Person: body and soul

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This is a print by artist Steve Prince. You can see and buy his beautiful art (including this piece) HERE.

I just finished taking a 10-week course on the Trinity. Early on in the course, the professor shared that she had recently received a question from one of her former students who is now a pastor. A couple of this pastor’s church’s members told her they’d been discussing the incarnation and had wondered if Jesus was still—right now–in his body. The church members told the pastor they had different viewpoints, but they did agree on one thing: it didn’t really matter that much.

The pastor was reaching out to her former professor for help in getting them to see that, yes, Jesus is right now in his body and, oh yes, it matters a GREAT deal!

I was reminded of that story very recently when I met with a young woman who has been sexual abused multiple times by different men. We were talking about false guilt, the sense that somehow she was at fault for this. “I know I need to reject that,” she said, “I know it’s not true.”

I nodded my head vigorously, and then she said something that made me stop. She said that maybe her body—because of the abuse—was not fit for anything better than abuse. And the way she said this and the way she pointed at her body as she said it gave me a clue. “What’s more important to who you are? I asked her. “Your body or your spirit?”

No hesitation. “My spirit. Of course.”

I held up my two, fisted hands in front of her, a few inches from each other. “So your body”—I wiggled my left hand—“and your spirit”—I wiggled my right hand—“are separate? The real you”—I lifted my right hand—“is your spirit? And this”—I lifted my left hand—“is just a shell, not important to who you are, not really you?”

She nodded.

I shook my head. “No,” I said, smiling at her. I clasped my hands together. “This is you, the full you. This is the ‘you’ who will be forever. This is the ‘you’ who will be with God forever.”

I went on to tell her that a big reason we know this is because of the incarnation of Jesus—the current incarnation of Jesus—the now-and-forever incarnation of Jesus. He didn’t just put on a shell for a period of 33 years and then shed it like a piece of worn-out luggage upon finishing a long journey. Jesus was and continues to be human, and being human means being a person: body and soul/spirit. He also didn’t get a new, unrecognizable body upon his resurrection, like a caterpillar sheds a cocoon upon becoming a butterfly. He was recognizable and he bore the scars of the wounds inflicted on his body before his death!*

I have found, in listening to women who have been sexually used and abused, that this last truth is SO important. Jesus still bears scars on his resurrected body, and these tell us that all that happens to us—body and spirit/soul is significant. The scars on the resurrected Jesus tell us that God values us as whole persons, that what happens to our bodies matters to God. The abuse of the body is not less significant to him than wounds to our souls (and is there any way to say that any deep wound—physical or emotional—does not affect ALL our being: body-and-spirit?). Jesus’ scars let us know he understands right now that harm done to one’s body is harm done to one’s very person, and it is seen and hated as violence against one of God’s beloveds. But the scars also offer hope, for Jesus’ scars are not signs of defeat but of healing, the healing of the entire world. So, too, can we know that the effects of sin on our bodies—both the visible effects and those hidden—will be transformed.

*NOTE: Not long after I wrote the above, I read a blog post by Mike Frost in which he eloquently wrote about the body of Christ as part of his Lenten blog series in which he is sharing what he is learning from contemplating a painting of the body of the dead Christ by Renaissance artist, Andrea Mantegnacon. I’ve pasted in part of Frost’s blog post below. If you want to read the entire post (I highly recommend it), here’s the link: “you can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies.”

“The baffling miracle of the Incarnation is this: not that Christ’s spirit entered a human body, but that God was human in the initial mitosis, with the fusion of gametes, the splitting of cells, the condensing and compacting of chromosomes within the uterus. Christ was fully human from the beginning so that his death was the death of God, not the death of the body he had invaded or used for such a purpose.

So when I contemplate Mantegna’s depiction of Christ in that painting I try to be present to a terrifying concept: God the corpse. For if this corpse is not Christ what kind of death has he died? A proxy death?

Christ was fully human. He experienced all the limitations of human existence. He was captive to bodily needs and functions of being human. And so his death was truly his death, and his corpse is truly his body.

