blessed peace, and unto Nature brought
Misery, uncreated till the crime
Of thy rebellion. How hast thou instilled
Thy malice into thousands, once upright
And faithful, now proved false …
Heaven casts thee out.”
Lucifer, the “light-bearer”, created to bear the Light and Love of God Himself, became Satan, the devil, the Evil One, by his choice to reject the Love of God. What prompted him to do this? Where did he come up with such an idea? We do not know. This is the great puzzle of theodicy. This angel was not tempted by another. So, this was not the derivation of evil and selfishness from another, but the origination of evil. Lucifer chose to spurn the Love of God, to attempt to become “like the Most High God” (a “power-trip”), and in so doing became the origin and personification of all self-oriented evil. He became the opposite of love – selfishness. He had the “I-disease” – “I will be like the Most High God.”
What Lucifer really did was to call into question the very character of God – to question and deny that God’s love was unconditional, unselfish, and totally other-oriented. “God does not love like that.” “God is selfish!” “God is holding something back from us.” And he convinced a host of other heavenly beings to join him in the rejection of God’s Love.
What have we seen in Act Two? God’s loving relationship with heavenly beings is spurned. The love relationship God desired with these angelic “others” was rejected. There was a betrayal. A great divorce took place. But this was an important part of the drama – the necessary opposite was introduced.
“In the beginning God created man … male and female created He them.” (Gen. 1:26, 27)
God did not create man because He was lonely, or because “He needed someone to hang with,” as some have suggested. God was perfect Love in Trinity – with plenty of action in Act One. God is complete in Himself. He doesn’t need anything! If God created man because He needed something to fulfill Himself, then God’s well-being is contingent on man! NEVER!
God created because He IS Triune Love that always seeks “others” to participate in the love-fest of His Trinitarian Love.
Love always involves risk! Many of the first created “others” of the heavenly host had rejected His love. Why would God risk creating another kind of “others” – human beings – also with freedom of choice? It’s risky! But God took the risk of creating mankind by His love and for His love.
It might be said that God’s greatest limitation is that He will not exercise His power to override His Love. He has Self-limited Himself to Love human “others” without overriding their freedom of choice to respond and receive His love freely. God could have made marionettes, but He didn’t, because He wanted a freely chosen love relationship with mankind.
Though God had been spurned by many of the angelic heavenly beings, He did not create mankind “on the rebound,” or as a “replacement” for His “first date” with the angels who “stood Him up.” Even the angelic “others” were originally intended to assist in the ultimate “Divine Love Drama” of God with man! (And they all, good and evil, do just that – just as God intended.)
God’s creation of man was not a “Plan B” substitution. God knew from eternity past that He would create mankind to participate in His Triune Love – to be His Beloved. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in his epistle to the Ephesians (1:3-10): “Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son. …Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living.” (The Message – Eugene Peterson)
God created Adam and Eve to participate in His love in a manner in which no other part of the created order was capable of participating. As sort of a wedding present, God placed original mankind in a perfect garden, and encouraged them to “Enjoy. Eat freely … with a singular exception.”
There is such freedom in true love! Genuine love is not controlling or manipulative. It allows the other person to be what they were intended to be. But in that freedom is the risk that love might be rejected. Mankind also had the freedom of choice to reject God’s Love at “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” So how shall we title Scene 1? The Creation of Man for Love.
Guess who showed up at God’s “place” in the wedding garden?
Yes, Mr. I-centered Satan wanted center stage in the drama. This was no surprise to God, for He had purposed Him to have the “bit-part” of being the necessary opposite so that man would have a real choice between alternatives.
What Satan did there in the idyllic garden was to suggest to man that he should call into question the character of God’s love and goodness. This was, of course, consistent with his own downfall, and with his evil, selfish character as the opposite of God’s love.
“If God is really good… If God really loves you… why won’t He let you partake of ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’? Is there something God doesn’t want you to know? What is God holding back on you? “You need to take things into your own hands, and experience the fullness of this world.” “God just wants to control you.” “You can control your own life.”
The illicit, false lover (with the character of evil and self-orientation) was seducing the first human lovers into an adulterous and idolatrous affair. He was attempt to ruin God’s Love Story. He was lying to the first couple, offering them a pseudo-power to run their own lives instead of participating in God’s Love.
How did they respond? What did they do? How did they exercise their freedom of choice?
Well, Adam and Eve kicked off their honeymoon by sleeping with the enemy! They accepted his selfish lies and jumped into bed with him, unaware that he would control them as “slaves of sin.”
Can you imagine how this must have affected the God’s heart of love? How would you have felt if your love had sneaked out on your honeymoon and had an illicit affair with a stranger?
Scene 2 of Act Three must be entitled “The Fall of Man.”
How would God respond to this betrayal?
Is He an offended deity responding with vengeance? “Somebody’s going to pay!”
Is He an exacting Judge demanding punitive consequence – imposing the death sentence?
Is He a vindictive, “get-even” kind of God who sends people to hell, and wants a payment of blood?
God is a God of LIFE. Death came not as God’s punishment, but when the death angel invaded mankind. “The one having the power of death, that is the devil” (Heb. 2:14) brought death upon the human race.
