Interaction with Maria on theological anthropology
Jon, my learned friend, do humans not come from spirit in your books… or is it from a terrible void that we arise… and is the robe of our genetics, animated solely by matter devoid of our eternal spirits or are our eternal spirits housed in the robe of our humanity?
We are entirely both material and spiritual. Our origin lies in the act of God, creator of both heaven and earth, who formed us of both spirit and matter to be the image of God’s own being. Matter and spirit are not two different planes of existence, but one, single, unified reality. Rocks, angels, trees, demons, animals and humans are all part of one cosmos. Spirit cannot be reduced to matter, nor matter dismissed as illusion or whatever. Neither can they be separated. And as with the cosmos, so also with humans. We are utterly material and utterly spiritual. We are not merely spirits clothed in bodies, as if we could set them aside. My body is integral to who I am, and yours is to who you are. To separate body from spirit is to kill us, because to do so is to tear apart what is utterly one thing. What is left when we are torn apart like this is a rotting corpse and a mere shadow, cut off from the world and unable to participate in it any more. What we need is to be made whole, to be lifted out of this shadow state and put back together.
This is why people are typically so surprised when they learn what the real hope of Christianity is: not to “go to heaven when you die” (the biblical texts say next to nothing about that), but rather to be resurrected (they talk about this constantly). This is to get our own, unique bodies back, to be reconstituted in wholeness once again, to have reversed the tearing asunder that we call death—and not only temporarily, but forever, so that death will never take us again, nor the powers of evil and chaos wreak havoc and destruction on the cosmos any more.
This is important, because it means that this world of flesh and plants and mud matters for all eternity. What we do here and now, in the grit and particulars of real life, is utterly significant. Not just spiritual things matter in this world; so do the things that we think could never be important, because all of it is part of the story of this one, spiritual-material creation that has been made and will be made new and whole.
Beautiful Jon. I’ve always thought that all would eventually arrive at the same place, though we walk different paths. I loved your first paragraph. I have alternative thoughts regarding your second, in that change is constant and the unique body you refer to emerges from the unique causes and conditions arising in our individual lives. It gathers about us, though the genetic tendencies and inclinations of our ancestors, in perfect resonance to the causes we’ve made, and is shed as a leaf in autumn... at least for now... and though imperfect, it is supremely precious, as is all life, and most wonderfully suited to our fundamental nature, and this moment, this now is incredibly powerful, a change in ones heart can transform everything. I don’t doubt that we are eternal and that the causes we make are essential to our joy, happiness, and well being. Ultimately, I imagine all phenomena are contained within one’s life, down to the last particle of dust... we encompass, sun, stars... all, from the eternal past to the eternal future, we are continuous. Our understandings, and fundamental nature can be translated into different cultures and times. I am a cosmic humanist, a fundamental humanist, and value every individual consciousness. I believe that we ourselves are fully enlightened ones... and our journey towards this truth is an endless odyssey into the innermost sanctum of our own lives.
Yet that difference between us is significant, Maria. The first paragraph of what I wrote is the presupposition, while the second is the point for both Judaism and Christianity (and also Islam, albeit with some significant modifications). The world is a dynamic, growing thing, and we are made to be thoroughly part of it. But moreover, we are made to be part of it forever, not only for a time and then no more. When we are resurrected, we shall be part of its dynamic process again and without end.
Now, we are clearly agreed that this world is precious, yet there remains a difference between us about that. From what you have said, it seems that for you the world is precious as something ultimately other from you, whether seen as something that gathers around you or as something experientially contained within you. The first image would suggest that the world, and even your own body, is precious to you in a way comparable to a precious stone: indeed valuable, but not ultimately vital to who you are in that you can set it aside without loss to your being. The second would suggest that the world, and even your own body, is precious to you in a way comparable to a meaningful story you have read: indeed valuable, but still something you can leave behind once you’ve experienced it.
For me, the world is precious as something that I am fundamentally part of and that is not ultimately other to me, but rather greater than me. A good comparison might be to say that the world is precious to me in much the same way that my body is precious to one of the cells in my body: it is not part of me, but rather I am part of it; I cannot set it aside, for to be separated from it is my destruction. (Of course, this analogy is limited, and pressed too hard it will break down, but I hope it sheds light on the subject, so that we can understand one another better.) Who I am cannot be ultimately other from the rest of God’s creation, and I cannot find my identity by looking inwardly. Rather, I can find my own identity only by looking beyond myself, to the God who made me and the world God made me a part of. The only way to find oneself is to find oneself in the other. This is what is means when we Christians say that love is the ultimate reality and the ultimate truth and the ultimate goal.
Indeed, for Christians this is the fundamental story of all. We believe that God literally became that which was other to God (i.e. one of the creatures God loves), and ultimately descended into that which is the very antithesis of God (i.e. death, the Nothing, Un-Being) in order to bring us out of it and so to reconcile all things to Godself. It is the very nature of the Source of all being to go out into the other and thereby increase the fullness of all being. This is love. And we are made, we are told, in God’s image, which means we must do likewise. Only by loving the other as ourself, by abandoning ourself to the other, by giving our life to see the salvation of the other, do we find our own life, receive back our own self, and come into the love that saves us. We must love God with reckless abandon, and therefore love what God loves with reckless abandon. Only thus can we and will we become who we truly are.