The resurrection and new creation life is the cure for spectating from a distance or merely applauding Jesus’ past exploits while we muddle along in some substandard mode of existence. As John Wimber used to say, it’s doing the stuff. It’s being like Him. Yet, in this victorious thinking, with all our new life in Christ, there lies a tremendous caveat.
We cannot afford to be transcendent in the earthly sense of, say, a neutral country in ignoring worldly affairs, or remaining safely “above” them. The butterfly has to land sometime. A healthy Christian life is lived in heavenlytranscendence, in the sense of being spiritually other, yes, but at the same time deeply interested, and increasingly invested in the earth. For John to say “the Word tabernacled among us” is to say that Jesus planted His feet firmly on the ground of our experience. The same ground we are on.
For God so loved the cosmos…
Some of the most freeing teaching I have ever heard on the value of my past came from evangelist Tommy Green:
Jesus Christ has a history. There’s plenty within Jesus’ family history that he could be ashamed of, but He’s able to own his history completely. There’s adultery, there’s murder, there’s liars, there’s righteous and unrighteous, there’s fornicators, there’s people blowing it on every level, there’s death and exile, and all sorts of rebellion and craziness in Jesus’ family line, and yet, he is completely and totally himself.
Every one of us has a story, a family history. We have a history and we have a past. But if we let our history dictate where we’re going, and our gifting and calling from the Lord, then we’re in trouble. Because his mercy is brand new every single day… It’s because of Jesus that we can move through our mess and into our future.
I love the humanity of Jesus. It’s the thing that fascinates me the most. Because he revealed his humanity to me, I was able to place my faith and trust with weight in his divinity. And it saved my life. He revealed his humanity to me. And in revealing his humanity, that’s when I began to see his divinity.
I think we can do the same thing in our story. When we reveal our humanity to people, they begin to see the divinity within us, and they go, Can I have that?
At the very beginning of the New Testament, Jesus implicitly inspired, for everyone to read, all the failure and sin of his family tree in what would become the most public and widely read volume of all time. At the same time, Jesus possessed an enviable clarity regarding His own identity, and that of everyone around him. Holding in tension both future and past, despite all that conspired against Him (including His questionable birth), He walked just as He believed himself to be: a new patriarch, the Caleb prototype for a generation of different spirits, the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
As pastor Kenei Kiso and others have said, If you don’t let your past die, it won’t let you live. Yet dying doesn’t mean denying, ignoring, or escaping it. It means coming to terms with it, making peace with it, and ultimately forgiving the wounds made by yourself and others.
In this way, we refuse to shy away from what we have done, or anything that has happened to us for that matter. We completely own where we came from, what we came out of, our personal demons, our fears and our failures. Like Jesus, we are taking ownership of our family, our community, our nation, and even the world at large. It is facing our shadow — our id — not to unreasonably resurrect the past, but to bring it, with an intentional finality, into redemptive contact with God. It is Brené Brown’s audacious transparency, the nullification of shame, and the embrace of the power of vulnerability.
To do otherwise, psychologists agree, is a sign of a troubling pathological condition. Only the minds of the mentally ill are able to compartmentalize their behaviour, and deny or excuse the personal and corporate impact of their actions. Unfortunately, because of an inaccurate presentation of grace, I have seen too many of us, myself included, succumb to the kind of emotional stupefaction that divorces perception from reality, or worse, completely absolves everything we do because of our radical beliefs in the justification of God.
I believe this is what John was thinking when he wrote,
If we say we have no sin we lead ourselves astray and the truth is not in us.
Emphatically not in the sense of affirming man’s total depravity while in Christ, which constitutes a Scripture-contradicting armistice with evil, but in the sense of simply being truthful when we have fracked up our life. Or someone else’s.
Note the interplay in A.W. Tozer’s words,
The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be, in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself.
This kind of attitude makes a person dangerous, yet paradoxically, the safest to be around. It is what we really mean when we say that Christ sets us free to be powerful people. There is no longer room for naïveté. Carl Jung, a father in the field of psychology, called it “shadow work.” Clinical psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson describes the profound transformation he has witnessed in people who no longer reject or repress unknown or feared aspects of their personality, but actively integrate and take responsibility for their shadow.
Their presence radiates the implicit potential for havoc. This is necessary, for it gives self-respect, the same respect one would have for a wild animal or even a monster. They no longer look like wide-eyed children. They are no longer people to whom things happen. They are people who make things happen.
A good person is not harmless. In fact, they are capable of anything, yet they are willing to hold it in abeyance.
Peterson shares a revelation he once received from a commentary on one of Jesus’ most famous teachings.
When Christ declares, the meek shall inherit the earth, this difficult-to-translate word means more than what is typically understood as “meek.” The dictionary has it as “easily imposed upon, submissive, spineless.” But biblical meekness is not weakness. It is a Greek military term, praótēs, and often applied to a horse trained for battle.
Sam Whatley explains:
Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and broken for riding. Some were used to pull wagons, some were raced, and the best were trained for warfare. They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg. They could gallop into battle at 35 miles an hour and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. At this point they were said to be meeked.
As centuries went by the secret of training such animals was passed from the Greeks to the Roman legions, then to the Moors, the Spanish conquistadors, and finally the Austrian Empire. We see a few war horse descendants today in the Lippizanner horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
To be meeked was to be taken from a state of wild rebellion and made completely loyal to, and dependent upon, one’s master. It is also to be taken from an atmosphere of fearfulness and made unflinching in the presence of danger. Some war horses dove from ravines into rivers in pursuit of their quarry. Some charged into the face of exploding cannons as Lord Tennyson expressed in his poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
With man, meekness describes the exercise of God’s power under His control. It is a person who, possessing a lethal weapon, chooses to keep it sheathed until to continue to do so would be even more damaging. To be meek is to be temperate, in the sense of displaying the right blend of force and reserve. It avoids unnecessary harshness without compromising necessary force. It is, in fact, the inspirited self-control of Galatians’ fifth chapter.
Before Christ, man may have had the potential of an axe murderer and so had to keep having his axe taken away. But this is the morality of the weak — enforcing limitation on the grounds of fear. Real morality occurs whenever men are powerful, yet peaceable — and hold the keys to the entire armory. Like Christ Himself.
This is the kind of person who, Jesus says, will inherit the earth. The sort of life that does not timidly endure, but wreaks havoc on the kingdom of darkness, that intervenes against those who prey on the weak, that counteracts all attitudes of “can’t” and “never” with unshakeable belief and a willingness to take responsibility to do work. To finish the job, so that
the places that have been desolate for ages will be built in you. You will raise up the foundations of generation after generation. And you will be called Repairers of the Broken Walls, Restorers of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:12)
Once again, Curt Vernon’s Walking Resurrection, is completely apt:
No one’s going to leave this place a captive.
No one’s going to leave this place in chains.
Because the blood that You spilled for me,
Left freedom running through my veins.
Now I’m like a walking resurrection
Heaven and earth are growing hard to tell apart
See, I believe that the kingdom of power
Is about to wage a war on the kingdom of talk.
Colin MacIntyre is the maker of www.bettercovenant.cards. He is a teacher and graphic designer who loves revealing Jesus and the Bible down to their roots with a peculiar Eastern flavour.