God is equivalent with heaven. Heaven is the presence of God. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Those who go to hell have chosen to reject God’s life.
God is a God of LOVE who never gives up on man. He is not against us, or “out to get us” and “make us pay.”
Now that doesn’t mean that there are not consequences of our choices, but these should be understood as consequences of our choices, rather than punitive consequences that God imposes. Yes, God’s love can be a “tough love” that holds us accountable for our choices.
We must not conceive of God as a devil who demands his due. Christian theology is sadly in need of a theodicy (an understanding of the origin of evil) that recognizes that death, and hell, and sin, and ungodliness and corruption are derived ek diabolos, “out of the devil.” They are not to be blamed directly on God.
We can hear God’s heart of Love in the garden when He asked Eve, “What is this you have done?” Behind the question one can almost detect the pain of betrayal.
But God respected their choice to reject Him. He allowed mankind to unite with the one who is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). He allowed the originator of sin, the “god of this fallen world” (II Cor. 4:4), “the prince of the power of the air,” to be the spirit-being who “worked in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 2:2)
The drama continued. Cain killed Abel because he derived what he did from the devil “who was a murderer from the beginning.” (Jn. 8:44; I Jn. 3:12) The dramas on the side-stages got more selfish and more sordid. At one point God’s heart was so grieved that He said, “I’m sorry I ever made them.” (Gen. 6:6)
Yet, all the time, because God IS Love, He kept pursuing those He had made for His love. Though many times they promised that they loved God, they were repeatedly unfaithful, time and again.
The prophets came voicing God’s loving heart in their messages: Isaiah 25:6-8 – “the Lord of Hosts will prepare a banquet of rich fare for all the peoples…the Lord will swallow up that veil that shrouds all the peoples, the pall thrown over all the nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove the reproach of his people from the whole earth.”
Isa. 30:18 – “the Lord is waiting to show you His favor; He yearns to have pity on you.”
Isa. 66:18 – “I shall come to gather all nations and races, and they shall come and see My glory.”
Hosea 11:1-4 – “When Israel was a boy, I loved him; I called my son out of Egypt; but the more I called, the further they went from me; … It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who had taken them in my arms; but they did not know…that I led them with bonds of love – that I had lifted them like a little child to My cheek, that I had bent down to feed them
Hosea 14:4 – “I will heal their apostasy; of My own bounty I will love them”
Malachi 1:2 – “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How hast Thou loved us?”
Malachi 3:13,14 – “You have used hard words about Me,” says the Lord, and then you ask, “How have we spoken against Thee?” You have said, “It is useless to serve God; what do we gain from the Lord of Hosts by observing His rules and behaving with deference?” (Last page of Old Testament).
Then there were 400 years of relative silence. It almost appeared that the curtain had come down on the Divine Drama – that the love relationships was not being pursued by God or man.
The first 3 Acts of the Divine Drama of Love have taken us through the old covenant, the Old Testament. But the story doesn’t end there! It can’t! …Or God would cease to be the faithful God of Love … the relentless Lover wanting “others” to participate in His Love.
God IS Love, and He cannot cease to be God. He cannot cease to be Love, or to act in Love. He had intimated to the first couple in the garden that He would come back for them – a Messianic promise (3:15). A promise He renewed throughout the old covenant.
Act Three, Scene 3 could have been extended to include God’s continued action of Love toward mankind. But what God did was so phenomenal that it needed to be expressed as a separate Act in the drama. This Act was so singularly important in the divine drama that most human calculation of time and history is determined by this act that divided time between B.C. and A.D. The Biblical record of the divine drama is likewise divided by this Act between Old Testament and New Testament.
Faithful to His promises the God of Love pursued mankind to restore His beloved human beings into His Trinitarian Love.
Why did it take so long? Why didn’t God act as soon as man was exiled from the Garden of Eden? Mankind needed to see that the devil’s lie about their being able to run their own lives, led only to being “slaves of sin” entrapped in the bondage of religion. Humanity needed to recognize that self-orientation could never lead to any genuine sense of relationship and community. There had to be time for mankind to learn that Law couldn’t work for it made no provision, and that only God’s Grace and Love could allow man to be what he was intended to be, individually and collectively.
So, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman…” (Gal. 4:4). “In His time,” … in the providence of God’s perfect timing, God acted to express His Love in His Son.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16)
NOT … God begrudgingly considered the plight of mankind, and sent a representative…”
NOT … God determined to engage in a power-play and make things right by sending His right-hand man.
NOT … God decided to assert His authority and use His limitless resources to buy man out of his problem.
How could the eternal, loving God of the universe bring His Love down to the fallen humanity that He had created?
Soren Kierkegaard uses this analogy: “Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist – no one dared resist him. BUT, would she love him”
“She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden, and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
So the king clothed himself as a beggar and renounced his throne in order to win her hand.”
The analogy breaks down (as all analogies do), but it attempts to express the love of God for man, and His willingness to become a Man for man.
