Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Universe at Risk

(Note: this is the unedited version of my upcoming editorial for New England Pastor magazine.)

I am always intrigued by how much I learn about God from my kids. I know that I am no exception. These discoveries are often the result of the little headaches, heartaches, and challenges that come along when one is a parent. Sometimes they are from a Bible story I might be explaining or reading to my son, Camden. In this case, I gained profound theological insight into the great controversy as I was reading the story of “Jabel the shepherd” from the My Bible Friends series.

The story is a retelling of Jesus’ “lost sheep” parable in Luke 15. It recounts the tender care the shepherd has for his sheep, the protection and guidance he gives them. I remember the version well, sitting on my father’s lap long ago, scanning the painted pictures and listening to the reassuring words of God’s love, care, and searching heart. But as I was going through the story with Camden during this particular occasion, I was startled by a clear inaccuracy in the rendition. According to the author, when “Jabel” (as the author names him) goes out to search for the one lost sheep, he leaves the 99 in the sheep pen. But this is not how Jesus tells the story. According to Jesus, the shepherd actually leaves the 99 “in the wilderness” and goes after the one lost sheep.

The reason this jumped out at me is because I have been perplexed by Jesus’ words for a long time. The Greek word for “wilderness” is eremos and it very clearly denotes a deserted place, unprotected against any or all that might wish to cause harm. It offers no safety while the shepherd attempts his rescue-saving mission and, presumably, if the shepherd never returns, the sheep will be left to fend for themselves, dangerously vulnerable and in jeopardy of themselves getting lost.

“Why,” I had always wondered, “would Jesus imply that He leaves the 99 in danger while attempting to find the one?” Of course, I fully recognize that not every parable—nor every word in those parables—is supposed to carry deep theological insight. But neither do I want to discount such anomalies out of hand, presuming that a story, text, or word was simply arbitrarily chosen by the author.

And that’s when it hit me (I guess all I needed was a little visual aid): The reason that Jesus says that the 99 are left in the wilderness is because these represent the unfallen beings in the universe that were endangered when Christ came on His earth-bound rescue mission. Think about it: If Jesus had failed in His rescue mission, what would have happened to the unfallen universe?

Thus, not only did God risk Himself in the plan of salvation, but the entire universe was placed at risk as well.

Though not addressing this idea in its fullness, Ellen White gives credence to some of these ideas in Christ’s Object Lessons. There she writes, “The rabbis understood Christ’s parable as applying to the publicans and sinners; but it has also a wider meaning. By the lost sheep Christ represents not only the individual sinner but the one world that has apostatized and has been ruined by sin. This world is but an atom in the vast dominions over which God presides, yet this little fallen world—the one lost sheep—is more precious in His sight than are the ninety and nine that went not astray from the fold. Christ, the loved Commander in the heavenly courts, stooped from His high estate, laid aside the glory that He had with the Father, in order to save the one lost world.”[1]

With this “wider meaning” in place and recognizing that the lost sheep represents the fallen world in a corporate sense, it stands to reason that the 99 do, in fact, represent those—perhaps the other created worlds—who have never fallen. And, thus, we are able to see that we are “more precious” to God than the unfallen beings that reside in the vast reaches of the universe.

So what does all this mean? Is it simply a nice theological idea that has no relevance to our lives? Hardly. Recognizing the risk the whole universe was placed in gives me a deeper appreciation for how much God values me and the premium He places upon my redemption. It also helps me take my eyes off my own salvation and onto the broader issues that are taking place. Though God’s heart is all about me and my salvation, my heart shouldn’t be. I should have more sympathy for what God has been up to in this great controversy, and more sympathy for the unfallen universe that has been placed at risk—and been forced to wait a long time—for God’s plan of salvation to draw to its exciting zenith. Thus, I can respond to God’s grace not only for His sake, but the entire universe’s as well. After all, as Paul declares in Romans, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, NKJV).

[1] Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1941), 190-191.


Kyle Baldwin said...


I really like this particular blog. I wholeheartedly agree with you in the application of the parable of the lost sheep. That parable fits in with the two other parables about salvation including, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. I have come to the conclusion that many Christians misapply the principles of these other parables as well.

For instance in the case of the prodigal son many people believe that the older son represents those in the church who have never strayed, but become angry at God's generosity to others. However I believe this is wrong. I believe that the prodigal son who comes home is the only one saved in the story because he recognizes his need.

But I think the parable that connects even more with what you are saying is the parable of the laborers. The landowner goes out in search of people to work in the field at several different intervals, but pays those that came at the eleventh hour the same as all the others. I believe that anyone that is saved on this earth came in at the eleventh hour. I believe that the eleventh hour illustration used by Christ illustrates the fact that those that are saved recognize that they do not deserve the wages they have received.

In fact you can only be saved if you understand that what you have received comes at an eternal cost, has been freely given, and can never be repaid.


Andrew said...

Thank you. I think you got it right.