One of the most profound sections of the New Testament is found in first Corinthians. The author writes:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
What is the message of the Cross? The message of the cross is that Christ has been made king, the world has been turned upside down, and new creation has begun. The old order of things is passing away, and the kingdom of God has come. Reality itself has fundamentally changed. The old, fallen world, the transitory, darwinian, every-man-for-himself world, the world of Ceaser, empire and lies is passing away. The Truth, the Logos, the Devine Love, has come and has planted the seed of the kingdom of God in the world of death, and there, at the cross of calvary, the seed of Devine Love has been planted and died. And then, three days later, New Creation has burst forth, unshakable, with roots reaching down to the pit of hell. A new Reality, the most Real Reality which has overcome the power of death, has destroyed the empire of Ceaser. The Truth has won and Love is crowned King. Stanley Hauerwas puts it simply and beautifully: “Peace is a deeper reality than violence.”
The reasoning of the world, of those who are perishing, is out of touch with reality, the rationality of the foolishness of Christ is how we must now learn to think.
Christ himself is the new world, the ground of being and the new reality that has been ushered in. Thus, to get in touch with the reality of new creation and the kingdom of God, we must conform to Christ. I do not mean to conform in some propositional or “lawlike” way, rather, I am thinking of participatory knowing. Knowing is embodied. To know reality is to be conformed to reality. It is no accident that the Hebrew word for know is often used to speak of sex. This is because the same kind of “mutual self disclosure” involved in sex or love is what true knowledge involves. Esther Meek describes this as a kind of dance:
This speaks to Meek’s notion that knowledge is not only a pilgrimage, it is also a gift. What follows encountering reality and being transformed by it in the sequence of knowing is a kind of dance, a continual loving relationship with the known world. “We move,” she writes, “to and fro in conversations, in growing understanding, in growing solidarity and mutual trust” The dance is a continual opening up of reality, a “continuously dynamic, ever-new gift.
The dance begins with a recognition of the Gestalt of Christ or the patterns of the Reality of New Creation. As this pattern feeds into our being, it changes how we see and act, opening us up to greater patterns: We see more, we embody more. There is this dynamic, mutual growth and disclosure, as I am transformed, more of New Creation opens itself up to me and feeds back into my being. Thus Paul writes in Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Leave the patterns of the world and be conformed to the patterns of Christ and the new world he has ushered in.
Faith, not just in the Reality that is being opened up to you, but also in a specific community that can guide you is here, essential. Thus the role of the Church in the Christian life is not some incidental social club, rather it is near the heart of training us to submit ourselves to the patterns of new creation. Meek writes:
The knowing venture, calls us to trust ourselves to something we seek to know, to trust ourselves to its developments, to trust ourselves to a reality that is relationally responsive and generous, to trust ourselves to relationship, to trust ourselves to carefully chosen guides and to companions on the journey, to trust ourselves in the knowing venture.
Dru Johnston speaks of “ritual knowing,” and how essential it is for us to embody the right practices for us to know the world properly. Our modern epistemology has given us this strange notion that reality is to be known by abstracting ourselves from it. The biblical vision is that through embodied practices, we can learn to see the world rightly:
Scripture doesn’t pull the punch: we will come to understand our world through our ethical behaviours and our rituals. Whether they are prescribed by our culture or the prophets. The question centers on whether we will know foolishly or wisely, and whether or not we will bring a life true to God’s instructions to the rituals of the Church.
We can now see that what really distinguishes Christians from those who disagree, is not not a set of propositions rationally and objectively and abstractly arrived at, rather it is that for us, a new Reality has been ushered in. As Hauerwas puts it: “Their disagreement may be explained in that they do not happen to know or follow this Jew from Nazareth.”
A New World Imagined
What does this new world look like? How are we to learn to think, in order to conform to this new reality? The best answer is the one Jesus gave: “come and see.” Indeed, much of Jesus ministry focused on opening up his hearers, those with “eyes and ears to see” to the new reality of the kingdom of God. Thus, Jesus communicated mostly with stories, parables and aphorisms, modes of communication which inspire and open up the imagination, drawing his hearers into a new world:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The new world is one that embodies a fundamentally anti-darwinian logic and ethic. In this new world, the meek inherit the earth, the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, and at the heart of it all is a God, scourged and crucified. It is not radical self interest that wins in the end, but rather a radical self emptying Love. The poor, the disabled, the hungry, the homeless, these are the ones to whom the Kingdom comes first:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
The defining feature of the new world is that, at bottom, there is peace. We are thus freed from our frenzied attempts at making the world conform to our image. Freed from out attempts to push the wheel of history in the right direction. We are called to faithfulness, not power. At bottom, we know, the Prince of Peace, precisely by giving up control, has been crowned King. John Howard Yoder describes the great inversion of the cross:
What Jesus renounced was thus not simply the metaphysical status of sonship but rather the untrammelled sovereign exercise of power in the affairs of that humanity amid which he came to dwell. His emptying of himself, his accepting of the form of servanthood and obedience unto death, is precisely his renunciation of lordship, his apparent abandonment of any obligation to be effective in making history move down the right track.
The new world is one in which the powers that enslave us have been overcome and a new life has now become possible. The narratives of the king of darkness—that the very things that enslave us: sex, power, money, are our emancipation— are radically subverted by the story of the Gospel. The life made possible now is one that is “not of this world,” and the transitory things of the world: status, wealth, reproduction, cease to control us.
The new world is one in which the new ruler is the law of Love. A love that extends to all of humanity and all of creation, bringing fourth the love at the bottom of all things. It is a self giving love, which in the pattern of Christ, defeats the powers that has creation “groaning for release.” It is a world of grace. A world of forgiveness. A world of redemption.
The new world is brought into being by faith. A faith that gives us the eyes to see that that the “world is made up of things unseen.” A faith that gives one the imagination to see the future that is made present. A faith that lives in radical trust in the faithfulness of God:
do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value then they?… Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
To have faith in Christ is simply this. It is to trust that Jesus is King, that a new reality has been ushered in and that, despite all appearances, the kingdom of God is at hand. To trust that, despite the seeming evidence to the contrary, that God has not abandoned the Church. Faith is to live in the world unseen, to build the kingdom, to faithfully live within the world of new creation, until, all is revealed:
and a moment, in the twinkling of an eye… the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
The featured painting is called The Works of Mercy, by Jen Norton.