C.S. Lewis expressed the action of God’s love in the incarnation as “the great invasion of God into enemy-occupied territory.” Since the Fall of man in the garden, “the whole world of mankind was held in the power of the Evil One” (I John 5:19). God sent His Son into this enemy-occupied territory, somewhat incognito, disguised as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Why did He use this low-key approach? Because God wanted to woo His lovers, not just overcome the world in an omnipotent power-play. Acting 180 degrees opposite of the world’s way, He employed the power of weakness, the power of humiliation, the power of Love.
The “silent night,” the singing of the angels, the shepherds watching their flocks around Bethlehem when the baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger – these are the props, the stage settings, the background music for the real drama that was being acted out in history. Christian religion has often faked the world into thinking that the nativity-drama is the real story, and are reduced to singing, “Happy Birthday to Jesus.”
“God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…” (Jn. 3:16). The incarnation of the Son of God as the God-man, the “one mediator between God and man” (I Tim. 2:5), is the singular greatest and miraculous expression of God’s love for mankind.
Since there is no divergence of love or intent within the Trinity, the Son, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:6, 7)
“The Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14). This was not just a role that He played in the drama. Human flesh was not just a robe or a costume that the Son of God assumed to play His part. He became one of us! “God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He walked the mile in our moccasins. He lived out the divine Love-life in human existence.
J.B. Phillips tells the story of “The Visited Planet” where a senior angel is showing a younger angel around the universe, and he points out the planet earth.
“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?”
“That,” replied his senior solemnly, “is the Visited Planet.”
“Visited?” said the little one. “You don’t mean visited by….?”
“Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory.” And at these words he bowed his head reverently.
“But how?” queried the younger one. “Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendours of His creation, went down in Person to that fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?”
“It isn’t for us,” said his senior a little stiffly, “to question His ‘whys’, except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem o be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them – how else do you suppose could He visit them?”
“The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.”
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (Jn. 3:16). The Son of God assumed humanity… became flesh… one of us. It was Gregory of Nazianzus who explained back in the 4th century, “the unassumed is the unhealed.” God’s Love-life was lived out in a man, and it really worked! Mankind can live in the participation of God’s Trinitarian love. It is only thus that man can be man as God intended man to be. The incarnation of Jesus Christ was intended to be prototypical of the restoration of God’s divine Love-life in all of mankind, as the “life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal flesh.” (II Cor. 4:11)
God didn’t act to bash and smash the world of mankind for having sinned. When the Apostle John wrote, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (Jn. 3:16), he went on to write, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.” (Jn. 3:17, 18)
God loved us. God sought us. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” (II Cor. 5:19) Simon Tugwell wrote: “So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about; He is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against him. And he knows that and has taken it into account. He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms. So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us the hope of salvation. Our hope is his determination to save us, and he will not give in.”
John Bunyan described the loving God as “the hound of heaven” who will do everything possible without violating our freedom of choice to draw us to Himself and the Trinitarian fellowship of love.
Scene 1 of Act Four is the story of the incarnation. God’s Love expressed in the God-man, His Son, Jesus Christ.
Oh yes, Mr. I-centered Satan showed up on the stage to tempt the One who had become Man. He was thrice tempted in the wilderness, and later tempted to remove Himself from the Cross. “He was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and tempted in ways beyond what we are, for He was tempted to deny that He was who He was as the God-man. Throughout all of the temptation, and throughout all of His life, Jesus lived in the faith-receptivity of God’s loving activity. He could declare, “The Father abiding in Me does His works.“ (John 14:10) He was thus “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.“ (Phil. 2:8)
God’s Love reaches the “crunch point” when we come to the death of Jesus. Many cannot comprehend the Love of God in the crucifixion. How could a loving God allow His Son to die on a cross? What kind of love is that?
Why did Jesus have to die?
Why couldn’t God have just issued a blanket amnesty plan for mankind?
Why couldn’t God have just broadcast His forgiveness from the heavens?
Why couldn’t God have just said, “Ah, forget it; it wasn’t that big of a deal anyway!”?
BUT it was a big deal! Mankind had been duped and deceived, and stolen away by “the one having the power of death, that is the devil.” (Heb. 2:14) This travesty of misused and abused humanity, seduced into slavery to sin, controlled by Satan, overcome by death, could only be remedied by the powerful Love of God through the death of His Son. Only God could overcome Satan.
“God demonstrated His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) “God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I Jn. 4:10)
The Son knew why He had become the God-man. He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) This was not an attempt on God’s part to “pay off” the devil. Neither should we view the death of Jesus as a price paid to the Father by the Son in order to placate and appease God’s anger and desire to judge mankind. We should not conceive God’s primary role as that of an angry Judge demanding to have His justice satisfied by meting out judicial consequences for man’s sin, and the role of Jesus the Son as that of a legal advocate (a lawyer) who approaches the Judicial bench trying to convince the Judge to exercise grace instead of law … to accept us rather than condemn us. This violates the integral oneness of the Trinity of Love. God is not set against Himself, nor is He set against us, demanding payment for punitive consequences of sin. Rather, He is FOR us, desiring that we should be rescued, delivered, ransomed and redeemed from the enslaved captivity of being controlled by the devil (cf. II Tim. 2:26), which is the consequence of Adam’s choice.