On Easter Sunday we will celebrate Christ’s resurrection, his victory over death, the triumph of grace, the glory of God. And a month later we will celebrate the most baffling miracle of all — the Ascension — in which a piece of this material world, Christ’s body, ascends into the heavenly realm. It’s all too great to imagine.”

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And even more thoughts on the Trinity–clearly entire books have been written on this!

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This painting goes with thought 2. It’s an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the theosis of the saints. What is “theosis”? See THOUGHT 2 below.

THOUGHT 1: “To really live”

What does it mean to really live? A religious scholar asked Jesus a similar question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” If I were to put “eternal life” in my own words, I would think of it as life that is not bound by a particular time or season or set of circumstances but is forever life, full and rich and deep forever.

Well, Jesus turns the question back on this scholar and asks if he can find the answer in the Law of Moses. The man can. He answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him he answered correctly and then says, “(D)o this, and you will live.”

So this is life, eternal life: loving God (with my entire being) and loving neighbor as myself. So simple, yet so terribly difficult for me to do. Impossible for me to do this.

But I am not asked to do this and then left powerless to actually do it.

The Nicene Creed refers to the Spirit of God as the “giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…” Jesus, immediately after he was resurrected and reunited with his followers, breathed on them. This is the same breathing found in Genesis, when God “breathed” into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and in Ezekiel when the breath of God causes the bleached bones to live again!

I sometimes feel like a clod of dirt or like a pile of dry, dusty bones. I am not enlivened with the love of God and neighbor. I find myself, like the religious scholar, asking, “And who is my neighbor?” and then shaking my head at my inability to love the person God points out to me.

But I have been breathed on! I have been given the gift of the Spirit by the Father and the Son, and the Spirit “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6) to me—fills me with love for God and neighbor! New Testament scholar Gerald Hawthorne wrote, “The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus extends to his followers in all of the little and the big things of their existences. … Jesus has freely and lavishly given (the Spirit) to those who would be his disciples today!”*

To live eternal life right here, right now—to live like Jesus among and with all people! Give us life, Holy Spirit, to live like that!

*The Presence and the Power by Gerald Hawthorne, p. 242. Also found on Amazon.com.

 

THOUGHT 2: “Justification by faith AND becoming like God”

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen describes the differences between the Eastern and Western wings of the church in the third century in this way: “The Eastern tradition expressed itself in Greek, and its distinctive doctrine of salvation was conveyed in the terms of deification or divinization (from the Greek term theosis, “denoting God”), which means “becoming like God.” The Western wing of the church, with its center in Antioch, used Latin and focused primarily on moral obedience and justification by faith.”*

That fascinates me! I was raised in a church culture that was very focused on justification by faith and moral obedience, so the idea of having my Christian faith expressed as “becoming like God”—that through Christ’s work and the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence/power, I am being made more and more like God (2 Peter 1:4)—this still feels like a very strange thing but also a beautiful thing! Does anyone else identify with this?

*The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction, p.72

I found a couple of helpful blog posts when I was googling “theosis.” I’m including the links here in case anyone would want to explore further. Both are very readable.

https://www.orthodoxroad.com/understanding-theosis/

https://interruptingthesilence.com/2011/07/09/theosis-the-human-vocation/

 

THOUGHT 3: Three reading suggestions on the Trinity

I am reading Trinity Matters: In Faith, Work, & Love (…and even theology) by Steve Dancause right now. If you are at all interested in reading about the Trinity, I highly recommend Dancause’s book, along with Darrell Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity and Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. All are readable, filled with joy, and concerned with concrete implications and applications for followers of Jesus—both individually and corporately.

Here are just a few quotes from the first few pages of Dancause’s book to whet your appetite.

