Friday, December 18, 2015
A Christian Anthropology: Notes for Sunday School
Our search for God includes "looking up" (Transcendent holy God we worship) and "going deeper" (Immanent loving God we befriend). It is a journey and a struggle.
We are made in the image of God. For sake of discussion we will call that image our "Spirit" (for God is Pure spirit). God is. As Thomas Aquinas said, "God's Nature is Being," in other words, He has to exist because it who/what God is. Human Nature is dependent being, that means if we exist, we are by virtue of a gift. We are here because He made us. He is because He is God. So the question, "Who made God?" misses the point. It is a misunderstanding of the word "God." We know God to be Trinity. Three persons and one God. Humans made in the image of God are "communitarian." We are the result of a mother and a father. We are concrete and real: body and soul. We need love physical and emotional & spiritual. The greatest commandment is to love. LOVE is God and God is love (1 John poetically said). The community is not optional (even in the hyper-individualistic West). Yet we are not merely a part of the whole (the Eastern heresy) without personal identity and meaning (an it in It). We are individual members of the body. I am part of We. I am a person. My relationship to God and the world is personal.
The human spirit is the "I" which is the image of God. [Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theologies disagree about what the Fall (Adam & Eve) has done to the image. I am not going to wade into those heady debates. I will offer my own view, which will provide a framework for the reader to re-order his/her own thinking about the rest of what I say. (To further complicate things, there are others who say that the Bible only teaches there are two dimensions body and soul/spirit).] I will retain the use of 'spirit' to refer to the human person in relation to the spiritual or heavenly realm. The alienation within humans (Original Sin; our Spirit, soul and body are no longer in perfect sync) from God, from their true Self, from one another and from the world is a reality which we cannot escape (until the Kingdom comes in glory). Life includes Death, Sin, suffering, evil and all the problems we face. The world is really fallen and things are really not the way they should be. We know or 000feel that something is wrong. These dark realities raise the question, "Why is God letting this happen?" or worse, "Why is God doing this bad thing to me?" In the past I have written and taught about this. God created the world but gave dominion to the man (and his wife) who apparently made choices such that the new prince of the world (god of this world) is satan. The fruits of the Prince of Darkness is all manner of bad things. The reality we live in includes that satanic dimension. The salvation in Christ frees us and makes us citizens of God's Kingdom, but we are still in this world, so we are "aliens" and "sojourners" (e.g. Hebrews). No one, no matter how holy, can escape the problem of evil in contingent reality.
Human beings, like all creatures, have two dimensions (body and soul) which interpenetrate. The material realm includes atoms, chemicals, energy... Somehow inorganic things in combination can be cells, organs and living creatures. There are invisible (to our eyes) material realities. The human body is covered by "bugs" eating dead skin (magnification microscopes allow us to see them) and atomic/sub atomic reality is posited by deduction and never "seen." The human body is an "organic machine" with all manner of rules governing the processes. Chemistry and physics have a vital role to play in understanding human life. Our freedom is limited by the body. A body occupies time and space. Some say it is this limitation that allows us also to have experiences which are foreign to spirits.
Our soul is the life principle. Bodies without souls are corpses. The soul is typically called "the inner man" and includes mind, heart, will, desires. Each of these has a physical parallel. Mind and electrical activity in the brain, for example, emotions and chemical reactions in the body, biological needs and soul's desires. The soul and body are in relation and each one is "me." We can see only one dimension (naturalism negates the soul, spiritualism the body) and explain people pretty thoroughly (evolutionary theory, psychology, sociology). The body&soul are the realm of the world and sin. The world impacts the body&soul. It is the porous membrane through which the spiritual (Divine or demonic) is able to touch us.
Through the spirit of each person God and the Devil are active. Perhaps we can understand the spirit as the underlying "reality" which is expressed in the physical world. [Think of the Apocalypse where the events in heaven are a parallel to the events on earth.] Humans can and do connect in spirit. I think that Holiness is a manifestation of the Spirit. A person's spirit will impact the other dimensions (Body and Soul) and be impacted by them as well.
The Spirit is the "pipe line" (see Wednesday blog) in and out of God's life and power. I know God could have done it differently, but it seems that His creation (and the rules/laws governing that creation) works this way. Faith impacts the flow of that energy. God "can do anything" but He can't do logically impossible things (like make a round square). Healing and transformation are mediated through divine energy which flows (more or less) in accordance with human cooperation, trust and desire. God can make us whole and holy, but not against our wills!
The Lord Jesus said that love is the centerpiece of human existence. "Love one another as I have loved you!" The greatest commandment is to love God above all else and love the neighbor as yourself." The first commandment is an acknowledgment that the Father is God. If you understand what God is then loving God flows naturally; because to truly know God is to love God. Loving others as you love your own self is to view each person from God's perspective. It is to see them with His eyes. No one is outside, all are invited in! All are called to respond.
Here lies the next great mystery: Death to Life. I believe the 'trintiarian' model of human anthropology provides a framework for understanding the hard sayings of Jesus...
Mt 16:24-28//Mk 8:34-9:1//Lk 9:23-27 "If any one would follow Me, he must deny himself, take up the cross and follow Me." Mt 10:38-39//Lk 14:27 repeats this, with Mt's addition "He who finds His *life* will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." The Greek word *life* is psyche (breath, soul, the seat of thought and feelings; as well as life). Obviously, Jesus is not saying that we must be annihilated, but He is saying that in some real sense we must die (FOR Him) in order to live. In the Christian mystical tradition this is the distinction between the "true self" and the "false self." The true self is my being in Christ, the image of God, while the false self is the fallen man, the sin governed person (body and soul). The alienation in the heart of all of us is the division we have from our true self. "I'm not myself today" is more than a colloquial expression, it is an ontological confession. I am not myself, and never have been completely! This is why we must be saved! We are, like Humpty Dumpty, victims of a "great fall" and no earthly ruler or power can put us back together again. "But what is impossible for humans is possible for God..." [but we must receive the salvation He offers! even here we are reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, but we can refuse to allow Him in]
The healing ministry of Jesus is the expression of salvation. If one's whole person (body, soul and spirit) are in God's care then health, salvation and the shalom of the Kingdom rule. Salvation is for the whole person and impacts the whole person: spirit, soul and body--and by extension relationships (the fourth dimension of human 'being'). This is the dark side of all the talk about individualism. Jesus says where two or three are gathered I am in the midst. There is greater power in group prayer "as one."
Those whose minds are right and hearts are open, whose wills seek His will and who desires the things of God---those who are servants of the Lord are connected to His Spirit and His ministry flows into and through them. But a lack of love and unbelief produce a lackluster church---a collection of people who may be saved, but are little else. Content with getting into heaven, they allow Hell to abide on earth with little thought of the signs and wonders God has given them. Like Dorothy in Oz, wandering around in the very thing they are looking for, the way to our true Home (life in God). Blind to their own God given power and authority, they moan under the weight of satan's reign, begging God to send the calvary to rescue them (not noticing they wear uniform, weapons and ride a horse). Burden by the debts of life, they ask God for money (and He says, "I wrote you a check, cash it!"). Waiting for the Savior to appear (Come Lord Jesus) they forgot His final words (As the Father sent me so I send you)---a command to be Jesus in the fallen world until He returns to make a New Heaven and a New Earth.