In 2 Samuel 7, David wants to build God a house, but God doesn’t want a house. Perhaps one reason God doesn’t want a house is because once a house is built, the temptation will forever be to limit and confine God to God’s house, which is what we so often do with our creeds and doctrinal statements and our particular religious traditions.
I certainly did. I was trained in a particular tradition that taught certitudes about God and discouraged serious questions and inquiry. Now, don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with worshiping and serving God in a particular house, in a particular tradition. In fact, it is important to be able to call some place home. But when we start thinking that our house is the only house where God can dwell, then we severely limit our understanding and experience of God.
More Christians will come to this awareness and will embrace a more inclusive faith when they realize that “the Christ” cannot be confined to Jesus. The best in our Christian scriptures and traditions point to this. For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is our quintessential revelation of the Word made flesh. Jesus is our definitive expression of what God looks like and how God loves. That’s the house we live in. For us Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is our way into the heart and nature of God. But that, of course, is not true for a Buddhist or a Hindu for example.
The divine reality that we call “the Christ” is big enough to include Buddhists and Hindus and their way of coming to know and experience God. Jesus is our way of knowing and experiencing God, but “through Jesus” is not the only way to know and experience God, because “the Christ,” while including Jesus, is a much larger and greater reality than the man, Jesus. Our scriptures suggest as much.
In the early preaching of Jesus reflected in Acts, the titles Lord and Christ are assigned to Jesus after God raised him from the dead (Acts 2:36). However, this early preaching points us beyond a direct equivalence between Jesus and the Christ. In Acts 2 the “man” Jesus is emphasized as the one put to death: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power (2:22) … this man, handed over to you … you crucified and killed (2:23) … But God raised him up (2:24).” Then it is the raised up/exalted Christ (whose title includes Jesus) who pours out the Spirit (2:33). A clear distinction is made between Jesus and the Spirit and yet the Spirit, usually referenced as the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, is also called the Spirit of the Lord (Acts 5:9; 8:39). The Spirit is clearly not “the man” Jesus. So, while Jesus is raised/exalted and given the title Lord and Christ, the reality that is intended in these two designations is larger and greater than the man Jesus.
Paul, in his letters, makes it clear that he understood the designation “Christ” to be broader and more inclusive in meaning than what is meant when simply “Jesus” is referenced. For Paul, the title “Christ” or the “Spirit of Christ” includes Jesus — Jesus is the unique human revelation of the Christ — but the Christ is a greater reality than the human Jesus. Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It’s not Jesus the man who indwells us and empowers us, but rather the Spirit of Christ — the very Spirit that “filled” and “led” Jesus of Nazareth and empowered his ministry.
For example, Paul uses the term Spirit interchangeably with “Christ.” In Romans 8:9-11 the terms “Spirit,” “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of Christ” and simply “Christ” are all used interchangeably. Cleary the Christ or the Spirit of Christ is not the exact equivalent of Jesus of Nazareth who lived among us and whom God raised up.
Paul spoke of Christ living in us (see in addition to Romans 8:10 also Col. 1:27 and Gal. 2:20). Paul often spoke of our being “in Christ” and Christ being “in” us. Clearly, Paul understood Christ to be a more inclusive, larger, greater, broader, universal reality than the earthly and limited divine/human person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 Christ is identified as both the Lord and the Spirit. Paul even says that “the Lord is the Spirit” that works in our lives now transforming us into Christ’s image. Jesus is the Christian’s definitive expression of that image. So the Christ image includes Jesus but is not confined to Jesus, or else how could the Christ be in us? It is not the man Jesus whom God raised from the dead who is in us, but the Christ. As we are able to see and reflect that image, we are progressively transformed “from one degree of glory to another.”
Incarnation can never be limited to one house, to one person or tradition. Incarnation was happening before Jesus, it was happening after Jesus, and it’s happening right now, hopefully in your life and mine. Paul understood this, and this is why he called us the body of Christ. He even envisioned a universal restoration and reconciliation where all things in heaven and on earth are brought together in Christ (Eph. 1:10, also Col. 1:20). Paul (or if not Paul, then a disciple of Paul carrying Paul’s teaching to its logical conclusion) apparently believed it was not a question of “if” but “when.” Perhaps he reasoned from his own encounter with the Christ that once the light of God’s mercy and grace breaks into one’s experience, no one will resist it.
Paul, according to Luke, told the philosophers in Athens “we are all God’s offspring” and in God (the Spirit, the Christ) “we live, move, and have our very being” (Acts 17:28). Paul goes on to argue that since we are all God’s offspring we all ought to repent and live a transformed life (17:29ff). Faith is a matter of claiming and becoming who we already are.
The wonder and mystery of “the Christ” is that we cannot not live in the presence of God. We are totally surrounded by God all the time everywhere. The prayer attributed to Saint Patrick captures it well: God beneath you, God in front of you, God behind you, God above you, God within you. We do not earn this. It’s all grace. But our experience of this Mystery is largely a matter of being tuned in, being aware, being able to trust and surrender to this Greater Love at work everywhere all the time.
How long will it take for God’s children to realize what a big house God lives in?