Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Honor of Humanity Part 3 - Eternity

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 3 on 13th August 2006

What is man? What is the worth of a man's life? Why do we live? Why do we die? What sort of existence do we have in eternity? These are the most important questions in philosophy. They are the most interesting and also most confusing ones.

Only God can tell us the answer through His revelation. In the 19th century, there is emergence of a lot of humanistic movement, the emphasis of science, the advancement of evolution theory and communism. It is the era in the West where most new ideas emerge. In the 20th century, we see that all these theories are bringing us to a dead end.

Today we see that science can bring us a lot of convenience but also a lot of pollution. We see that the theory of evolution gives us the idea of the survival of the fittest but also brings about imperialism and communism. And the economic policy of communism brings us to bankruptcy of economy. Existentialism places importance in individualism and brings us to anarchy.

By the end of 20th century, we no longer accept that reason is superior to all. The pendulum of history swings to the other direction. In 21st century, post modernism comes in. We begin to look inwardly to our spirit and have a new way of thinking.

Christian faith is in the midst of such changing world. What sort of correction can we bring to the world? These are not carefully thought of by many churches and leaders. The reformed evangelical movement has a lot of responsibility. While we still have today, we should fight boldly for our Lord and establish leaders for our future so that they can fulfill their potential to the fullest, till Jesus comes again.

In medieval time, the study of the image and likeness of God is a very important topic. However, at that time the study could not escape constrains of the Catholic Church doctrine. After the reformation, Martin Luther and Calvin continued to study this subject deeply.

There is a difference between Luther's and Calvin's understanding. Luther believed that the image and likeness of God has totally disappeared when men fell, so we can only discuss that we once had this, but since it has been lost we actually do not know what this image is anymore.

Calvin believed that the image and likeness of God is still there, but it has been marred. For example, a naughty child is still very intelligent but he uses his intelligence to do the wrong things. His intelligence is still part of the image of God but doing the wrong things is expression of his sinful nature.

All other theologies cannot match that of reformed theology. Reformed theology expounds Eph.4:24 to develop the doctrine on God's image in man. It says to and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

The verse talks about Truth as the foundation of righteousness and holiness. Here we see 3 elements in human beings as reflection of God's image: reason, justice and ethics. That is why every nation has its institution and law to set what is right and wrong. Every country has administration, prison and courts, rehabilitation and religious centers.

For the past 400 years, the contribution of reformed theology to the study of the image and likeness of God becomes a foundation for many aspects of human civilization.

However, the study of the image of God in man should not be constrained in these 3 things only. I (Rev. Stephen Tong) discover that everything in the nature of God has its image in men. In this manner we can break through what has been achieved in reformed theology for the past few centuries and enlarge the topic.

Last week, we deal with the first aspect of the image of God. God is Spirit. So men made in His images are living beings with spirit. We cannot compare men materialistically with God.

Today, we will deal with another aspect of God's image. God is the self-existing Eternal One. His nature is the nature of eternity. When He made man in His image and likeness, He gives us His eternity. Hence we are eternal beings. We have eternity in our hearts. Eccl.3:11 says that God makes all things beautiful in His own time and He puts eternity in the hearts of men. This verse has profoundly consolidated four important things together:

1. All things are made by God
2. God's creation is perfect
3. God made all things in His own timing
4. There is qualitative difference between humans and animals, in that humans have eternity in their hearts

So we see God's initiation in creation, the perfection of His creation, the timing of His creation, and the eternity He puts in the heart of men.

From the verse itself, we can see the error of the Gnostics. They started with the premise that material things are evil so the God who created material things must be evil. And then they never handle the issue of time and the value of men.

God made all things beautiful in His own time. This is the foundation of the theology of time. This is not yet discussed in systematic theology. This is a topic we should take note of and develop in reformed theology.

God said everything He made is good. But there is a difference between good and very good. When He sees His reflection in human beings He made in His image and likeness, He said it was very good.

Which one is more important, the one that comes first or last? There are two kinds of order in the Bible. The first order is where the one who comes first is more important. The second order is where the one that comes last is more important. In gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament, the first one mentioned (the Apostles, the Prophets, and so on) is the most important. In creation, the one made last is most important. The principle is that all things are made for man, and man is made for God. So God made all things first to prepare for men to have dominion over. Before a baby is born, the parents will buy many things to prepare for the baby's coming.

What is the difference between God's eternity and our eternity? God's eternity is the essence of eternity itself. It is that of the Creator. He is Eternity in itself. He is the Creator of eternity. We have a created eternity. But God's eternity is not the result of creation. Our eternity exists because the Creator is willing to put His eternity within us.

Hence the eternity of God has no beginning and no end. The eternity of men has a beginning but no end. Our eternity comes after creation.

What then has this eternity to do with our life? What does it matter? This is the foundation upon which your life has to be lived solemnly. This eternal existence is a frightening thing. Where do I spend eternity? Since I will live eternally, how should I make use of it and prepare myself for it?

If we do not have a deep understanding of this, we will live an irresponsible life. If we understand, we will remember the accountability we have to give to God. We will ask ourselves how we should live our lives.

What is eternity? It transcends time. Can we prove the existence of eternity? In fact, we can see that eternity does exist in our heart.

We have the concept of eternity but live in temporal life, so we live a very contradictory life. When we see ourselves getting older, we do not like it. We are not willing to grow old because we have a sense of eternity in our lives. We want to rebel against the decay that comes with time but we do not know how to. There are two kinds of people who are most afraid of getting old. The first is movie stars, second is the athletes because their very lives depend upon their physical well-being.

When eternity is tortured by temporal process, we are not happy. We do not like to be weakened with age. When we look at young people growing up and adults getting old, we do not want to move along with them, but time says “I will make you old”. We have no way of escaping. Animals have no such sense so they just pass through the passage of time without knowing they are getting old and die.

There are two directions of eternity. The spirit will look forward and backward (Original Rev.Tong's statement). What does it mean to say the spirit looks forward? And what does it mean to say that the spirit looks backward?

This is the relationship between eternity and time. When a person studies the past, he discovers history. When a person looks forward, he has hope. This is the two directions of the spirit. Only human beings have historical concept. It is found in our memory. But our hope enables us to move forward. This has been described by Augustine in his concept of time and eternity. He says memory is linked with eternity. Memory is also against time.

What does time mean? Augustine answered this way, “Before you ask me I thought I know what time is, but when you ask me, I realize that I do not understand what it is.” If you do not have a memory, you cannot understand eternity. When you look back, you are using your memory so that your past is not lost. Those years still exist in memory. They have not disappeared. They are linked with eternity.

The spirit can look backward and grab hold of moments that have past. The spirit looks forward because of hope. So in the progression of time, we see the eternity within us because we are made in the image of God.

Eternity is a frightening thing. It is a very solemn matter. It is a state of crisis with great potential value. In the progression of time, the way we live will determine the quality and value of our eternity. Where will you spend eternity?


At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

C.S. Lewis:
There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way."


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