In a letter written to his dear friend, Eberhard Berthge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from his Nazi prison cell, says: God is the beyond in the midst of our lives. (Letters and Papers from Prison. April 30, 1944)
The beyond in the midst of our lives is an intriguing way to conceive of the Incarnate One – the One we confess to be
- Fully God, and truly human
- Ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and with us always, even to the end of the age
This One is the beyond – truly God – and in the midst of our lives – truly present.
I was reminded of this Bonhoeffer saying as I considered Daniel, and the vision recorded in chapter 7, which gives witness to the Ancient One, the One we would call “God the Father”, as Jesus did, and to the One who comes on the clouds of heaven receiving, from the Ancient One,
- Everlasting dominion
- And glory
- And kingship
The human one (or Son of Man as it was translated in older versions of the Bible).
Today is the last Sunday of the Church year. It is the feast of Christ the King. And, as always, when we come to consider the nature of God revealed in any way, including as our Sovereign, our Lord, our King, we’re confronted with the reality that God is always revealed under a contrary form. In other words, God never shows up the way any rational human being would expect. And this is nowhere more obvious than in the passion, suffering and death of the Human One, Jesus.
Daniel envisions the coronation of this Son of Humanity as occurring before the throne of the Ancient One with all peoples, nations and languages coming to serve him. And, quite frankly, that’s a vision that makes sense. That’s what I’d expect to see, if I envisioned the coronation of an incarnate God as king over all peoples, nations and languages. I’d expect to see all peoples, nations and languages coming to serve him. It’s majestic. It’s flashy. There are ten thousand times ten thousand peoples attending him.
This is a vision not unlike one from nearly two hundred years later, recorded by John of Patmos in the Revelation, Chapter 1. The Alpha and Omega, the Almighty One is there with a kingdom of priests serving God his Father, coming with the clouds. So it is to be. Amen.
Only, I skipped a part, didn’t I?
Yes, like in Daniel, he is coming with the clouds, witnessed by every eye, only, John adds that included in this group are “even those who pierced him.” This Christ, this Lord, this faithful witness, this firstborn from the dead is the Almighty One, the ruler over all the kings of the earth. But he is also God under a very contrary form – the beyond in the midst of our lives. For, you see, he is a “faithful witness” – literally a “faithful martyr”, in the Greek. But how can a God be a martyr? How can a creator die at the hands of his creatures? It makes no sense! And yet, there it is: God under a contrary form. He is returning as the pierced One, the crucified one, apparently still bearing the wounds of his suffering, coming on the clouds. He is returning as the One who was dead, but is now the firstborn of the dead, alive again, alive forever, and in him, we too are made alive forever…
So one might think, having this sort of God as their sovereign, one might more than think, one might expect even, that life would be easy as a subject of such a sovereign one. We might expect, as those who are subject to this Christ the King, as those who are under the protection of this Sovereign One, we might expect to be protected from threats, from dangers, from hardships, from disasters, from anything that is dark and deadly, but that’s never been the nature of God’s relationship to the world, to humanity in general, or to God’s people specifically. God has not been, nor do I believe God to be now, a puppet master pulling all the strings. Instead, God is the beyond in the midst of our lives. And so the prophets say things like:
- You will pass through the fires, but will not be burned
- You will pass through the waters, but they will not overwhelm you
Never does it say: the fires will never come, and the waters will never rage. In fact, the psalmist, in Psalm 93, confesses God’s majesty:
- The Lord is King, robed in majesty and armed with strength
- The Lord has made the world so sure that it cannot be moved
But still, the psalmist is honest about the realities of life:
- The waters have lifted up their voice;
- The waters have lifted up their pounding waves
Yet, in spite of the reality that life includes having to face such difficulties, the psalmist is also very quick to confess that
- The Lord is mightier than the sound of many waters and mightier than the breakers of the sea
- And that the Lord’s testimonies are very sure…
All of this, however, begs the question of the nature of God’s sovereignty. If God is not the cosmic puppet master pulling the strings, then who (or what?) is this God?
In Revelation chapter 1, the Lord God is revealed as the Alpha and the Omega – Alpha being the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega being the last. In other words, the Lord God is the beginning, the source of all being, and the Lord God is also the ending, the One in whom all things find their fullness, their completion. And most of us are used to seeing those Greek letters, alpha and omega, in fact, they’re etched on the glass at the back of the sanctuary, each with a cross interposed on them.
Those letters are on the front of today’s bulletin. But you’ll also find three Hebrew letters there that I’m willing to bet the vast majority of you have never seen. These are the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet ( – Aleph, Mem, and Tav from right to left), and interestingly, they are the root consonants of the Hebrew word for “truth” – “Amath” in Hebrew – a word that some Hebrew sects through the ages have used as a way to name God. So God is not just the beginning and the end, but God is also the middle, which really shouldn’t seem too far fetched for us. I mean, we confess as God’s people not just that God was – that God’s the Alpha, the beginning – and not just that God is to come – that God’s the Omega, the end – but that God is and was and is to come.
God is! Which is really at the heart of the incarnation? Yes, God was, and yes, God is to come, but, even now, God is in the midst of our lives.
- God is in the midst of whatever terrorizes us!
- God is in the midst of our daily struggles!
- God is in the midst of our victories!
- God is in the midst of our joys!
- God is in the midst of our thanksgivings!
- God is in the midst of our sorrows!
- God is in the midst of all of human life,
and so, what do we have to fear?
God in Christ, who is our King, is the beyond in the midst of our lives.