Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Soul of Christ, Out of the Body, and C.S. Lewis's Shape of Desire

An intriguing Christological thought that doesn't seem to come to most of us often, if ever. I say this very simply on the basis that I can't recall ever hearing anyone chat about it. But something I was reading today provoked me to think about it. 

We anticipate an "intermediate state" following upon death, i.e., our condition between physical death and the resurrection. (Think of the souls under the altar in Revelation: "How long, O Lord, how long?") It would never occur to any of us to suggest that being in this intermediate state makes a soul somehow less than human. Yes, human minus a part, the body! But still HUMAN. 

Christ Himself experienced the intermediate state. Between His death and resurrection He was still HIM, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, outside the body. 

Paul says of us, "to be outside the body is to be with the Lord." Jesus, the Lord Himself, experienced His own outside-the-body "interim," even if it was the briefest such interim there ever will be (hallelujah!). 

One thing this fact underscores is the depth and totality of the Lord's unity with us in His humanity ("like us in every way, yet without sin"). He went through everything essential to being human, not only to the point of death but to the point of living through "after-death", and right into Resurrection. 

And it is here that some mind-stretching really takes off. What does "Incarnation" then mean in the context of Christ's own intermediate state? Is He, in that state, still "God Incarnate" or is He "God Disincarnated"? In what sense is the disembodied Christ still the Incarnation of the living God? How is Christ dis-enfleshed still God enfleshed? 

To me the only possible, biblically faithful answer requires that we deepen our perception of Incarnation. 

The Incarnation MEANS that God has become one of us, a Son of Adam, wholly human in body, soul and spirit. While becoming wholly human He, Christ, entirely remains the Person of God. His Personhood as eternal God--the Son, the Word, in unity with the Father and Spirit--is in no way negated by taking on Manhood. 

If all this is true, as I am convinced to the core of my being it is, then, however ironic and paradoxical it sounds, Christ in His intermediate state is of COURSE still, and uninterruptedly, "God Incarnate." 

Having once become Man, Christ never ceases being Man. 

Naturally, this means that you need to broaden your understanding of "Incarnate." 

In a simplistic linguistic sense it means "in-flesh" but what God has done in Christ CANNOT be limited or ruled by etymology. 

What "Incarnation" means THEOLOGICALLY is "having become Man." Being Man is no more dependent on being in the body for Christ than it is for us. (We are still human after death.) Being in the body is IDEAL for Man, AS Man (it's what we were made for), and this too is as true for Christ as it is for us. 

But it isn't exclusively dependent on it. 

Why am I emphasizing this so adamantly? Here's why: the dangerous misconception that we must scrupulously avoid is that Christ Jesus, in that intermediate state, in the "harrowing of hell," was simply God Who had de-incarnated, God Who had left His "human shell" behind and gone back to "just being God" again. 


An idea like that brings you necessarily back to the old heresy that, even in His earthly life, Jesus was just a human body inhabited, not by a human soul/spirit, but simply by God--so that, when the human body died, the God inhabiting it left. This is heresy. It's as much heresy to posit it in the context of Jesus' intermediate state as it is in the context of His earthly life.

Having become a human soul, Christ remains a human soul: before the Cross, after His death, and from the Resurrection on. The "Incarnation" is God having become Man. That leaves out nothing but sin. Man experiences an intermediate state after death and before the resurrection. So therefore did the God-Man Christ. 

God "Incarnate" is God "En-humaned." Perhaps that makes it easier to conceive of the DIS-enfleshed Christ remaining, all the same, 100% God and 100% Man. 

In a particular manner of speaking, even in death, outside the flesh, Christ was not "dis-enfleshed" if we grasp what people like the apostle Paul are talking about when they use the term "flesh." 

"Flesh" isn't only skin and muscle. And, no, it isn't just "the sinful nature," either, though sometimes it conveys that connotation. The word is used quite flexibly in Scripture and you simply must be sensitive to the nuance invested in it by the context. In a very broad sense "flesh" is the CREATED. "All flesh is as grass...." 

God in His ineffable condescension elected to become such ephemeral "flesh," the created, Man.

In that sense Man is "flesh" even when he's DIS-enfleshed, i.e., he remains the created, the contingent, the non-self-generating. 

It is in this sense that I mean Christ in the intermediate state was not "dis-enfleshed", i.e., "dis-Incarnated", i.e., "de-Humaned." Absolutely not. Christ, in that intermediate state, remained as truly the Eternal God HUMANLY "ensouled" as He was before His death. 

Another way of putting it is this: for Jesus, dying and entering into that intermediate state was no mere "return" to anything He, as the Eternal Son, had ever experienced before. 

No, this was something new, unprecedented: the "humanly ensouled" (incarnate) Son entering into the HUMAN post-mortem experience, just as He had entered into the human PRE-mortem experience. 

Needless to say, when it is the Incarnate God entering into ANY human experience, whether pre-mortem, post-mortem, or post-resurrection (which kind of includes it all), that "experience" is going to be worlds-shattering and cosmically paradigm-replacing, its import, consequences, implications and ramifications radiating tsumani-like into every corner of Reality. 

But it was no less a human experience for all that, experienced to the last drop by God.


C.S. Lewis writes: "Our intellectual desire (curiosity) to know the true answer to a question is quite different from our desire to find that one answer, rather than another, is true. The form of the desire is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, 'high' or 'low.'" 

In other words, when Indiana Jones goes hunting for the Ark, the form of his desire is the Ark. It's what he wants to find. But when physicists hunt for the the material universe's most fundamental, indivisible component, they want, ultimately, to find out truly WHAT it is, not prove that it's something they THINK it is. 

On the other hand, when you have had medical tests taken on suspicion of a serious disease, your desire is to find out that the disease isn't there. You're not just hoping for "an" answer, you're hoping for "the" answer that will let you get back to life as normal. 
When we look for life's meaning, is our desire to find out WHAT it is, or is our desire to prove that it's one thing and not another?

"The form of the desire is in the desire." In other words, the desire that's motivating us is also, inevitably, even before we've attained it (if we ever do), shaping us--our thinking, our actions, our relationships. Paradoxically, the meaning of the desired answer is in some way materializing in your character and outlook even before you've found it. For good or ill. 

Which is, perhaps, why the question "Why?" is always a salutary one while you're on the hunt. Particularly if you're already sure ahead of time what you want the answer to your question to be. "WHY do I want it to be that? And what does this say about me?"