By the Venerable Max Woolaver
Humans are curious creatures. And by ‘curious’ I mean odd. Endowed with remarkable powers of observation and rational power, humans often refuse to be either observant or rational.
Perhaps one of the more remarkable powers a human being possesses is the power to ‘change one’s mind.’ We can take on board new facts, new experiences both profound or run of the mill and by virtue of that new fact or experience, freely choose to alter our views or behaviour. Equally impressive in humans is the opposite power: the power to not change one’s mind in spite of profound experience or new knowledge. Not all but many anti-vaccination folk would be an example of this.
However, the staggering power which in a manner of speaking, trumps them all (sorry for the reference) is the capacity to hold both of the above powers at the same time. The endearing and truly frightening power to which I refer is the power to be both changed and not changed at the same time. The simultaneous belief in and practice of contraries just might be the defining characteristic of humanity. As C.S. Lewis might say, this characteristic has the devils laughing out loud.
Nowhere is this practice more evident than in the Church.
Let me share with you where I see this practice of contraries most tellingly at work in our faith communities.
A fundamental tenet of the Christian church is that the nature of God is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. Two quick quotes: “For in Christ the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily…” (Col. 2:9 NRSV) and Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John: “The Father and I are one…” (John 10:30).
The interesting and perplexing fact is that many followers of Jesus do not then actually apply what they have seen in Jesus to what they believe of God.
Jesus walked through the heat of the day, and yet we leave a white-bearded old white man on a throne. Jesus wept at the grave of a friend, yet we leave God high above the world. Jesus said: If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I have come not to judge the world, but to save the world; yet many of us live in fear of a judging God. Jesus fell to the ground sweating blood in Gethsemane, yet we can barely imagine a God who suffers. Many folks believe that God is meant to control history, but Jesus refused to be ‘the controller.’
Even as we can profess that Jesus reveals the nature of God, we do not then allow that profession to actually overhaul our ‘unbaptized’ image of God. We leave the old working formula in place and sadly enough, very influential on us.
This is truly sad. And dangerous. And as a matter of doctrine – heresy.
If we refuse to ‘baptize’ our image of God by virtue of the revelation of God in Christ, we leave ourselves open to all manner of prejudice and false solemnities. If we refuse to welcome the God who comes to us in Christ, we effectively leave Jesus of Nazareth in the tomb.
The supreme gift of the New Testament is the revelation of the Nature of God in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If we leave our old pre-Christian image of God unbaptized, we lose the second supreme gift of the New Testament: the revelation of a baptized human nature in the revealed nature of God in Christ. Through our vision of God in Christ we are given new vision of ourselves in Christ. Without the baptism of our vision of God, we lose the vision of a transformed humanity. Christ is our vision of God and through Christ, our vision of ourselves.