~ The Jesus Depth Finder ~
Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD) wrote, “When the mind is no longer dissipated across the world through the senses, it returns to itself; and by means of itself it ascends to the thought of God.” This is true only of those of whom Jesus said, “If you make My word your home, you will indeed be My disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, Jerusalem Bible). Otherwise, the mind that is no longer dissipated across the world through the senses goes crazy.
That’s why most people adamantly avoid tace (keeping silent), quiesce (keeping tranquil) and solitude. Just an hour in a room of no talking, no sound and no light constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” for most. Rather than the mind “ascend[ing] to the thought of God,” it descends into an abyss of boredom, fear, loneliness, and the taunts of personal demons created by a lifetime of trauma, battering, painfilled memories and regrets of roads taken and not taken.
Christ and the prophets spoke much on poverty, both physical and spiritual. Denying the mind of its physical senses plunges it into poverty. If it is a poverty akin to the suffering of millions of people in our world today who literally have only dirt to eat, that mind will share in that kind of suffering. However, those who “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16b) will not only welcome but eagerly pursue the Lord’s injunction, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, NIV) and so can remain silent and alone in quietude as the mind “ascends to the thought of God.” Theirs is a holy poverty of no sinful passions and desires, creating a vacuum of poverty in their recesses of spirit. In this state of being they “know that I am God,” a knowing that is the most esteemed above all treasures. Consequently, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Apostle John writes, “God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12b). The apostle Paul asserts, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Furthermore, he says that Christ “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18b), and “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a, NIV).
These are truths in which I stand and they are very easy to quote and write about. Many readers will nod affirmatively, thinking “Yeah, this is great stuff, praise God!” But now, I want to “be still” with you.
Speaking for myself, and knowing many of you are with me on this, I admit an existential frustration with myself in the face of Scripture. God’s love is not in complete fullness in me; I am not a totally new creation although I am in Christ; although Christ does live in me, so do I, not having been fully crucified with Him; and although I have spent many weeks at a time totally alone with God immersed in the exquisite wonder of His creation and cherished it with all my being, a week or two in dark, quiet isolation would not propel my mind into a continuous ascent to “the thought of God.”
This self-reflection does in no way chip away at my absolute conviction of the truth of holy Scripture and the words of God. I am then left with the penthos (abiding sorrow of my sinfulness) of how Scripture describes the Christian in contrast to what I am. This penthos is deepened by the proclamation that Christ “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Given the abiding Christ and His grace, incomplete as it seems and feels, I am to minister as a reconciliator of God and humans. How is that possible when I fall short of a full divine reconciliation as described by Christ and the apostles?
There are some well-intentioned people who would bring me spiritual consolation
for my personal angst…It’s a matter of faith; don’t rely on feelings; it’s
a process; the fullness of God and reconciliation will come after physical
death; etc. One can find support and opposition in Scripture for all these
and others. With kind respect, I wish not to be consoled from penthos nor
the disparity between what is written and what is actually lived. The angst
or Godly distress, as St. Paul puts it, is good for my spirit, for it impels
me with greater zeal toward that complete crucifixion of self with Christ,
without which I cannot be fully His. This is “suffering for His sake” since
it was for our sakes He emptied Himself into human servantship, suffered,
died, resurrected and infused us with
His Holy Spirit.
A metaphor struck me as being useful in reconciling this disparity. I thought of a long stretch of flat water on a river I often canoed and kayaked. The chart indicated varying depths from ten to a “hole” of one hundred feet. From the surface I could see no difference. The canoe or kayak behaved no differently and required no changes in handling. Although the river presented no difference to me, the depth differences were critically important to the river. They would determine its behavior downstream, its response to rain and wind, the kind of aquatic life it could nurture, its erosion impact on its banks and thus its direction over time and many other things.
I also thought of apples I would sometimes pack on such river trips. The rigors of the environment would take its toll on some apples, making them look brown and soft in some places. A quick slice with a knife would reveal the nutritious, white, juicy healthiness beneath the surface and I would eat with delight. They were pure down to the core, despite surface bruising. A few, however, were, as they say, rotten to the core and useless to me. The apple near the core was what mattered.
Christians are like rivers and apples. If the “old unregenerated creature” keeps popping up, requiring daily or even hourly forgiveness, he must not only still be alive and well, but close to the surface. The “Christlikeness” does not penetrate too deeply.
We need a Jesus depth finder. How deeply can we penetrate our natures and still find only Jesus? Is this what Jesus was talking about in His story of the seed sower? Some plants looked pretty good, until an environmental challenge hit them, because there was no depth in their roots. How hard can challenges, persecutions, and violations penetrate my life, how deeply can they force their way into my soul and still encounter only Christ, He who lives in me instead of my crucified self? Perhaps that is why the inspiring people of God welcomed and sought such penetrating suffering in the name of Christ.
Anyway, I don’t really know, speaking for myself. I do know, however, I am not Christlike to the core of my heart. And I want so much to be, and love Him more than I do. That’s my fervent prayer.
Living a life as a Christian on the surface is easy to do and even convenient. When it serves us, the Christian mask has its rewards. But when a situation or challenge makes being Christlike personally dangerous, I am too aware of the temptation to switch to a state of self-preservation, protection and defensiveness. So we pray not to be led into such temptation. Jesus, during His great passion of suffering, told His disciples to pray they may avoid “the test.” They probably didn’t take Him at His word, for they failed the test and fled from Him when the heat got turned up. Unfortunately, ninety nine percent of us who bear the title of Christian give a bad name to the rest who are Christlike down to the core.
