On Aric’s advice, I thought I would take some time to parse out what I mean by my various statements in Symptomatic Theology III: More Christology. I’ll look at them in order and expand on each of them, and perhaps combine some or come up with new ones. I’m not going to be particularly scholarly about this, so don’t expect citations, except where I’m actually using someone else’s idea.
1) The manifestation/incarnation of God in the limitations of materiality
Where I don’t agree that God is necessarily immaterial, I do very much agree that God is unlike other sense-objects that we can experience directly in their entirety. I can’t, through perceptions, understand the fundamental reality of even a chair or table (example: who would guess that they were almost entirely empty space and energy?) but I can see them as distinct objects, pick them up, put them together and take them apart, etc.
Whatever God actually is, God certainly is not like a chair or table. Therefore, part of what I see as the miracle of Christ is that in this particular person, who is limited in the ways that we are limited as persons (in time and space, etc.), we see God. In Christ, God is made manifest, present, perhaps I could say comprehensible, in that we can encounter Christ and read Christ’s teachings as handed down by tradition. I believe that this happens in every human relationship – we see the Image of God in each other – but that this is true in a particular way with Christ, and that this special perception/experience is available to us in the present.
2) The demonstration of how a human being is truly to be and live and act
In that in Christ God and human-being are made into a whole, the kind of human being that God would be is very instructive. It makes sense that in looking at Christ (as much as we can across the chasm of time or through the imperfect lens of faith) we see what God intends for us as human beings. This is the exemplary sense of Christ, that he is a moral exemplar for the human race and for human interaction.
This should go with the caveat that this expemplar is necessarily limited. Because Jesus Christ was a person in the sense that we are people, he was limited as we are limited. He was limited by time and place and social location, upbringing and education and knowledge about the world. Here I am talking about the Jesus Christ of historicity, because I’m not sure we can talk about the Christ of faith, as such, as a person, at least not in the way that we are people. But in Jesus God was a person, and what that person said and did tell us a lot of what God wants us to say and do.
3) The vehicle through which God expresses the primordial aspect of the divine – the reversal of the expected status of things
I think that God is all about reversals. God loves unresolved paradoxes. Conquer a city with some trumpets and marching. Foil Pharaoh’s plans with slave-midwives. Rain quails on you when you complain about mana.
To be, Christ is the huge reversal which sheds light on all of the others. The powerful becomes powerless. The source of life subjects itself to torture and death. The giver of the Law contradicts the letter of the Law. The vanquishing God sends a savior with no army. This, to me, expresses something about the heart of God, something that can be pointed to, but like the Tao, as soon as you think you understand it, you don’t understand it, because that is its nature. It is a reversal, a surprise, something not looked for, a spiritual Judo throw that flips you end over end right when you felt most rooted and stable. I think that if it stops surprising you, what you’re dealing with probably isn’t God.
4) The force and power by which divisions between human beings and each other and human beings and God are shattered
In Christ there is no male/female, Jew/Gentile, slave/free. I see these as not an exhaustive list, but as an expression of one of the functions or powers of Christ – the power to shatter boundaries.
We, as human beings, are one people. Whether we look at evolutionary biology and our shared genetic heritage, or look at history and our shared intellectual and social development, or theological look at the affirmation that we are all created in the image of God and we are all descended from Eden, the essential message is the same. The things that separate us are things that we create.
Some separations are appropriate. There should be distinct cultures and languages and religions and ideas and worldviews – because none of the above are exhaustive or objective correct for all times and places. There must always be things outside our own groups to challenge us. These distinctions are appropriate because, and insofar as, they are consensual. They are manifestations of the limitedness of human knowledge and the fundamental freedom to disagree.
Distinctions become unjust when they are forced, or enforced, by some kind of violence. Forcing you to agree to something or forcing a religion on you or forcing you to swallow your ideas or take on another culture – these are the kinds of distinctions that Christ breaks down. These distinctions, these separations, arise from our own egotism, the belief that our limited understandings are right for everyone and must be forced on others if they are not freely accepted. They also arise from good, old-fashioned evil and sin, with the example of the concept of race as a way to oppress certain people because of the amount of melanin in their skin.
In Christ, I think, there is a potential for unitive experience of ourselves as God intends, whole and genuine and reflective of God’s glory, to refer to my sermon last Sunday. It is in this experience, and in meditation on and study of Christ, that we can come find these barriers broken down – or, in many cases, we are given the courage to work to break them down ourselves.
5) The eternal being of God of which we comprise the body
Here’s where I talk about one of the ways I understand the resurrection. I believe that we are the body of Christ in the literal sense that we, as inheritors of Christ’s Way (we hope), participate in Christ’s being, and comprise the resurrection body of Christ. In Christ we are all crucified and in Christ we are all raised, right?
I take this to mean not that Jesus, after death, magically transmuted into some kind of ectoplasm, briefly interacted with the physical world, and then floated up into the sky. I take it to mean something more paradoxical and, to me, interesting – that after crucifixion death did not claim Christ because, somehow, Christ’s life was transferred to us. Now, I can talk about this in concrete terms – that his death evoked a powerful unitive experience in the early disciples who then decided to continue on with his ministry despite its apparent failure because of their commitment to its profound value and power – or in non concrete ones – that in death Christ’s limited-ness died, and that Christ came to live mystically in the body of any who believe his teaching and commit themselves to live out and spread his Gospel of the Kingdom of God on earth.