mary – channel of salvation?

My recent time at Kopua Monastery and my reading this morning of ‘The Church of Mercy‘ (a lovely collection of addresses and ecclesiastical excerpts from Pope Francis) have me pondering the role and place of Mary in Christian faith.  Given that modern protestants say more about the role Mary does not have, than the role she does have, the question arises: What is the most largest role a Protestant could attribute to Mary?

Theologically, there is a bewildering and striking contrast concerning the role of Mary and God the Father in the Incarnation of God the Son.  It goes like this.  In that the Christ the Son was eternally begotten of the Father, he is fully divine; and in that Jesus of Nazareth was temporally begotten of Mary, he is fully human.  What a contrast this is!  The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is one person with two natures, fundamentally depends on both the willful fathering of his divine Father, and the willful mothering of his human mother.  Here we see up close and in focus the gentle omnipotence of God, who would not force Mary to comply; instead she cooperated with the announcement, saying “Let it be unto me according to Your word.”

So we have Mary’s human willingness as a necessary condition for the Incarnation.  That gives her a historical, past-tense, role in the faith.  Way back when, she was willing.  And so, indeed, she said, “Henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed.”  But what of an ongoing role in the faith?  And not just in the sense of ongoing acknowledgement of her “blessed” state (though could that acknowledgement be more – pardon the pun – pregnant than we Protestants have admitted?), but is there more to Mary?

Two Johannine scenes from Scripture, one from John’s gospel and the other from John’s apocalypse (or the ‘Revelation’), rise to the fore.  John’s gospel (19:26-27) has Jesus declaring a new state of relationship between his mother and the disciple he loved.  The disciple is the ‘son’ of Mary, and Mary is the ‘mother’ of the disciple.  There is an either-or concerning the interpretation of this declaration.  One sees this new state of relationship as restricted to these two humans; Jesus wants them to have support after he departs.  The other extends this to all disciples being ‘son’ (and daughters) of Mary, and Mary being the ‘mother’ of all disciples.  John’s apocalypse (12:17) speaks of her according to the latter interpretation, identifying “those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony of Jesus” as “the rest of her offspring”.  Are we therefore intended, biblically, from the lips of Jesus, to view Mary, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Revelation 12:1), as our mother?

Consideration of Mary’s role as “co-redeemer”, “mediator” or “advocate” will have to wait, and I admit here my skeptical outlook to those considerations.  But for now, it seems, tentatively, that Protestants, theologically and biblically, can see Mary as not only the God-bearer (Theotokos), but also as ‘our mother’.  Thoughts from other Protestants (or Catholics/Orthodox)?

disability

Some disconnected thoughts re disability:

  • If Dawkins is right that she is blind, pitiless indifference, then Nature knows nothing: in particular, the difference between ability and disability.
  • Nature also does not distinguish between ‘successful’ species and ‘failed’ (extinct) ones; or between anything… this successful species and that successful species… this or that anything… between self and other…
  • Blindness is the disability to see.  As far as Nature is concerned (or not concerned), organisms which can see and survive are not ‘more evolved’ than those who cannot, as if evolution (or Nature) had a mind with intentions and/or goals.
  • Nature has no compassion on or understanding of people with any disability… or people with ‘abilities’
  • Some might hold out hope that all the above is wrong: that a currently unknown part of Nature actually does know, care, and/or have compassion/understanding, etc.  A bit like those who believed (or still do believe) in various kinds of nature-gods. The only difference being that they give them names based on what we know from human experience; oh wait, what name could we ever give to such a thing than that from human experience?  Some just sound ‘scientific’ and others sound ‘superstitious’.
  • In spite of the indifference and unconsciousness of Nature, the language of ‘disability’ is still, however, properly basic.  It is simply true that we (not Nature) can recognise and name not only the various species, but the various abilities (or lack thereof) they have.
  • Is the seeing ability of a (sighted) human a ‘disability’ in comparison to that of, say, a bald eagle?  Why would we restrain disability to being only defined within species?  What about non-living objects?  Are we ‘disabled’ for not being as ‘able’ as a star, which (if our modern theories are correct) are ‘able’ to produce solar systems?
  • Are we all not ‘disabled’ in at least some way?  I find this idea to be quite equalising, humbling and right.
  • I went to a Benny Hinn healing meeting a few years ago, so that my criticism of him would have actual experience behind it.  I despise this kind of prosperity crap, and was enraged at how the machine works, but I particularly angered that those in wheelchairs were utterly ignored the entire time.
  • Our ‘disability’ to love as we have ‘ability’ to (now there’s a juxtaposition if ever there was one) must be humanity’s most debilitating ailment.
  • The Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus, means, among other things, that (as the cliche goes) God meets us where we are at, namely in our disability and rebellion, and will not leave us there.

full gospel

Some presentations and presenters of Christianity are, in my view, overly obsessed with the Death of Jesus such that they over-emphasise it, and end up marginalising the Incarnation of Jesus, the Ministry of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus, the Ascension of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit of Jesus.  It probably wouldn’t be fair to use any label for the flavour of Christianity I inherited in my early years as a Christian.  Whatever label is used, this version of Christianity is too prevalent.

In this version I inherited, the only reason Jesus was born was to die for our sins.  His ministry seemed like just some time-filling activity before he died.  The Resurrection is like icing on the cake after the ‘main event’, his Atoning death.  The Ascension is basically ignored altogether.  And the gift of the Spirit is basically about empowering people to tell others that Jesus died for their sins.  The New Testament, and the study and explanation of it over Church History, however, contains a Gospel that is much fuller than this version I inherited (and which most of our modern and quite a few of our older worship songs tend to focus on).