“If we don’t deep down trust that Jesus is God alongside the Father, then why would we obey his commands? For example, why would we love our enemies—an extremely difficult thing to do—when it is easier to model our treatment of enemies on Old Testament passages that we find easier? And if we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is God alongside the Father and the Son, then why would we submit to the Spirit’s desire to transform us?”(230/3415, Kindle edition)

“The Church faces catastrophic decline in the developed West. Even in areas where some churches seem to be thriving, our general reputation is woeful. Why? Because we (the Church in Western society as a whole) don’t follow the teachings of Jesus as paramount. We prefer sectarian politics, sacred tribalism, legalism, academic philosophy, or a health-and-wealth gospel over a radical faith in Jesus who is God and perfectly reveals God’s character. We have settled for weak views of the Trinity.” (238/3415)

“If we have seen the Father, it is because we have seen him through the Son, and if we have received the Holy Spirit, it is through the faith of, and our faith in, the Son. There is simply no better place to find God than in Jesus. In Jesus, we are invited into the life of the triune God who exists as an eternal act of perfect love. In Jesus we see clearly not only what God looks like, but also what true humanity looks like. Since Jesus is fully human, sin, separation, and death no longer define human nature for those who are in Christ. Jesus is indeed more human than we are opening the way for us to live into our own human fullness.” (292)

 

#trinityclassns

Similes made in the image

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NOTE: I am taking a course on the Trinity at Northern Seminary right now, & our assignments are Instagram posts with a picture and reflections/questions on our readings. I’m putting some of them here on the blog. If you would like to read posts from other members of this class, just search the hashtag #trinityclassNS on Instagram.

POST 1

“Made in the image of God but marred through sin, man is renewed in Jesus Christ who is the image of God in which man was first formed!” from Our Triune God by Peter Toon, p. 168

Christ IS the image of God. We are made IN the image of God. Using the language of literature, I am tempted to say Christ is the metaphor of God, but I cannot, for a metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things, and Christ is not comparison but IS God, one with the Father and Spirit in indescribable ways, yet also a person distinct from the Father and the Spirit. Yet Christ, like the very best metaphors, illuminates and makes clear an image that is hidden or unknown. Christ IS the image of God—revealed to us.

Can I say, though, that we humans are similes? I think so. Similes, like metaphors, compare two unlike things, but they are one step further removed, using the words “like” or “as” to make the comparison. A simile, like a metaphor, can illuminate an idea, but a bad simile can actually interfere with understanding an idea. As similes of God, we are capable of great good because of our being made in the image of our Creator. But since we are inept similes, the great capabilities for good have been damaged so that we are also capable of and prone to incredibly great harm. It is only in Jesus that the image can be renewed/made new.

How is this renewal worked out in our lives?

The Spirit, “from within the Christians’ own lives makes response to Jesus and the Father” (126, quote from Michael Ramsey). We come to know, through the Spirit’s work within us, the Father as “our Father”/“Abba” and Jesus as Lord and King. We become renewed in our identity as beloved children of God the Father and empowered citizens of the great, good Lord of the universe. And as this renewed identity works deeper into our souls, we are changed/healed/repaired, bit by bit, and we, as similes, become clear and helpful to those who “read” us so that we contribute to rather than hinder our readers’ understanding of God.

*the photo above is of a webpage with 56 bad and good similes found in high school student papers. Here’s the link (https://dysonology.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/56-bestworst-similes-used-in-high-school-exams/) so you can read all 56 of them if you want!

Post 2

The essay “God Crucified” by Richard Bauckham has SO much richness in it! In this post I’ll simply be pasting in some favorite quotes from the book and then closing with a question of my own.

