Posted by: Brian Musser | June 8, 2012

Working like “The Man”: Balancing God’s nearness and distance in our work.

God’s Immanence (nearness) vs. God’s Transcendence (distance)

Throughout human history we have see-sawed between the concept of a God (or gods) who is too much like us and a God who is too different from us.

Misconception:  God is so different from us that we cannot understand anything about Him therefore God’s work is totally different and unique from our work.

The Greek and Roman gods were very near and present in everyday life.  They were sometimes helpful and at other times harmful but they were always nearby and involved.  They were intimately involved in the needs of workers.  There were gods for the farmers and gods for the smiths and gods for generals.  But these were nothing more than super-humans.  They were just like people only stronger and more powerful.  They were sinful and vulnerable.  They were a mix of good and evil.  They were just like us only bigger.

Then you have the other side.  The Deists of the 1800’s developed this idea of God the best.  This God is a perfect being.  Completely separate and separated from the world.  This God is untarnished and unblemished by the strife of the Creation.  He is unchanging and immovable.  This God is perfect but being perfect must require him to be far and distant.  He is also inaccessible.  Even if we were able to contact this God, He is so utterly different that He is incomprehensible.  His ways are not our ways.  We are totally isolated from this type of God.

We have created these competing ideas about God.  On one hand we have gods that are very useful and helpful and immediately present but they are not always powerful enough or good enough to do what is in our best interests.  Then on the other hand we have a God who is perfectly good and completely strong but He is not close enough and caring enough and malleable enough to change circumstances for our benefit.

Band of Brothers: Episode Seven – Breaking Point highlights this distinction.  Band of Brothers is a 10 part miniseries that highlights Easy Company of the 101st Airborne through World War II.  Episode Seven contrasts the leadership of 1st Lt. Norman Dike and 1st Sergeant Carwood Lipton.  Lt. Dike is extremely distant from his command and his troops.  He is hard to find and no one ever knows when and where he will show up.  There are several scenes where Lt. Dike is needed but unable to be found.  There are several scenes where he shows up unexpectedly.  This haphazard nature of Lt. Dike’s leadership was very unsettling for the entire company.  Sgt. Lipton was the opposite.  He was always around.  He was always present with the men.  He had a great rapport with the entire company, but he was just “one of the guys.”  He was a non-commissioned officer and although he had the respect of the men, he did not have the official leadership position.  During this episode, it was obvious that Sgt. Lipton was the glue that held the company together but it was also obvious that what was best for the company was beyond his power to control.  (If you are interested in seeing a scene from this miniseries that highlights their leadership here is a Youtube clip of the climax of episode 7.  Note of warning this clip does contain explicit language and graphic violence.)

Can you remember a leader in a work context that was too distant to effectively lead?  Feel free to share this story in the comment section below.

What was your opinion of him or her?  What was the attitude of any other workers toward this leader?

Can you remember a leader who was really close to those they were trying to lead?  Feel free to share this story in the comment section below.

Did they ever have problems retaining the respect of those they were trying to lead?  What was the attitude of the other workers toward this leader?

Can you remember a leader in a work context that did not seem to have enough institutional power to lead effectively?  They may have known what needed to done to make things better but they were unable to accomplish any of the necessary changes.  What was your initial attitude toward his leader?  Did it change over time?

What are the benefits of having a leader who is connected to those they are leading?  What are the problems?

What are the benefits of having a leader who is more powerful than those they are trying to lead?  What could be some of the problems?

Which type of leader would you rather have?  Which type of leader would you rather be?

Have you ever had a leader whom you think balanced the two well?  If so feel free to share the story in the comment section below.

Sovereignty and Immanuel:  A Biblical Balance

In the Christian Scriptures we see this tension but it is relieved not because of anything we have done but because of God’s own actions.  The Scriptures do reveal a God who is great and marvelous and incomprehensible to humanity.  Read Job38 – 41 for a great picture of God in this light.  Here are the first couple verses of that section (but you can find the entire passage at www.biblegateway.com )

Job 38:1 – 11 (NIV)

1 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;

I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone —
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment

and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

But the Scriptures also reveal and are completely based on the assumption that in some small way this God has chosen to reveal himself to us in manners and forms that we can understand.  We could never figure out God for ourselves.  God is too big for us to comprehend but God can reveal certain parts about himself in ways that make sense to us.  God can explain Himself to us.  And God does this through His creation, through the Scriptures and ultimately through Christ.  God is totally incomprehensible to us except for the parts He has explained.  God is a mystery but certain parts of that mystery have been explained.  One of these key revelations of God is in and through humanity.  God has used us to communicate some things about what He is like.  God is both the sovereign over the entire Universe and the Immanuel, “God is with us.”  God is both caring enough to want to know us intimately and powerful enough to make the necessary changes in our favor.

For a brief moment we are going to focus on Genesis 1:26-31.  This will be a very important passage for us in later posts but for now we are only going to take one point out of it.

Gen 1:26-31 (HCSB)

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”

So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you, for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it. I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.

A God who works creates humanity in His own image.  And then immediately after creating us, He gives us certain assignments.  The image of God in humanity has deep and meaningful significance.  Our value and worth are intimately tied to the fact that we are specifically created in God’s image.  The entire scope of what it means to be created in the image of God far exceeds this study, however; it is important (vital) to note that humanity, being created in the image of God, is directly and immediately connected to the assignments God has for us to do.  Our work is somehow dependent upon the image of God invested within us.  Our tasks of ruling, being fruitful, multiplying, filling and subduing is interwoven among four statements of being created in God’s image.

Being created in the image of God means in some small way that we “look” like God.  God has chosen to reveal some things about His nature through His image in us.  God has also chosen to reveal some things about how God works through how we work.  Being created in the image of God who worked and then immediately assigned tasks to complete allows us to assume that we can “look” like God as we work.  So, If we can work like God works, how exactly does God work?  As we examine how God works are there any points of comparison between God’s work and ours?

This will be the main premise between the next several posts about the theology of work.  I intend to post on this subject weekly on Fridays or Saturdays.  You can check back weekly for my next thoughts on the subject or you can check out my other blog that is entirely devoted to the subject peaceandpower.wordpress.com.  If you found this post helpful share it with others.  If you want to stay in the conversation subscribe.

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