Why “100% Man and 100% God” is SO important
A few years ago while at the vicar factory I wrote this piece on the atonement as part of the doctrine course I was taking, led by the fantastically wonderful Alister McGrath. While the first half represents an obligatory overview of the historical growth of the doctrinal understanding of the atonement (and which looking back was just enough to scrape through and that i would probably now rewrite in the light of this), the second half was the first time I’d put down in writing something that represented my journey from simple evangelicalism to something far more, for want of a better word, “catholic”.
As you’ll see if you bother to read it, the essay began to explore my spiritual fascination with the full extent of the significance of the hypostatic union. At the same time as I wrote it I was also getting through Weinandy’s “Does God Suffer” which I found a release from the restricting anthropomorphism of Moltmann’s “The Crucified God”. in Weinandy and in the catholic spiritual giants of the 16th century like St John of the Cross I discovered a God who was magnificently impassible and yet lovingly immanent throughout his entire creation.
Weinandy’s argument in favour of God’s impassibility is simple but profound. His basic criticism of those who believe God is affected by his creation is that they simply fail to understand that God is eternal and they are not. God stands above creation having already decided all things within it. He cannot be changed because he has, from a time-bound perspective, already been. This is what I was trying to get across last month when I used the following video in church.
But the picture doesn’t stop there. You see, God isn’t static around creation. Rather he is constantly at work within it. Imagine the liquorice wheel in the video with 1000 pins stuck in it. The pins are metaphors for God’s love. From the perspective of us stuck in the liquorice wheel the pins are static, but in reality they are vectors of God’s love moving into the world. Imagine the pins as flowing from the head of the pin to the point.
The universe is like a pin cushion with millions and billions of pins being pushed into it. The pins are God’s interactivity with the world – a trillion interactions moving into and shaping the creation we live in. Suddenly we understand; God is not static and unmoved when he appears to be absent. Though we don’t see the hand of God he is at work. Each event he shapes and each life he touches is a deliberate choice of his to interact with and love the world. Creation is like a huge pin cushion with an infinite number of pins. God is actively at work everywhere – unchangeable and unmovable for he has already ordained all his activity, but not unloving and dispassionate for he is dynamically engaged at every point in time.
And what has this got to do with the atonement? Simply this – Christ’s death is at work throughout every point of time. He is present at every moment in our lives because he is active throughout the universe. The crucifixion is therefore not so much a single event in time but rather present continually in the life of the Christian. This is the core of classical spirituality, that Jesus as the union of man and God in one person is also the point of union of humans and God, present by the Spirit at all points of time in the life of the believer. This is what Paul is hinting at in Ephesians 5, that Jesus is the point of connection between you and God. Moments in time become actually present today, not just figuratively or symbolically but in literal reality. The events on Golgotha are happening now in you. The bursting forth from the empty tomb is happening now in you. It is not just 200o years ago but it is today.
This is the basis for most of our pastoral practice and the reason why heresy and the denial of the core aspects of orthodoxy is the path that places oneself outside salvation. If you don’t believe in the Virgin Birth how can you believe in the one who unites you with the Father because he is both human and divine – impossible if he was naturally conceived? If you reject the physical resurrection how can Christ make the glorious victory over sin present in you today?
And I think this understanding that the hypostatic union is the key to Christ’s presence with us is the reason why those of a more catholic nature have a higher view of the Eucharist. It’s not that Christ is re-sacrificed in Communion. Rather, Christ’s atoning power is made actually present among us when we celebrate his victory. Golgotha is not just remembered it is literally present, not least because we all gather having the transforming power of the cross already present within each of us individually.
Am I making any sense? I guess what I’m trying to say is this – the hypostatic union isn’t just a nice bit of theology. It’s actually the core of our spiritual experience. It’s the centre of most pastoral work of healing and wholeness, the bringing of Christ’s redeeming power into the life of the broken. It’s the explanation for devotional practice like dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s the core of classical spiritual insight like the writings of St John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila.
Do you know Christ present today? I don’t just mean “have you had a moment in your life when Jesus made himself known”. Do you actually believe and have experienced that in his very being he has united you with the divine at every moment in your existence? This is more than just being a charismatic or a mystic – this is about both realising that Jesus is with you every second you breathe and living in the consequences of that epiphany.
More tomorrow when it’s less late…