“Jesus, the New Testament (NT) writers are saying, belongs inherently to who God is” (32). The Servant, seen in the Old Testament book of Isaiah “…belongs to the identity of the unique God. This God is not only the high and lofty one who reigns from his throne in the high and holy place; he also abases himself to the condition of the crushed and the lowly (Isa. 57:15)” (36). “(Christ’s) humiliation belongs to the identity of God as truly as his exaltation does. The identity of God—who God is—is revealed as much in self-abasement and service as it is in exaltation and rule. The God who is high can also be low, because God is God not in seeking his own advantage but in self-giving. His self-giving in abasement and service ensures that his sovereignty over all things is also a form of his self-giving. Only the Servant can also be the Lord. Only the Servant who is also the Lord receives the recognition of his lordship—the acknowledgement of his unique deity—from the whole creation” (45). “These (the exaltation and humiliation revealing God—being his identity) are not contradictions because God is self-giving love.. This is the meaning of the Johannine paradox that Jesus is exalted and glorified on the cross.” “In this act of self-giving God is most truly himself and defines himself for the world” (51).

My question: How do the implications of God being a Servant work out in the nitty-gritty of my life? What is one relationship or situation in my life in which I need to choose humility, choose to listen rather than speak, choose to not prove myself, choose to serve? #trinityclassNS

 

Trinity Class, posts 1 and 2

Hello everyone, I’m in a class on the Trinity right now, and one of our assignments is to post our reading reflections on Instagram. Since they’re already being written for public viewing, I’m going to also post them here. I’m super new to Instagram, so bear with me as I adjust to the 2,200 character limit! Blessings, Jen.

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The following quote is from Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell W. Johnson

“The God who is ‘us’ draws near to us so that ‘us’ can draw us into the circle of his ‘us-ness.’ The God who is Trinity draws near to you and me and draws you and me near to himself, so that you and I can participate in the life within the circle of the Trinity. …

What are the dynamics of this Relationship at the center of the universe?

The good news is the answer is not a total mystery. … For the Second Person of the Trinity has come to earth and taken on our earthliness, clothing himself in our flesh and blood. And, as one of us, he lives out, in human form, the dynamics of life within the circle of God’s knowing of himself. When we read the New Testament gospels we are reading the revelation of what goes on within the Trinity!” (from Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell W. Johnson, copyright 2002 by Regent College Publishing, page 77)

It is midway through January, and the Christmas tree, the garland, the lights are back in the storage closet.

But Nativity sets are still scattered throughout my house—a couple of them on my kitchen counter, one on a shelf in my living room, another on the piano. They will stay up all year long as reminders of the God who is Emmanuel, who is God with us, who so longed for us know him that the Son took on flesh and entered our broken, human story to reveal the true, full story of Life with God. He quickened a longing in our hearts for this full story, made a way for us to enter it, and is ever and always holding out an invitation to be drawn into the circle of the Trinity and know what life abundant truly is.

In the pages following the above quote, Johnson writes about seven words that, for him, “express the essential dynamics of the Life within the circle of the ‘Us.’” He chose these words: Intimacy, Joy, Servanthood, Purity, Power, Creativity, Peace. These are all revealed in the stories of the Nativity, in the life of the Son who in his living, loving, dying, and living again and always communicates to us—in ways we can grasp—the intimacy, joy, servanthood, purity, power, creativity, and peace of the Trinity. And through the grace of the Son, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit, you and I—we—us—are being brought into that Life.

And so, to remind me to enter into and to celebrate this Life, the Nativity sets stay up.

Fear driving out love

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Photo and lettering by Emily (daughter). If you like what you see, visit her Etsy shop LetteringbyEm to see if you’d like to order a piece. 

I have tried to stay out of the current political storm for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t know a whole lot, so I don’t see much point in my making a less than fully informed comment. Second, I simply don’t want to add to the division, and I’ve got friends on both sides.

And it’s these “sides” that are getting to me.

You see, I’m taking a Jesus and the Gospels class right now, and we’re looking at Jesus’ message and life and how he didn’t fit into any of the political camps among the Jews of his day. He wasn’t a seize-back-control/power militant; he wasn’t a “maintain differences” but work-the-system guy; and he wasn’t a separatist who withdrew from politics and society completely.

He said things like the Sermon on the Mount and taught people to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth. He told stories about crossing ethnic divides and putting ourselves out to love our neighbors, and he ate with “sinners” and outcasts.

