A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
OUR NATURAL HABITAT
By Edgar Jones
The facts of our existence render the life view and world view of Jesus absolute and logical necessities if our lives have any meaning. I enumerate here a few of these facts, then follow with brief references to Jesus’ utterances to show how, in the light of the facts of our existence, the Truth defined by his words becomes necessity. Then I close with five critical conclusions.
I should first state a simple fact that needs no buttressing: You and I exist. If you wish to argue against this as a "fact," then there is no point in proceeding, is there? Not only is there no point in proceeding with this writing exercise, but there is no point in proceeding with this life – for either of us. By accepting this fact, as all do unless in the grip of utter despair, we accept, intrinsically, our existence as factual. Let us take it, then, as an axiom. Thus by accepting this as a fact we are doing something else very important: we are giving credence to our cognition – to the mental processes by which all perceptions are realized, beginning with the perception of our existence. This includes our sensory devices and the brain that correlates their signals, converting them into useful ideas. Without them, I wouldn't be writing this, would I? Nor would there be any ideas to record. It follows that we are also legitimizing our self-consciousness, that is, the recognition of ourselves as individual beings within the orb of existence.
Finally, within the field of our self-consciousness, we are also accepting ourselves as true beings, together with those components that have inherent importance: our lust (or love) for life, our hunger for glory, our quest for power, our freedom of will and our need of social relationships. Finally, there is the futility of life in this world. These are the facts of our existence. Let us examine each.
The lust for life is an evolution driven part of us that comes with the package. It is variously defined, most often as the desire for self-preservation but that does not do it justice. You see, we not only want to live but, unless overcome by despair, we want to live forever! This motivates us not only to act to preserve our lives when threatened but also to do everything in our power to hold on to life for as long as we can by planning so as to negate anticipated future threats to life.
1. The Lust (love) for Life
One result of this is that medical science is perhaps the most active branch of science, being dedicated to the saving of life and to extending its duration. The medical industry is also one of the largest industries in the world, competing for that status with other industries, such as food, garment, and housing, that likewise and in their own way are dedicated to the preservation of life.
With a few exceptions, we are not and cannot be satisfied with the prospects of temporal existence, therefore we have conceived of eternity, and eternal life, as a hope for the perpetuation of our lives, even though we acknowledge (but do not really accept) the fact that our lives on earth must end. Our innate propensity to aspire to the eternal must teach us something about our fundamental nature. We have no direct experience of the eternal on which to base this fundamental bent. This leaves us with the question: How did we come by this inclination? I doubt it can be explained by evolutionary experience, all of which teaches us that every life must end at last. If our inclinations were drawn from our evolution, then when we are old we should be fully adapted to the idea of our passing from the scene forever. This is not the case, with rare exceptions.
Now this nigh universal lust, this love of life, fuels almost all human activity as a little reflection should show. It motivates us to "make a living" through some sort of remunerative activity. It motivates us to seek entertainment and enjoyment of life, so that we can feel that it is all worth while and so that we can have something to look forward (and backward) to. It motivates us to seek insurance against adverse, life destructive events that may lie in the future. It motivates us to lay up in store for tomorrow's needs. It motivates us to produce offspring so that our lives will not be the last in our line – a sort of substitute way to live forever. It motivates us to expend much energy and other resources for the protection of life, from both real and imagined hazards. It motivates men to go to war where they paradoxically kill one another while seeking to preserve their own lives and way of life. Indeed, it is difficult to find a single category of human activity, including religious activity, that is not in some way founded in the love of life.
The love of life is such a vital part of us -- of our essential nature -- that it is with great intellectual and emotional difficulty that we dare question its legitimacy, and those who do so are apt to be judged insane or mentally ill by the great majority. Then, when they speak or act in an aberrant way, consistent with their views and values but contrary to the views and values of the masses, they generate suspicion and hatred.
This lust for life is so firmly grasped by the masses of mankind that anyone who challenges it will, if understood, be received in one of two ways: first, as a single individual alone in the world, she or he will be ridiculed or ignored. So it was that Kierkegaard was ignored by the nineteenth century Danes to whom he addressed his message. He wrote in an 1849 Journal entry: "I am not connected with a single other person." But, if such a one, against all odds, survives to gain a hearing and the attention of many others, that one must be eliminated, for such talk is a terrible threat to the multitudes. There are two ways to eliminate such a person: either kill or ignore him. The latter is to be preferred except when the subject is successful in attracting converts to his onerous point of view, in which case something more drastic must be done to stop the spread of this malignancy.
