The Circle of Life
I want to add a bit more to the theme of looking at the Rock from which we have been hewn. It is actually nothing more than a bit of another angle on the same topic. I am doing so because of the importance of this fundamental truth. It is something that I believe we have to choose to buy into, each of us in our own way and on our own unique journey. If we make that choice and ask the Holy Spirit to help us with it, we will experience God’s grace in action, resulting in progressively growing out of our captivity to self and into the freedom for which we were created. We will then be in the process of becoming something that we already are in Christ.
All of this very much reflects my own daily journey and it is from that perspective that I share with you. It being a journey implies that it is an ongoing experience with all the ups and downs, highways and cul-de-sacs inherent to journey. Paul said to the church at Philippi: I admit that I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfil and wants me to discover. I too have not arrived, but am continuing to arrive.
I am also very aware that the content that I am sharing is very “spiritual” or philosophical and seemingly not very practical. When we pursue spiritual realities that are divorced from practical daily living they are in danger of becoming nothing more than an escape from life that will ultimately be irrelevant. Even so, something that I have learnt on my own pilgrimage is the importance of being willing to look at the bigger and ever enlarging unseen picture and have it cast its light onto the here and now. In doing so one’s frame of reference is changed and it provides something like a turbo-boost that goes a long way in making the day to day engagement with life and relationships more sustainable.
Bear with me. As we progress we will get to more practical stuff that will provide guidance, as I see and experience it, in the matter of being prepared as the bride of Christ or becoming the metaphorical Jerusalem that John spoke about in Revelation.
So, here goes!
One of my all-time favourite animation movies is the original Lion King. There are some catching songs in the movie, but one that is special to me is The Circle of Life sung by Carmen Twillie and Lebohang Morake. Its English lyrics are as follows:
From the day we arrive on the planet And, blinking, step into the sun There's more to see than can ever be seen More to do than can ever be done There's far too much to take in here More to find than can ever be found But the sun rolling high Through the sapphire sky Keeps great and small on the endless round
It's the circle of life And it moves us all Through despair and hope Through faith and love 'Til we find our place On the path unwinding In the circle The circle of life
Even as I write this I can hear the melody and lyrics in my head and I am again struck by the reality of the circle of life.
I think the main reason why the song echoes with me stems from the fact that the principle of the Trinity being the circle of life was implanted in me years ago while I was meditating on one of Paul’s doxologies.
As one reads the New Testament you often come across expressions of spontaneous praise in the midst something quite different that the authors are writing about. It is as though they get to a point in their contemplation where they cannot contain themselves and have to express their personal experience of praise in the moment where they are at. A few cases in point are:
· In writing the introduction to his letter to Timothy, Paul speaks about his own history of persecuting the church and how, in spite of that, God’s mercy was extended to him. In the midst of this he seemingly cannot contain himself and bursts into praise, saying: Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. Then he continues with some encouragement for Timothy. It is as though the awareness of who God is for him overwhelmed him and he penned that doxology.
· He concluded that epistle in the same manner. He is in the process of giving Timothy some final pieces of advice and all of a sudden he does the praise thing again. He says: …that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. And then again, just as he did at the beginning of the letter, he continues with more instructions and advice for Timothy. The moment has passed.
· A last one that I want to share comes from Jude. He addressed his epistle to an unidentified community of believers and his main topic was an encouragement and some instructions to keep of the purity of the faith. When he finished doing so he did a Pauline exercise and cried out his doxology: Now, to the one with enough power to prevent you from stumbling into sin and bring you faultless before his glorious presence to stand before him with ecstatic delight, to the only God our Savior, through our Lord Jesus Christ, be endless glory and majesty, great power and authority—from before he created time, now, and throughout all the ages of eternity. Amen!
I just love these doxologies!
Now, to get to the one that did the circle of life thing for me. It is found at the end of the eleventh chapter of the Roman epistle. In chapters nine and ten as well as the beginning of chapter eleven Paul writes quite a bit about Israel having to come into God’s kingdom through the finished work of Calvary and then he ends with the following:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! "FOR WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD? OR WHO HAS BECOME HIS COUNSELOR?" "OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM AND IT SHALL BE REPAID TO HIM?" For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
The Amplified Bible renders the last part of the doxology as follows: For from Him [all things originate] and through Him [all things live and exist] and to Him are all things [directed]. To Him be glory and honor forever! Amen.
After saying that there is nobody around who can say that they understand God, define him, know how he thinks and what his wisdom is like, Paul is in awe and so am I. He comes to the realisation that God, the blessed Trinity, is the circle of all of life. There is nothing in all of creation that originated anywhere else but from within him; whether we and creation as a whole are aware of it or not, everything is being processed and restored through him and everything will ultimately end up with him, just as it was in the beginning. As Paul said to the Corinthians (my paraphrase), when every “i” has been dotted and every “t” crossed and time shall be no more, God will again be all in all.
He is the circle of all of existence, from eternity through time and back to eternity.
When I allow the implications of that which Paul said in this song of praise to settle in me, I begin to vaguely glimpse its depth. I cannot find words to adequately express the stirring that it elicits in my heart and I realise the reason for that is because there are no words that can capture it and that are supposed to capture it. Any attempt to definitively do so would be trying to limit God to my own thinking and define him, which is the very thing that we have done for millennia, even as Christians. Our understanding of him then becomes our truth about him and from that vantage point we take up and defend even our often intransigent doctrinal positions. Ask me, I know how I have done so for many years. It is like admiring the exquisite beauty of a butterfly and then catching it to see it up close. In all likelihood the butterfly will die. The best would be to kiss it and let it be free.
True life as God intended it to be and that he created us to experience, live from and reflect, is only to be found from within the Trinity. It was never meant to be a life to be analysed and theologised about, it was meant to be experienced.
Adam and Eve had that, but abandoned it. As a result they (and us) had to bend into themselves and create their own circle of life with them as point of reference and centre. We all now live eccentric lives or live from the wrong centre. God’s sole purpose, motivated by inexplicable love and total commitment to humanity and creation, a commitment that was in his heart even before he created anything, is to get us back to that place where we are nowhere else but within his circle of life.
I will take this further in my next musing. I want to look at that which I believe is the main theme of the second chapter of Philippians - the kenotic or self emptying heart of the Trinity.