Individualism’s Expression at Virginia Tech

I’ve been reading the news reports just like you have over the last several days. I have been horrified at what happened on the campus of Virginia Tech. It’s too early to start drawing conclusions about what transpired and why. In my opinion, that’s not what really matters at this point. We simply need to be praying for the families, friends, and all those involved at VT.

I do, however, have one observation that I would like to make. I was reading an article from Breitbart.com, and over and over again it was mentioned that the young man who went on this shooting rampage was an isolationist. Said those who knew the man, “He was a loner,” and “He was very quiet, always by himself,” and then “He didn’t reach out to anyone. He never talked.”

Then I read this:

Some classmates said that on the first day of a British literature class last year, the 30 or so students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Cho’s turn, he didn’t speak.

On the sign-in sheet where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. “Is your name, ‘Question mark?'” classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response.

I find it very intriguing, and not at all surprising, that one who had isolated himself from all others would identify himself with a question mark.

My theological education here at Wesley Biblical Seminary has instilled in me the idea that one can only be a person in the context of a loving relationship to another. That, by definition, is what a person is. In Dennis Kinlaw’s book, Preaching in the Spirit, he writes, “The very word person entered our language from the Trinitarian discussions of the early church…No person can be understood in isolation. Persons are not created that way. Even divine persons do not live that way.” (76) The great challenge of the 21st century is going to be whether or not the church can answer the great question of postmodernity, “Who am I?”

Hollywood isn’t going to give the right answers to this question. Consider the concept of personhood that comes from such a blockbuster hit as American Psycho (2000). This plot line from IMDB: “A wealthy New York investment banking executive hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he escalates deeper into his illogical, gratuitous fantasies.” Everything in the life of the lead character (played by Christian Bale) is perfect. Yet, in his mind, “To be is to consume.” The message portrayed is that if “I don’t want to be consumed, I must consume.” So he becomes a serial killing cannibal.

How are we going to change the minds of the folks in our churches, as well as our whole culture, that personhood is not equivalent to individualism? When will we begin to realize that the answer to the question of our personal identity is not found in autonomy? Individualism only leads to depersonalization and destruction. In my estimation, the answers to these questions can only be found in the social Trinity. But what exactly that means is another discussion for another day. In the meantime, let’s pray for God’s comfort and healing in such a difficult time.

Is there an element of humanity within the Trinity?

When reflecting upon the person of Jesus Christ, it is virtually impossible to separate the incarnation, atonement, resurrection and ascension which reveal the nature of the Trinity manifested by reciprocal love. That being said, we are currently in the Advent season where we devote ourselves to the celebration of the anniversary of the incarnation. Christmas is a time the Church worships Emmanuel, God with us! The immaculate conception of divinity with humanity is a mystery which does not stop with the birth of Jesus Christ, but is carried on through the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension all of these being the glorious redemption of humanity. Irenaeus of Lyons frequently tied the incarnation with redemption. In his book, Against Heresies, he writes, “the Lord thus has redeemed us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh, and has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man, imparting indeed God to men by means of the Spirit, and, on the other hand, attaching man to God by His own incarnation, and bestowing upon us at His coming immortality durably and truly, by means of communion with God”. God’s purpose of the incarnation was to be inseparably tied to humanity. We find this in the very act of the eternal Son of God assuming the nature of humanity and being assumed perichoretically. Jesus Christ is not bipolar having two persons living within His one being, nor is He a type of hybrid being chemically engineered from divinity and humanity. Jesus Christ is truly God and truly human. While this may sound like a paradox, how else may we begin to articulate who Jesus Christ is while still maintaining the mystery?

To go one step further, Jesus Christ’s role as mediator flows out of this co-indwelling of divinity and humanity, typically called the hypostatic union. The next logical step is to view Jesus Christ as mediator in its chronological order. Was Jesus Christ the mediator before the incarnation? It could be said that His mediating role flows out of His very nature which is self-giving love and is eternal since He is eternal. There is still uniformity within the Godhead, and humanity was in need of a mediator as well as a redeeming-savior before the incarnation. The incarnation made the mediating role of Jesus Christ possible. The hypostatic union that was initiated in the immaculate conception of the incarnation is continued through to the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ. There is a human element within the Trinity today. The humanity did not die off of Jesus Christ prior to the resurrection, leaving only divinity. Augustine says, “He did not so come to us, as to leave the Father. From us He went, and did not leave us”. The incarnation and the hypostatic union is vital for us to understand what it means for Jesus Christ to be our mediator.

