Sunday, 20 March 2011

Jesus makes us flourish

Human beings flourish in an environment where we’re confident that those who have authority over us care about us, and use their authority for our good.

We’ve all been in situations where someone who had authority over us – a parent, a teacher, a boss – didn’t really care about us. They were distant, withdrawn: “Just get the job done.” “Do your homework. Don’t bother me – I’m watching TV.” Perhaps they even used their power to oppress us – like the boss takes the credit for all the businesses successes, and shifts the blame for all the mistakes.

How demoralising is that…?

Then there are situations where the people in authority over us used their power to care for us, and advance us. Like the teacher who deeply knows the content of what they’re teaching, and also deeply wants the class to know it. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

John 1:1-5:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
As the passage progresses, we see that the Word is Jesus (verse 16). So this passage affirms:
  • Jesus is himself divine – fully God;
  • He is from eternity – which is consistent with his full Divinity;
  • He created all things and is himself uncreated – which also supports the assertion that he is fully God, not a demiurge, an “under-God” (contra the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons);
  • As God, he gives us life;
  • As God, he makes sense of existence – he gives us “light”;
  • This Christ-centred making-sense-ness of the universe is fundamentally moral – ‘darkness’, in John’s Gospel, is not merely lack of knowledge (“I’m in the dark about that…”) but a willed, purposeful, personal rejection of God.
That means Jesus is our creator God. As God, he’s the ultimate power and authority over us. As his creatures, we depend on him.

We depend on Jesus for ‘ordinary’ life. Jesus maintains the biological, neurological and physical processes that maintain everyone’s physical existence – whether they realise it or not, whether they accept it or nor. We are not merely biological machines; we are creatures, made by Jesus, for himself.

And, we depend on Jesus for eternal life. In John’s Gospel, ‘real’ life is more than biological functioning. There’s more to life than running around, eating, working, and having fun. Real life is relationships, primarily relationship with God. John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

We don’t like to think of ourselves as created, dependent beings, because it threatens our independence and autonomy. (Post)modern Western society takes it for granted that the only way to be truly happy and fulfilled is to cast off all external restraints, and assert yourself. I want what I want, just because I want it. Anything that stops me from doing that I want is bad.

But these verses tell us that that kind of thinking is deeply flawed. We are dependent, not independent, beings. And the healthiest, most reasonable, most rational thing to do is – admit that dependence. And seek to live consistently with it. That is – to come into the light, to trust Jesus, our creator.

As people who rightly depend on our creator, I expect Christians to experience, generally, healthy, wholesome lives – because we’re living in touch with reality, in touch with the God who made us.

But this immediately gives us a problem. We must not come to Jesus primarily to live a happy life. That reduces Jesus as a means to an end – we want a happy life; Jesus gives us a happy life; so I’ll come to Jesus in order to secure a happy life.

Instead, we must come to Jesus because of the glory, not just of him as our creator (glorious as that is), but of him as our redeemer.

John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In John’s Gospel, ‘glory’ focuses mainly (but not exclusively) on Jesus death and resurrection (see especially the use of the word in chapter 17). The way we see Jesus’ glory is in his sin-bearing, sacrificial death on the cross, where he opens the way for us to be with him and the Father, and in his resurrection to eternal life, which he now shares with us.

Human beings flourish in an environment where we’re confident that those who have authority over us care about us, and use their authority for our good.

Jesus is God – the highest authority over us, and the whole world. He uses his power and authority, not to oppress us (that would contradict his good, life-giving character); not even to justly punish us for our sin (he could do that – it would be totally consistent with his righteousness and justice), but to forgive us, reconcile us to himself, and freely give us eternal life (which is a free, merciful act, not just undeserved but contrary to just desserts, flowing from the depths of his compassion towards his irrationally rebellious image-bearers).

Living within the grace of Christ’s death and resurrection – that is, trusting Jesus, and living a life that expresses that trust – is the ultimate environment for human flourishing.

Monday, 7 March 2011

It's Important to be Some Body

To be human is to be embodied, to be a physical, biological creature. Christians view all of physical existence, from the grandeur of the cosmos to the particularity of the human body, as the good creation of a benevolent God. Physical existence is not divine, but it is good by creational intent, and human existence as embodied is an aspect of this good physicality. The goodness of embodiment is also supported by and grounded in two additional key theological themes of traditional Christianity, the doctrines of the incarnation and of the resurrection of the body. Clearly, bodily existence must not be intrinsically evil or incompatible with the perfect good if God can become fully human. Clearly, the teaching that the final state of redeemed humanity will be as persons of resurrected and perfected bodies, and that we will, in that state, enjoy God forever, must deepen our appreciation of embodiment. We are more than bodies - there is a trans-materialistic, spiritual or soulish, aspect of our persons - but we are bodies.
Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, "Anthropology, Sexuality and Sexual Ethics", in Lints, Horton & Talbot (eds.), Personal Identity in Theological Perspective, page 121.

All we've ever wanted
Is to look good naked,
hope that someone can take it.
God, save me rejection
From my reflection;
I want perfection.
Robbie Williams

Luke 24:39:
"Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

Philippians 3:20-21:
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

1 John 3:2:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Humans are Verbivores

[W]ords - and not visible objects - supply us with the horizons between which we actually live. Stop and think, just for a moment, how often you have hungered for some word from some human being. In that and other senses, you and I really are "verbivores" - word-eaters. If we don't get enough words, then we not only fail to achieve a distinctively human orientation on life, but we also lose our very taste for living.

Mark R. Talbot, "Learning from the Ruined Image", in Lints, Horton & Talbot (eds), Personal Identity in Theological Perspective, page 172.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

AFES WebSalt: Where is God in natural disasters?

Just got a piece published in AFES WebSalt: Where is God in natural disasters? It's a reflection on how our rejection of God affects the whole created order. Hope it's useful.