Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Ascension and Omnipresence of Christ

Most evangelicals and Calvinists understand the ascension to result in an absent Jesus. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God now and we are waiting for Him to come back. The Holy Spirit is present and perhaps Jesus Himself is present in some way but not in any bodily sense. Lutherans have maintained that since Jesus promised to be with us always and spoke this as a person who had real flesh and blood that He is with us as a person with real flesh and blood. Calvinists and Zwinglians believe that Christ's bodily presence on earth in a multiple places is a denial of His true humanity. They point to the Ascension and say that Christ according to His humanity is not with us but seated at the right hand of God the Father. Things get more complicated if you ask them where the right hand of God is. If I go up high enough can I find a giant right hand of God somewhere with Christ sitting next to it in a chair? As Saint Stephen was being martyred he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Either Stephen had extraordinary eyesight or the right hand of God is not some far away thing. Stephen did not yell, "JESUS! SIT DOWN! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SITTING!" In Acts 23:11 Paul says that Jesus stood by Him.

Lutherans believe that God's right hand is wherever God is acting. We work with our right hands and our right hands are just a shadow of the true right hand of God. We may not be able to work with our right hands in more than one place at a time but God certainly does. Given some of the discoveries of quantum mechanics it has become a matter of debate as to whether or we can be in more than one place at a time--it can no longer be said with certainty that we cannot be. However, regardless of whether or not we can be in more than one place at a time it seems rather arbitrary to declare that Jesus cannot be. Jesus did all kinds of things with His body that we cannot. During the time of His humiliation He only made use of the power of His divinity for the benefit of others. But even then we find Him walking on water and passing through the midst of a crowd that is trying to kill Him. After the resurrection He passes through walls and vanishes and appears at will. I can't do any of these things with my body and I assume you can't either. It seems very arbitrary to say that He can do all these other things and still be considered a real human being but if He were to be in more than one spot at a time that would somehow be a denial of His true humanity. The Scriptures never tell us that Jesus can only be in one spot at a time and Jesus promises in the Supper that we receive His body and blood and promises to be with us always. If we say that He can't possibly mean that because it would be a denial of  His true humanity we are really saying that our own conceptions of what it means to be human are a higher authority than the Scriptures. I recently had someone tell me that natural revelation teaches us that humans cannot be in more than one place at a time. But this can't mean anything more than what the person observes on a daily basis. If natural revelation is defined in that sense then natural revelation also teaches us that people cannot rise from the dead and that God cannot become incarnate and the Christian faith is a sham.

The Calvinist charge is that Lutherans are Eutychians but this charge doesn't stick at all when you take the original intent of the ecumenical creeds into consideration. Even the Nestorians agreed that we receive Christ's true body and blood in the Supper which means that Calvinism is a form of hyper-Nestorianism. The Calvinist tendency is to view the relationship between Christ's Divine and human natures as if they were two boards that were glued together. The illustration used by the orthodox church fathers is that the the relationship between the human and the Divine natures is like that of iron being held in a fire. The iron doesn't become fire but takes on the properties of the fire. The Divine nature is forever Divine and the human nature is forever human but the human nature acts through the Divine nature and the Divine nature acts by the human nature.
Ephesians 1:22-23

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV)
Ephesians 1:22-23 teaches that the whole Jesus according to both His divine and human natures are able to be wherever he wants them to be. He fills all in all. This is just speaking of His divine nature since according to the passage there was a time when He did not fill all and in all. As both God and man Jesus promises to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name (Matt. 18:20). The presence of Christ in the Supper is not visible but there is no reason to conclude that it is any less real or that it is only some kind of spiritual presence. On Sundays, in His post resurrection appearances Jesus would often appear and disappear at well. He would appear to the disciples in the breaking of the bread and then vanish. This formed the basis for the centrality of the Lord's Supper in Christian worship as we find in the book of Acts where the disciples met "to break bread." Jesus promises to be with us as a complete person and in the Supper we receive Him in our mouths for the forgiveness of our sins. Reason may raise her objections but reason also objects to God dying, the incarnation, the virgin birth, and the resurrection of the dead.

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