Reality as Experience
One of the distinguishing features of contemporary Western society is that reality is what you experience. “If it feels good do it.” The important thing is not some sense or commitment to objective truth independent of us, but how we feel about things. In other words, experiences, especially emotional experiences, have become the final authority. Since no one can invalidate the importance of your emotions to you, our culture has become extremely relativistic. No one is allowed to judge anyone else’s emotionally based commitments. “If it’s your thing to be a Christian, that’s ok, but just don’t put it on me.”
As long as people are satisfied with their own inner world it is extremely difficult to speak into this state of affairs. It is for reasons like this that the evangelistic endeavours of most of the churches are ineffective. The exceptions to this rule are some of the Pentecostal churches, whose services focus on intense musical experiences and motivational preaching and who tend to ask relatively little in terms of lifestyle change. The central foundation of contemporary affluent Western culture, “reality is as I experience it to be”, remains unchallenged.
There is another way of looking at all this. Conservative Protestants would say, “Reality is what the Bible says it to be.” Traditional Catholicism would say, “Reality is what the church teaches.” Neither of these options is likely to be widely persuasive in our experiential culture. I want to offer another perspective, “reality is as Jesus experiences it to be.” The centre is moved from self to Christ, to Jesus as a fully experiencing human being.
The Importance of Jesus’ Experience Today
This heading does not mean, “Experiencing Jesus”, but “Jesus own experience.” A little thought will reveal that the first interpretation is still egotistical – I remain at the centre. With this priority I will always filter and distort the presence of Jesus to make it fit my desires. The truth is that I can only validly experience Jesus if he shares with me his personal experiences. This is where the Bible and the church are indispensable in faithfully conveying to us, through the Holy Spirit, what happened for Jesus during his earthly life and what is going on in him now.
Let me be a little clearer on this. When the Bible talks about such emotions as “rejoicing in the Lord” (Phil 4:4), “the peace of Christ” (Col 3:15) and the “the love of Christ” (2 Cor 5:14), it means that Christians are called to share in Jesus own inner reality of love, joy and peace. The contemporary problem in society and church is not that we are too emotional, but that we are lacking a deep participation in Jesus’ emotions. Another way of putting it is that the outpouring of the Spirit fills us with what is going on inside of the life of Christ (compare Eph 5:18- 20). (My own expression for this is “intersubjectivity”; it could be similarly expressed as empathy or intimacy.)
This paper is urging us to consider what steps we can take to enter more fully into the deep inner state of Jesus life. If he is weeping, we can weep with him, if he is rejoicing we can rejoice with him (Acts 9:4; 16:25).
I am submitting that we as Western Christians are largely failing to enter into the powerful dynamic of Christ’s inner world because we live in an ever increasing sub – human culture. Our conformity to this culture is what is causing us to be cut off from Christ. The “world is squeezing us into its mould” (Romans 12:1).
First of all, we are in psychological denial. The dysfunction of families is enormous, but the denial is even worse. A recent newspaper article wrote of a household in Perth that had experienced multiple murders. The mother spoke of having “done something wrong in a past life”, but seemingly could draw no connection between the sort of company the family kept and the extreme violence that had sadly befallen them. At the individual level addictions are rampant- nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, let alone illegal and sexual addictions, all function to anaesthetise the pain of the inner life. More than this, entertainment, including spectator sport, has become a seemingly indispensable dimension of coping with everyday life. (Many commentators think that church services themselves have taken on this format – music leaders and preachers are entertainers with a spiritual theme.)
We are also in deep denial concerning the state of the world. We give only passing thought to the 100 million homeless children, billion urban slum dwellers, 32,000 children under five who die of preventable diseases each day, and so on. As the old slogan goes, this is “Man’s inhumanity to man.”
Finally and most importantly, because it gives meaning and not just feeling to all of the above, we have switched off to the pain of God. By this I do not mean some general and abstract pain of God, but the pain of God expressed in the suffering humanity of Jesus.
This is our (Western) problem. Unlike us, most of our brothers and sisters in the Third World, where the Christian faith is blossoming, cannot avoid the reality of the suffering of humanity. Denial and avoidance of the reality of what it means to live in a fallen world is a “luxury” only prosperous people can possess. Dangerously, the dominant mode of the church is pushing increasingly in the direction of such denial. No wonder we can have great meetings but lack holy power.
I sense that this is about to change because God is working to remove our denial of the vulnerability of Jesus. When he has brought about this change, spiritual renewal will come to church and society.
Jesus is the Humanity of God
The foundational truth of the New Testament is that God become a human being, Jesus of Nazareth. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14), “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), “empty…in the form of a servant made in human likeness” (Phil 2:7), “rich yet for you sakes poor” (2 Cor 8:9), “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Only as a human could Jesus be born, grow, live, die and be raised from the dead. From this angle, the Godhood of Jesus (John 1:1; 20:28; Rom 9:5 etc.) is subordinated to his humanity for the cause of our salvation. In other words, the trinity could not save us unless one of them became one of us.
It seems to me that it is the affirmation of Jesus’ humanity that is the greatest challenge for the church today. For example, the most famous Christians of this time are probably charismatic overcomers with the lifestyle of superstars. Many of them constantly travel the world on first class, stay at five –star hotels, speak to huge audiences and command high speaking fees. It is difficult to see a revelation of the humanity of Jesus in this.
