Simplicity & Divine Darkness: Jesus, the Beautiful Love

Tia Jamir

The embodied heart of the Scriptures is Christ. Scripture readings that do not finally point to Christ misconstrue the very purpose of Scripture. Contemplating Christ/Bible is like contemplating a beautiful object. Christ, a sublime piece of music, a beautiful painting, and in fact, all aesthetic experience engages us on multiple levels simultaneously; and if eros (love) is involved, the experience is even more penetrating. The whole person responds to Christ just as the whole person responds to a beautiful dawn or dusk. As we enjoy the Sun’s visual displays—the sunkissed dawn of a new day or the dying of the day—we do not totally understand the mysteries involved in the beams of light that capture our eyes. Many of us merely enjoy the dazzling displays of lights, but we know some one has to study these beams to make sense of our physical world. Likewise, the Bible captures our heart so that our mind may “wrestle” with it. And unlike the physics of light, the disciples are not excused from wrestling with Christ.

God makes himself comprehensible to us in his most revelatory act, the incarnation (God becoming human). This is the humiliation of the Logos for love’s sake. Christ’s humility constitutes a simplicity that seems easy to imitate, but is in fact profoundly difficult to imitate, for it is the simplicity of a child that escapes our grasp precisely because we are no longer children—we are beings who are complex, introspective, and with memories. And yet, this childlike simplicity and questions compel us all the same. Only Jesus understands and lives this simplicity because he does so on the basis of God’s simplicity, in which he uniquely participates.

The ability to perceive God in Christ comes not from us, but from Christ himself, the object of our perception. Yet, he is also impenetrable (or unfathomable). The accessible and the divine darkness makes our Christian living a wrestling, and we wrestle on many levels. We are bearers of God’s image but not divine. Our humanity inevitably eclipses our abilities to mirror the divine. Jesus on the other hand, harmonizes the human and the divine perfectly. This harmony in Christ is “in tune” with all the unity there is. Christ’s existence and mission are “in tune” because nothing Christ says or does interferes with his doing the Father’s will. Christ always does the Father’s will, rather than his own, in a spirit of obedient acceptance. Jesus is the rightness between God and man and the norm for what Paul calls justitia Dei, the justice of God.

The prism through which we see God’s justice is the Cross. The Christ event—birth, death, and resurrection—is an extended discourse on love: This symphony of love is perfectly “in tune.” Jesus’s love takes the form of service to others, to the ultimate altar. Jesus did not simply teach “the way” to his disciples as an idea, he modeled it through his own life. His love is his claim to authority. His authority is not a mastering, dominating force, but a force of love that takes effect in the sphere of powerlessness, and even more radically, in Jesus’s handing over his entire existence to God. His authoritative acts did not seek to crush human agency and initiative that is genuinely directed toward God. He never sought to relieve others of their burden of struggling against injustice and inhumanity and establishing a just human order. Rather he opened the space for others. His authority is exercised in an expressive context characterized by intentional poverty.

Jesus’s attitude to poverty not only keeps his authority from becoming oppressive, it also situates his claim to authority with a broader context of love. He empties himself so that he can become a pure vessel for God’s love flowing out of him and into the world to those in need. Jesus carved out an existence, a vulnerability that demands complete dependence on God. For Jesus, leaving all things behind is necessary to be ready to take up discipleship, a discipleship that is not merely a preparation for the future kingdom, but is also a substantial call to spiritual work in the present: a call to be sent out like sheep among the wolves. The Lord’s Prayer models Jesus’s life well: We pray for God’s power to prevail where humans are powerless; one begs for the bread necessary for life, not as something that is stored up, but as that which is minimally required for existence lived day-to-day. We also beg for the forgiveness of sins, an attitude which assumes a poverty of righteousness because forgiving our debtors waives justice. We also pray for safe passage from temptation; implicit here is the assumption that only God’s power allows us to endure temptation. In all of these aspects, both material and spiritual, it is a prayer of total dependence on God. In brief, this displays beautiful living.

