Merry Christmas!! 17th and final post in this series. Let’s dive into what I really wanted to say with all this. Put your thinking cap on!
Past is Prologue
I recently watched The Circle a second time, and one of the most iconic lines resounded in me quite fundamentally. It comes early in the film while Emma Watson’s character is interviewing at the titular megacorp. Her interviewer asks her biggest fear and she replies “unfulfilled potential”. The interviewer raises his eyebrows at such a surprisingly impactful and perfect answer. I don’t find the answer all that deep, but it is 100% an answer that has sat unspoken in the DNA of humanity for thousands of years. I want to unmask this, and I think the best way is to use the very device this movie espouses the question of: total transparency.
To do that I need to back up; way up. All the way to Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning…” it reads, and the word “beginning” is really fascinating. The word is רֵאשִׁית, re’shiyt, and it is a singular plural. It comes from ראש, ro’sh, which means “head”, as in the literal head of the body or “head of the family” or “head of state”; it denotes primacy, but more importantly essentiality. The derivative re’shiyt literally means “heads”, but the construction of the idea is around effort. It actually means “the results of the combined work of many heads”. The usage in Genesis shows that the multiplicity of Elohim — Father, Spirit, and Logos — had accomplished something great. The word is also used when we talk about tithe — re’shiyt fruits — where the idea is really explained. God isn’t asking for the best tenth, He is saying that if you are to show that all of what you have is His you can demonstrate by giving up the best of it. So re’shiyt is not the “first” or “beginning” as much as the representative of the whole. Your head isn’t the beginning of your body, but the poster child for it (even when it’s your body you’re known by, Ms. Kardashian).
All That Glitters
All of that isn’t as interesting as the origin of it; ro’sh has a root, but no one actually knows what it is. Every noun in Hebrew, every one, originates in a verb. This is because it is a language of imagery, of worship, of emotion. But there is no known verb at the root of ro’sh. The best evidence points to either רוש, rush, or ירש, yarash. The former, rush, means “to be poor” or “to be disenfranchised”, but not in the sense of stature but that of freedom: it denotes being bound in some way. The latter, yarash, means exactly the opposite: “to be enfranchised” or “to be empowered” or “to be endowed”, but the word seems to actually just be the opposite of rush rather than having its own meaning, which seems to make rush the root idea here. There is great question if rush is the root of ro’sh, but one can certainly make a case for it.
If rush is making a person poor, making a person bound, then there could be a few nouns derived: the party doing the disenfranchising, the valued thing being disenfranchised of, the party who becomes bound, the state of binding or poverty, or the act of making bound. Of these the noun for primacy could be the “robbing” party or the thing taken. But you wouldn’t say your head has the power to make you poor, that’s more something your mind does. The more likely candidate in my mind is that ro’sh came from the thing taken, the thing valued, and I think that precisely because of the tithing aspect of re’shiyt I discussed above. But that means the beginning is actually the summation of things valued, and specifically the summation of valuable things that have been given up. Can you grok the crushing weight of that? It means that Genesis 1:1 is a picture of God giving up His most precious treasure, the universe and all Creation, as the result of His own effort, His own binding of Himself. He made Himself poorer, less free, by Fathering all of this and He sees it as His emblem of perfection.
The End of the Beginning
The Lord Loves us, Loves YOU. Even though you did that thing or you do that stuff. Even though you are mad at Him, indifferent toward Him, or claim not to believe in Him. Even if you are disconnected from Him or outright rejecting Him. Even if you hate Him or never want to speak to Him again. Even if you are broken, angry, unkind, or impatient. The Lord, God of the impossible, Commander of the armies of Heaven, Creator of all the universe, Loves you. It is no small matter, and it is no small Love. He agape Loves you. Unbounded, unrestricted, unending, unconditional, and uncontrolled. He is devoted to you, to me, to all of us, regardless what we are going through. And despite the fact that He is lowering Himself by doing so He doesn’t see it that way. He calls us His children, His saints, His chosen and precious portion.
If you need to anthropomorphize Him, to make Him human so you can relate better, then this is the man He is: one who never turns His focus from you, never makes it about Him, and is always — in every single moment — cheering you on, Loving you, and supporting you. Not from afar but right inside every heartbeat and every breath. He Loves you intensely, wholly, every moment. Not because of who you will be or who you can be, but because you are. How much like a dad is that? Would any of you parents not view your children as a willful act of creation that bound you and yet also represents the most precious in you? You are what He considers the fulfillment of His own potential. You are what He is good for, what He lives for. What He thrives on.