Kierkegaard was ignored during his life time, but Jesus' message gained so much attention that he was put to death by those who were in key positions. Yet he did not fail to bear witness and was able to do so knowing what would be the end result. Thus, it becomes the case that only a person who, like Jesus, hates life in the world can seriously consider such testimony because that person understands the hostility that the world must direct against him. And Jesus certainly did not lust for life in the world; he hated it consistently and to the end. All his teachings, and his example, either support this position with regard to life or are thoroughly compatible with it. For example, he said,. . . do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on (Matthew 6:25).He issued the simple command:Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do (Luke 12:4).Then he focused on the very essence of his message when he said,He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).Suddenly, he has made the hatred of life in this world the very essence of qualification for life with the Father in the Eternal Glory and the love of life he has made the very essence of sin, the maximum contradiction of the Father's will. This was an attack on the supreme human loyalty so that, from the human point if view, it was and is also the maximum treason. It was a betrayal not just of his family, his tribe and his nation but of the entire human race in its utter devotion to the love of life. Thus he was and is a scandal to the race, and he was winning disciples! Such a man had to go, and so they put him to an awful death by the rage driven process that they were powerless, in their lust for life, to resist – while he, all powerful in his absolute freedom from life's shackles, resisted them not at all. He did not yield to the love of life – no, not for an instant.
This hunger is closely associated with the lust for life. Not only do we want to "live" forever, but we want to live under vastly different circumstances than those we have found in time. We hunger for a glorious existence, one devoid of all the ills of the earth, one without pain or sorrow or aging or accident or illness or poverty or ignorance or disappointment or heartbreak or hatred or failure or wearing out or boredom or bankruptcy or violence. We hunger for unmitigated happiness, for a state of being conducive to an exhilarated state of mind and to consummate, yet continuous and perpetual fulfillment. Although it has been stated, we refuse to acknowledge until it is too late that the paths of glory lead but to the grave.
2. The Hunger for Glory
Jesus understood our striving for glory, and he promised to fulfill it for us. Addressing the Father in prayer, he said concerning his disciples,The glory which thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one (John 17:22).This glory is his enticement, for he knows how we greatly thirst for it.
We thirst for power. It is a fact. I don't mean to imply that we are universally power hungry, or power mad, for we are rational enough to recognize the limitations of the power of the individual and we learn to live with those limitations. We may not consciously thirst for power over our neighbors; yet most of us do thirst for power even though we are not conscious of it. On an individual level, we seek to influence our peers, our relatives, our neighbors, our community, our state or nation, to the end that things will go our way. A few are extremely ambitious and so driven to the top of the chain of command. In a democracy, their power is derived from the people, and when the nation is the most powerful one on the earth, the people, individually, receive much gratification from knowing that it is their power, and hence they themselves, that rule the nation and to some degree, the world. Even this position, however, does not satisfy the lust for power. There are so many things we cannot accomplish! If only we had more power!
3. The Thirst for Power
Jesus catered directly to the lust for power in man. That was one basic thrust of all his talk about the Kingdom of God. In the Beatitudes, he blessed. . . the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3).The peacemakers, he said,. . . shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9).Who has more power than the children of the king who are heirs of the kingdom? He blessed those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. He promised that the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. To the Twelve, he issued this promise:. . . in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).At the Day of Judgment, when he divides the evil from the just, as the goats from the sheep, he will say to the just,Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).So it is evident that Jesus makes a deliberate appeal to that lust for power that exists in man. In that he makes his appeal to this lust, he must accept it as legitimate, as a right and proper component of our nature. He obviously anticipates that this thirst for power is to receive full gratification in the new world. It is his promise. Further, he must also have accepted us as designed and fitted for the exercise of power at the highest level. There is only one reservation here: this power cannot be exercised in this world and we must be prepared to wait for the eternal blessings. Until then, we must do the very opposite in the world and before the worldly authorities. Jesus reminds us that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,. . . but so shall it not be among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).He stated the fundamental principle when he said,Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12).This is surely part of the hardness of the way, this being creatures fitted for the exercise of power, yet unable to receive gratification in this age. But if we have faith in the promises of Jesus, we will follow him in the pathway of meekness, humility and servitude in this world with joy and gladness, knowing that the exercise of power will be ours in his glorious kingdom! In the meantime, we do not castigate ourselves for being what we are: power hungry personal entities! We can accept this, and we can accept and love ourselves in this. The thirst for power is not evil, for the Father gave it to us; it is one of the strongest lines of evidence leading to the conclusion that we are made in the image of the Father omnipotent! There is no guilt in it, no sin in it and no condemnation in it, provided we are able to accept the promises of God through Jesus and wait patiently for the gratification that will surely be ours in his glorious kingdom. You see how it is, then, that the Truth according to Jesus becomes an existential necessity, for it deliberately addresses the lust for power which is a legitimate component of every person.