The humanity of Jesus is revealed in his hunger (Luke 4:1- 4), thirst (John 19:28), fear, (Heb 5:7 – 8), loneliness (Matt 26:38 – 40), weariness (John 4:6; Matthew 8:24) and death (John 19:30, 34). It is by suffering and pain that Jesus most deeply identifies with us - not by his being sinless, healing the sick and casting out demons. These are all the things we expect God would do. The humanity of Jesus climaxes in the cross.
What does the terrible cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) mean? It means Jesus is bearing the sin of the world under the wrath of God (Rom 3:25; 2 Cor 5:21). But in the middle of the night as God was speaking to me I had a fresh insight into this cry as the most intimate expression of the frail and vulnerable humanity of the Son of God. This cry of abandonment, echoing the most terrible experience of Christ’s life and so reaching to the depth of his experienced reality, is a cry for compassion.
From one angle it is his oneness with the cry of the godly, “God have mercy on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). It is a call for compassion on himself – Jesus not only needs the compassion of the Father but his utterance is simultaneously a self –compassionate plea. In other words, Jesus is not a divided self – he does not speak to himself as if he were a ‘strong man”. He knows nothing of the way we may talk to ourselves: “pull yourself together”, “get on with it”, “when the going gets tough the tough get going” and other inhuman sayings. In turning to God he is also caring for himself.
Unlike us, who so commonly go the way of avoidance, denial and addiction to deal with pain, Jesus was “a man of sorrows and familiar with grief” (Isa 53:3). His own testimony is: “now my soul is troubled” (John 12:27), “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death.” (Mark 14:34). In other words, Jesus’ confession is one of a weak, struggling and fragile human being. He does not present a super- spiritual competency in the midst of his trials but rather the vulnerability of a true and deep humanity. No matter what was happening on the inside, Jesus never dismissed or denied the reality of his own pain. In this special case, it was the fullness of the pain of separation from the Father.
Christ in me the Hope of my Humanity
The text “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col 1:27) means Jesus living in us gives us hope for recovering the glory of God lost through rebellion (Rom 3:23). As one of the early church fathers put it, the glory of God is a human being fully alive. To be “fully alive” is to be like Jesus, radically open and sensitive to suffering – our own, the world’s and the Father’s.
It is this truthfulness in the quality of Jesus experience that makes his experience the ground of our assurance that we can receive compassion from the heart of God. Since Jesus lives in me, by the Spirit he can impart to me his ability and authority to cry out for compassion on myself, the world and even, in a sense, upon God. When the cry of Jesus for compassion starts to flow in the Spirit from the hearts of his people the result is always going to be revival. This must be so, because the Father always hears the cry of his Son (John 11:41- 42). If God is hearing the cry of Jesus for mercy (upon the lost world) through us, he must answer.
If this is so simple, what then is holding back the move of the Spirit in our Australia? In a way I have already answered this question, it is pain denial. But a little more needs to be said on this.
Turning Away From the Judgement
Jesus established a principle, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt 5:7). Or, from the opposite angle, “Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” (James 2:13).
I am inwardly convinced that one of the greatest sins in the church is defining reality by our own cultural westernised experience so that we have not had a true God- centred heart of mercy for ourselves, others and the man upon the cross. This is a judgement that we have passed on the reality of the suffering of others; it is a pain minimization that has grieved the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). The Holy Spirit is so grieved by our hardness of heart that he is unable to release the compassion of the Father in our midst (2 Cor 1:3). It is our inhumanity to humanity that must be repented of. Until we do this, the church itself is the site and mirror of the judgement of God (1 Pet 4:17).
The New Humanity is Arising
“Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7).
If God is speaking about the renewal of the revelation of the humanity of Jesus he must be about to move powerfully in this area. This move will, paradoxically, not look powerful as it is released. In other words, it will not be a move of external signs and wonders, but an inner move of broken hearts and spirits. In this it will image the broken power of the cross (1 Cor 2:3). It will look like weakness and folly rather than strength (1 Cor 1:18, 23- 25). In the eyes of the world and the present dominant mode of church triumphalism it will seem rather pathetic. But its glorious outcome will demonstrate it was birthed in God (Luke 7:35).
In line with this the coming move of God must be led by men. This is because the Australian male is the greatest obstacle to the will of God sweeping through our culture. The plague of fatherlessness that is at the foundation of the terrible spiritual barrenness of church and culture can only be healed by the raising up of a new generation of holy fathers. (See some of my previous articles, “The Spirit of the Strong Man”, “Soft Authority”, “Children of the Cross” etc.) These men will not image entrepreneurship, sporting prowess or other social features that the masses turn to in their quest to satisfy their unresolved father – hunger. They will instead reflect the broken and frail humanity of Jesus and lead a new generation of sons and daughters to God as the Holy Father (John 17:11).
Let me ask the men who are reading this article, do we wish to have a spirit that says,
“‘Who is weak and I am not weak?’” (2 Cor 11:29)? Or do we want to present as competent, charismatic, entrepreneurs and overcomers who do not struggle. Only the first choice is one to identify with the humanity of God as it has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Let us stop denying our humanity.
I very much doubt if this sort of identification has ever been done on a wide scale before in our nation, so none of us know what a revival growing out of the deep roots of this land might look like. Nevertheless, that God is surely moving in this direction is a matter for firm encouragement and sustained prayer.