The Incarnation of Jesus is not a mere stepping stone to the Cross (though it is not less than that).  It is the Creator entering and uniting to the Creation in general, and human nature in particular.  This, the Eastern Orthodox rightly emphasise, is itself a saving act.  All creation participates in the salvation that Christ effects.

The Ministry of Jesus does not merely fill time until the Cross.  Jesus life and ministry is an enactment and fulfillment of genuine humanness.  Everything that humans were meant to be and do, which was focused in the call of Abraham and his people ‘Israel’, Jesus achieved and demonstrated in his life.  He finishes the race we could not.  This is a saving act.

The Resurrection of Jesus is not a mere happy ending to the Cross.  Whereas the Cross entails Jesus taking Death (and Evil and Sin) onto himself and extinguishing it, the bodily transformation and translation of Jesus, the Resurrection, enacts and achieves the defeat of Death (and Evil and Sin).  It also achieves a kind of ‘beachhead’ (or ‘first-fruits’) into New Creation, the ultimate destiny and intended goal for all Creation.  This is a saving act – for all creation – including humans.

The Ascension of Jesus is not an undoing of the Incarnation (which would be a huge heresy), where the Son of God strips off his humanity and reports back to the Father that the atoning death was accomplished (and thus the body no longer needed!).  It is about the enthronement of Jesus to the place of ultimate authority – which among other things, entails a denial of any other entities claiming such ultimate authority.  This is a saving act, saving us from false authorities.

The Giving of the Spirit of Jesus is not simply a bit of personal motivation to tell people about Jesus dying for us (though it is not less than that!).  It is the gift of the ongoing personal spiritual presence of Jesus, enabling us, correcting us, leading us, empowering us, shaping us to become more like Jesus.  It’s not just about ‘evangelism’ (or exciting private experiences), but about becoming more human – more like the true human, Jesus.  The Spirit of the true human, Jesus, makes us truly human.  This ‘humanisation’ (or ‘re-humanisation’) is a saving act; it’s what salvation is all about.

And that’s the “full gospel” that the New Testament communicates.

night

I’m probably the only worship song leaders who, during a Christmas day worship service, introduced the song “O Holy Night” by way of a reference to the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel, which recounts his experiences in the death camps Auschwitz (which I’ve visited and will never forget) and Buchenwald.

The juxtaposition is too profound to ignore.  On the one hand, one of the best (if not the best) Christmas carols, singing about that great night when the Light of the World entered our world through the womb of a young woman.  On the other, one of the most hideously horrific glimpses into one of the worst (if not the worst) seasons in human history, when darkness in its blackest hue was manifest through human indifference, racism and genocidal hatred.  Two very different nights indeed.

For me, this serves as a necessary and unnerving reminder of yet another aspect of the doctrine (and more so the Event!) of the Incarnation.  Divinity did not only ‘come near’ to our world, it entered and united to it.  God did not unite to the best and most beautiful bits of creation, but to all of it, warts and all.  The Light of the World descended into the darkest pitch.  For the Early Church Fathers who debated vigorously how to understand the dual nature of Christ, he must be fully divine in order to save us, and fully human in order to effect the salvation.  The slogan they developed was, “What is not assumed cannot be saved.”  Thus, Christ fully descended into humanity.

It occurs to me that there is no place on earth, no hospice, no church, no home, no garden, that is so pure and righteous that evil does not touch it with its corrupting finger at least in part.  And conversely, there is no place on earth, no brothel, no wall street, no hard drive, and yes, no death camp, that is so stained and putrid that good does not scatter at least some small dots of light within it.

Reading “Night” was hard going, to be sure.  One cannot have a beating heart and not grimace at times.  But I was struck by the faint glimmers of light within such darkness.  The SS soldier who was kinder than the rest.  The fellow prisoners who sacrificed their own food, safety and lives for the sake of others.  The boy who played his violin for all he was worth in a room full of frozen, dying bodies.

There are few more faith-challenging realities than suffering on this scale.  For Elie Wiesel, this Night murdered his God and his faith forever.  One must not glibly respond with easy theological justifications, however sound they may be.  But suffice to say, for me, among other things, these little dots of light are whispers of hope, audible for those who listen for them among the cacophony of white (and yet black) noise which can be so loud at times.  In Christ, God is with us, crying with us, praying with us, shivering with us, sweating, bleeding, and yes, dying with us.

god with us

A million and one ‘both/and’ tensions result from what C.S. Lewis calls ‘the Grand Miracle’ which we celebrate and remember with the holiday of Christmas – the Incarnation.

Creator with created.

Cause with caused.

Supernature with nature.

An-historical with history.

Saviour with saved.

King with slaves.

Holy with lowly.

Strength with weakness.

Honour with scandal.

Glory with shame.

Joy with sorrow.

Life with death.

Man with man.

Word with flesh.

Omniscience with nappies.

Ancient of Days in a cradle.

incarnation

Christmas season.  The real doctrine that the Christmas season emphasises is the doctrine of the Incarnation.  I’ve enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis’ ‘little book’ Miracles, written back in 1947.  His chapter, ‘The Grand Miracle’ has some delicious passages on the Incarnation (my annoying notes in brackets). Continue reading incarnation