The love presented by Christ is a life-long process. In the drama of suffering culminating in violent death shows the self-imposed responsibility. The Cross is a scandal, a political statement of Roman power and diminishing of the outsider, serves as a revelation of God’s glory. God in Jesus transforms everything. Therefore, in spite of its apparent ugliness, contemplation of the Cross is an experience of the sublime; because in the Cross, Christians can contemplate the wisdom, truth, and beauty inherent in the self-emptying of divine love. The Paschal mystery (i.e. the Passover Lamb or Easter) is a good illustration of how God is in the business of transforming everyday events to display a better way. The brilliant glory of God’s love in the Paschal mystery is in contrast with the ugly darkness of human sin. When humanity hands over the Prince of Peace to the Prince of lie, it is not the final note in a symphony of despair; it is but a prelude to a triumphant and glorious finale. The ugliness of rejection and abandonment that appears in the handing over is but a foil for the triumphant beauty of God’s mercy, which will be poured out on humankind forthwith.

What is the proper response to this beautiful drama? We might dismiss it entirely. On the other hand, because love is inherently beautiful, she might allow herself to be become enraptured. In such a case, a dynamic process of spiritual and moral formation would be initiated, one in which Christ’s form comes to inform her form, transforming her from the inside-out. As she becomes spiritually “attuned” to God, both her will and intellect are transformed: she develops a taste for God and an understanding of God’s own taste, and her capacity for correct ethical discernment is thereby enhanced. In particular, God’s love awakens her own love, and invokes a loving response to both God and neighbor.

As a result, of her attunement to God her spiritual and moral experience necessarily participates in Christ’s experience. Accordingly, her response of love takes the character of self-sacrifice, obedience, and “making space” for the Father. In a sense rapture is the way that human beings properly respond to all experiences of sublime beauty. We are taken up into the beautiful, captured by it. And the more intense the experience—the more one allows oneself to be moved, even possessed by it—the more one forgets about oneself. Indeed, we could go so far as to say that one becomes somewhat “detached” from oneself, from the usual preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, acts, and sense impressions has significantly decreased. This escape from the self is not a momentary distraction but a profound transformation. The concept of submission is appropriate here, because an experience of sublime beauty is overwhelming, enrapturing, even crushing.

The logic of love is also the logic of self-realization: I give myself, therefore I am. In this respect, divine-human love is genuinely similar to human-human love. Assisted by God’s grace, a person comes to recognize God’s love as beautiful. She understands it, but it also remains beyond her understanding. Furthermore, in allowing God’s love to awaken her own love, she is transformed, not into another being, but into the same person that she was always meant to become. God, who is absolute love, loves the believer, and this love has a kind of shaping effect: it transforms the believer into love. By being the body of Christ, we practice the art of reading based on virtue. It is attained externally by following Christ and internally becoming like Christ.

Why must we continue to Wrestle?
To look at this amazing mirror (Bible) requires the right posture and state of being. We must not necessarily approach the mirror as a source for data, but as a means of communication and persuasion. This is often termed as the “art” of interpretation. How are we going to do this? On the one hand, our reading is a witness to the revelation of God, while on the other hand our aim is to deepen our life of faith/loyalty to Christ. Perhaps, it is not so odd to think that we have bodies for assisting us to contemplate God. This is our means of returning to the ardor of divine love, lost in the fall (Genesis 3). Christ is our means—first in his incarnation and now again through his presence in a sort of analogous incarnation in Scripture. Put differently, the world and everything in it now exist to be a training ground for souls.

Finally, we as believers should learn the art of interpretation through apprenticeship that is learning from those who had become masters. After all, we are not the first one to be picking up the Bible to read it. We need to cultivate diversity and flexibility in our reading as we echo those that have gone before us. Our great spiritual ancestors (teachers from many lands and nationalities) understood that the careful reading of Scripture generates new questions and often yields a range of understandings rather than a single meaning or answer. This art is worthy of imitation today. If reading Scripture is an art, and if we must come to read Scripture imaginatively and well, then it is essential that we learn from those who have gone before us; those who have performed well in their lives of embodied fidelity, through their beautiful interpretations of Scripture. These are the signs of a vibrant church people.