Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Don't Accept Your Subhumanity


Often, when a person fails at something, they say "I'm only human." But from the Jesus POV, this is not true. If one were "only" human, 
truly human, then one would not morally or spiritually fail. People like N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, and Thomas Merton all agree with this.

Wright points to that Sea of Galilee story, when Jesus walks on water and calls to Peter, "Come!" Peter comes, walks for a moment, then falls in. The falling-in is not because he is "only human," but because he is not human. The Jesus who becomes "fully man" (as well as "fully God") walks on water because he is just that. In Jesus we see mere humanity, true humanity.

In his sermon "Dreaming of a White Easter," Wright says that, as dwellers in Christ, "we can really live without being greedy and snatching at power and using other people as objects in your quest for pleasure or prestige." Most of the world has no idea that this is possible. You might as well have snow at Easter. As one of the greatest early Christians put it: it’s ridiculous, and that’s why it’s true. Nobody would have made this stuff up." You and I are meant to be signs to the world who "show the full glory of what human life was meant to be, and to cut across the shallow lies that drag us down and make us, frankly, sub-human." Part of Christ being formed in us (Gal. 4:19) is that his full humanity becomes ours.

Dallas Willard, in "Spiritual Formation: What It Is, and How It Is Done," writes: "Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ." What does that look like? Willard refers to 1 Corinthians 13 and writes: "There is a real possibility of looking at I Corinthians 13, for example, and being able to see that the love that is portrayed there can actually come to occupy the human heart. People can really be like that--"Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." People can be like that, not because they do such things, but because agape love has occupied them effectively as a result of their having learned how to receive it into the deepest part of their being."

People can really be like that. To be like that is to be human. This is so huge I can hardly bear it. Arguing by via negativa, if this were not true, than things like 1 Corinthians 13 that speak of such transcendent love are carrots forever dangling before hungry rabbits. The famous "love chapter" then becomes either fiction, or merely descriptive of God, but inapplicable to us, the result being we are forever subhuman.

Merton expresses his longing to transcend subhumanity and ascend to true humanity when he writes: "One cannot remain immobile where the political and aesthetic customs and potentialities are so conspicuous and compelling: one must take another step." These words defined Merton's "personal vocation," which is the vocation of us all; namely, to go beyond the vast limitations of our subhumanity. Merton writes:

"I must - in my writing, in my prayer, in my life - take this further step and go beyond my limitations and the limitations of thought, art and religion of our time. And this requires effort and suffering. I simply cannot sit down and accept my limitations - that is impossible. But I must take care most of all not to be content with merely fanciful transcedence - going beyond my limitations in thought and imagination only. It must be a real transcendence." (A Year With Thomas Merton, Kindle, 5057-5070)

I must be transformed into true humanity. I must transcend the limitations of subhumanity that result in impotent and impoverished living. Our world needs Jesus, and I am called to host his presence. Christ in us. That's the hope of glory. Amazingly, "we are partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1)

"Mere humanity" abides like a branch in a Vine and does the kind of things Jesus did and even more. That is the promise and destiny of every real follower of Jesus.