The Day of the Son

An exegetical commentary on Mark 13 in honor of W. Tyler Reynolds

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It was April 14th, 2017 and my friend Tyler and I were in my parked car outside his apartment in Coralville, IA. We had both been paying attention to the recent news surrounding North Korea and their nuclear missile testing. Needless to say, we were worried. With a new (and outspoken) U.S. President in office whose weak spot was foreign policy, how were we as a nation going to respond? Were we on the brink of inevitable geopolitical conflict? Was North Korea actually going to attempt a nuclear missile launch?

With all of these questions and anxieties running through our heads, we started to pray together. We prayed for peace on the Korean Peninsula. We prayed for leaders domestic and abroad. We prayed that nations would resolve their conflicts through diplomatic and nonviolent means. And finally, we prayed that Jesus would return soon to make all things right.

The last petition we prayed was not out-of-the-blue. I had been thinking about Jesus’s return fairly frequently over the past several weeks, perhaps more than I had at any point in my life. And so, praying for his expedited return was not unexpected. But as Tyler and I finished praying, said our goodbyes, and I drove back to my apartment, a number of thoughts went through my head. What, if anything, could I say that would be of comfort to Tyler concerning the end times? What do I actually believe about the return of Christ? Am I Pre-, Post-, or A-millenial? What do I believe about Preterism? Do I have any sort of working eschatological timeline? 

I know I’m not the only one who’s had these kinds of thoughts. At various points, I’ve asked my pastors their views on eschatology, but they (through no fault of their own) usually have more questions themselves than answers. I could have read excerpts from systematic theologies, but those would have been biased. No, I wanted source content, so I turned to a particularly famous piece of apocalyptic literature in the Bible: Mark 13.

I am choosing not to post my commentary on the text here, because that would take up too much space. Instead, a link to my commentary on BibleArc.com can be found below. I pray that it would help you think more about eschatology and answer at least one question you had about the end times. However, I can almost assure you it will raise more questions than it answers!

Commentary on Mark 13

The Vulgarity of God, Part 2: Food and Drink

A few weeks ago, drawing on some inspiration from C.S. Lewis, I began by stating what I meant by “The Vulgarity of God”. By way of reminder, I defined God’s “vulgarity” as his “lavish, unblushing, and almost excessive provisions of joy for the human being, especially as expressed in the created order (though not limited thereto)”.1 This week, we’ll be looking at God’s “vulgarity” in food and drink. To do so, we have throw it back – way back.

Vulgar from the get-go

Most of us are familiar with the creation story laid out in Genesis. In fact, there’s two creation stories.2 Here’s a highlight from the latter of the two:

[7] then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. [8] And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. [9] And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:7-9)

There’s a couple observations to be made. First, where did he put the man? In a garden. When you think of a garden, do you imagine a place that is lifeless, or vibrant? Is it cold, or is it warm and inviting? And what else did God put in the garden? Did he leave Adam only with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and some legumes? No, he gave him “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (emphasis mine). To be sure, there had to have been Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and legumes there, (as they are all “good for food”,) but think about it: there was also watermelon and pineapple and green beans and, well, insert your favorite plant food here.

We should also take note of the fact that God has created all these foods and given them to Adam before the Fall. Providing food was not a necessary evil meant for the continuance of the human race; it was a part of God’s plan from the beginning. So, we should not be like the Gnostics, who believed that the material world was inherently evil or shameful and that the spiritual realm only provided good. Rather, we should believe the biblical witness that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

But then notice that God doesn’t say, “OK Adam, I made all these good foods but now you can only eat the healthy ones that I made. Stay away from that sugary mango!” Instead, it goes down like this:

[16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Read those words: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden”. As if creating a world full of different kinds of plants and animals wasn’t enough, he actually tells the man that he may participate in and enjoy the things in the creation that God has made. There’s just one caveat: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”.

“Aha!” some might say, “so he is holding out on us after all!” You missed the first part; there is only one “no” in a world full of “yes”. Everything that God has created (including Adam and even the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) he has created good. Nothing in this creation (yet) is fundamentally bad or evil. It’s all good and it’s all “yes”, with but one “no”.

The first lie: God is fundamentally prohibitive

We know that the story takes a drastic turn for the worse. But it starts with an illustrative dialogue.

[1] Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” [4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” [6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:1-6)

Notice first that the serpent (i.e., Satan) is described as “crafty”; that word could also be translated as “subtle” in more archaic English or sútil in modern Spanish. The first words out of his mouth come in the form of a question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (emphasis mine). You see what happened there? The serpent’s question turns God’s design on its head. In the words of Joe Rigney, he’s taken God’s one “no” in a world full of “yes” and blown it out of proportion. The serpent’s lie is that all God does is say “no”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The serpent’s lie has penetrated and permeated our consciousness perhaps more than we’d care to admit. We’ve all had moments when we thought that it was God’s main prerogative to squelch our joy and ruin our fun. And while there are prohibitions in the Bible (more on that later), I think that we are much more apt to believe that God cares less about what we do than what we don’t do. For example, many who would subscribe to Christian morality would agree that premarital promiscuity (that is, sex before marriage) is inherently sinful and wrong (Hebrews 13:4). But do we also recognize that God is the author of sex and gave it as a gift to husband and wife not only for procreation, but also for mutual enjoyment (Proverbs 5:18-19)? Yes, sex itself, in its proper context, is an act of worship and should be celebrated as such.3

