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Personhood and the Value of Suffering. (part one)

Man is a great mystery. The human being is crowned with the glory and honor of being the very image of God. Every human being is an icon of God, a revelation of God, and filled with an infinite potential for growth in communion, for love.

His Beatitude, Metropolitan JONAH

What is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?... Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.

(Hebrews 2:6, 17f)

God made man as the pinnacle of creation, and put all things in subjection to him. For man to bring all things into subjection, however, was a process. It was begun with Adam who named all creatures. Christ brought human nature and death under subjection by His Incarnation and Resurrection. That process is still under way, and will not be fulfilled until the Parousia, the Second Coming, when Christ will give over all things to the Father. What this means, however, is that all things are brought into synergy and communion, deified and fulfilled.

Christ’s incarnation is the fulfillment of human nature, which in Him sits at the right hand of the Father.

Man, human being, was created good by God. We bear the image of God as the defining element of our humanity. Part of that image is the potential to grow to likeness to God by our will and actions. Sin disrupts the fulfillment of that potential; but we affirm that the potential is always there, that God’s image is indelible. We would thus reject the “total depravity” of man, held by some. Yet man’s own being as the created image of God is not fulfilled until it is brought into union with the Uncreated Image of God, the Son.

This is the essential process of creation itself: to move from potential to fulfillment.

In Jesus the created image and uncreated image of God come together, and God becomes man. Yet this process is itself incomplete: not only does Christ have to die and be resurrected, but the whole creation is fulfilled in Him at the Second Coming—“which groans until the revelation of the sons of God.” For us, the process of deification is the content of salvation, which begins now and is only ultimately fulfilled when we are resurrected from the dead. But in this world, as we grow into the likeness of God by our cooperation with His will, by love, we actualize that potential here and now and thus experience deification.

Jesus Christ is God become man. He is the revelation of the fulfillment of what it means to be a human being, both in his life by his words and deeds, and in his death by His Resurrection. He is the criterion of our knowledge of God, and of God’s relationship to the world. Jesus did not simply come and teach about God, but rather, He revealed God by becoming a human being. He revealed God’s love for us by his complete identification with us. He took on our humanity, “he emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of man” (Phil 2:7). Then he “humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:8). By taking on not only our humanity, but our suffering and death, Jesus, Who is the Incarnate Son and Word of God, shows God’s love for man.

He became what we are that he might make us what He is.

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebr 2:9-10).

How can it be that Jesus needed “to be made perfect through suffering”? Jesus could not completely identify with us simply by assuming our humanity. He was not simply some kind of avatar, nor did he merely bear the semblance of a man. Rather, He had to become completely what we are, and share our life. He could not do that unless he shared also our suffering, and ultimately, our death. What a marvel that God would humble himself even to death, the most shameful death of the cross! Jesus suffered and died as we suffer and die.

But He overcame death, and transformed it, so that we might no longer suffer from death.

He assumed our whole life and death “that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”(Hebr 2:14f).

The fear of death is the power of the devil, the source of much suffering, which holds mankind in bondage. Because of the fear of death, we avoid suffering for the sake of the other, even when compassion demands it of us. This avoidance of suffering is the root of temptation. Jesus overcame the fear of death, and thus, overcame temptation because He accepted to suffer for the sake of salvation of others. “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebr 2:18).

Jesus not only revealed God’s love for us by becoming man, and suffering and dying for us. As the Incarnate Son, He has become the human face of God who identifies with us in our suffering and temptations, having become like us in every respect. He revealed that God is not a simple abstract Being concealed in apophatic unapproachability. He became what we are, that He might make us what He is. Christ has wrought salvation for us by identifying with us. We also have to work out our salvation by identifying with Him.

Our salvation, our deification, is not something that happens passively in this world. There is no such thing as instant salvation, no “eternal security” once we have made an affirmation that we accept Christ’s “atonement” for our sins. Salvation is a process of continually identifying with Christ, a dynamic process that is mutual and reciprocal. Jesus suffered that He might accompany us in our suffering. He was tempted that he might strengthen us when we are tempted. He overcame the fear of death that we might not longer be subject and in bondage to it. In this Jesus shows God’s love and respect for us, for our freedom, for the integrity of our lives. He does not live our life for us, but rather has enabled us to live our life in Him, insofar as we will it.

+ Glory to God for All Things +

His Beatitude; Metropolitan JONAH - BIO

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