Saturday, May 7, 2011

John Calvin and the Impossible Invisible Jesus

In his Institutes (4.17.29) when speaking of the Lord's Supper Calvin writes:

"The objection, that Christ came forth from the closed sepulchre, and came in to his disciples while the doors were shut, (Mat 28: 6; John 20: 19), gives no better support to their error. For as the water, just as if it had been a solid pavement, furnished a path to our Saviour when he walked on it, (Mat 14), so it is not strange that the hard stone yielded to his step; although it is more probable that the stone was removed at his command, and forthwith, after giving him a passage, returned to its place. To enter while the doors were shut, was not so much to penetrate through solid matter, as to make a passage for himself by divine power, and stand in the midst of his disciples in a most miraculous manner. They gain nothing by quoting the passage from Luke, in which it is said, that Christ suddenly vanished from the eyes of the disciples, with whom he had journeyed to Emmaus, (Luk 24: 31). In withdrawing from their sight, he did not become invisible: he only disappeared. Thus Luke declares that, on the journey with them, he did not assume a new form, but that "their eyes were holden." But these men not only transform Christ that he may live on the earth, but pretend that there is another elsewhere of a different description."
Calvin is arguing that in order for Jesus to have a real human body that human body must always take up the same amount of space and must always be visible. He says that when Jesus passed through walls and doors, Jesus did not cease to take up space but the wall or door did. According to Calvin the walls and doors momentarily ceased to be walls and doors and water momentarily ceased to be water. Jesus never became invisible He only disappeared. I think what Calvin means is that Jesus did not cease to take up space but just changed His location. In section 31 Calvin says:

"They are greatly mistaken in imagining that there is no presence of the flesh of Christ in the Supper, unless it be placed in the bread. They thus leave nothing for the secret operation of the Spirit, which unites Christ himself to us. Christ does not seem to them to be present unless he descends to us, as if we did not equally gain his presence when he raises us to himself. The only question, therefore, is as to the mode, they placing Christ in the breads while we deem it unlawful to draw him down from heaven. Which of the two is more correct, let the reader judge. Only have done with the calumny that Christ is withdrawn from his Supper if he lurk not under the covering of bread. For seeing this mystery is heavenly, there is no necessity to bring Christ on the earth that he may be connected with us."
In Calvin's understanding of the Supper, Christ cannot descend to us but we can ascend to Him. With the help of the Holy Spirit we do what Christ is unable to do. Christ is chained to heaven but we can pass in and out of heaven in some sort of spiritual way. This eliminates the need for Jesus to be in multiple places at the same time which is a great offense to Calvin.

The passages in question do not tell us if Jesus disappeared or merely changed location. If Jesus ceased to be in the room and ended up 100 miles away He still did something that ordinary human beings cannot do just as much as He did if He stayed in the room invisibly. I fail to see how Jesus becoming invisible and not taking up space somehow diminishes His human nature in a way that teleportation does not.

It does not seem wise to me to put extra-Biblical limitations on what God can do. God in the Scriptures seems to break all the rules as to how God should act. Jesus spent most of His earthly ministry behaving in ways that were viewed as unsuitable for a respectable Messiah and certainly unsuitable for God. If God can become incarnate and then spends His incarnation eating with sinners and getting Himself crucified--it does not seem that His human nature being in more than one place at the same time is really out of bounds. Jesus told the Apostles on more than one occasion that He was going to be crucified and would rise again. They regarded a literal crucifixion as being outside the bounds of what a respectable Messiah would do and and were utterly surprised when it happened. They did not expect the resurrection to follow. But Jesus broke the rules in How to Be a Good Messiah and literally did what He said He was going to do.

The Scriptures are silent as to exactly what physically happened to Jesus when Jesus disappeared. The Scriptures never explicitly say that Jesus can be in more than one place at the same time. The Scriptures never say that He can't be in more than one place at the same time. The Scriptures never say that in the Lord's Supper the Holy Spirit lifts us up to heaven. Jesus says, "This is my body...this is my blood." Jesus does not sat He's sending our spirits to heaven. Jesus directs us to the bread and wine in front of us which He says is His body and blood.

1 comment:

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