Sunday, February 13, 2011

The enigma of change in the incarnation

February 13, 2011

Dear friends,

Are you reading the books you think about in an electronic format (Kindle, for example)? How does this changed format influence your reading and your thinking and your storage of books? I have not yet ventured into this world--am comfortably addicted to hard copy so am finding myself slow to venture out. I realize that cost of hard copy will influence my preference at some future point, but I suspect that shortage of available space for storing books will be the first and most powerful influence in changing my reading habits. I appear to believe that any book worth thinking about is worth keeping in my house as well as in my head. If I continue to act on this assumption I am likely to find myself sleeping in a tent in the yard. Fraulein Freud would not be pleased.

The idea of change is presently occupying the attention of a number of reputable theologians as they think through possible implications of Jesus' incarnation. I strongly recommend the essays edited by C. Stephen Evans, Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God (Regent College Publishing, 2010). I also recommend that "first-timers" beginning to think about change in the context of the incarnation do themselves the favor of first reading John G. Stackhouse's thoughtful review of Evans's book, "A Christ We Can Follow," in the January/February 2011 issue of Books and Culture,pp. 16-19).

One of the thorny issues theologically and psychologically lies in the relationship between perfection and change. If a person or situation is by definition perfect does this mean that change is not desirable? Does it mean that change is not possible? If I can just define myself as "right" or "perfect" or "nearly perfect in comparison to others" does this then excuse me from the human struggle of change?

In my thinking, if I link perfection with the goal of change, then do I set myself up to be excused from all effort to make myself or my situation different? If I know I cannot beome perfect or make my life situation ideal, why should I work at change? Does human limitation give a strong rationale for just "doing what comes naturally" since it's just my nature to be the imperfect being I am? What does the idea of "good enough" mean in the context of psychological/spiritual maturity?

Thinking about change may require aspirin, but it remains one of our essential cognitive tasks. Whether in the process of therapy or spiritual maturation we are faced with the dilemma of human limitations and the enigma of human choice. Can I change? How can I change? How can a relationship with Jesus, God who became human with/for me, shape the goals, the process and the potential of my human change?

Laying aside temporarily the semantic briar patch into which we can fall, consider with me for a moment, this question: asssuming his identity as the Second Person of the Trinity, what difference does it make in the human change process that Jesus "emptied" himself, "took on the form of a servant" and assumed the reality of human being? [Phil. 2:5-8]

Suppose that you enter into therapy that does not incorporate theological concepts into the change process, therapy in which "religious" concepts are irrelevant, or at least undiscussed. Does the voluntary self-imposed limitation that Christ undertook make any difference at all?

Thinking with you about reality and reach of God toward change in our human experience.

See you next week.


1 comment:

  1. I heard an an absolutely stunning description on the radio not too long ago by the world's premiere maker of guitars who said he would prefer to play an old guitar over playing a new guitar because as music is played on a guitar the configuration of the molecules in the wood is reconfigured in a way that makes the music more beautiful. Wow Wow Wow!!!!!!

    This is the perfect analogy I needed to go along with conceptualizing myself as a musical instrument that is being played by my spirit alive to God's Spirit.

    I insist that I am not becoming righteous. I have no righteousness that is mine. However, as I participate in God's righteousness, I become more effective in participating and the music God and I play together becomes ever more resonant of the Kingdom of Heaven. In and of myself, I cannot play Kingdom of Heaven music.

    I wish Christians would give up this question of how to become good or righteous. It is just the other side of the coin of self-absorption. Left to myself, all I can play is "me-music", even if it is "good". Why can't we see that Jesus kept telling us to get our eyes completely off ourselves and quit measuring and evaluating ourselves and each other and just live in love for him, for ourselves, and for each other? It is God's righteousness in which I participate. It is his music, not mine.

    Why do we feel so compelled to own and appropriate the righteousness of God in which we choose to participate? Why do we think that participating in God's righteousness makes us righteous? Why can't we recognize the absolutely astounding privilege of participating in something that is utterly other than our sinful self? Why can't we just keep our eyes on God and our radar tuned in to ways we can join him in loving him, ourselves, and others. As Paul said, "The only thing that counts is Faith expressing itself through love."

    Even when all my molecules are reconfigured and I can participate with the master guitarist in playing a rhapsody, it will still be his genius that produces the miracle of sound, not mine.