Editorial – No selfies in heaven

‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus.’ Well, have you lately – and whatever could have enticed you to look away?

A vision of loveliness radiated from the mirror of her newly turned mind. Unmistakeable nobility, majestic bearing, who compared? The face gazed back at her with steady, intelligent eyes; complexion so perfect that makeup would have been an insult. Clearly this woman was destined for greater things – and she would have them. Were they not suddenly within her reach?

An unearthly silence enfolded her until she could hear only with her eyes. The hint of a first-ever self- confident smile played around her lips and, with one lithe movement, Eve stretched forth her delicate arm and took… a SELFIE ! Our editorial liberty with the text of Genesis 3 is not at odds with its sense. If Satan had had access to a smartphone he might well have incited such use…

The ‘apple’ – or whatever kind of fruit she picked – was purely incidental to the Deceiver’s strategy. What he wanted her to ‘pick’ was her ‘SELF’ in preference to God and she did, in effect, take a primeval ‘selfie’. Clearly, the word ‘unselfconscious’ had a whole different level of meaning to our first parents before the Fall. Not until they sinned were Adam and Eve aware of their nakedness. In our age, when nudity is promoted commercially and ideologically, it’s hard to escape and harder still to imagine a perfectly toned couple who were mutually unaware of their bodies. This, perhaps more than any other possible indicator, suggests that neither mirrors, nor pornography, nor fitness coaches would have held any interest for them. Their interest was God, their hearts beat in time with His and as surely as He is Love, with not a thought for Himself, they too were ‘self-less’ in the truest sense.

On the flip side, the Deceiver, brought low by his own rebellious discontent, was full of rage against this God-like race and sought to re-make them in his own selfish likeness. This was his aim in ignoring Adam the head and enticing Eve to take the lead in disobedience. For the first time in history, ‘self’ emerged as a commodity market with its corporate headquarters in Hell.

Unfallen love

Since the Fall, what we like to call ‘human nature’ is, in fact, perverted human nature. If, in our fallen state, we could have met Adam and Eve before that tragic day, we would have felt unclean in their presence – and yet also loved and welcome. Only one other Person in history ever walked here in unfallen purity and unconditional kindness. One in whose Presence sinners felt simultaneously unclean but loved and welcomed into His life: Jesus of Nazareth, Friend of Sinners, God in mortal human form – the Last Adam. By original nature, Adam and Eve were not divine but they were like the Man Jesus – the selfless image of God!
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” is a radical challenge wrapped in a reality check. It’s no challenge to love oneself – this we do by default unless selfishness is trained out of us. To love the neighbour to the same lavish degree… that’s the challenge. Besides, in the wisdom of Our Loving Creator, a lack of love for the neighbour turns out to be self-hatred. In the immortal words of Bishop JC Ryle “hell is truth learned too late”.

Amazingly, to our space- and time- confined minds, the Creator had anticipated the demise of Eden’s innocence before the sinners drew their first breath. His Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. His atonement – in some eternal sense that defies our neatly tied theology – was ‘in place’ even before the incarnation of the Son of God. The simple truth is that what God plans in eternity is irresistible in time – and irreversible. The promised Seed would crush the serpent’s head… Little wonder that the devil is full of wrath – his every goal is an ‘own goal’. He is deceived by his own deceptions and undermined by his own accomplishments: “The wisdom we speak of is that mysterious secret wisdom of God which he planned before the creation for our glory today. None of the powers of this world have known this wisdom – if they had they would never have crucified the Lord of glory!” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8 – Phillips)
From Satan’s rueful perspective, Calvary was his own eternal suicide…

Love’s surprises

The staggering implication is that the Son, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was not ‘co-opted’ into this plan but was the agent of its creation. If it is true that “In the beginning … without him was nothing made that was made” then that includes the plan “to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10) If He was delivered up to His enemies “by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), this Jesus, this magnificent, selfless God-Man, planned His own condemnation at the hands of His own creatures – and His own vindication in resurrection – and all to rescue His enemies and glorify His Father! What a Saviour! Far too many surprises for the Deceiver’s selfish thinking…

Brothers and sisters… our race made the journey from God-given glory to shame and misery by way of self-interest. Our Lord Jesus made the same journey from His own eternal glory to mortal shame and misery – but out of selfless interest. He was – and is – ‘The Man for Others’!

