Monday, July 28, 2008

Shalom and Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder and Shalom (technical difficulties with the player--sorry)

I’m big fan of Stevie’s early music (especially), but I also still appreciate much of his post-seventies material. He is a great songwriter and has a lot of “spiritual” music in his catalogue. He speaks forcefully about issues of life and love; and he seems like he genuinely believes in the essential “goodness” of Man and the Creation in which we live. He has a knack for being able to communicate the harsh realities of life in a way that is convicting without being self-righteous. He’s one of the truly great song writers of all-time. Of course, he can also simply write a terrific hook and create a great sappy love song, e.g. “You are the Sunshine of My Life”.

One of my favorite songs of his just recently rolled around on my music player: Saturn. I don’t know how many of you have ever heard this song before, but in my fascination with the Biblical concept of Shalom, I found myself drawn to this song lyrically as well as musically. Now I don’t know if Stevie ever claimed to be a Christian and I don’t necessarily believe that he had anything but “peace” (as we know it in our natural expression as a cessation of conflict) in mind when he wrote this song. But I believe that the “idea” of Shalom is resident within all human beings as part of the make-up of our humanity.

When God created Man, He created him as His image-bearer. That is, Adam was created in such a way that he communicated God to the created order by his very being, by who he was. If other sentient beings were to have known Adam before The Fall, they would have “seen” or known God because in his “image-bearing”, Adam effectively (though not perfectly, as underscored by The Fall) represented God to others. And of course, pre-Fall both Adam and Eve communicated God both to each other and to His creation. This is how Jesus could say to Phillip, “…if you have seen Me, then you have seen the Father”; not because Jesus was God incarnate (though He most certainly was), but because Jesus, as the second Adam, was the only “true” Man; Jesus was the first authentic human being. Even Adam, though created “good”, was still incomplete; he was still lacking perfection and needed to be joined to Christ to find his “true” humanity. No person is “complete” or fully human as God intended apart from Christ. And in His humanity, Jesus bore the image of God such that when people saw Him in His humanity (not necessarily in His miraculous works as God), people were seeing the Father. This was/is our calling as human beings, as God’s “image-bearers”.

We’re still God’s “image-bearers” (our created nature doesn’t “go away”), but in our “falleness” we don’t reflect God anymore, but ourselves. When people see us (or themselves), they don’t see God—they see a man! This is one of the consequences of The Fall. Instead of our “eyes being opened”, as the serpent suggested, Man became “blind” and no longer understands that his/her “meaning” and purpose in life is in communion with God. We no longer “testify” of God in our being because we now only see the world and all things in it (and even God Himself) in relation to us. We are the measure of all things and we view everything else in relation to how it affects us. When we look at each other, we only see Man, not God.

In Christ, however, those who are joined to Him are being transformed into His likeness so that by the indwelling Spirit we are progressively becoming proper “image-bearers” once again. In the true “Man” we are becoming truly “human” once again; we are becoming authentically human! And because of the work of the Spirit, we are able to see reality as it really is. We’ve had our eyes re-opened, so-to-speak, and understand that our meaning and purpose, yes…and our very LIFE is determined by God and our relationship with Him in Christ. We are able now to recognize not only the plight of humanity, but also the distress of the created order. We see things as they really are and therefore recognize Shalom for what it really is!

Anyway, I say all of that to say that Man, in his created nature as “image-bearer”, still understands the idea of Shalom. We understand that things aren’t “the way they are supposed to be”. We fight wars, but deep down we know that war is not ideal. Deep down we wish that the people of the world could just get along and live in “peace” with one another. We wish the earth would freely bring forth it’s abundance for all to share. We sometimes even try to protect people and the earth itself from being “wronged” in some way. We wish that everyone had what they needed—as long as they don’t take what’s mine! And that’s the problem: in our “falleness”, our idea of Shalom is slanted towards ourselves—always! We know what’s “right”, but we define this only in relation to ourselves. In our estrangement from God, ourselves, one another and the created order, our idea of Shalom is always slanted in our own direction, towards our own self-serving needs. Since we are not authentically human apart from being “in Christ”, we never give the proper dignity to our fellow Man or to the earth of which we’re a part. The idea of Shalom is present in all of us, though it takes the mind of Christ to understand and implement it properly.

I don’t necessarily think Stevie was thinking about Biblical Shalom when he wrote this song, but he certainly senses that the world “is not the way it’s supposed to be”. His “shalom” is found on Saturn. Is this his euphemism for “Heaven”? I don’t know. But his words ring true as he assesses society. He wishes for things to be right, but he sees that our only resource seems to be war. Obviously he is a product of his time and is probably speaking of a particular moment in history; and he’s focused on the machinations of government and religion and their complicity in sponsoring wars. But he rightly criticizes us for being so quick to use force to “make right” (to make shalom?). This song is a criticism first and foremost of war in general, though his imagery of “gun toting, Bible believing” proponents of war naturally makes us instantly think of America (for right or be the judge).

When I hear this song, I think (with the mind of the "New Creation") of a man singing about the helplessness of a fallen race of people (Man) who have forgotten who they were made to be. The human race hides from God behind many faces, including religion and wars, because we don’t want to give up our freedom to choose for ourselves what is “right”. The problem is that Man’s choices are always going to be wrong because they will always be self-serving. Man is blind to the dignity of his neighbor and the world in which he lives. Man will always do what ever it takes to implement her own idea of Shalom—and that idea will always be centered in her! Apart from Christ, Man really doesn’t (and can’t) love his neighbor as himself and can’t begin to implement the principle of Shalom. The answer for Man is Jesus Christ.

