December 17, 2014

You Get Your Life Back

At the end of October, the Vox and Austin Mustard Seed communities had the privilege of hearing Cherith Fee Nordling speak at our community retreat. The following is a reflection by one of Austin Mustard Seed’s community members after the retreat.

“You get your life back.”

That one short sentence is how Cherith Fee Nordling encapsulates the entire story of God and people. It sounds different than how the story many churches tell. Because it is different, it can seem complicated.

But if you hold on, you’ll find an understanding of the story of God that is much richer, grounded in scripture, and empowering for everyday life.

Or, as Fee Nordling would say, “you get your life back.”

A Short List of Heresies
To understand what she means by that, you have to confront ancient heresies that have always been nearby the Church. Orthodox teaching, as is encapsulated by the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, states the mystery of our faith is this: Jesus is simultaneously 100% God and 100% human.

Obviously, this is a paradox. No one thing can be 200%. Heresies, argues Fee Nordling, crop up when people try to explain Jesus as anything other the mystery of 100% God and 100% human. A few of these heresies include:

  • Adoptionism — Jesus was a human, adopted by God giving him a special status
  • Apollinarianism — Jesus a had a human body, but a divine mind
  • Arianism — Jesus is not God, but was created by God, therefore, the “son of God”
  • Docetism — Jesus didn’t have a body, so his life and death were an illusion

The problem that many of these heresies are trying to solve is “the flesh problem.” Many cultures, including many people today, don’t know what to do with our bodies. Our modern secular world seems torn between animalistic epicureanism (do whatever feels good!) and an obsession with productivity (life and body “hacking.”)

These heresies and many more, all try to address the same struggle: if bodies are bad, then how can Jesus be fully human (embodied) and fully God?

According to Fee Nordling, this isn’t a philosophical point. A misunderstanding of our bodies cheapens the story of scripture and causes many problems for daily life. The alternative is to understand what humans are, bodies, and all. The result is a much more tangible story of how God is plotting to help us “get our lives back.”

It Matters How the Story Begins
Fee Nordling went out of her way to place the story of creation deep in the culture of the Ancient Near East. She told of how the kings of Mesopotamia would create palace gardens for themselves. She also described how the kings would leave statues “in their image” all across their land, to let people know who was in charge.

The parallels to the stories of creation found in the first two chapters of Genesis were clear. The garden of Eden is a sort of “palace garden.” Made in God’s image, Adam and Eve act as his “statues,” a constant reminder of their glorious creator.

Bodies weren’t created as something dirty to be ignored or overcome. But as sin enters the picture in Genesis 3, things get more complicated. The world is still good, and humans still reflect God’s image. But they also display the sadness and brokenness of a fallen world.

It matters how a story begins. Despite that reality of sin, Fee Nordling insists that we must remember that God made human bodies. Sin keeps us from being the fullest version of ourselves, or as Fee Nordling would might say, sin is what took our lives away. The rest of the story is about God’s plan to give us our lives back.

It Matters How a Story Ends
There is a gross oversimplification of the story of God and people that goes something like this: Jesus died for you so that you can go to heaven when you die.

A full reading of scripture is much more tangible. Dr. Fee Nordling pointed to Revelation chapter 21-22, that describes a sort of melding of “new heavens and new earth.” She also pointed out scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15:35-54, describing humans receiving a tangible, resurrected body, not unlike the one Jesus is pictured as having in the gospels.

To those who have been surrounded by the “go to heaven when die” gospel, this may sound odd. But according to Fee Nordling (and many others, primarily N.T. Wright) this actually makes much more sense of the story of scripture.

God isn’t done with the earth. He’s not done with our bodies.

In the creation story, God calls all his creations good. Why let them be destroyed? Instead Fee Nordling suggests that eternity is embodied. Humans are still themselves, but in a full, uncorrupted, resurrected way.

In other words, the point of the story is “you get your life back.”

Settling Into Ourselves
This visceral, physical and eternal embodiment is key to living as a person of faith in everyday life.

The heresies listed earlier show that Christians have a lot of discomfort with their bodies. Scripture teaches that Jesus is fully God and fully human. Culture often assumes that all things flesh are evil. We create heresies, because Jesus’s affirmation of the human body makes us uncomfortable.

Our rejection of the body has some very tangible effects on individuals and our culture. Some ignore their bodies altogether, letting them fall into disrepair. Others obsess over controlling the body, specifically controlling sexuality. For most there is a subtle sense of self-hatred, a nagging feeling that we are at war with our bodies.

Jesus came in flesh because flesh is good.

God doesn’t want to take away your flesh. God wants to help you become the fullest version of yourself possible, including your body!

“You get your life back!” is really good news.

What if, instead of hating your body, giving into it, or trying to control it, you embraced this good news? Imagine, the fullest version of yourself. Then, pray God will help you live more like that every day.

[Written by Chris Morton]

[Photo by Noele I @ Flickr]

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