“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (I Jn. 3:8) “Through death, He rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil.” (Heb. 2:14) “Having canceled out the certificate of debt…He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. And when He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them…” (Col. 2:14, 15)
There was a cosmic conflict. As the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4), Satan with his sin character and death power reigned over mankind. Jesus came as a man, willing to submit to death in order to overcome death and show the impotency of Satan’s power … willing to be “made sin” (II Cor. 5:21) that we might have His life and righteousness. “He gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), and “set us free from the yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1)
Jesus knew that the incarnation was for the purpose of crucifixion. “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8) “He loved us, and gave Himself for us.” (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25) Jesus was willing to lovingly sacrifice Himself for the sake of the many … for mankind (cf. Rom. 5:15,18,19). “Greater love has no man, than to lay down His life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Jesus was willing to “taste death for everyone.” (Heb. 2:9) He was willing to be the sacrificial substitute who submitted unto death in order to conquer death, in order to give us His divine Love-life. That was the “price” He was willing to pay. To become “the one for the many”, “delivered up for us all.” (Rom. 8:31)
His cry from the cross was “Tetelestai”, “It is finished!” That was not a cry of defeat, “It’s over! We made a valiant attempt, but we failed!” That was not a cry of resignation, “It’s done. I’m glad that’s over!” NO, it was a declaration of victory. “It’s completed. The battle is won. God’s end objective to overcome Satan, death and sin has been accomplished. God’s restorative love action to draw all men unto Himself has been set in motion. It cannot fail.” The “finished work of Jesus Christ” recognizes that He has done it, and He will do it!
Scene 2 is the story of how God’s love was willing to let the Son die in order to give life to you and me. Isaac Watts captured the idea of God’s love in the crucifixion in his famous hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss.
And pour contempt on all my pride.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
If the drama were to end here after Scene 2 of Act Four, with the death of Jesus, then He would be historically recognized as a martyr, along with Che Gueverra and Martin Luther King. The only impact would have been that a religion would have been established to honor His name and follow His example. There are many who participate in a religion that does not go beyond the Cross.
If the Love-story climaxes at the Cross, then there was a divine “No” that never received the divine “Yes.” But Paul explained that “as many as may be the promises of God, in Jesus Christ they are “Yes.” (II Cor. 1:20) If the Cross is the end of the story, then there was a negative without a positive; a remedial action that remedied the problem without a restorative action that restored man to full relationship with God’s love; a defeat of self-oriented death without a victory of the divine Love-life for the “others” of mankind. The drama would be left dangling with the tragic death of its hero, without a proper conclusion.
Death couldn’t hold the Perfect Man, the sinless Savior, who had submitted to death and been “made sin” on behalf of “others”. He was never connected or united with the one having the “power of death”, and explained that “the ruler of this world… has nothing in me.” (Jn. 14:30) So, in submitting to death on behalf of the “others” of mankind, “it was impossible for Him to be held in death’s power.” (Acts 2:14) The “one having the power of death” (Heb. 2:14) had no right to hold Jesus, and Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4)
Jesus could confidently assert, “I AM the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25), knowing that the resurrection and restoration of God’s love-life in man could be effected only by the dynamic of His own Being in action in mankind. The apostle Paul understood that, desiring only “to know Him (the risen Lord Jesus) and the power of His resurrection…” (Phil. 3:10) The resurrection-life of the living Lord Jesus is the empowerment of the Christian life.
Jesus promised this empowerment of life to His disciples when He said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8) He was referring to the occasion of Pentecost, 50 days after His death when He fulfilled the picture of the Passover Lamb.
On Pentecost men from all nations were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), when the risen and living Lord Jesus came in the form of the Spirit to be the life of God in man and allow mankind to participate in the divine fellowship of Love. “The Lord is the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:17), Paul explained, and “if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, He is none of His” (Rom. 8:9), “but if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.” (Rom. 8:11)
Too often Pentecost is viewed as the occasion when God distributed spiritual gifts, which are often regarded as but “trophies” of spirituality, or “power-toys” for performing Christian ministry, without any integral connection to the living Lord Jesus. The proper place of Pentecost in the divine drama of Love is that is was the chronological and historical “beginning” (Acts 11:15) of the restored experiential love-life relationship of the Triune God with all mankind, when the Spirit of Christ was poured out to dwell in the spirits (cf. Rom. 8:16) of those receptive to God’s love. “The Love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)
If this divine drama ended with Act Four – if that were the end of the story, that Jesus was born, lived, died, rose again and ascended in the first century – then we could justify the development of a religion that was but an historical society to “remember Jesus”, just as there were calls to “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Pearl Harbor!” We could justify a religion that was primarily a theological society to explicate and explain the technical theological implications of Jesus life. If the historical events were the whole of the story, then the objective of Christian religion would be to evangelistically “share the message” via the process of fact-telling, information proclamation, and data transfer.
But the dynamic drama of God’s Love is not just a “message”, a love-note being passed on. The vital Love of God must be experienced in a personal and existential involvement with the Triune God.