At the end of the day, God cares a great deal that we enjoy the creation he has made. Why? Because when we enjoy the good things that he has made and trace it back to its origin in him, the enjoyment becomes an act of worship. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”

More than plants

It’s convenient (for my sake) that the biblical texts I chose dealt with food – plant food in particular. But the principles I have laid out go far beyond just raw plant food. Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock

and plants for man to cultivate,

that he may bring forth food from the earth

and wine to gladden the heart of man,

oil to make his face shine

and bread to strengthen man’s heart. (Psalm 104:14-15)

We’re now into the realm of bread, meat, and virtually anything else you could cultivate and turn into a product. We’re into the realm of cheeseburgers, pastas, brownies, buttered lobster, blueberry pancakes, philly cheesesteaks, apple crisp, and – oh yes – bacon. And as far as drinks are concerned, we have sweet tea, coconut water,  smoothies, apple juice, chocolate milk, and coffee.

Conclusion

With all this in view, should we not have a fuller picture of what we mean by God’s “vulgarity”? As some of the most tangible of goods we can consume as humans, God has created food and drink to be visible expressions of his goodness. Even apart from God’s saving grace in the gospel, his common grace expressed in the gifts of food and drink are enough to make one blush. And while we should certainly stray from gluttony and overindulgence, we should also thankfully leverage these gifts as means for worship and enjoyment of our exuberantly generous Father.

 


  1. I apologize for the wordiness of this definition. 
  2. Hermeneutically, I don’t have that one figured out yet. I’ll let you know when I do. 
  3. I hope to broach this subject later. For further reading in the meantime, see John Piper’s book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ

The Vulgarity of God, Part 1: Introduction

One of the most helpful quotes I’ve ever read from any work of C.S. Lewis comes from The Screwtape Letters1:

He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are “pleasures for evermore”. Ugh! … He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working—Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.

The phrase in quotes above, “pleasures for evermore” comes from Psalm 16:11, in which David prays, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” But is this reality? Is the God of the Bible really a “hedonist at heart”? Is he truly as “vulgar” as Wormwood says he is?

At this point, some would say “no”.  Perhaps their experience of Christianity or the church has been “[a]ll those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses” and couldn’t possibly see how a God who calls for such things could actually be considered joyful. Or perhaps others would point at human suffering and question whether a God in whose right hand are “pleasures forevermore” would also ordain pain and suffering. Perhaps others see the prohibitions – the “no”s of the Bible – and wonder why a God who is supposedly a God of “yes” would also at times say “no” to certain things. Or perhaps it all seems just too good to be true—wishful, sentimental thinking that doesn’t line up with reality.

To be sure, all of these reasons for saying “no” to the questions I posed have some legitimacy to them. I’m not here to negate anyone’s experience with the church or the world. But I would like to address what Lewis is saying and ask whether his claims line up with what the Bible teaches about the character of God.

Disclaimers and Definitions

But before I get going too far, let me set your expectations low. I’m not a writer by trade, nor have I done any sort of public writing besides my last post. Moreover, I’m not an accomplished theologian, much less an excellent communicator of theology. Furthermore, none of my thoughts are all that original; I’ve quoted from C.S. Lewis and the Bible, but I’m also greatly influenced by the thought lives of John Piper2 and Joe Rigney3. If you’re at all familiar with their work, you’ll probably hear echoes of their writing in my own.

I titled this post “The Vulgarity of God”. Obviously, the inspiration for this title comes from Screwtape’s exclamation, “He’s vulgar, Wormwood!” And perhaps it would be helpful if I define what I mean when I use the term “vulgar”. Merriam-Webster defines “vulgar” in a number of ways, but there are two (from Screwtape’s vantage) that make sense in this context:

  • ostentatious or excessive in expenditure or display, or
  • lewdly or profanely indecent.

Thus, Screwtape looks at the “world full of pleasures” that God has created and sees it, in sum, as ostentatious gesture to the creature (that is, to humans). It’s excessive (more on that word later), and far more than he is obligated to (or even should) offer. Lastly, it’s indecent of him, as an omnipotent and infinite being, to stoop to such small creatures to offer them such great joys.

So, when I speak of “The Vulgarity of God”, I am referring to God’s lavish, unblushing, and almost excessive provisions of joy for the human being, especially as expressed in the created order (though not limited thereto).

Now that definitions are out of the way, next time we can get to the fun stuff. We’ll start by examining “The Vulgarity of God in Food and Drink”


  1. The Screwtape Letters, for those who are unfamiliar, is stylized as a series of letters written from an older and more experienced demon (Screwtape) to his nephew and apprentice (Wormwood) concerning “the patient”, a man who they are trying to ensure will end up in hell. 
  2. John Piper was the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, where I attended church for roughly two years. He was so influenced by the work of C.S. Lewis that DesiringGod (Piper’s own ministry) put on a conference in honor of C.S. Lewis back in 2013 entitled, “The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis”. 
  3. A self-proclaimed Narnian and student of John Piper’s, Joe Rigney is an avid Lewis fan and is “convinced that he’s descended from King Lune of Archenland on his father’s side”. He is one of the pastors at Cities Church in Mineapolis, MN, where I attended for just under a year during my senior year of college.