Friday, March 13, 2009

Gettin' Personal, Continued...

Picking up my previous thread about what it means to have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior..."

What we hear in John's Gospel is Christ proclaiming something very different from the personal relationship we have with other people. It's easy for us to pray to Jesus, and tell our innermost thoughts to God in those times when we need an ear to hear us. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, although my compulsive Calvinist tendencies invariably remind me that I'm not praying to tell God anything God doesn't already know.

The challenge in this is that a God to whom we chat can easily become our own pet god, as we mumble our needs to Him like Queequeg whispering softly to his little wooden Yojo while the Pequod tosses in the gale-driven night.

What Christ is calling us to is a much deeper relationship than that--an immersion in him that transforms our inner person. It is a mystical relation, but not in the ethereal self-absorbed hi-I'm-Madonna-let's-talk-about-Kabbalah kind of way. Instead, it's a relationship that involves us being changed in the here and now. God and God's Kingdom cease to be *other* than us and separated from us. We participate in them, and through them, we participate in each other.

That, I think, is a better way to understand being "born again." It moves us into the sort of practical mysticism that Paul declares in Philippians:

Philippians 2:1-13 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.