Christianity is not a detached abstraction. It is not a system of truth propositions to be assented to and adhered to. Christianity is Christ! Truth is a Person. (Jn. 8:32,B36) The objective of the divine drama is that we might become personally and intimately involved in the action of God’s love. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” to invite us to personally participate in the Love-relationship of the Trinity.
The God of Love does not force His love upon us, for a loving relationship cannot be manipulated or coerced. The Love-life of the Triune God must be personally received in the freedom of a choice that desires to participate in His Love.
God is not interested in any kind of trade or transaction with us – only a personal relationship of love with us. The divine Lover does not want anything we might try to offer Him, whether it be dedication, commitment, obedience, sacrifice, service, moral conformity, etc. He only desires the availability of our hearts and lives, so that He can pour in His Love and the complete sufficiency of His grace, in order to manifest His character in our behavior unto His own glory.
Religion keeps insisting on our “saying” or “doing” something, rather than on the simple availability of our hearts. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah: “Because this people draw near with their words, and honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed.” (Isaiah 29:13, 14)
God is always graciously and patiently willing to reveal to men what does not work, so that they will appreciate His provision of the only thing that will fulfill man’s needs and desires – Himself.
Divine Love-life cannot be earned, merited or purchased. As with physical life which begins with conception and birth, so the metaphor of birth is applied to the reception of the spiritual life of God. Jesus told Nicodemus,
“Truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God … unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:3-7)
This spiritual rebirth whereby the drama of God’s love becomes active again in our spirit is not merely a readjustment of thought processes. It is not a renewal of dedication to be the best we can be. It is not a reorientation of our desires and aspirations. Spiritual regeneration means “to bring into being again spiritually.” The life of the divine Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is restored and brought into being again within the spirit of a receptive individual, so that they participate again in the drama of God’s Love as God intended when He first created mankind.
The birth of Jesus in the incarnation (Act Three, Scene 1) was figuratively prototypical of the divine life of God being reintroduced to the spirit of man. The poet, Angelus Silesius, whose real name was John Scheffler, wrote:
“Though Christ a thousand times,
In Bethlehem be born,
If He’s not born in you,
Your soul is still forlorn.”
God’s life was made available again to man after Jesus took death upon Himself (Act Four, Scene 2), and rose to life out of death (Act Four, Scene 3) in order to give His life to all men. “God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3) “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, …made us alive together with Christ…” (Eph. 2:4, 5), and “He blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.” (Eph. 1:3) God has not withheld anything from us, as was the suggestion of the satanic serpent in the garden (Act Three, Scene 2). “All things belong to us in Christ” (I Cor. 3:21-23); “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” (II Peter 1:3)
We receive God’s life to partake in the very interactions of the Godhead by a freely chosen decision to participate. This choice is called “faith.” “For by grace you are saved through faith, that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8, 9) Faith is not just believing the right doctrines or ideas. Faith is not just trusting or relying on what cannot be proved. Faith is not just an existential leap into the unverifiable. Rather, faith is the determined willingness to exercise our freedom of choice to be receptive and available to God’s presence and activity in our lives, and thus to participate in the divine drama of love. Faith is our receptivity of God’s activity, both initially and continually.
When a receptive heart begins to participate in God’s life, that person is “made safe” from the misuse and abuse of enslavement to dysfunctionality and death in the Evil One. This is called “salvation,” which is not necessarily synonymous with conversion or new birth. Salvation is the comprehensive process whereby we are “made safe” from diabolic dysfunctionality in order to function as God intended by the dynamic of the “saving life of Christ.” “Having been reconciled to God, we shall be saved by His life.” (Rom. 5:10) In salvation we are being “made safe” to participate in the divine drama of love.
Before we proceed to Scene 2, it is important to note that this is the point at which any individual can make the choice of faith to become a participant in the divine drama of love. You do not have to remain a spectator in the theatre of life. “God is not willing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9); and “repentance” is just a “change of mind” that allows for a “change of action” by allowing God’s divine action to become operative in our life. When we make the choice of faith to be receptive to God’s love-life, “the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.” (Rom. 5:10) “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are a child of God” (Rom. 8:16), for “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9). But “in Christ” we become a “new creature” (II Cor. 5:17), a “new man” (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), participating in the Trinitarian drama of love. The Christian life is not just “role-playing”, however, for the very reality of God’s life and love are being played out in, as, and through our lives.
The party’s not complete without you. You have been invited to come and join the divine drama and “dance together as one” with the Trinity.
The drama does not fade out into eternal bliss at this point. The Christian life remains a very action-packed adventure. God does not invite us to a “fantasyland” at Disneyland, or to membership in a “red-carpet club”.
Christians continue to be choosing creatures who are responsible to exercise their freedom of choice to be receptive in faith to God’s action in their lives as the drama continues.
The villain who always wants center-stage and ever seeks to disrupt the drama is still at work, “prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet. 5:8), figuratively firing “flaming arrows” (Eph. 6:16), and attempting to “lure” us back into selfish desires. (James 1:14) Since the Christian has exited his side stage, Satan seeks to thwart our communion with God, and diminish our enjoyment of participation in the divine drama of love.
