At a worship conference I participated in last year in Joplin, Missouri, a friend of mine there named Jim gave a Biblical comparison I’ve been chewing on ever since. And some things in Sarah’s post today indirectly stirred these thoughts again. So I thought I’d share them with you.
In the Book of Genesis, we find two powerful pictures of heaven-earth connections. One of them is the Tower of Babel, found in Genesis 11; the other is Jacob’s ladder dream found in Genesis 28. One negative, one positive.
The Tower of Babel is the negative example. Lots of speculation occurs over why the people were trying to build a tower reaching to heaven, but at the very least it’s understood that this was man’s attempt to ascend to the divine. And their heart-motive was “to make a name for ourselves.” God purposefully thwarted this attempt.
In Jacob’s dream–the positive example–a ladder came from heaven down to earth, and angels were ascending and descending on it, and in this transaction, God basically re-affirmed the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob. There must have been more to it than just a dream, because when Jacob awoke, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
In both accounts, there is an attempt at a heaven-earth connection. What makes one good and one bad? In the case of the Tower of Babel–man is attempting to ascend (earth to heaven). But in the case of Jacob’s ladder–heaven comes to earth.
This seems to be a consistent theme throughout Scripture. Anytime man tries to ascend to the heavenly realms to get to God, heaven takes a dim view of it, because at best it is a work of man. But whenever God initiates the heaven-earth connection, it is accompanied by His blessings. We can see this most obviously in the way Messiah came (Immanuel–God with us, God coming down to man), and even at the very end, when New Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth.
Earth-to-heaven connection, bad. Heaven-to-earth connection, good.
Now it’s time for a disturbing question. How much of what we currently do in our Christian walk is actually an attempt to ascend? We pray, study, and even worship fervently in our attempts to “get to God”, to “be spiritual”, to “be stronger Christians.” And don’t get me wrong, those are great things to do–but are we really supposed to be doing them for those reasons? I think many of us do these things in an attempt to ascend spiritually–and the tell-tale sign that this is the case is when we feel self-satisfied, even a bit proud of ourselves, when we feel we have done enough. I know that’s how I used to approach it. And looking back on it, I can truly see that this is the path of religion–just another attempt to build a tower to heaven. This is not something God blesses.
This whole approach actually flies in the face of the message of grace. The whole point is that we can’t be good enough; we can’t earn it; we can’t do anything to ascend to the divine. But by the work of Christ coming to earth, and by His grace, He comes to man and places His divine nature in us…and then He lifts us up. God initiates this whole thing. All we do is yield, receive, and submit to the blessing He wants to give. And as Sarah points out…this is where the fruit of the Spirit is birthed in our lives.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t seek to develop godly virtue in our lives, because we should. All it means is that our very ability to be and to do good comes to us because God has come down, not because we are going up.
This understanding has totally reshaped my thinking, even about ministry. Anything I do, I want it to be a response to what God has initiated–not an attempt to get God to do something. I want what I do to reflect the ladder rather than the tower. Heaven comes to earth–not the other way around. May our lives ever more be a reflection of this truth.