I’ve been taking a 9-month course at my church that provides a survey of the scriptures and church history. We started with the Old Testament, then moved to the Gospels and the writings of Paul, and lately have begun making our way through the beginnings of the church.
It was such a messy process, that.
Our teacher, Father Stephen, often reminds us that the apostles — the ones who walked and talked with Jesus, saw his resurrected self, and were then commissioned to share the message and begin to teach the way — had no context for the context of church we have today. They met in homes and catacombs, wherever they were safe and could share life and the teaching of the way with those who had come to believe.
The world had not yet heard of Jesus Christ. The message was new. And the organization of the church was even further behind the proliferation of that message. It took about 150 years for the followers of Jesus and his way to realize it needed a system to preserve itself. And it was another 150 or so years after that before church buildings ever entered the picture.
In short, the apostles — even Paul, who wrote a major portion of the New Testament we read today — had no idea throughout the whole of their lifetimes that the church would come to be what it became. They had no idea the followers of Jesus would learn to organize themselves on the broader scale that they did. They had no inkling of what lay ahead of their lifetimes for the church worldwide.
But Jesus did.
Jesus knew before he ever came to earth what would happen after he left it. The shaky, confusing, stumbling journey the early believers took toward an understanding of what it means to be the church universal and the early, formative steps it took in the first several hundred years of its existence — not to mention the many centuries that have unfolded since — were known to Jesus from the beginning.
And it’s not just that.
It’s that God knew, before he ever created the world, what would happen upon its creation.
He knew the fall of man would happen. He knew man’s separation from full communion and intimacy with God lay ahead. He surveyed the landscape of mankind’s timeline in advance and also saw his choosing of Israel. He saw the exodus and exiles.
He saw the dark years and then the coming of the light of Jesus Christ. He foreknew the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ and the formation of the church. He saw the unfolding centuries of history — man against man, nation against nation, confusion upon confusion — and, in the midst of it all, the church celebrating the eucharist, the proclamation of Jesus whose body and blood invite us to share in that same life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And he saw the end of time before it ever began, that holy vision of Jesus presiding over all and the making of all things new.
God saw it all — every single and continuous piece of it — and chose to create this world anyway. Somehow, he deemed it good.
Just something I’m continuing to think about in response to Tuesday’s post.