I’ve been asking myself, at least twelve times a day, how much of me has been truly crucified with Christ. How deep into my heart’s core does the absolute sovereignty and lordship of Christ penetrate?
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – that is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2a, NIV). Consider the dichotomy of body and mind. Transformation is done through a mental renewal while the body of the physical world becomes the sacrifice that is spiritual worship, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Bodies are sacred.
Contrary to some who believe Christianity disdains the physical body, seeing it as an impediment to spiritual growth, Christians celebrate the body and all creation. The first Christians and their Jewish ancestors centuries before them liberally used the earth’s fruit such as incense, spices and oils, water and fire, in their worship liturgies. Frankincense and Myrrh were the first gifts offered to Jesus and as an adult He gratefully accepted the liberal oil anointing of His feet by Mary, silencing the others who objected in indignation, explaining the powerful act of worship she was doing in preparing His body for death and burial. The iconoclastic reaction of the Reformation fostered an end, and disdain, for liturgical use and understanding of the sacredness of earthly elements for the first time in history in many denominations.
The Christ of the Godhead is understood, known and encountered incarnationally. We are familiar with His words to those He told to leave His presence: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison, and you did not look after me.” Those Christ were addressing were incredulous. They asked Him when did they ever see Him during their lives in all history in need, sick or imprisoned and not act. Christ answers, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:42-43,45, NIV).
What is lost on many people is Christ’s singular concentration on the physical needs. He did not say, “Church services were on and you didn’t go, you had time to study Scripture but didn’t, you could have taught Sunday school, but refused, you could have worshipped more, but didn’t.” I am not suggesting these are unimportant. I am inviting others to consider how striking it is that Jesus used, in teaching, only bodily criteria in separating the sheep from the goats, the tares (weeds) from the wheat.
Many people have great trouble with this. The early Calvinists strongly opposed including the Book of James in the biblical cannon due to the emphasis on faith being coupled with works of love. Others insist the only obligation of a Christian is a “profession of faith” and baptism. I have heard some people even end their prayers with, “In the name of Jesus I pray this and claim it!” This brings to mind how Christ explained that many keep trying to “lay hold of the kingdom of heaven by force.”
His disciples once asked Christ, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Again, I find myself so struck by what Christ didn’t say to that, which is proclaimed by many who preach in His name, such as, “No! All you need to do is say this simple prayer: Now repeat after me…” Christ, the Master teacher and Lord of All, did not say yes or no. He replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be able to” (Luke 13:24, NIV). The way in can only be through genuine self-denial, faith and grace, through Christ Himself.
From out of the depths we cry constantly
to our Lord for mercy for us sinners, from out of our intense yearning
and love for the Christ of all life and experience, not for the life and
experience of Christ; we cry for the Christ of heaven, not for the heaven
of Christ; we cry for Him, the Person of all our love, not out of the love
If Christ was in hell, would you cry to be with Him there?
And Christ is there. He is in the hell of the lost, despairing, poor, afflicted, imprisoned, the unloved and despised, the sinners, and so with me. The Scriptures repeat over and over how unconditionally we are loved by God and Christ is God’s incarnational manifestation, in the flesh, of that supreme Love. But it is His Holy Spirit within us that bears the seal and witness of this Love.
Consequently, Paul prays phenomenal words: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and deep and high is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV).
Christ cancelled the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (A good thing, since many people hate themselves.) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another. By this all [people] will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV). Love is the marker of a Christian, but not just any human form of love. We must love as Christ did, an agape depth. This can only be done with the love of Christ dwelling in our core. This is Christlikeness to the center of our hearts, “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
In his first letter (chapter 4:7 through chapter 5), the apostle John writes a resplendid exposition of the essence of the Good News: That of incarnational love. Love is a doing more than a feeling. Feelings are passion; doing is incarnation – word made flesh, energy made matter. So understandable it is that Christ used doings as the criteria for separating weeds from wheat, although all called Him “Lord.” And so essential that Christ made Himself the object of all love, hidden in the oppressed, afflicted, poor and despised.
I’m sure you have, as well as I, witnessed horrible violence upon members of our human family. I would overhear the foot-stomping, hand slapping laughter of people telling stories of how someone was painfully hurt or how gory was their death. I would think, “Lord, these are the people you command me to love as you love them, as you love me?” Then I would typically retreat into prayerful and contemplative solitude. “The hermits and desert contemplatives had the right idea,” I would chuckle to myself.
In the solitude I would learn that it was a good idea not because they would spare themselves the impact of worldly evil. No, it was there, in solitude, that I could engage the Jesus depth finder. I could ascertain how deeply in my own spirit I allowed Christ to make His home.
Then the call of the Gospel would summon me into the world community, “even to the ends of the earth.” There is where Christ challenges us to be “doers of the word,” not just “hearers.” He did make it clear that the doing is only what matters. I would fall, retreating back into the desert solitude. The Jesus depth finder would engage again: “By your love, by My indwelling within you, they will know you are Mine.”
After many switches from hermit to man-in-the-world and back, and hours in prayer, the grace that surpasses sin grew along with the ability to love what was before unlovable. Delightfully, some of that love returned. That love incarnated in the physical world of the senses. And incarnated love is known as the Christ. I could then see Christ in the despised.
“Strive to enter the narrow door” reminds me of some cave crevices we had to squeeze through to access a large cavern, sometimes shredding our coveralls on sharp rock protrusions. From “out of the depths,” Lord, the most profound depths of my heart possible, I cry, have mercy on me, a sinner. I seek solitude so I can be fully present to people. I seek self-crucifixion so Christ can be fully present in me.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © August 24, 2002
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