- Scribbling Journal: Entry 2
- Jesus Wept: A Short Theological Reflection on Grief
- Being Human
- Short Reflections on Christian Politics
- Scribbling Journal: Entry 1
Happy New Year!
The thing about the Christian life is that no one really knows what they’re doing (this is true for most of life). There’s a reason why we have so many different denominations and sects. I’ve met pastors, scholars, and believers from all sorts of churches and traditions, and, apart from Jesus, the one thing we all have in common is that none of us really know what to do with it.
Once I met a guy who had a family, and he was an avid street evangelist. He would stand on street corners and loudly preach repentance. He was even arrested for it once. It wasn’t long after that, however, that he did a complete 180 and became aggressively antichristian in everything he did. He told me that he changed his mind on everything because we don’t even have the original copies of the bible. This surprised me because I wasn’t aware that we believed there were.
I used to meet regularly with a friend for coffee at a local cafe near the beach when I was a pastor. He was and still is one of the most passionate people about Jesus I’ve ever met. We used to talk about everything “bible.” From miracles to church to science and faith. One morning, as we were discussing science and biblical interpretation, he said that if evolution was true, he could never be a Christian. I was shocked. Here was one of the most lovely, passionate people I’ve met who never backs down from talking about Jesus to people and yet a single potential change in his worldview could lead to his entire faith being undermined.
I meet people like this day in and day out. I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons why one would walk away from their faith. There is. The reasons above are justifiable. I completely get it. What surprises me is how easy it is for these reasons to cause us to walk away from something we’ve placed our entire identity on. Though I doubt and wrestle with God, and I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I didn’t follow Jesus, I’ll never not believe until I’m dead and come face to face with endless nothing. Until then, I’m winging it. I try to attend church, knowing it’s good for me, even if it’s boring. I read my bible, knowing that I am getting to know Jesus more and more, even if most of what it says is either lost on me or it just drags on. I try to pray even if no one talks back. I do good even if there’s not always sense in doing so. My life is based on risk. My life is a gamble. I believe my choices in the here and now will pay off in a potential eternity.
The irony is that if I gave it all up now, I’d be trading one sense of freedom for another and one doubt for the next. If I walked away from Jesus, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering if I made the right choice. What if He is real? What if Hell does exist? I would be wrestling with the God of Nothing, wondering if worshipping at his altar is any better than the last. Would I miss how the biblical story makes the most sense of my existence, or would I ignore the voice at the back of my mind and embrace the meaninglessness that my new God offers?
All this diatribe makes me wonder if Jesus struggled with the same levels of doubt. We’re told that he was tempted in every way we were, yet he was without sin… But did Jesus doubt that God was real (a strange thought given Jesus is God) or that he was imminent or in his corner? When offered the riches of the world from Satan, did he – even for a fleeting moment consider bending the knee? There’s debate within theological circles as to whether or not Jesus could really sin.
On the one hand, some say he can’t because God can’t sin. Others say his temptations couldn’t have been genuine if he couldn’t sin. The answer may depend on how you see the person of Jesus. There’s something comforting in the idea that the humanity of Christ genuinely struggled with doubt, questions and temptations on the same level that we are tempted. He overcame sin not because he was divine but because he was truly human. Which means most of us aren’t truly human. Which begs the question, what does it mean to be human?
I’ve been watching and listening to many of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works lately. The more I get into it, the more I identify with the Hobbits of all people, or I may want to identify with them. Living in the rolling lush green hills of the Shire with its winding creeks and rivers, the Hobbits are reclusive but communal. They’re simple and well-fed, not wanting to stick their noses where it doesn’t belong. Bilbo Baggins cooks, cleans and smokes his pipe. Frodo runs around the Shire and plays as they anticipate festivals and parties. They are living the human dream.
Furthermore, the one ring, perhaps one of if not the most corrupting power in Middle Earth, has a hard time genuinely turning them to darkness. Humans, on the other hand, wage war and consume and destroy anything they get their hands on. They build up their kingdoms, and the ring corrupts them very quickly.
I see the good life in the Shire, but I know it’s currently in the power-hungry cities and wartorn lands of men. I desire the carefree life of Bilbo (before he goes on his adventure), but I try to take it according to my own power rather than wait for the good life to be given to me. I maybe have 50 years-ish left on earth, and as I look back on the last 30 and the world around me, I realise that the thing that defines humans the most is having an idea of the good, striving for it, but in all the wrong ways.