He didn’t fit into anybody’s mold. As soon as someone tried to make him a member of their camp, he said something that made it clear he wasn’t.

But he wasn’t a maverick, just out to find his own way, different simply to be different. He was adamant about that. He was actually following orders. He was doing his Father’s will, doing it all the way to the cross.

And Jesus encouraged his followers to do the same. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he said, in his invitation to a cruciform, God- and others-focused life.

N. T. Wright wrote this about Jesus’ call: “Jesus was summoning his hearers to give up their whole way of life, their national and social agendas, and to trust him for a different agenda, a different set of goals.”*

I don’t think Jesus is summoning us today to anything less than this.

Now I don’t want to simplify the political complexities of the United States. I don’t want to make it seem as if we shouldn’t have opinions or discussions about the current campaign and issues.

But I’m seeing a lot of anger on Facebook and Twitter, and behind the anger I see fear. There’s fear that the world ahead will not look anything like the world of the past—and there’s fear that it will look far too much like the past. There’s a fear of lost power, lost say and influence and majority control. There’s a fear that our agendas and goals might be set aside.

And this makes me think of this verse: Perfect love drives out fear.**

I know sentences are not like mathematical equations. You cannot simply flip the two sides of that sentence around and have it mean exactly the same thing. But I’ve wondered if many of us Christians have let “Fear drive out perfect love.”

When we fear (and anger is often, I believe, a result of fear), it is a sign of a lack of trust. Somewhere deep down we are not trusting in the perfect love of God. We are trusting in something else, something less certain, something other than God.

And why?

Because deep down I think we know God’s agenda and goals do not match up with our own. His agenda and goals are not about our safety and comfort; His agenda and goals are not about Christianity retaining power in our political and economic systems. They are not about America being seen as a great nation.

His end goal is that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, that Christ reign as King, and God be worshiped by all.

And while he promises that all of the workings toward this goal will result in our good, he doesn’t promise that this good won’t also involve discomfort and danger and tribulation for us. In fact, he promises the opposite.

But that is perfect love: love that is perfect not only in character but also in foresight. It knows the good end and understands what trouble along the way is necessary for that end result.

This is the perfect love that can drive out fear.

But we must trust this Perfect Love.

We must trust this God.

Where does our hope lie?

If it depends on a candidate or a party or a human agenda, we will fear, and love will be driven out.

But if we trust in the perfect love of God, fear will be driven out.

We will know we are loved.

We will live without fear.

We will love…

Without fear.

 

*from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Here’s a link to a recent Christianity Today article in which Mike Bird, author of What Christians Ought to Believe, interviews N. T. (Tom) Wright about his latest book, The Day the Revolution Began.

**Please follow the link to see this verse in context (I John 4:8). I have to admit I am taking the verse a bit out of context, as the fear it is talking about specifically is fear of God’s judgment. But in our modern, Western world, I feel we have swung so much to the other side of who/what we fear, that we must acknowledge that misplaced fear, remind ourselves that God is the one we SHOULD fear–and then take great comfort from this verse.

Doing and Being

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pic by Emily Underwood

As I pray for Chicago and my neighborhood, I often find myself saying to God, “I don’t know what to do.” “How do I get involved?” I ask, “How do I feel as if I am helping in some way?”

He’s not answering the way I’d like—with a beam of light or voice from heaven, or even an email or phone call. Instead I hear, “Patience. Steadfastness. Stillness,” the words I believe I was given months before we moved—that I thought were just for during the move.

Maybe not.

I’m reading A Light to the Nations right now, a book about the mission of God revealed in the Old Testament, about the nation Israel as a participant in that mission to bless and bring light to the entire world. The big idea is that Israel’s very reason for being—for being chosen, for being a nation—is missional, is for the purpose of revealing God to the entire world. “All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you,” God told Abraham. God’s people are chosen and privileged not for their own sake or for the purpose of hoarding or mere enjoyment, but to be a display and contrast people to those around them.

