(An Excerpt from The Carpenter and the Cradle, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)
(From Exodus 26: The Walls of the Tabernacle: and Matthew 6:9: The Lord’s Prayer)
“Our Father in heaven, let your name be kept holy” (Matthew 6:9b.).
I have to confess that my eyes glazed over as I read Exodus 26 today in preparation for writing about it. I’m sure the measurements and number of loops for the walls of God’s tent all had their reasons. But seeing I don’t know them, we won’t be discussing them today. It’s the principles of the tent walls, not their proportions, that will claim our attention today.
I’ve told you one answer already to “What’s wrong with the world?” The other answer we’ll explore today is the one represented by walls: Separation.
Separation, as I’ve come to understand it from the Bible, means so many different things, it’s hard to know where to begin on this subject.
Maybe I’ll first address the separation that we see from Exodus 26 and today’s focus verse: the holiness of God and God’s name. If you’ve never heard it before, you may be surprised to learn that the Bible word translated “holy” (or “hallowed,” also “sanctified,”) really means nothing more nor less than “separated” or “set apart.” But what could it mean that God is “separated,” that His name is “separated”? Separated from what?
My initial thought was, “Separated from all that’s wrong with the world.” But after I thought twice about it, I realized that God and His name were holy (separated) long before there was anything wrong with the world. From eternity, in fact. Holiness is one of God’s primary characteristics.
The very simple explanation occurred to me, then, that God and His name are and always have been set apart from anything and everything and anyone and everyone else. There is no other one like Him. He is unique.
A discussion of even the very most basic understanding of the characteristics of the God of the Bible would take far longer than we have today. Or any day. Or every day. His eternal, infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present (just to name a few traits) nature is a subject a little too large for a blog post. To give you a small start on a knowledge of the God the Bible describes, think of what science has now taught us about our universe and remember that the Bible tells us that God spoke it all into existence in, like, oh, six days!
Uh, yeah! He’s unique!
One of the first things God told His people they had to know about Him was this: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (See Deut. 6: 4). In other words, the One God. The One and Only. The Only God.
Yesterday, I told you we’d tackle the subject of Self and why it’s okay (not just okay—right and necessary) for God to be in control, for God to be sovereign, for God to be worshipped as supreme, to be in Top Spot. If Self-first is the ultimate enemy to relationship (the meaning of life), why doesn’t this principle hold true in God’s case?
Here’s answer number one: God’s throne is God’s rightful place. As the utterly and completely unique One God, only God is fit to rule His universe.
Here’s answer number two (and this one is mind-bending, so take some time to really chew on this answer which will take the rest of our time together today): Self-first is the enemy to relationship. Always. It produces only evil, and that’s because Self-first is the opposite of God’s all-relational character. Good is good because it grows out of the nature of a good God. Evil is evil because it is unlike God. And the God of the Bible is not a Self-first kind of God. So anything growing from a Self-first root will unavoidably be evil and anti-relational.
I must just touch here on one of God’s characteristics that shows us both how unique and how all-relational He is. No human claims to understand it. That’s one thing that convinces me no human invented it. It was revealed only in hints throughout the early days of the writing of the Bible, but the doctrine is present in a veiled way in Chapter 1. It’s the doctrine that not only is the LORD our God One, but He is also Three. He is One God in three persons and three persons in One God. Don’t worry about the math. For now, just take away this idea: Within His own nature, God is in relationship. Self-first is impossible for God. In His own self, He is entirely other-centred.
But to get back to today’s question, evil exists, and the possibility for it could only exist, because of God’s unselfishness. Because God is incapable of the Self-first life, all that is wrong with the world is wrong with the world.
Because God is love, He gives freedom. He is on His throne. He rules in His universe. But He will only rule in individual lives when the individual freely chooses His rule. Because He is all-relational and the opposite of Self-first-driven, He will only be my Sovereign when I choose that He should be. Does all this bending make your head hurt? Mine is aching.
Because relationship only works when Self yields Top Spot, and God is all-relational, He yields Top Spot in our lives. Until, in an equally relational move, we refuse to take Top Spot and yield it to Him. Then and only then does our relationship work.
But all of us, when it was offered to us, got a greedy gleam in our eyes and said, “Really? I can nab Top Spot in my own life? Well, thank you very much, then!” And evil was conceived in our lives.
Why do I say that separation is what’s wrong with the world (though in another sense, positional separation is one of God’s traits)? It’s a different kind of separation that’s created when we choose Self-first. It’s a relational separation. Because Self-first is the enemy of relationship, Self-first can only create relational separation. And that’s what’s wrong with the world.
This oversimplification of evil we’ll see expanded as we walk together through this series. But remember Separation-due-to-choosing-Self-first as its cause.