On the Psychology, Philosophy and Real Life blog I had a guest post where I said that I didn’t believe that the Biblical approach was a punitive morality. One commenter said they would like me to say more about this. So this post is for Lex. (It is about my understanding of Biblical Christianity – which is often quite different to what is said and done in denominations.) I hope you like it Lex.
My yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Jesus
What makes for an easy yoke (the metaphor is from using oxen to plough)? That it fits well. That is, it is in accord with the way oxen are made. This is the proper role of any discipline: to make us more truly ourselves; to fit well with what we are and can do so that we can do more.
That the burden be light means that there are no impossible demands. What’s more, the preference is for ease. This is quite different to the Nietzschean, “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Jesus favours ease and doesn’t ask us to risk our health or sanity to prove ourselves (but to who? Nietzsche? Our parents or other authority figures?). This approach can be applied in the martial arts – see the various books by Bruce Frantzis who emphasises doing 70%.
Biblical Christianity emphasises grace. In secular terms: life comes free. We did not make ourselves living beings. We can shape our lives and experience but we did not originate it. We can collaborate with and develop in harmony with what is real (life), or we can be miserable and fight it.
This can lead us to a life of gratitude. Not for everything in our world (the Bible is quite unsentimental about evil realities) but often for what we have and experience.
The Cross, and . . .
Biblical Christianity is quite often preaching about the cross of the Christ. And Jesus told his followers to take up the cross and follow him. The person carrying their cross was heading for certain death. Today it would be like saying: walk out in front of the firing squad with me.
The death referred to I think is the death of the ‘old nature’ (our bound and miserable existence devoid of true life). This is, often, not easy to do. Anyone who has been through a deeply transformative experience can tell you this. We know that the change is for the better – and we still can feel like we are dying (as in a sense we are).
After the death comes resurrection. Contrary to many a sermon, Biblical Christianity, does not praise the misery or suffering of the cross. Biblical Christianity focuses continually on the resurrection to full and real life. It emphasises the joy of the new way of living – that this is in accord with our true nature – that the old way was a life of delusion and misery.
The spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us from the law of sin and death – Paul
This is perhaps my favourite Bible verse. You can hear the joyfulness, the ecstatic release. The one point I want to emphasise is that for Biblical Christianity life comes in Christ. It is the ‘spirit of life’. Biblical Christianity is continually emphasising that the experience of spirit is one of joy; that it is able to cope with what life can throw at it, the spirit brings life.
This verse profoundly affirms life. God is not against creation but its distortion and misery. Biblical Christianity is a vision of life triumphant.
Flesh and Spirit
There has been much loose talk of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ in Biblical Christianity. The ‘flesh’ is usually taken to be evil. This is not quite right. The problem with the flesh is its weakness (‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ – Jesus. When Isaiah tells the Israelis to not fear the Egyptians horses because they are flesh not spirit, his point is that they are weak and God (being spirit) is strong.
It is known that the flesh in this evil age is weak – a source of vulnerability, but God’s desire (revealed in the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation) is for healing of the flesh and for more life. Spirit brings more life – as Paul says, the spirit himself gives life to our mortal bodies. In Biblical Christianity there is no hint that creation is essentially evil – only that it has been distorted.
For a superb and insightful examination of flesh and spirit in the Old Testament see Perdersen’s Israel, its life and culture. This book changed the field of biblical anthropology; and its examination of the text is still relevant.
Theological digression. Neither does the Reformer’s doctrine of Total Depravity, despite the name, mean that there is nothing good in people. The reformers were emphasising that reason was not adequate to reach god. They were emphasising that reason too was fallen and not an especially spiritual part of us.
A Biblical Affirmation of Life
Biblical Christianity is for life, it emphasises the experience of joy and self-forgetfulness (to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep means being able to set aside our own concerns). And it emphasises that this is not something we can do, however much we fret – it is received as a gift. Biblical Christianity emphasises gratitude. Biblical Christianity emphasises that the way to realise life is light and easy.
This post deals with things that have been the subject of reflection of reflection and argument for a couple of millenia. For anyone with deep knowledge of these things this post will inevitably look thin and inadequate. I have only really sketched an approach. All comments are most welcome.
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I'm Evan Hadkins. I'm Evan Hadkins. To find out how to live a more satisfying life you can download my manifesto on living authentically. It is a book of exercises to guide you to finding, nourishing and living from the core of who you are.
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