Our shared mortal experience of a global pandemic – which has changed human society, perhaps permanently in some ways, in the space of a few weeks – has generated much fear, anxiety and stress- related problems, but the clouds’ silver-linings are already showing… Many hearts have been awakened to a new consciousness of the needs of others and a new sense of pleasure in meeting those needs. Elderly neighbours – their ‘normal’ lives wracked by illness and weakness even before lockdown – are thrilled when younger neighbours collect their shopping and prescriptions and just generally check that they’re OK. Many medics have seen the Christian gospel bring hope to the danger zones. ‘Isolating’ folks receive regular phone calls and newsletters from their churches or even meet ‘virtually’ – many worshipping and praying together by means of internet technology. Teachers who teach the medics’ kids to answer problems with childcare. The army veteran who raises charity money in telephone numbers just by sponsored walking around his garden… the list of kindnesses unleashed is truly heart-warming.

Many have testified that they ‘don’t want to return to the rat race’ (life before lockdown). To many, unselfishness has become an appealing lifestyle… polite consideration for fellow shoppers, wearing masks not just for personal benefit, but for the neighbours’ reassurance, accepting responsible citizenship as a Christian virtue (which it is) and less preoccupation with self-interested priorities. No-one demonstrates the heaven-blessed power of this lifestyle better than Jesus Christ. Such will be the character of those – and only those – who will rule with Christ in His Millennial Kingdom. The only alternative to love is lust – and because lust lives for now (for me now), it has no posterity. Kindness can unlock a thousand fearful doors to the message of Heaven’s Ultimate Kindness – God’s inexpressible gift.

Hungry compassion

Wherever destruction is released into the world, we can be sure that the Destroyer has a hand in it. He sold Eve not a pup but a ravenous pack of hell’s wolves when he aroused her self-interest.

But Our All-seeing, All-knowing, All-powerful, Everywhere-present, Uncreated Creator God has used the pandemic to create a market for unselfishness – an unwitting hunger and thirst for righteousness which He intends to satisfy. The God-shaped vacuum in these hungry souls can be perfectly filled only with Jesus Christ, the One who “emptied Himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race”. We have a window of opportunity like nothing in our lifetime to lift up Jesus to the public view – His selfless beauty will draw those whose hearts have been softened through this troubled time.

That said, there’s a potentially darker horizon to the ‘new normal’. We have seen (albeit for the common good) a planet-wide ready acceptance of the loss of many civil liberties – freedoms that once had to be defended by force of arms against Nazi tyranny. For now, the reasons requiring massive voluntary resignation of our freedoms are benign – compassionate even. But God’s Word warns of a day when totalitarian rule will be imposed on the entire planet – even to the fine detail of who is and is not permitted to buy and sell. We have seen world city centres and huge retail parks turned into eerie ghost towns overnight. The media power and policing structures are in place to transform the social landscape across the globe. None less than Jesus predicted a time when “the love of most will grow cold”  (the opposite to the compassion release we have witnessed lately).

Pat Baird, our newest proofreader and a first-time contributor to this edition (p.20) sees an unexpected resonance between George Floyd’s dying words “I can’t breathe,” society’s increasingly stifling political correctness and harrowing images of COVID victims on respirators. Pat considers what might be ‘waiting round the corner’. Satan likes to boil his frogs slowly. We shall need to be in a close walk with the Spirit of Truth to discern between our proper responsible citizenship and that critical moment when, one day, we shall have to “obey God rather than men”. That will be a ‘new normal’ for us – it’s already ‘normal’ for most of our brothers and sisters in darker lands.

We have been given an unprecedented time for ministry – but let’s be sure we understand the word. The ‘minister’ (same spelling) in Latin meant a ‘servant’ – from another Latin word ‘minus’, meaning ‘less’!
John the Baptizer clearly understood himself to be the ‘minister’ of Jesus:
“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie… He must increase, but I must decrease” ( John 1:26-27, 3:30) Paul had the same perspective: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants…” (diakonoi – those who ‘run errands’! 1 Corinthians 3:5)

Christ came as Heaven’s Servant to sinners – His Church cannot possibly have a different role. True Holy-Spirit led ministry cannot and never will be ‘self-service’. Let’s begin to seize this selfless ministry opportunity with sacrificial fervent prayer. May Our Heavenly Father show us how to lose our self-interest in the boundless ocean of His love. Let’s not become weary in well-doing – and let’s not be outdone in kindness by those who lack our hope. Though to be sure, the greatest kindness is the Gospel and the greatest unkindness is its concealment. A glorious day is coming when we will cast our crowns before the King of Kings – there will be no ‘selfies’ in heaven!

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