Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Only Functional Family

Admit it. You have to have it. You look for it everyday in the face of your spouse or in the face of a stranger. It’s something that’s nearly impossible to find, it’s something you cannot keep, and yet your radar is on high alert for it all day long.

You need relational union, and you’re lying to yourself if you think you don’t. Blissful, intimate union. It’s what you have to have.

But here’s the crazy part. I’m fifty years old, and I’ve rarely had it, yet I still look for it every day. No matter your age, you’ve rarely had it. Yet you’re craving it right now like it is right around the corner. You desperately need “this thing” that you’ve rarely experienced, if ever. And even if you’ve experienced it, you know that it doesn’t last. So here’s my simple question:

Why is it that you forever hunger for a relational union and bliss that you have rarely experienced and that never lasts?

There are biological, chemical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological answers to this question. Let me try a theological answer—by that I mean, an answer that begins with God, in whose image we are said to have been created. In the Bible, God is three persons in utter union. Maybe that’s not a coincidence.

If it is true that God is three in union, three persons yet one substance, then our being created in God's image has a profound implication for our question about relational union and why we need it.

If three-in-union is God's image, and if we are created in this image, then perhaps we are wired at the factory (as a friend of mine once put it) for union in relationship. Is this possible? If so, then it raises powerful questions.

Could that be why our broken relationships almost drive us to despair, because they violate the relational union in whose image we were created? Could that be why our relationships hurt us so badly, because we are wired for union, desire union, and seek union, all because we are created in the image of the Tri-union of the Tri-unity?

When it comes to my broken relationships (and human relationships are always broken), I get tantalizingly brief glimpses of the union that exists between Father, Son, and Spirit. "They" know they are distinct persons with no blurred lines and no unhealthy enmeshments—what some psychologists call codependences. But humans are prone to codependent, invasive, relational enmeshment, and that’s not healthy union.

It’s infuriating that I cannot catch and keep this experience of healthy union, no matter how much I desire it and no matter how hard I try to sustain it. It always slips through my fingers. I lose my healthy sense of self by letting myself be used or abused by others, including those who really love me. But, of course, I end up using and abusing them too, though I don’t want to. No matter how much I wish it to be otherwise, the healthy union that I MUST HAVE cannot be self-created or self-sustained. It is delusional for me to think otherwise.

The union we see in the Trinity, however, is both healthy and sustained. Throughout the NT Jesus is crystal clear who he is, a very strong sense of self, clear that he is not the Father or the Spirit, but also clear that the Three are One. The Three Musketeers is a “literary type” of this ideal tri-union. “All for one and one for all.” I might add, “All the time.”

I realize that the word Trinity is an oxymoron. It’s an utter contradiction, at least by human reckoning. Tri- means three and –nity (unity) means one. How can three be one? How can one equal three? This is the mystery of God’s very image in the Bible. God is the great Three who are One. Tri-unity. How can we even begin to make sense of this? Perhaps there is a way.

Marital intimacy is a reflection of the union in the Tri-unity, though we manage to screw it up, of course. It's a sin thing. It's our human dis-ease that we lose our sense of self, that we try to recover it in needy manipulation, and that we use one another for selfish purposes. Yet, every once in a blessed while, the union we are wired for is blissfully experienced and enjoyed. We get a glimpse now and again when “the two become one.” The perfect union that I (and undoubtedly you) yearn for cannot be sustained, however, even in the healthiest of marriages, as you are probably painfully aware.

How do I describe this perfect union? It fully protects and affirms my unique selfhood while connecting me with other selves in mutual joy, love, and respect that affirm their unique selfhoods. No blurred lines. Healthy boundaries. Embracing and being embraced without invasion. Loving others fully as much as you love yourself. Willing to lay your life down for a friend.

Have I been able to do this or experience this in my lifetime? Yes and no. I live in hope that I'm getting better at loving and respecting and serving others, and live in hope that the union that Jesus says is mine really is mine, even though I don't always feel it and I often mess it up. I choose to believe that my promised union with Christ on resurrection day will fulfill my lifelong yearning for union with him and with humanity, and that this same promise can help me grow in this love in the here and now.

Are all families dysfunctional? All but one, as I see it. The only functional "family" is the Father, Son, and Spirit, and this union is ours by the biblical new covenant promise. In Jesus' flesh we are adopted into this functional family. Faith is required, however, to trust that this union is yours when your wrecked relationships are telling you otherwise. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

The Bible, however, is not nearly as negative about flesh as is often portrayed. Is it weak and flawed? Yes. But all things were made in, by, for, and through Jesus, the incarnate Word of God. This means that Jesus created flesh, if you believe the Bible. And John's Gospel makes a point of saying that the one who created flesh became flesh.

The biblical Greek word is sarx. Flesh. God became sarx, flesh, like you and me, feeling everything we feel, experiencing fully the same weaknesses and temptations we feel. How could Jesus save all flesh (which he made) unless he became fully flesh? This was God's plan from the foundation of the world.

A husband and wife becoming "one flesh" is not a bad thing, is it? It's a union blessed by the Tri-union God. And Jesus came to save all flesh. And all flesh shall see it together. Jesus was born in the flesh, embracing our flesh, and taking all flesh to the right hand of his Father through his death, resurrection (of his flesh!), and ascension. If these biblical claims are true, then what is the result?

Jesus is forever human: Resurrected flesh and bones.

Luke 24:39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

He said the bread that he gives to the world is his flesh. Is his flesh evil? No, it's a sacrament! It's sacred! In Romans 8 Paul wrote:

Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

Jesus didn't condemn flesh. He became flesh to deal with sin and death in the flesh.

Hebrews 2:1-15; 17-18 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

What this means is that the God of the universe chose to unify us with him in the flesh. Rather than blending us together like a drop of water blends into the ocean, God chose a union in the flesh that defends unique, personal identity forever.

Is the image of God in which we are created a relational Tri-union of distinct persons? Is that why we're wired for relationship and yearn for union with someone, with something, with Father-Son-Spirit? Is God’s coming to us in human flesh our adoption into the only functional family? I have come to believe that the answer to each if these questions is yes.

If I am correct, then why do adherents of the world's monotheistic religions, including Christianity, prefer a solitary god, a monad, a remote singularity? And how can a deity who knows no relationships have made us, or even want to make us? For what purpose? How can a mono-god whose image is non-relational create humans wired for relationship? Why would a self-contained uni-god create relationships, much less desire union with lowly, needy creatures like us?

What if the answer to this mystery is that God passionately desires to enlarge his Triune Family by including us and by wiring us to yearn for that inclusion? What if now, in the flesh, we are included in The Only Functional Family, The Relationship behind all relationships, The Family in whose image we are made, and The Union---blissful and passionate---that we desperately desire in our heart of hearts?