Of course, maybe I’m just blowing smoke. Maybe I’m using everything I just said simply as an excuse to put this song (and others) up here; or maybe I’m using the song as an excuse to rant about “authentic humanity” and Shalom. Either way, if I ever write two pages worth of justification for having the likes of “Highway to Hell” or “Cat Scratch Fever”, etc. on my blog playlist, even though I might happen to like these songs :-), then somebody needs to talk to me…please!

But “Saturn” does have some pretty righteous bass grooves goin’ on (along with some of the Bonus Stevie I’ve uploaded for your enjoyment!)--and that makes it worth playing right there...doesn't it?


Packing my bags…going away
To a Place where the air is clean
On Saturn—there’s no sense to sit and watch people die
We don’t fight our wars the way you do
We put back all the things we use
On Saturn—there’s no sense to keep on doing such crimes

There’s no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can’t be bought or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold

I’m…going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
On Saturn—people live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don’t need cars 'cause we’ve learned to fly
On Saturn—just to live to us is our natural high

We have come here many times before
To find your strategy to peace is war
Killing helpless men, women and children
That don’t even know what they’re dying for

We can’t trust you when you take a stand
With a gun and Bible in your hand
And the cold expression on your face
Saying give us what we want or we’ll destroy

I’m…going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
On Saturn—people live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don’t need cars 'cause we’ve learned to fly
On Saturn—just to live to us is our natural high


thekingpin68 said...

Even Adam, though created “good”, was still incomplete; he was still lacking perfection and needed to be joined to Christ to find his “true” humanity. No person is “complete” or fully human as God intended apart from Christ.

My theory is that human beings that are saved through Christ with the use of compatibilism will eventually have greater spiritual maturity than Adam and Eve did prior to a fall from God. It can be reasoned that those within the culminated Kingdom of God will surpass those first persons in spiritual maturity as well. This would be so because those God saves will have experienced their own sin, death, the atoning work of Christ and his resurrection applied to them, and would be citizens of the culminated Kingdom of God. Persons cannot be created with experience, even if made with a level of initial maturity. Those within the culminated Kingdom of God would not possess the initial inexperience and immaturity of the first persons.

Christ as both God and man, being directly led and guided by the Holy Spirit was and is the perfect and incorruptible man.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks kingpin,

I agree with your analysis of our state of being in "maturity" over against Adam and Eve's state of "immaturity". The fact that we who are saved actually do experience (in some way) our own "death, burial and resurrection" in Christ, as well as the experience of the atoning work of Christ, will inevitably cause us to have a level of "perfection" that Adam could not have had prior to the Fall. A human being cannot be "perfect", or authentically human, apart from being joined to Christ.

But it's your last comment that I think really gets to the issue of why we're not "fully human" apart from Christ--the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. As Jesus was the God-Man even at the point of His initial incarnation, it wasn't until the Spirit came upon Him that He began His public ministry with power. Of course, the presence of the Spirit in the life of Christ fulfills the Scriptural testimony concerning the Person of the Servant/Messiah/(true)Israel, etc. But the Spirit's presence also speaks to the fulfillment of the New Covenant and our part in it. It's clear in the Scripture that God would send His Spirit to not only reside with, but to dwell within His people. As the true Man, Christ was indwelt by the Spirit and then, upon His ascension, He sends His Spirit to dwell within those who come to Him by Faith.

It's the presence of the Spirit that not only identifies us as God's children, but also makes us to be WHO WE ARE--authentic human beings. It is the Spirit who "transforms" us into authentic human beings because He is continually conforming us to the likeness of Christ. When Christ comes back at the consummation of all things, we don't lose the Spirit; He's forever a part of who we are, as He's forever a part of who Christ is!

Great Googly Moogly! said...

What amazes me the most, however, is how God could have conceived of all of this. I mean…from our perspective we can at least come to some comprehension of the biblical idea of “true” humanity (and our share in it) as only existing in the “true” Man (Jesus Christ). Over and over again in the Bible we are presented with the concept of Jesus as the One who recovers humanity AS the "true Man", the second Adam. We know that He wasn’t called the second Adam simply because He accomplished what Adam failed to do; Jesus is the fountainhead of a new humanity even as He brings the "New Creation" to life in Himself.

When our eyes are opened by the grace of God, we can see our dilemma as fallen image-bearers and our need for redemption and recovery. We can follow the biblical data that speaks of our “born again” experience as a transformation from “death” to “life”, from the “old man” to the “new man”, from “corruptible” to “incorruptible”, etc. These are all ideas associated with the New Creation in Christ. Not only is our “image-bearing” recovered in Christ—it’s made perfect. By the presence of the indwelling Spirit, we are being conformed to the likeness of the True Man—we are becoming authentic human beings who naturally testify of God by our very nature (as Jesus Himself did). We are not made “perfect” apart from Christ because we are not fully human apart from Him. And these things we can “get”; we can at least comprehend them, if not understand it all fully.

But what I still can’t get my arms around is God’s perspective on all this. How could he have conceived of creating Man in His image with the purpose and meaning of Man only being realized in union with Christ? We know that the creation of Man wasn’t a “mistake”. The Bible speaks clearly that the goal and purpose of God is always in His mind and that He is always working to fulfill His purpose. The Bible is the record of God fulfilling His purpose in salvation history. His purpose from the beginning was that Man would only be perfected, would only be authentically “Man” IN CHRIST! I just can’t fathom that idea…from God’s perspective!

Think about it: upon His incarnation, the second Person of the Trinity has become FOREVER the God-Man! And this was the plan of God from the beginning! If nothing else would ever humble us, this certainly should: that the second Person of the Trinity would have to become human in order for His image-bearers to realize their true humanity. The incarnation of Christ speaks to so much more than simply our redemption from sin. The coming of Christ is the fulfillment of the Scripture that in Him God will recover all things and restore Shalom in a Cosmic redemption. We are a part of the New Creation now—in Christ.