As the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), the devil tries to cause us to doubt that we have had a spiritual transformation; that we have a new identity in Christ. “So, you think you’ve been made righteous?” he taunts. “Just look at your behavior. Is that righteousness?” He seeks to cause us to doubt God’s love. “What makes you think God loves you? How lovable do you think you are? If God loves you, why are you having so many problems in your life?” And there are times when we do begin to doubt God’s love and forgiveness, unable to forgive ourselves and believe that God could love someone who had done what we have done. Our cry is then, “Lord, help Thou mine unbelief.” (Mk. 9:24) God is faithful to overcome all the assaults of Satan suggesting that we are a fraud, a failure, a damnable sinner, or a worm, and all of his attempts to create anxiety, shame, insecurity, and condemnation. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 12:1)
One of the foremost temptations of the adversary is to try to get us to settle for “religion” instead of the vital dynamic of participation in the divine drama of love. Instead of the internal love relationship bathed in joy and peace, the tempter would substitute an externalized regimen of repetitious order, an obligatory list of rules and regulations, full of “oughts” and “shoulds” of behavioral performance via “how-to formulas”. “You need to read your Bible more, pray more, go to church more, and give more money,” admonishes the devil (dressed in the garb of a preacher). If we accept the bondage and necessity of this “believe-right” and “do-right” religion, then we end up too busy “playing church” and have no time to just BE God’s Beloved. All Christians succumb at times to the spiritual adultery of the outward forms of religion, with its ideologies, moralities, and activities formed in principles, propositions, and programs, We must recognize that religion is the prostitution of a genuine love relationship with God – the “harlot” of Revelation. (cf. Rev. 17,18)
What happens when we take such an excursion onto the side stage of religion? New creatures, made for loving intimacy with the Trinity, begin to feel restless, empty and lonely, unwilling to resign themselves to apathetic familiarity. The shallowness of the “status-quo” of religion causes them to ask, “Is that all there is?” God seems so distant, and the Christian life seems to be like hoeing dry ground in the desert. Many believers have been anesthetized and wounded by the false love of religion, and think that the objective of the Christian life is “survival” in this world, instead of the excitement of a love relationship with God.
In the midst of the inevitable temptations, Christians sometimes accept the Satanic suggestions and solicitations, and manifest sinful behavior expressive of the character of the Evil One. We misrepresent who we are in Christ, and “act out of character.” “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves.” (I John 1:8) Sometimes Christians are surprised that they still have to contend with deep-seated issues of selfish indulgence, with obsessive and addictive patterns of the “flesh”, with strongholds of “besetting sins” that they seem incapable of overcoming. These bunkers of past patterns of action and reaction become the toehold wherein Satan falsely suggests that perhaps our identity in Christ is not secure, and that we are a spiritual schizophrenic who must ever operate in paranoid uncertainty. But the Christian need not listen to such lies, and needs only to honestly say to the divine Lover, “I can’t overcome this; only You can; my desire is to let You do so.” And He is faithful to do so. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins.” (I John 1:9)
It is important for the Christian to realize that God is not oblivious to the testing of our participation in the divine Love-life. God not only allows such testing, but purposes such testing, just as He tested Abraham (Heb. 11:17) and tested Philip. (John 6:6) The trials of life are the circumstances and situations in which the tempter tempts, while at the same time God tests to ascertain whether we will rely on the provision of His Grace sufficiency to live the Christian life in the midst of the difficulties. The words “tempt” and “test” are the same Greek word in the New Testament (peirazo), and the intent of the action is determined only by the character of the spirit who is soliciting the action. Satan tempts us to express his selfish character of sinfulness. God tests us to allow us to be receptive to the expression of His character of godliness. Even the Evil One serves God’s purposes, for in the tempting vs. testing alternative we are given a genuine freedom of choice to submit to God’s loving action. “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) God loves us enough to allow His love-life to be tested, and allow us to be tempted. “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6), for He wants us to be tested “disciples,” convinced that His is the only life and only love that satisfies and fulfills mankind.
Paul explained that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Cor. 10:13) The living Lord Jesus “is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18) “Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world” (I Jn. 4:4), and we are “protected by the power of God.” (I Pet. 1:5) The Christian has confidence and assurance in the fact that “He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6), and “faithful is He who calls us; He will bring it to pass” (I Thess. 5:24). “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us… convinced that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:37-39)
This does not mean, though, that the Christian does not still have the freely chosen responsibility (response-ability) to continue to be receptive in faith to what God wants to do in his life. “As you received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him (by faith).” (Col. 2:6) We are responsible to “present ourselves to the Lord” (Rom. 6:13, 19; 12:1), to “be diligent” (II Pet. 1:10; 3:14), and to “abide in Christ and His love.” (John 15:5, 9)
The love-life that the Christian receives in Jesus Christ is not just a deposit that is only to be fully experienced in heaven someday. It is the fallacy of religion that projects the fulfillment of the love relationship to the future. The life of the risen Lord Jesus is to be lived out in our behavior on earth, exhibiting the love relationship that we have with our Savior.