But Goheen makes the point that this mission was not primarily about going but about being, about “living an attractive lifestyle to God’s glory before the surrounding nations,” about living “publicly to God’s praise” (Barth, quoted in Goheen 634/7002, Kindle edition).

So when I asked God again this morning, “What do I do?” these ideas from Light to the Nations came to my mind. I have, honestly, plenty of “doing” to do. Much of it seems mundane or even focused primarily on my family rather than my neighborhood, but this everyday doing, when “done” in the sight of my neighborhood or the other places I go in the course of my week, is a display, a way of being.

My next question, then, is if my way of doing/being is also a contrast. The Torah given to the Israelites reached into every area of life so they would understand that even the normal, everyday things all humans do belong to God. He is God of every area of life, and all can be done in the knowledge that we are his and not our own; and this is to His glory. When everyday life is done with this truth in mind, then it will certainly be a contrast from those outside the faith. It will also be a way of being, a distinct and different way of being.

I pray that through this being, we are a light to the neighborhood…

and I pray for patience, steadfastness, and stillness to wait for and recognize God’s calls to “doing” as well.

P.S. This piece came out of a class assignment that I wrote for my Former Prophets class at Northern. When I read the original assignment to Dave (husband), he suggested I should add it to this post, so it follows below. The post above stands alone, but if you’re interested in the topic of God’s mission as it is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments, then feel free to read on. The class is studying the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel.  

Gile (professor teaching the class) expresses the concern that many Christians have jumped for far too long from Genesis 3 to Jesus, from God’s promise that the serpent would be “crushed” to the coming of the One who defeated sin and death. The intervening story, including all the history of Israel, has been reduced, sometimes to mere examples or morality lessons. And when we look at it this way, we lose sight of God and his big story, his mission that did not take a hiatus from chapter 3 to the New Testament but has always been in motion. God breaks onto the darkening scene in Genesis 12 with the promises given to Abraham, chosen by God to participate in God’s mission to restore his fallen creation and move them forward into the consummation of a full restoration on a new earth. In this action of choosing one man and through him, one nation, it is as if God has focused his intense beam of light on one side of a prism, not for the purpose of hiding it or simply making that one side glow, but for the light to move through that and emerge on the other side as a full spectrum, revealing the holiness and goodness of a God who longs for all his creation to be in right relationship with Himself and each other.

Looked at in this way, the Old Testament becomes God’s story, with Israel commissioned as its major participant. Goheen (author of Light to the Nations, referred to in the above post) quotes Wolff and calls Genesis 12:2-3 a “‘stupendous utterance’ for ecclesiology—indeed for the whole story of the Bible” (740/7002). Election has a “so that” purpose: “God’s people are a so that people: they are chosen so that they might know God’s salvation and then invite all nations into it.” This makes the story of Israel a revelation of God’s mission, of God himself. As God redeems his people, binds them to Himself in covenant, and dwells with them, the people of God are empowered to a particular kind of being, a holy people on “display” who live in right relationship with God and then reveal and mediate him to others as a kingdom of priests. Their display is one of great distinction from the nations around them; their entire society was to be righteous, walking in the way of Yahweh, and characterized by justice for all, the least as well as the great. This distinct display, this “light to the nations,” was to be winsome, drawing people in to learn more of the God who so transformed his people and then inspiring them to worship and praise this great God.

 

Missional churches

Early in June–before we got completely crazy with moving, I took a five-day intensive class at Northern Seminary. It was taught by Dr. Michael Frost. It was excellent, and I wrote a blog post about it (“Exiles in a post-Christian era“) for Northern Seminary’s blog. If you’re interested in missional living and the missional church, Dr. Frost is a leading thinker in this area, and the post has links in it to several of his books. If you’re at all wrestling with feeling separated from your neighbors or community–or church, I highly recommend Frost’s book Incarnate.

Click on the title above to read the post. While you’re on Northern Seminary’s site, I also recommend checking out some of the other posts. Northern Seminary leaders have written some really good pieces this summer on the violence plaguing and tearing apart our country.