Monday, November 7, 2011

He will guide them

Revelation 7: 9-17, page 249
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”
I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.”
Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship God day and night within God’s temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Last Thursday I was invited to compete in a trivia competition over at Central High School. It was a fund raiser for Central’s own trivia team, who, despite their small budget travels around to compete with other schools, attempting to be the first to answer questions concerning math, science, history, English, even religion.
There were buzzers and everything, and several different teams. There was a team of doctors representing Maury Regional Hospital, a team of judges and lawyers, a team of academics from the college, and I was a proud member of the Maury County Archives Team along with Bob, Dorothy, and Dave Duncan.
As soon as Bob asked me to join the team I began guaranteeing anyone who would listen our victory, but this was either over-confidence in our team or under-confidence in the others, as we were soundly defeated by the doctors in the second round.
We stayed for the rest of the event however, and as the doctors and academics from the college competed against each other in the finals I was mostly impressed by both their knowledge of important facts as well as their knowledge of completely useless facts. That was until this question was asked: “Who, in the book of Genesis, lived to be 930 years old and was the father of Cain and Abel?”
Someone guessed Methuselah, then there was silence – no buzzer ringing, no guessing – until the silence was broken by someone from the crowd who yelled, “Ya’ll need to get to church!”
It’s amazing how very intelligent, well read people can miss a question like this one about Adam – but mention anything about an apple and universally all minds recall Eve.
It just goes to show that despite significant Biblical illiteracy in much of the world today, still, deep in our collective memory, are images from scripture, though many don’t realize it’s scripture they’re recalling.
“God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden;” but the serpent said, and Adam and Eve decided to listen, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
This image is everywhere.
During the opening scene of hit TV show Desperate Housewives the main characters stand together all with an apple in their hands, and by this sign we all know that these women are not nearly as innocent as they seem.
The image of the apple is there as well on computers, iPods, iPads, and iPhones, as an apple with a bite out of it has become the iconic symbol of Apple Computers.
Even Steve Jobs, casual adherent of Zen Buddhism, atheist mostly, was well versed in scripture enough to resonate with the image of the apple. According to Andy Crouch, editor for Christianity Today and the author of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that appeared just after Jobs’ death, “That bitten apple was just one of Steve Jobs’ many touches of genius, capturing the promise of technology in a single glance.”
After eating the apple God cursed the serpent, the woman, and then the man, saying, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return.” According to philosopher Albert Borgmann, it is technology that promises to relieve us of the burden of this curse of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. And all of technology, especially that developed by Steve Jobs, promises to reverse the curse on humanity that resulted from that first bite out of an apple.
Maybe Jobs came the closer than anyone ever has – his technology is so easy to use, reducing all function down to one button, but uses that one button to help you navigate through your entire music library, browse a virtual bookstore, organize pictures, edit video, all while talking on the phone.
His technology is beautiful, and it’s beautiful because he dedicated his whole life to it – as though improving human life through technology were his great white whale. However, I think we may all agree that like Captain Ahab, after pouring his entire self into his goal, he met his fate before truly liberating humanity from anything more than boredom.
The work of his hands – though he gave Apple his all – remains a beautiful technological innovation, but is that all Steve Jobs aspired to be?
Technology, if all it does is aspires to captivate our imaginations, than it is successful. But if technology, even the work of modern genius, aspires to reverse the curse of human kind that began with that apple in the book of Genesis, than only failure awaits.
I have faith enough in humanity to believe that we were the ones who got us into this situation – this life so often defined by struggle and always shadowed by the reality of death - but to get out of it – for that I need faith in God.
It is faith in God that we are bold to celebrate today – faith in God who defies the grave that so many fear – faith in God that allows for celebration as we remember those who have died. For rather than only mourn, today we celebrate all that they have gained.
“They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Only as his last breath left him did Steve Jobs come face to face with the majesty of this God, a majesty beyond even what his hands could create. As he left this earth his last words were proclaimed amazement – not at the work of his own hands, but at the work of the hands that he had only just come to know.
May you always be so amazed by the Lord our God.
While the work of human hands can launch into outer space, it was God’s words who called the stars into existence.
While modern medicine can prolong life, only God can give it.
Always give thanks to the Lord your God and to the Lamb. He is our Shepherd, and when the work of your hands finds its limit, entrust yourself to the hands of the Lord your God. For it is God’s hands who will wipe away every tear from your eyes.