There is a legitimate sense of the transcendence of God that should inspire our awe and reverence, but transcendence alone leads to deistic concepts of a God “way up in heaven” who is detached and separated from our lives here on earth. It is equally important to recognize the immanence of God, that the Triune God has come to express His love-life in us. “Do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you? (II Cor. 13:5). “This is the mystery…Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:26,27) Having become a “new creature” (II Cor. 5:17), “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
When the love-life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is expressed in us, and as us, and through us, it will not be a dour and dreary depiction as religion tends to formulate it. The divine drama of love is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. We are meant to live in laughter and play and wonder and joy. This joy is not the same as happiness, though, for happiness is based on the haphazard happenstances of life and whether we find them pleasant or unpleasant. Joy, on the other hand, is the appreciation of God’s grace in the midst of any circumstance. The Christian life should be characterized by light-heartedness (not the heaviness of obligation), by spontaneity (not the sameness of routine), by mystery (not sterile information), by discovery (not disinterestedness), by adventure (not monotony), by anticipation (not disillusionment), by freedom (not bondage), by transparency (not cover-up), by intimacy (not enmity), and by ecstasy (not anguish). If this isn’t how you are experiencing the love-life of your Christianity, then perhaps you should step back and consider whether the hypocritical mask of religion has caused you to be cast in a false role.
Although the divine drama of love is not pure improvisation, it does allow for the spontaneity of unique expression. The Christian life is not behaving according to a “script.” Religion always tries to portray the Christian life as role-playing in strict accord with the “script” of the Scripture book and “staying in character” by aligning with the rules of the Law. Those who can best memorize their “parts” are then considered the best Christian actors. What a tragic misrepresentation of the divine love-life. We are not called to be moral over-achievers. In fact, God regards all such productivity as but “a filthy rag” (Isa. 64:6) and “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8) in His sight. God does not expect anything of us, but what He provides for us, enacts in us, and expresses through us. He is the dynamic of His own demands, and the expression of His own expectations. God’s love-sufficiency will be the dynamic for everything in the divine drama of love. “Love fulfills the law.” (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14)
The divine drama of Love is not an exercise in religious civility, propriety, and nicety. The syrupy sentimentality of some religiosity is nothing more than, “Ain’t it nice to be nice to nice people?” “God is Love” (I Jn. 4:8, 16), and the expression of His divine character of love is the objective of the drama. As noted in Act I, God’s agape love is an unconditional and unselfish expression for “others.” The apostle John, known as the “apostle of love” writes these words: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of god and knows God. The one who does no love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. …If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfect in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. …We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” (I John 4:7-19)
Jesus said, “By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). “The fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Gal. 5:22) “By their fruit you will know them” (Matt. 7:16), Jesus explained.
The otherness of divine love finds collective social expression in the church, which is to be the community of love expressing the Triune community of love. The church is not what religion makes of it – a cozy club of like-minded ideologues, a group of spiritual elitists claiming to have what others do not have, or an institution organized to solve all the problems of the world. The church is the “Body of Christ” (I Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18), the collective and corporate expression of Christ’s activity of love. “Christ is the head of the Church…Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:23,25), for the church is the beloved Bride of the living Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. In the loving union of Christ and His church there must be a community of love that expresses the love of God toward all “others.” “The love of Christ controls us” (II Cor. 5:14). It is Tertullian who is credited with explaining that, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” The church of Jesus Christ is to be the collective expression of the social intercourse of God’s love which pictures the love of the Trinity. “Let all be done in love.” (I Cor. 16:14)
It must be reiterated that the love-life expressed in the individual Christian life and in the collective expression of the church of Jesus Christ is the Love that only God can generate and express, for “God IS Love” and all genuine loving will be the active expression of His own Being. Many believers falsely think that they have to “live like Jesus” and “love like Jesus” by following His example. It is impossible to be “like Christ” by humanistically trying to generate Christian behavior. The living Lord Jesus wants to express His own divine character of love in our lives. The Christian life is not an imitation of Jesus, but rather a “manifestation of the life of Jesus in our mortal bodies.” (II Cor. 4:10, 11) No one can live the Christian life apart from dynamic grace of God. By faith, we are receptive to derive and draw all from Him. Paul prayed, “that He (God) would grant you, according to the riches of His glory to be strengthen with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God… by Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works with us…” (Eph. 3:16-20)
Just as the divine drama of love crossed the unknown point from the pre-historical to the historical between Acts Two and Three, the fulfillment of the divine drama now crosses that moving point on the time-line between the “already” and the “not yet.” We are “complete in Christ” (Col. 2:10), and have already been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3), but there is still a “longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19)
Participants in the divine love-life “look forward to the joy set before them,” convinced that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18), the “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (II Cor. 4:17) Though we have “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), there remains an expectation of the perfected eternality of the divine love-fest. For those Christians who are still physically alive on the earth and already participating in the Love-life of the Trinity, there is still the anticipation of a future continuity and perpetuity of the divine drama of love.