A person might ask, “If Jesus Christ was still divine and human after the resurrection, then how is it that two of His disciples didn’t recognize Him as they walked on the road to Emmaus, or that after they had eaten together, He (Jesus) vanished before their eyes (St. Luke 24:13-35)?” I would answer that person by asking, “Why does Jesus show His disciples His hands and His feet?” and say, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have (St. Luke 24:39).” This is the same Jesus Christ that the disciples knew before the crucifixion, as far as His hypostatic union is concerned. The Anglican Article 2 says, “the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided”. The same Son of God who took upon Himself humanity (and humanity took on divinity) at the incarnation, being Jesus Christ (divine and human), is the same Jesus Christ (divine and human) who died on the cross for our sins, and is the same Jesus Christ (divine and human) who was resurrected from the dead. It is also the same Jesus Christ (divine and human) who ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven and mediates on our behalf. The purpose of the incarnation was to redeem humanity back into relationship with the Triune God, which is reciprocal love.

A person may go as far as saying that the reciprocal love of the Trinity can be found in relational-creational terms of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit created humanity in His own image from self-giving love. The relationship is broken and the image is flawed after humanity decided to grasp equality with God. This act is the polar-opposite of the nature of self-giving love. The self-giving love of God is found again in the act of uniting Himself to humanity through the incarnation. The flawed image of God within humanity is only healed by the divine becoming incarnate. Likewise, the void in humanity from a lost relationship can only be filled by the humanity of our Mediator who truly knows our hurts, pain, loneliness, etc. Jesus Christ is still divine and human today. He is our Lord, our Savior, and our Mediator.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

-St. John 14:6

The Introspective Musings of a Married Man

Recently I had somewhat of a revelation. My wife and I were talking about various issues and we eventually arrived on the issue of personal devotions. As we were talking something occurred to me for the first time. I asked myself the question: Why (at least in my mind) do I place more emphasis on my own private devotions than on our devotion time together?

I guess the answer strikes deeply into my own understanding of personhood and salvation.

First off, in regards to personhood, my being is not found in myself — it is only found in the context of another. In my case, that “other” is my wife Rebecca. She gives me definition. She validates and defines my existence. She “completes me,” if I could use a great phrase from a not-so-great movie. Why then would I seek to live in this life as though I could define my being apart from her presence? Should not my every thought and action occur within the context of two instead of one?

Secondly, in regards to salvation, my salvation is not a monadic thing. I do not believe in a God who impersonally and arbitrarily determines the elect from the reprobate. I believe in a relational God — relational within Himself and in His dealings with man. The purpose of salvation is to create a “new community.” The problem in the West is that salvation to us is so individualistic. What matters most is “my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” It is evident by the way we have geared our worship. Worship, in the American church, is so focused on self, so focused on “my” time with Jesus. Instead of spending our time apart during the week as our own personal time with Jesus we have turned our time with the Body on Sunday as that time instead of the corporate worship that it should be. Our churches on Sunday mornings are full of a bunch of “individuals” who have a “me and Jesus” mentality. How did our understanding of worship get so twisted?

I suspect it is due to our understanding of who God is. If we focus on God’s Oneness before His Threeness then the tendency is to lose out on the concept of community. But if we focus on God’s Threeness, and how within His threeness He is One, then we will be more relationally/community-focused.

So back to my original issue. Which is more important to me: My quiet times with God, or our quiet times with God? It seems to me that if a.) I find my being in another, and b.) I believe in a Triune God as Three who are One, then the answer should be obvious.

Need for Each Other

From Dennis Kinlaw’s This Day With the Master:

June 22
Need for Each Other
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
(Matthew 7:3,5 NRSV)
It is not easy for us humans to see clearly. All of us have trouble accepting the fact that we are fallen beings and are therefore capable of misreading things. Somehow because of the Fall, it is easier for me to see what’s wrong with you than for me to see what’s wrong with me. Did you ever notice how much easier it is to see another person’s fault than your own? Perhaps we don’t want to admit our fallenness because we don’t know where to get help. However, we have been given substantial help, so if we continue in our blindness, it is our own fault.

First of all, we have been offered the Holy Spirit, who wants to live in us and transform us from the inside out. He wants to straighten out our crookedness, the twistedness inside you and me. We also have the Scriptures, which give us the picture of what a human person is supposed to be – the example of the Lord Jesus. We are to walk as He walked. A third help is one we so often miss: each other. Why can we not come to each other and say, “Help save me from myself”? We need to give thanks that God has given us each other. I need you, and I need you to help save me from myself.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we who call ourselves Christians wanted to desperately to please our Lord and we were so interested in His cause that we would open our hearts to each other concerning family, finances, discipline, integrity, and a host of other things, asking, “How can I do better?” If I would do that, I would find, perhaps to my surprise, that you are my friend and my help. That would help me be a better Christian, and my relationship with you would be a more effective witness than any of us alone can ever give.