The 15 qualities of Love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 draw a picture of a concept we can’t fathom, an image of Love that seems incomprehensible. To be sure, we live today in a world that has so corrupted and misunderstood Love that we believe it is uncontrollable, transient, and common. We abandon relationships because “I just don’t love you anymore”, refusing to recognize that Love is a willful decision and that what you are actually saying is that you just don’t like having to be accountable to someone, having to comunicate with someone. We chase the little pitter-patter of lustful excitement in a new partner as if that wasn’t simply adrenaline and cortisone. Love isn’t about oxytocin, Love isn’t about psychology, Love isn’t about 23 factors of compatibility.
In human history there have been thousands of words for Love, each with a slightly different image, a slightly different refinement of definition. And yet, for all those words — all valid, and all worth knowing — and the millions of words spent explaining them we consistently show how very little we know about it. We so readily waste its potential that we will walk away from it if it starts to look like work. And why? To chase our own potential. Why did satan fall? He believed his potential was going unfilfilled. Why did Eve eat the fruit? She was convinced — she was given faith — that her potential was not being reached. Why did king Saul fall to ruin? Because he believed he had so much more in him. Why did the pharisees execute Jesus? Because He threatened their potential. Why do we suffer from FOMO? Why do we like superhero stories? Why are we so dissatisfied with our jobs? Why are we so unhappy? Because we fear we are wasting our potential.
As I ponder my 40th birthday in a couple weeks I see clearly my own panic over the windows of opportunity that are closing which I may never peer through. I wanted to be great, to be special, to be known, to be celebrated. Doesn’t every little boy and girl want to be a hero? Those dreams don’t go away, and they gnaw at us every time we aren’t held up as great by our peers. They make us frustrated by the things that block them, the people who refuse to recognize our greatness. We just want to be left alone to make our greatness and we’ll let you know when you’re needed to help out worshipping us. We want to be served, celebrated, catered to. Any who refuse that are branded enemies and cut from the dream. This is who we behave like: the spoiled brats throwing a tantrum in the grocery store.
But the thing I realized, the thing I wanted to tell you when I started this series, is that it isn’t who we are. We are all heroes. We are great to God, special to Him, celebrated by Him, and He knows our true name. The One, the Name above all names, the Provider of Life, and Lord of All is excited by and dedicated to you. The one whose praises are sung by every stone and every crashing wave sings your praises. If ever approval meant something, if ever a single fan could satiate all desire for fame it is this one: you are God’s hero. How vastly we short-change Him that this truth doesn’t sink in! Whatever potential we have is completely fulfilled in that simple truth: God is your number one fan and will hail your name through all time.
Maybe I have not convinced you, not increased your faith, but I have exhuberant hope that He will. I trust the Spirit to move in you, to show you the parts of this truth you’ve been blind to. If you don’t see Him, don’t feel Him, it doesn’t mean that He is — or that you are — doing something wrong. There is so much chatter in this world, emotional and physical, and our physical senses are so much stronger, so much more developed, so much more real to us than our spiritual ones. Touch is more vibrant than justice, taste more real than truth. Our spiritual senses, those things we percieve not by physical sensors but by spiritual ones, are so muted, and the physical senses so cranked up, that we see our physical body, our sarx, as our ro’sh.
The thing about the radical transparency in The Circle, being on video to the world at all times, is that it furthers the idea that what we see here defines us. But that’s not true; what you do and how you appear is not who you are. Who you are is in how you process the physical — sight, taste, smell, touch, sound — as well as the spiritual — truth, justice, purity, integrity, Love — and the mental — reason, motivation, skill, cleverness, time. All of these are simply inputs, sensors that give you information about the world, but it is how these are processed, how they are prioritized and balanced, that defines you, even if your actions don’t align to those ideals.
Catch this: your computer is not its monitor or its mouse or its power plug or its processor. Your computer is defined by the way you use it, the way it handles your input. You car is not the gas pedal or the tires or the gas tank, but the way it responds to your direction. We are no different; it is not the things that comprise our shell that God sees, but the way in which we respond to His call, His input, His transmission.
