When Jesus burst upon the scene of first century Palestine he set the accepted religious tradition of the day on its head. Christ not only challenged the spiritual status quo as prescribed by the religious leaders, he ushered in a very unique brand of spirituality. It can be rightly said that Christ was, in context of the spiritual milieu of his time, a spiritual anachronism.
Christ differed in his approach to the spiritual life by negating the traditional path of “ascension” spirituality. Instead, Christ taught and lived a spirituality of “divine descending” or “kenosis.” Instead of perfecting ourselves and ascending back to the heavenly realms, we are called by Christ to not only a sacrificial lifestyle of love, but also to “self-emptying” spirituality – a brand of spiritual endeavor whereby we become more holy by giving away all that God has given us. This refers not so much to living lives of poverty and destitution, but instead, involves utilizing our spiritual gifts in selfless services to God and others.
Unlike the New Age adherents, we are not here to “learn lessons in earth school.”
Unlike the “prosperity” teachers, we are not here to become rich.
Unlike the Gnostic disciples, we are not only here to “know ourselves.”
Unlike the Buddhists, we are not here to achieve enlightenment and escape the rounds of birth and death.
Unlike the Vedanta followers, we are not here to perfect ourselves and discover the “God within.”
Unlike Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, we are not here to work off our moral indebtedness in some sort of karmic sweatshop.
Unlike Muslim and Christian fundamentalists, we are not here to purify ourselves through legalistic obedience to religious laws, thus preparing ourselves for some final judgment.
Instead, we are here to carry on the great mission that Christ began when he decided to put on an earth suit and walk among us. In doing so, Christ revealed the true nature of God as a being of infinite love – a being of kenosis, who emptied himself into all creation through Christ. Since then, things have never been the same on this planet and they never will. Through the blessings of the Incarnation, blessings far too sublime for us to ever wrap our minds around, Christ revealed the heart of God. When I reflect on these themes, I suddenly and profoundly see John 3:16 in an entirely new light:
For God gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him should never perish, but have everlasting life.
Our mission is one of continuing incarnation, of becoming the hands, feet, and especially, the heart of Jesus in this hurting world. Nowhere does scripture reveal a more cogent, relevant, and profound truth than in Matthew 25:35-40, where the following exchange between Christ and the disciples is recorded:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and come to see you? And the King will answer and say to them, “Today I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers and sisters of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” (NAS)
This world we find ourselves living in is broken in many ways. Some theologians and biblical scholars call our world “fallen,” but I think this misses the mark somewhat. Is this world steeped in what Christians typically call “sin.?” Without a doubt. Is this world populated by a majority that operates on the premise that you should always “look out for Number 1” You bet it is. Is this world a place where trust and openness more often leads to pain than comfort? Just try it and see.
My point here, however, is not to detail how much our world has fallen from God’s standards and ideals. No, my point is just the opposite:
This world, with all its suffering, pain, and injustice, is the ideal place for us to grow spiritually through following Christ’s example of kenotic self-transcendence.
This world, warts and all, provides us with the proper venue to hone our spiritual skills in ways a utopian society never could. Rather than seeking to find ways to accelerate our way back to our pristine spiritual homeland, we are to embrace this world, find out where God is working, and join in, utilizing the spiritual gifts that God has already placed in us. This is the way to become the optimal version of ourselves and, along the way, attain spiritual fulfillment.
© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved
- Interview with New Testament Scholar Scot McKnight (frankviola.wordpress.com)
- Following In The Footsteps of Jesus…EMPOWERED BY GOD (edifier1.wordpress.com)