Posted by: Billy Marsh | April 19, 2008

Heaven On Earth: While We Wait (Part I)

Waiting. It’s unavoidable in this life so you mine as well learn how to do it well. That’s the topic of chapter 5, “While We Wait,” in Stephen J. Nichols’ book called, Heaven On Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Living in Between. For those of us who are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13),” how do we endure the troubles and weariness of this life until he comes? What I have found to be despairingly true is that when you know something is coming, it makes the interval period of waiting feel all that much more longer. For example, the whole semester may fly by, but the last few weeks move along as slow as molasses. Or, for me, when I purchase something that is coming in the mail and they give me a proposed “arrival date,” it seems like that package will never get here. Sometimes waiting is equivalent to trying to watch the water boil. Nichols adds, “Living in between the promise of something and the realization of that promise is one of the hardest things for us to do (75-76).”

As in the case of every chapter in this book, Nichols relies upon particular sermons from Edwards’s corpus to expose Edwards’s sojourner worldview. In chapter 5, Nichols looks at two different sermons to draw out the manner in which we are able to wait for our “blessed hope” to arrive. The first is one based upon Job 19:25 and his declaration, “For I know that my Redeemer lives.” For Edwards, knowledge of Christian doctrine combined with a sure faith is what enables the believer to wait for the Lord’s return without crumbling under the hardships of life.

Edwards emphasizes that Job declares,”For I know my Redeemer lives.” This fact wasn’t just some blind faith that Job was reaching for in his time of desparation. Rather, he took great comfort in this unapologetic truth and rejoiced in its reality. Nichols writes:

This little bit of knowledge means everything to Job. This knowledge has everything to do with his time of waiting. This little bit of knowledge becomes all the more meaningful when we consider the type of redeemer Christ is (78).

The interesting point Nichols says that Edwards makes in encouraging his people through hardships as they await eternal life and meeting Christ is that the delight in knowing that one’s Redeemer lives isn’t just taking consolation in the fact that Jesus is per se, “faithful” or “all-sufficent;” instead, Nichols points out that Edwards makes the slight nuance that,

Christ is all these things, but is also our Savior. It’s not simply “that we know that Christ is a divine and glorious person, but that he, with all his glories, is ours.” We not only know that he lives, “but that he lives for us; that he is risen from the dead and ascended into heaven in our name, and as our forerunner; that he has loved us and died for us.” We’re not watching from a distance. We are participants. He’s not a Savior for others; he’s a Savior for us. We know him personally and intimately. Job doesn’t say a Redeemer, or even the Redeemer. In his time of trial, it meant everything for him to say, “my Redeemer (79).”

Edwards is right in bringing home the truth that Christ is a personal Savior. However, we must guard ourselves from over-humanizing Jesus when we think of him so personally. Yes, he is our personal Redeemer, but the title “Redeemer” is so theologically loaded that no brief little blog could do it justice. Still, we must be sober-minded with regard to Jesus’ identity and mission. Paul’s words to Titus above are a perfect way in which we can summarize the manner in which we can find a good balance between the fact that Christ is a personal Savior, but also is our God, of whom we should fear and have holy reverence. The Apostle Paul writes that he is “our blessed hope” as well as “our God and Savior.” But, the rest of the verse is just as amazing and further strengthens our faith as we eagerly await his return: “. . . who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).”

This is an incredible chapter in Nichols’ book. The second half deals with Christian peace and is worthy of a full post on its own. So I will finish chapter five with a Part II.

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