This is not a desire for something more than Jesus. It is an innate desire for something more than this physical world offers and inflicts. The earthly world with its physical humanity is characterized by discontent. The created order longs to be set free. (Rom. 8:19-25) C.S. Lewis posited the “argument of desire,” which briefly stated is: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, then the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Peter Kreeft added this observation: “If life on earth is not a road to heaven, then it is a treadmill, a merry-go-round minus the merry.”
The Hebrew philosopher correctly indicated that everything in the world is “vanity,” but God “has set eternity in our hearts.” (Eccl. 3:11) This is not to say that what one finds in their heart is necessarily heaven, but that there is a heavenly longing in the heart of man that is unsatisfiable by anything on earth. Kreeft explained that “Heaven is greater than our heart, but can only be discovered by the heart.”
Some would charge that the hope of heaven is but a wishful thinking of escapism. Granted, there is an escapist mentality among those Christians who fail to realize all that already have in Jesus Christ, and whose sole focus is on a futuristic desire to be snatched away in a rapture and delivered from any tribulation. But the desire and expectation of heaven is not necessarily escapist. Kreeft noted, “Concern for heaven is as escapist as looking through the windshield rather than in the rearview mirror as you are locked in a speeding car lurching over foggy, rocky terrain with no road maps.” It is important to look in the direction you are going! Those who would charge heavenly hope as being escapist are inevitably those who have no hope!
Hope is not a wishful thinking or yearning for what might possibly be true (or possibly not true). Hope is the confident expectation of experiencing all that God has for us. The basis for this confidence is that “Christ Jesus is our hope.” (I Tim. 1:1) We have been “born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (I Pet. 1:3) Having been invited and drawn into the participation of God’s love relationship, God’s eternality and God’s immortality (I Tim 6:16) allows the extension, continuum and perpetuity of this participation in God’s Trinitarian Love.
There will come a time, when as C.S. Lewis wrote, “The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.” We will cross the threshold out of physical life, and continue our walk in the eternal spiritual life of God’s love. As Jesus said to Martha on the occasion of the death of her brother, Lazarus, “I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25, 26)
How marvelous that new context of life will be. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it ever entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him.” (I Cor. 2:9) All the images that we have of heaven are inadequate, even the Biblical images of golden streets, mansions, and crowns. It will be the place where the deepest longings of our heart are satisfied, and will be devoid of all disappointments and hindrances. Go ahead, dream of perfection. You will not be able to out dream God!
Some people worry that heaven will be boring. That is because modern man has so little imagination. Peter Kreeft comments, “The popular head picture of heaven is one of changeless perfection, sometimes in imagery of harps, halos, and clouds, sometimes in imageless concepts of abstract spirituality. That may be heaven for angels, but it’s more like hell for humans.” In another book, he comments that images of “fluffy clouds, sexless cherubs, harps and metal halos, presided over by a stuffy divine Chairman of the Bored are a joke.” Needless to say, heaven is not the monotony of “sitting on a cloud and playing a harp” forever. We will “reign with Christ” (II Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6) in the eternal kingdom of God where God will be “all in all.” (I Cor. 15:28)
Perhaps the best image that we might employ of heaven is that of a “wedding banquet.” It is the final and forever celebration of the divine love-life. A place of intimacy and beauty. The place where the “sacred romance” is consummated. And this imagery need not lead us into any additional considerations of whether there is sexuality in heaven!
This divine drama of love is a drama with a happy ending! But in another sense, there is no ending, for we participate in the Joy of the Love of the Lord forever.
Okay, I know, “Inquiring minds want to know.” What about hell?
You might think that this is not part of God’s love drama – that this is part of some dualistic anti-drama. Not so. Everything, and everyone, is part of God’s drama.
Hell is indeed a part of the divine drama of love, for God has loved us enough to let us have the consequences of our choices. That is the freedom that God’s love extends.
The popularized view of God as a cosmic Judge that punitively sentences people to perdition needs to be readjusted with the statement, “God is Love.” God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Hell is the choice of those who refuse to believe God’s love. God wants everyone at His eternal love-party, participating in His eternal community of love. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (II Pet. 3:9) To refuse God’s life, love and forgiveness – that is a self-imposed hell!
Peter Kreeft explained that heaven is filled with forgiven sinners; likewise, hell is also filled with forgiven sinners, for Jesus died to forgive the sins of all men. Those in heaven are those who have accepted God’s love and forgiveness, and are participating in the love party. Those in hell are those who rejected God’s love and forgiveness, and are having a dreary pity-party, bemoaning their problem of having forever rejected God’s love. “Hell is truth known too late,” writes Kreeft. Hell is when and where you know there’s a party going on, that you were invited, and that you permanently declined. God is there, for God is everywhere – omnipresent. The Psalmist recognized, “If I make my bed in hell, You are there.” (Ps. 139:8) Hell is observing the joy of the eternal love-fest, and knowing that you declined His heavenly presence by unbelief.
Who would want to be an off-stage observer of the Divine Drama of Love forever?
Come on in! The party’s not complete without you! Take your place as a loving participant in the Divine Drama of Love.
©2002 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.
DIVINE DRAMA OF LOVE, THE [James A. Fowler] 1