In examining these, another fact comes into view: we have free will. We are volitional beings. We want things, such as everlasting, glorious life! And we want many smaller, more attainable things, such a to be a lawyer, a teacher, to have a lover, or whatever. This will and its freedom are undeniable. No one can impose their wants and desires upon us so as to make them our wants and desires, except in a devious manner, as when merchants seek, through advertising, to make us want their wares. We may be frustrated; we may not have the freedom to express our will or to experience will gratification; nevertheless we have the freedom to will absolutely anything that we may choose. It is true that our parents and others have been able to influence our will, as we have been able to influence the will of others; in the end it is our will that decides, and no one can take that away from us. We can lose the freedom of the will only by giving it away, as the populace to a popular dictator. Jesus holds every individual responsible for the attitudes growing out of the operation of the freedom of the will. Whoever loves his life loses it; whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Every one shall suffer for his own sins, not those of another, and therefore every individual is solely and individually responsible before God.
4. The Freedom of the Will
Yes, our temporal existence is futile. This also is a fact. We can will anything, but our ability to realize our desires is severely limited. Multitudes may will wealth, yet the multitudes remain bound to poverty. Everything, absolutely everything, including ourselves, wears out or grows old and dies. Some things take longer than others. This is a limitation that is an intrinsic part of the world. These limitations certainly do not spring from our will! Indeed, a disinterested observer of the human scene might reasonably conclude that for every basic desire of man, or for every object of the will, there is a barrier set as though deliberately to frustrate.
5. Temporal Existence is Futile
Jesus teaches that all things pertaining to this life in time are futile; it passes away, or we pass away. In either case, the futility is evident.Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee. Whose then shall these things be (Luke 12:20)?He instructs us to lay up treasure in heaven, to establish a new value set characterized by a glory that does not pass away. Do not lay up treasure on the earth . . .. He pronounced blessedness on the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. This caters directly to our thirst for glory, a thirst intensely present in the poor, who have not even a taste of earthly glory.
Yes, we are social beings. We have here another fact of our existence. We seek, and to some degree find, our fulfillment in relationships. These begin with the family, then with friends and enemies, and go on to our ultimate relationship with the race. This could conceivably be explained by the fact that the bulk of us are reared in social relationships – in homes, communities, schools and nations.
6. We are Social Beings
Jesus teaches that the one legitimate relationship is the relation of children to the Father, God. God wants to be our Father, our one and exclusive Father, and this relation holds only when it is exclusive.Call no man your father on the earth, for you have one father, who is in heaven (Matthew 23:9).All other relationships are founded on this one, and depend on one thing only: the doing of the will of the Father.Whosoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:50).That this relation is exclusive is further emphasized by his teaching:If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).This presupposes a new birth, accomplished by the doing of the will of the Father so as to gain entry into the family of God.Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).This is an everlasting relationship, a secure relationship, while we abide in the will of the Father. Our experience of corresponding relationships in the world, that end, burdens us with a load of grief when one of the relatives dies. We hate that; we desire relationships that do not end. Therefore in some sense the relationship to God as Father, as set forth by Jesus, becomes essential to our happiness. It is a good relationship with a loving Father, and it need never end. There is only joy in it, which is what we wish to have, and no grief, which is exactly what we wish to avoid.
Use your imagination and put yourself in the place of God. Not only so, but put yourself in his place before the creation of the world, before the beginning of time, before space or stuff. In that place you and your existence are glorious. We cannot describe it, having never experienced it, but you can nevertheless imagine glory because it speaks to us in a profound way. It appeals to an innate component of our being, which strongly suggests that we are fitted for glory at the most fundamental level; we are made in the likeness of the God who is glorious.
An Exercise in Imagination
As God, you are omnipotent. Your are omniscient. You are perfectly free. Whatever you will, is, for your will is without limit or hindrance. Whatever you wish, whatever you will to be, becomes so simply by virtue of you having willed it. "Wish" was a poor choice of words, for it suggests a desire for something not yet attained, which is a condition subject to time. If you wish it before obtaining it, it becomes subject to time, and in eternity there is no time as we know it. No, as God you wish for nothing. Whatever you will, is. There is no future, no past, only the everlasting now. Yet there must be one exception to this glorious condition: If another personal entity exists in this glory, it must be subject to your will, otherwise your will (as God) is not realized, which is an impossible condition in the eternal. If there is to be a contest of wills, there must be time in which to work the contest, in which to determine the outcome, so that there can be an outcome. It seems that, if there is to be an independent free will in your presence, that is, in your everlasting present in your eternal glory, there must be time and the opportunity for expression of wills contrary to yours, which can only fit into a time frame. In eternal glory, where there is no time as we know it, there can be no contrary wills, and so no freedom of the will apart from yours.
