Thursday, July 18, 2013

Christian Metaphor, part 2

(Start with part one here)

* The great “I Am” wants us to experience being

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked around enjoying each others’ and God’s company without giving it a second thought.  They didn’t think in terms of “us versus God”.  They didn’t wonder about life “outside the garden”.  They simply “were”... much the same way as God Himself declares His identity: “I am” (Exodus 3:14).  Experience of existence seems to be the essence of God’s desire for our lives.  We see remnants of this in psychological studies of newborn babies, and we find a symbolic explanation of this phenomenon in our creation myth.

Whether or not there was a literal, historical human couple named Adam and Eve, as many conservative Christians believe, is really beside the point.  Does this belief help me live a life in accordance with God’s will?  If not, then who cares?  If so, then by all means, yell at me for using the term “myth” to refer to the story of our creation, just please do so out of my earshot.

Let’s review.  God said “I am” when asked to identify Himself in the Old Testament.  He is also described as “being love” by the writer of the Gospel of John.  Therefore, not veering outside the confines of the Christian Scriptures, we arrive at the following conclusion: God. Is. Love.

* The paradox of Jesus

Now, let’s see how Jesus fits into the picture.  It should start with the fact that when we look at Jesus’s life as a whole, the way it has been recorded in the Gospels, we see that his entire being was geared towards the doing of God’s will.  His every action was directed at others, in the service of others, saturated with love – love of God and love of His fellow human beings.  If Jesus truly lived out so perfectly God’s original intention for our lives by living a life full of love and nothing less, then it is easy to see why Jesus would declare that He and the Father are “one”.  Jesus lived out love.  Jesus acted in love.  Jesus was motivated by love.  Jesus expressed love.  Jesus shared love with everyone.  Jesus was synonymous with love.  Jesus essentially was what a human being experiencing the existence of God in every moment, through love, was meant to be.  Jesus was love.  As long as His life is held up as an example for others, Jesus continues to be love.  Therefore, Jesus is love.  Jesus. Is. Love. God. Is. Love.  One can see where the clear overlap is; God and Jesus both exist (“is”) and both are synonymous with love. 

* The example of marriage as paradox

There are a lot of different takes on what it means to say that Jesus and God are one.  Are they two separate individuals, or are they one and the same?  While it may at first seem that the two concepts are incompatible with each other, we do have a human example we can draw from: marriage.

A marriage is made up of two individuals.  Neither of them is the marriage, and yet without either of them, there would be no marriage.  In legal and financial terms, each individual is as much “the marriage” as the two of them together.  If one spouse goes into debt, the other one is held responsible.  Spousal intimacy is held to such high esteem, that a secret confided by one spouse to the other cannot be forced out by an outside source; it’s as if the secret-telling spouse simply held the secret in his or her own mind.  Two become one.  Yet clearly, we understand that a marriage is made up of a husband and a wife, two distinct entities (if you will), each having their own responsibilities within the marriage, but both united in that mysterious area where they are not just two individuals, but that together they are a third entity all together – the marriage.

Some non-Christians who may actually have a pretty good grasp of this understanding of the Trinity take issue with the idea that God can be something other than a single individual.  They accuse trinitarian Christians of worshipping “a family of gods” instead of a single deity.  Yet this sort of dislike for an understanding of God as anything other than a human “just like us” goes back to the fact that we humans are very self-centered.  We believe that we are the greatest thing there is, and as such, God cannot be what we deem as “less than” the best (us!).

I won’t go into splitting hairs as to a one-to-one comparison between the Holy Trinity and the example of a human marriage.  If God is like marriage, what of the Holy Spirit?  Some say the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, but this interferes with the understanding that God – all of God – is love.  If only the Holy Spirit is love, then Jesus and the Father aren’t love, but if God is love, no part of God can be “not love”. 

What’s more, some Christians, especially Catholics, have indeed taken this metaphor so far as to add the Church into the mix, calling it the spouse of Christ.  In my opinion, this does more to muddle the waters for those who simply want to believe in and follow God’s will for their lives.  The various details of what it’s really like beyond this dimension are mere speculation, and completely irrelevant to accomplishing God’s will.

* Pregnant woman as a paradox

An even clearer human example of what it might mean for Jesus and God-the-Father to be "one" can be found in the pregnant woman.  When we look at her from the outside, she is an individual, a single entity much the same as she was prior to her pregnancy.  She counts as only one person in an HOV lane, she is considered only one member of a household on a census form.

Yet thanks to the marvel of modern technology in the ultrasound, we can clearly see that her one body actually contains two hearts, two brains, two sets of limbs.... literally a whole second little body inside the one "main" body they both share (since the baby is attached to and dependent on the mother's body for survival).  And so, expectant fathers may take turns talking to their wives and their babies via the baby bump.  We say the mother is "eating for two".  Many people are tempted to reach out and touch the baby bump as if somehow this would connect them closer to the mystery that they know is taking place - two are simultaneously one!

Where the mother goes, so goes the baby.  Where the Father goes, so goes the Son. In John 5:19, Jesus says: "the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner."  In other words, the two are one.  Jesus is not the Father; the unborn baby is not the mother.  Yet the two are interdependent on each other.  Without a child, a woman is not a mother.  Perhaps then, without Jesus, the Father wouldn't be God?

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