Us and Them: Man and God

PFloyd

Us (us, us, us, us) and them (them, them, them, them)
And after all we’re only ordinary men
Me
And you (you, you, you)
God only knows
It’s not what we would choose (choose, choose) to do (to do, to do)

Us and them – for Pink Floyd, the world’s problems were simply a matter of Rodney King’s famous “why can’t we all get along?”

The ironies and inhumanity of war are highlighted further in Us and Them with stanzas  such as

Down (down, down, down, down)
And out (out, out, out, out)
It can’t be helped that there’s a lot of it about
With (with, with, with), without
And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?

But our problems are not simply a matter of people trying better to get along. The recent passing of Christian singer and songwriter Andrae Crouch brought to mind his collaboration with Michael Jackson in “Man in the Mirror”

I’m gonna make a change
For once in my life …

I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change 

Thriller

 

But is it really that simple? Man’s effort to better man has not always quite worked out. Unless the heart of man is changed, as Michael Jackson alludes to, but simply based on will power it would seem, the petty thief who steals from the railroad simply becomes a well-educated executive who steals the entire railroad.

The Apostle Paul pinpointed the problem in Romans 7:22-24

For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

For Paul, ‘Us and Them’ takes us up a level to find a solution to our problems, as he continues

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The solution lies then, not in ourselves, nor in the stars, but in the Creator that made them, or us, all. But it is not a simple singular creator – there is mystery and richness in this Creator, and the possibility of union with this Creator, though it actually is more like communion.

Understanding this rich, mysterious fellowship of the divine has challenged even the  best-intentioned and devout Christian scholars throughout the ages.  The idea that there are three separate divine persons in the unity of the Godhead was challenging enough, providing a stumbling block to followers of Judaism and Islam who refuse to admit Jesus as the Son of God and separate from, but equal with, God the Father from whom Jesus is “the only begotten Son” (John 3:16). The inclusion of God’s Spirit, referenced in Jewish scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) presages the more explicit early Christian church scriptures on this.  Is. 48:16 states ‘The Lord God has sent me with his Spirit,”and the trinity is alluded to in Isaiah 6:2 in the worship of God by the Seraphim  “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” Jesus declared himself to be ‘the only begotten Son of God’ (John 3:16), as well as pointed to the coming of the Holy Spirit “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and the the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Rublev

Rublev’s Trinity (c. 1410)

But especially inside the Christian church, fully comprehending the mystery and richness of the person of Jesus the Christ has historically been a challenge, leading to what have been perhaps unfortunately termed ‘heresies’ throughout church history. The term is ‘perhaps unfortunate’ since errant teachings about the person of Christ have typically resulted from well-meaning, devout practitioners and teachers of the faith. Early heresies involved the reconciling of Christ’s fully human and fully divine natures. The Arians read John 14:28 where Jesus declares “I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” and inferred a lesser degree of divinity for the Son.  In his humanity, Jesus prayed to the Father, which Arius further took to imply the humanity-boundedness of Jesus, extrapolating to the point of declaring Jesus to have been created by God at some point, rather than ‘begotten,’ outside of time, from the Father, declaring simply “there was a time when he was not” (Quaid and Ward, Heresies and How to Avoid Them, 18).

The Arian deviation from the entirety of the scriptures had serious consequences: Jesus was no longer fully God, and instead simply a special man whom we should emulate. The power of salvation claimed by Jesus is at stake, as Michael Thompson quotes one of his students in Heresies “the Son cannot be a bridge if the bridge doesn’t fully reach to both ends” (Quaid and Ward, Heresies, 20).

On the other hand, the minimizing of Jesus’s human nature, considered a Docetist heresy, led to diminishing Christ’s power and relevance in an entirely different direction.  Convinced that Jesus had a divine mind encased in human flesh, and thus able to speak as God and offer salvation, the theologian Apollinarius in the 4th century thus guarded himself and his flock against the Arian heresy. Apollinarius’s tack here also drew on strands of Gnosticism and its preference for spirit or mind over matter coming from Greek and oriental philosophy of the day.  But the loss of Jesus’s mental humanity – “what use to us is Jesus if he was only human from the neck down” (Quaid and Ward, Heresies, 28)– limits His ability to have “been tempted like us in every way” yet be our empathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:15).

Further well-intentioned but ultimately errant teachings on particularly the person of Jesus littered further centuries of church history, and surfacing even today.  Testing the limits of Jesus’s dual fully human, fully divine natures with the teachings of Arius and the Docetists established for the early church this mysterious relation, allowing them to proceed to consider more particularly exactly how these two natures interacted in the person of Jesus Christ.  Interactions of the two natures led to further grasping but inaccurate formulations: wanting to preserve the eternal divine nature of Christ, Nestorius posited that his human nature was born separately (of Mary) from his divine nature, in effect separating the two natures within Christ, while the correction of this doctrine by Cyril led to formulations that, overly simplified, became the heresy of  Eutyches which blended Jesus’s two natures into a single God-man blend, diminishing the vital role of his, and our, humanity.

Without going further into these and other errant teachings, the moral to be learned is that an overemphasis on a single aspect of Christ, or of the triune Godhead, lessens the richness and mysteries of the God we worship.  These mysteries lead to our salvation, allow us to realize our own humanity ‘created in the image of God’ while allowing us to enter into communion with God himself as fellow heirs with Christ. They redeem us, and allow us to express wonder at how “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us with grace and truth,” and to partake in the eternal life and power of the Spirit offered to us.  We are not on our own – our problems are not just a matter of ‘us and them’ (other people), but instead of ‘us’ (and when redeemed ‘Us’ in a manner), and ‘Them,’ the full, mysterious and enabling Being of the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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