This paper is called: God’s Passionate Pursuit of People, and the introduction was called: “I’m seeing God in More Places Than I Used To.” If prefer to see the whole paper and read it that way, go to barneywiget.com.
We all know the stories about Adam and Eve and Abraham and Moses and the like, and how God went after them. But what about the less than obvious cases, the off-the-beaten-trail examples of non-Jewish people like Job the sufferer, Balaam the pagan prophet, Abimelech the pagan king, Rahab the prostitute, the Magi from the East, Cornelius the Roman Centurion, and many others? How did they learn about God, and how did they come to have faith in him without having a Bible to read or a person to tell them? What about people in places on the planet where there are no Bibles or Christians, Internet, or TV preachers? Or how should we think about people involved in other spiritual paths? Are all of them going the diametrically opposite way of The Way? Can God get through to them (either through their religion or in spite of it) or is the vast majority of the world going to hell without any idea of a God who loves them?
I’ll unpack some of these later, but here are a few of the biblical passages I’ve been rethinking lately:
- · John 1:9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
- · Acts 10:2, 34-35 2 He (Cornelius) and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly… 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
- · Acts 14:17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy
- · Acts 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
- · Psalm 19:1-4 1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
- · Romans 1:19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God…
- · Romans 2:14-16 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
- · Song of Songs 4:8; 5:1 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon. Descend from the crest of Amana, from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon, I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice.
- · John 5:17 “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
- · Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
- · John 16:8 When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me…
- · John 12:32 And I (Jesus), when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
· 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
- · Luke 15:4 Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine (sheep) in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? … 8 Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?
A PARABLE (The Seed, the Sower, the Son, and the Spirit)
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Revelation 2:7
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:2
The parents of our race (the human one) started out as gardeners in God’s lush Garden. Fruit trees filled it in verdant abundance – a true Paradise. They had amply more than they needed, while the single prohibition that the Sower (the Planter of the Garden) insisted on was to stay away from only one of the hundreds of other varieties of luscious fruit-bearing trees. They disregarded his directive and decided to taste the illicit fruit anyway. Wretchedly sad, but true to his threat, the Sower removed them from the Garden, and had the gate locked and guarded.
The Sower loved our parents way too much to bar them from his Paradise in perpetuity. He yearned for friendship with them and all their posterity to follow, and insisted on finding a way to get us all back to enjoying his lavish Garden with him. So the Sower, the Son, and the Spirit solemnly convened to devise a way to redeem us and return us to the Garden to live with them in friendship forever.
The generous plan they conceived required a dreadful price to them, but because of the Sower’s prodigal love for his people he, the Son, and the Spirit were all willing to go to any length to bring us back. The Sower’s Son would gladly take the guilty place of our thieving parents, be convicted of robbery, and be banned from the Garden on our behalf. The Son’s self-sacrificing ransom would be sufficient to exchange the Sower’s prohibition for an invitation to our parents and all their offspring to be welcomed back to Paradise.
The tricky thing is that we have become pretty attached to the life we’ve made for ourselves outside the Garden. The world we’ve created here, though a vast wasteland by comparison to the Paradise we left, has become our “home.” We’re quite satisfied with our life the way it is and are not particularly motivated in returning to some alleged lush Garden of the Sower. But that doesn’t dissuade the stubborn Sower from doing all he can to convince us otherwise. The price he paid for our reclamation was exorbitant, but equally extravagant is his insistence now to pursue us and bring us back. The Son has already paid the full ransom price, but still most of us tend to refuse to return to where we belong. So the Three convened again to concoct stage-two of their plan. The Son had given his life for our right to return to the Garden; now the Sower and the Spirit would give their all to entice us to return home.
The scheme entailed the Sower harvesting fruit from the special life-giving tree in the Garden, extracting all its seed and sowing it throughout the world. He would merrily traverse the globe with his store of seeds and scatter them liberally in each land and every culture of banned gardeners. The Spirit’s job is to wildly blow on the seeds as they leave the Father’s hand, his torrential wind carrying them to every corner of the planet. From the tiny seeds trees would grow up and bear lush samples of fruit that, upon eating, the people would be attracted to return to the Garden for more of the same. In order to win them back to Paradise he would make a clue-filled trail from each beloved person’s heart to the Garden’s gate.
Today every lost gardener has all around them the Sower’s seeds taking root and growing up into offspring of the life-giving tree. Some have no intention of making any trek to anywhere they can’t see. The fruit they eat now is good enough for them. They resist the claim that there is an actual Garden where the Sower, the Spirit, and the Son all live. They cling to the notion that what they have is all there is. As they taste the fruit, some detest it, preferring their own food processed by human initiative. Others love it, but instead of following the Sower’s trail back to its origin, they dare to clone the fruit – content to remain where they are to eat their own facsimiles of them – man-made replicas. Still others are so crazy for it that they crave the fruit from the original tree, make their way back to the Sower’s Garden, and enjoy him and the lavish abundance of Paradise forever.
The Sower strategized that as people came home to the Garden they would become part of the glad errand to reach others with the news about the free access to the life-giving fruit in the Sower’s Garden. “Be sowers!” he told them. The job of these “sub-sowers” would be to partner with the Sower, Son, and Spirit, and carry with them full supplies of seed to scatter throughout the world in fields all around them. These redeemed gardeners would become essential in the Sower’s strategy to beckon lost gardeners back to Paradise.
People who taste the fruit tend to develop a hunger for more than a sample, and often wonder where they can get more. The trees that grow from the Sower’s seed don’t have inscriptions on them explaining the whole story of the Sower. That’s where the sub-sowers come in. Their job is to give them more than a taste and compel them to go back with them to meet the Sower in his Garden.
Though their role is central, the Sower doesn’t leave them to do all the work. He’s never ceased his own relentless seed-scattering effort in every part of the world, copiously sowing seed, the Spirit furiously blowing on it to spread it far and wide. He precedes his sowers, sowing his own seed, which grows into trees from which people everywhere pick luscious fruit. Many take such delight in it that they become curious about its origin and develop a hunger for more. And so, oftentimes when his sub-sowers show up to plant their seed, in some places his prevenient work has been so effective that they find people already on their way back to the Garden and need only employ little effort to induce people to come all the way home. Their work is little more than a simple confirmation of what people already knew in their heart about the Sower and his Garden. They’ve tasted and they’ve seen that the fruit is good and they want more.
So today it brings a smile to the Sower’s face as he observes the continuum of people tasting his fruit, being enticed toward its source, his sub-sowers on a co-mission with him to show and tell about him and his Garden, leading people one by one on the happy trek in the direction of Paradise!