Tune in next time
There is a phenomena in radio receivers where the closer you are to locking a signal the louder the noise is; this is called the noisy valley. When you seek God and can’t find Him you are in this noisy valley. He is always talking to us, always transmitting, but we so easily drift off of His station, our receivers overridden by the white noise of life. It isn’t your failing that you drift; increasing the noisy valley’s power is the little dragon’s sole purpose in our lives. It is your anguish that holds you there, your panic that the station is lost or doesn’t exist anymore. It is fear that the noise is all there is that keeps us from tuning further, from breaking through to the pure, clean signal of Our Father’s Love. It is involuntary, but not without hope.
I have spent close to 16,000 words giving you the qualities of God that show His ecstatic dedication to us. That isn’t a God who will just sit and watch you stuck in the valley, powerless to help you catch His signal. This isn’t a God who remains silent so you can take your test, or whatever absurd nonsense analogy some pastor told you. I know that valley is noisy, I know it’s hard to trust that there is better on the other side. But I also know the 23rd Psalm; I know that though I walk through the valley I shall fear no evil for He is with me, He is עמדי, immad. He is Immanuel, God with us. The root of both is עם, im, and it means “with” in a variety of ways, but hear me when I say all of them denote being a part of your whole — this isn’t simple possession, but union.
He is not next to you or inside you, but part of you. You are never more than one step, one decision, away from His peace, His comfort. He has spent your entire life trying to convince you of this simple fact: He Loves you. He says it in a lot of ways, in simplicity and complexity, but that’s it: I. Love. You. That is the faith we speak of, this grand mystery that wayward and confused men use to control congregations of lost and confused souls. The faith we talk of, the faith Christ espoused, is simply being convinced, by God, that He Loves you. So when we say we are low on faith, that we’re having a crisis of faith, we are simply saying we’ve become unconvinced He Loves us. Can you get that? Do you get the implications, the power of it? That gives you something tangible to attack to get out of that valley; there’s your lifeline. There’s the protection king David spoke of, the comfort the apostle Paul wrote about. Simple, easy, attainable.
That’s a wrap
1 Corinthians 13 wraps up with one of the most quoted verses ever, verse 13: “Three things will last forever: faith, hope, and Love; but the greatest of these is Love.” The important words, which you’ll know if you’ve read this series, are critical: “Three things menei: pistis, elpis, and agape; but the greatest of these is agape.” In case you’ve forgotten, meno means “to wait” as in “to wait in battle formation in preparation for battle”. So we’re not talking about passive things that exist forever, but rather helpful things that assist us in battle forever.
Those things are pistis, the conviction we hold that God Loves us which holds us calm in all things, elpis, the expectant confidence that His Love conquers every situation that lights our path, and agape, the willful Love of God to us and us to God. That Love is greater because it encompasses the other two, sits behind and through them. All the words, all the sermons, all the studying and in the end the entire thing is just about Love; patient, helpful, defending, rejoicing Love. Love that makes us seek His call. Love that pulls us from that noisy valley. Love that calls us on the other side. Love that is God that is Love.
11 years ago when He spoke into my life and saved me from death I was a man who hated myself for my insufficiency, my failures, my wasted potential. The thing I knew after, the thing I didn’t know how to speak until recently, was that in the face of His Love, His agape, my hatred was irrelevant. For the God of all Creation to reach through the dark of night to save the life of an invisible man who meant nothing to no one was a crushing revelation that crippled my ability to hate myself. How can you possibly argue with the Father of everything and author of every moment when He says that not only does He see you and know you, but that He holds you more precious than anything in the universe? Even I am not that pig-headed. Neither are you. For over 4,000 nights since that one I’ve repeated a mantra I didn’t even realize I said. “What is your anger in the face of His Love? What does your self-hatred matter when He values you above the angels? What are my mistakes and sins to the Lion of Judah who calls me brother?” This holds me to Him, this yields my life to Him, this pushes me to surpass the potential I thought I wasn’t fulfilling.
I’m not saying that’s what you should do if you’re stuck in the valley; maybe self-hatred was never your problem. But what is it you hold in the way of being convinced? What is it that His Love towers over that could change your life? What keeps you from believing He Loves you?
Father, I know I’ve been inconsistent in my posts, in my tone, in my language, but I have perfect faith and eternal hope that You will speak life into the lives of my readers. I ask Your blessing on every heart in this world, and I ask peace and receptivity to those that break in wont of You. In the name of Your Logos, Your Anointed Christ, and my Brother, my King, and my Savior, Jesus, I pray. Amen.