It is not possible for you to be lonely or bored in your eternal glory, for such feelings require time for realization – time as we know it, which does not exist in glory. Nevertheless, for some reason known only to you, you want the companionship of children, of other independent personal entities in your own likeness. You immediately understand, however, that this is an impossibility; you can procreate no one who is free, as you are free, and who also inhabits your eternal glory as do you. Again, such a thing requires time as we know it, time to work out the inevitable conflicts of the will that must result from the reduplication of yourself in a multiplicity of free-will persons. It is logically impossible to realize multiple free wills without time as we know it, and therefore it is impossible for you to procreate children in glory. If you were to do so, glory would no longer be glory. It would be something else, something like, well, something like human society on the earth. Your glory would be spoiled! It seems that there is at least one thing that is impossible even for God to perform: the procreation of free-will beings in eternal glory.
Still, for whatever reason, you will the fellowship of children. They must be persons like unto yourself and you, as the omnipotent God, cannot rest content without them. Is there no way to realize your will? If not, then you are not omnipotent. Yet if there is a way, you will know of it, for you are also omniscient. Of course, you realize immediately what you must do. I say, "immediately" because your present knows no time as we know it. You realize you must create time as we know it to provide a stage upon which the multiplicity of wills can work their ways. There, subject to time, which is its own confinement, you will produce the many individuals of free will who are candidates for your glory. Of course, if they are ever to share your glory with you, they must be delivered from time as we know it to share your will with you, but you cannot impose this upon them, for you are free, and they likewise must be free. They must become partners with you in the process, and if they are ever to inhabit your glory and share it with you, it must be because they have freely chosen to do so and to conform perfectly to your will. Until they individually make that choice, they must be constrained from entering Glory, and so their temporal state must contain constraints to prevent their escape unqualified. Those constraints all add up to futility, which is the bondage of the creation and all are subject to it.
In this temporal creation, when anyone of the creatures makes the choice, out of love for you, to share your will and to desire your glory as you desire it for them, then that one is qualified to enter it, and to enter it by the door. Yes, of course there must be a door for entry into Glory, otherwise, how could anyone enter? You must provide them a door of entry, and that door will be another personal entity who, in freedom of the will, has already chosen your will and who will be qualified to visit them and show them the way. Let us give a name to this door: Jesus.
Now let us come back down to earth and quit imagining we are God. What can we derive from this discussion? First, we can recognize that our fundamental nature that makes us lovers of life, thirsters for glory, questers for power, possessors of free will and social in nature makes us perfect images of God, who possesses all these attributes. These must be qualities that are essential to eternal being or existence, all legitimized by Jesus and accepted by him. This we infer from the manner in which he appealed to all these qualities in men and women. We are therefore perfectly qualified to be candidates for the divine childhood – to become the children of God – lacking only a birth of the Spirit. We know this is lacking because Jesus so strongly emphasized our need of it.
Second, we conclude that men and women are of the same genre as God. We lack only the birth of the Spirit to make us his children, that is, like him in every essential respect. We are, every single one of us, fetal deities endowed with all the qualities of divine being. The ancient religious contest between monotheism and polytheism is therefore foolish, being born of man's ignorance of his own nature and the resulting denigration of the self. Every human individual is essentially divine. Being ignorant of this, we are not and have not been true to ourselves or to others. We have instead conjured multiple deities in our own image (polytheism) or a single deity far transcending us and of which we are the image (monotheism). Both of these belief systems incorporate incomplete and inadequate conceptions of humanity, the world and the Creator.
Third, we conclude that we are incompatible with the world. The essential features of our nature as defined above are frustrated on every hand and there is nothing we can do about it even though we never cease attempting to remold the world to conform to our essential character. We strive continually to extend our lives, to enhance our glory, to expand our power, to exert our will and to gratify our need for social relationships. Yet we are never very successful. In everything we experience one frustration after another until each temporal life ends in a sad scene. This world is not our natural habitat.
Fourth, we conclude that we are compatible with God's eternal Glory. Every facet of our being that finds only frustration in this world is fully conducive to his state of eternal Glory and can find its fulfillment only there, with Him. There, and there alone, is our natural habitat.
Fifth, only Jesus of Nazareth is God's messenger. He came into the world to reveal our true and proper destiny, then to show us the Way to achieve it. He is indeed the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6)! Only in him do we find a door out of this world and into the Glory of the Father, which is our proper destiny.
Note: John 3:3 and 3:7 are the author's translations. These differ from the RSV only in the expression "begotten from above" that replaces "begotten anew' in the RSV. "Born anew" does not represent the fullness of what Jesus is stating here, and does not correspond to the literal translation of the Greek, anothen (a()nwqen).
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