The Puzzle of Humanity

 by Dr. John Yates

Personal Matters

Being human is a struggle. Looking back over my life I can see three phases of inner wrestling. When I was an unbeliever I nearly went crazy, especially when drunk, turning over and over in my mind whether life had meaning.

Coming to Jesus resolved that issue; but another intense dilemma soon emerged.

It has been poignantly said,

The longest distance in the world is between head and heart.
This distance between my doctrinal affirmations and my actual experiences tormented me for some years until I stopped looking at myself.

As a more Christ-centred believer another acute tension surfaced, the one which still so often troubles me and from which there seems to be no deliverance. This is a tension generated by the massive difference between who I know Jesus to be and the outworking of this in and around me through the Church.

Is this a special prophetic burden that comes through discerning the difference between a present condition and a future state (Zech 12:1; Mal 1:1)?

If a spiritual gift is at the source of my inner tensions then the generally apathetic Aussie Church needs a revelation of Jesus as the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8; 1 Pet 1:13). God can shift our lukewarm spirituality, but only if we seek the depths of “the love of Christ that leaves us no choice” (1 Cor 2:10; 2 Cor 5:14; Rev 3:16).

To possess biblical wisdom about who we are not we must go back to our beginning.

Made for Glory

Adam and Eve were made in the image and glory of God but knowing that they could die made them acutely aware they were radically incomplete (Gen 2:17; 3:4-5). This awareness of imperfection was part of a larger divine plan; “God…has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Eccl 3:11).

The first couple must have longed for an eternal marriage, but the divinely imposed shadow of death presented itself as an impenetrable barrier to endless marital joy.

Knowing there were things only God knew about good-and-evil proved to be an intolerable tension, one which they tried to solve by reaching out for personal immortality (Rom 1:20, 23). The result was a terrible Fall; instead of ascending to perfection humanity fell short of the glory which God had always designed for us (Rom 3:23).

This loss of glory is experienced as shame, an unbearable sensation everyone tries to over with the substitutes of religion, money, sex, power, family, knowledge, work and so on (Gen 3:7; Jer 2:11; Acts 17:29; Rom 1:23). Such idolatries actually satisfy some people, even those thought to be enlightened. “Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being.” (Ghandi) By God’s grace however such satisfaction always eluded the pre-Christian me.

My serious efforts to “kill” my inner puzzlements about life through attachment to the pure materialistic determinism of behaviourist psychology only intensified my sense that something drastic was missing inside.

This severe discontentment, for which I now thank God, was a necessary stimulus in moving me towards Jesus. In this “lucky country” however we face a powerful social taboo against confessing despair over life itself. Adopt this attitude and expect to quickly be hit with some demeaning psychiatric label to explain away your “confusions”. 

Praise God he is working to a plan for our restoration to glory and Jesus is its absolute centre (1 Cor 2:7).

Showing the Glory

The history of salvation moves forward through bursts of the revelation of glory; “the God of glory appeared to…Abraham”, Isaiah has a vision of the glory of God “filling the whole earth”, Jesus’ “manifested his glory” at the wedding in Cana moving his disciples to “believe in him”, Saul is struck down by an epiphany of Jesus on the road to Damascus, John sees the glorified Son of Man so that he is equipped to receive the visions filling Revelation (Isaiah 6:1-6; Acts 7:2; 9:1-9; John 2:11; Rev 1:12ff.).

Manifestations like these shake our humanity to its foundations, not simply because of the vast gulf between divine glory and fallen human wretchedness, but because they are revelations of the glory of God in the humanity of Jesus.

The scriptures teach that even the Old Testament saints and prophets had a vision of Jesus; Christ said Abraham, “rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.”, likewise John tells us that Isaiah’s vision of the Lord was a vision of Jesus (John 8:56; 12:41)! If the glory of God is concentrated in the face of Jesus why are our churches so preoccupied with our healing, salvation, deliverance and prosperity (2 Cor 4:6)? It is because we cannot bear to embrace the broken glory of Christ’s cross.

True Glory

Approaching his “hour” of death Jesus prayed; ““Father, glorify your name…. glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,”” (John 12:28; 17:1). The full manifestation of the Father-Son glory for which Christ prayed comes only through Jesus immersion in our radical incompleteness. The cry “My God, my God, why have you….?”” (Mark 15:34) is a total identification with all our sin-laden puzzlements.

Unlike us however the bewildered Jesus never turns to idols to cover a place of shame but turns only towards the covenant God of Israel (Ps 22:1). Whilst the glory of the cross is hidden to natural eyes the resurrection of Christ “by the glory of the Father” testifies that God’s glory was perfected in the supreme weakness of his Son (Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 12:9).

Whilst the cross as God’s plan for our glory remains hidden from the “wise and understanding” by grace it is revealed to those who puzzle over their very existence (Matt 11:25; 1 Cor 1:18; 2:7).

For too long our churches have imbibed the self-confident spirit of an age which claims an answer to everything. We need immersion in the eternal Spirit who transited Jesus through the existential exasperation of the cross into his perfection as the glorified Son of God (Rom 1:4; Heb 9:14).

For the sake of moving us to seek his glory the Father will allow us to pass through periods of deep perplexity (2 Cor 1:8; 4:8).

For only those who know they do not hold the answers to life’s deepest puzzles can possibly live a truly Christ-centred existence.

Only in radical incompleteness are we driven again and again to the scriptures where we find that Jesus really is the answer to every question. He is the glory of what it means to be a human being, a spouse, a worker and one who knows God as Father (Gal 4:6; 1 Cor 11:7; 2 Cor 4:4; Heb 2:5-9). Only in Jesus can we sense our future glory; “when he appears we shall be like him, for we will see him as his is.” (1 John 3:2).

Conclusion

Until we meet the Lord face to face the radical incompleteness of human life will remain with us.
 «Yet our perpetual puzzlements are no barrier to the conquering grace of an all wise Father» (James 1:5).

The revelation of Jesus as the Lord of glory which us apathetic Aussies so desperately need will not come through the confident professionalism of the super-churches of our day but through unlikely candidates whose brokenness embeds them in constant humility (2 Cor 12:5-13). Such wise children are those who thank God that being human involves such a struggle, one that  moves us to turn again and again to the only person who truly understands us, Jesus our Lord (Matt 11:25; 1 Cor 2:7).

John Yates

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