The glory of God is man fully alive, but the life of a man is the vision of God.
The French theologian John Calvin once wrote, “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” It seems that even the great Protestant reformers who were famous for their emphasis on God’s sovereignty in history and salvation never intended for us to lose understanding of what it meant to be human. John Calvin seems to go even a step further as he stressed the importance of understanding ourselves to understand the Grand Creator of the universe. To me, this is a fascinating notion. All the theology and doctrine about God only make sense if we first understand who we are. This means, for the Christian, that we need to be deliberate in 1. knowing what it means to be human and 2. what it means to be “you” specifically. In this post, my goal is to reflect on these ideas and perhaps together, we can come to understand what it means to “John Doe the Human” and, in turn, catch a glimpse of the Creator Himself.
To Be Human
I already feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. The doctrine of man, understanding and defining humanity is an enormous endeavour that philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, psychologists, and biologists have sailed for many years. Unfortunately, these disciplines rarely get along. Notably, within conservative evangelical circles, there is a distrust of the sciences in a bid to uphold and champion sola Scriptura. However, hermeneutics and the doctrine of scripture is not the topic of the blog. We will not get into age-old debates on science vs religion (many of you by now should know where I sit on these issues). We are here to reflect on what it means to be human, and as someone who has studied theology, that’s where my mind goes to when I begin to make sense of who we are (and I think it’s a pretty safe bet).
Over the last century or two, science, particularly in human biology, has made a lot of progress in what makes up a human materially. However, what makes up a human (cells, bones, tissue etc.), and what it means to be human are related but separate issues.
In Genesis 1, we have God creating the cosmos, and on day 6, He creates humanity “in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26).” There’s much to be said about the image of God. However, one doesn’t need to be a high theologian to know that something about humanity is tied up in the person of God. Human’s were “very good.” I can imagine God sitting back as He looks upon the male and female completely wrapped up in His very good creation as He eagerly awaits their flourishing. In turn, I can imagine humans walking with God in the cool of the day and then going out into the world to extend God’s loving, transformative presence into the natural world. One scholar understands the image of God as humans having been “put in the world to mediate God’s presence.” This, I believe, get us to the meaning of what it means to be human. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are to bring God’s presence into our spaces, transforming the world around us. Therefore, to be human means to be so caught up in the person of God that you bring God’s presence into the world around us. Being human is functional, not just an ontological thing.
Jesus, The Human
If bringing God’s presence into the world is at the heart of what it means to be human, then we need to look no further than Christ Himself to find a man fully alive. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was the cornerstone of the new living temple (John 1:14, 1:51, 2:18–22 and 4:20–24), a place in the ancient world where heaven and earth come together. Instead of a temple made of stone, this would be made of flesh and spirit. Jesus would be the First Stone, and His Church would be the living stones built upon the First (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-7). Jesus acted. Jesus was about bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Jesus did this by telling people to turn from their idols and sin (Matthew 4:17, 6:19-24), forgiving sin (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12), healing the sick (Mark 1:41-42), ministering to the marginalised (Matthew 19:14; Luke 4:14-30, 10:27-37), and dying so that we can be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Romans 5:8-11). This is a hard act to follow, perhaps. Jesus is a pretty amazing human (I have anxiety just thinking I could match up to this). However, here’s the point. Jesus, through His Spirit, is creating a new kind of humanity free from the burden of sin (Romans 6), but He hasn’t finished (we live in what’s called “the now and not yet”). The brokenness, sinfulness, and failure that still corrupt us is something God anticipates as He, over time, conforms us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). The fully alive human is Jesus, and we become fully alive in Christ when we’re in step with His Spirit (Galatians 5:16), and while this is something we strive for, it isn’t a perpetual state of being on this side of eternity. Sanctification is a process, and becoming like Jesus takes time, and so does bringing God’s presence into the world. Remember, the Kingdom of God is a mustard seed that slowly grows and blooms. You play a significant part in nurturing that growth and inviting others to rest upon its branches, just don’t expect it to reach maturity today or perhaps even tomorrow.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote that “every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.” A significant theme in the Scriptures is how humanity has forgotten themselves and who they’re supposed to be. We have forgotten our God, we’re separated from Him, and therefore, we’re subhuman. However, Jesus invites us to be united to Him once more. I can think of no better definition for the Christian journey than to, as the ancient Greek maxim says, “know thy self” as we look at the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).