Category: Pauline Theology
The Interrobang as a Metaphor for the Hypostatic Union
If you have no idea what that title means, that’s OK. It is actually fairly simple to explain those weird words, which I will attempt to do. The “hypostatic union” is an important theological concept to understand about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It basically says that Jesus Christ is one person, two natures (divine and human). The interrobang is a punctuation symbol that I believe is a helpful metaphor to understand the hypostatic union.
The interrobang is a lesser known punctuation mark. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a punctuation mark ‽ designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question” (“Interrobang,” Merriam-Webster). This means that it unites both the symbol and function of the exclamation point and the question mark into one character. For example, instead of “You lost the dog?!” it is also acceptable (and more economical) to write, “You lost the dog‽” In fact, you can still see the shape of both the exclamation point and the question mark in the interrobang as the two characters are superimposed on one another. Here is a larger look at how they merge:
! + ? = ‽
This is a visual metaphor for the hypostatic union. This is the theological doctrine that Jesus Christ is simultaneously fully God and fully man. In Christ, the two natures (divine and human) are united into one person (hypostasis) (McGrath, 1998, 56; Oden, 1992/2001, 165). This can be a potentially difficult point to explain to children (and adults as well). But when a simple visual metaphor such as the interrobang is used, the ability to grasp the concept is increased. Not only that, but it also helps learners experience and understand what for them may be a new spiritual reality in their hearts and minds, which ideally helps them draw closer to God. This is the generative nature of metaphors in spiritual formation.
Note that in the interrobang neither the exclamation point nor the question mark are absorbed or lost into the other. The reader can still clearly make out the fullness of each punctuation mark – and they are artfully merged to co-exist in one typographical character. So also is the character/person of Jesus Christ. He is one person who embodies the union of total divine nature and total human nature. Just as you can make out the entire exclamation point and entire question mark in the interrobang at the same time, so also does Jesus have the entirety of divinity and the entirety of human nature at the same time (John 1:14; Phil 2:6-11; Col 2:9, 3:15-20). The author of Hebrews adds that though he was like us in every way (human nature), he had no sin (Heb 4:15). That is because he was also fully God and it is impossible for God to sin (James 1:13; Heb 6:18; Psalm 92:15).
Why is the hypostatic union such an important concept? It has to do with the very foundations of Christianity – salvation by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If Jesus was merely a man and not God, then he would be less than perfect and his sacrifice would not be sufficient to atone for sins against a perfect and holy God. If Jesus was God and not also human, then he would not be able to offer himself on behalf of humans (human sin against God demands that the atonement must also come from a human – see Anselm’s argument at The Christian History Institute).
What do you think about the interrobang‽ Is it a helpful metaphor? What are some other metaphors that may help us better understand the hypostatic union?
“Interrobang.” Merriam-Webster. online article. http://beta.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interrobang (accessed December 17, 2015).
McGrath, Alister E. Historical theology: An introduction to the history of Christian thought. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
Oden, Thomas C. The word of life: systematic theology: volume two. Peabody, MA: Prince, 2001.
One Body, Many Parts
When I spoke at Camp Dixie last weekend, I was given the theme “Submerge,” which was focused on God’s deep love for us. As I was pondering some topics to go along with that, I learned a little bit about the creatures of the deep ocean. By the way, scientists say that we know more about outer space than we do about our own ocean. It is so deep and vast that it will take a very long time to chart it and discover it the way we have our own land.
There are creatures found in the deep ocean called Siphonophores (an order of Hydrozoa). They baffle scientists because while each one appears to be a large creature (some get up to over 150 feet long), the large “creature” is actually a colony of many individual animals playing different parts and roles in the whole “creature.” This is different than say, our bodies, which are made up of different parts and cells. These are entirely individual creatures working together to form one large creature!
That got me thinking about when Paul says that we are one body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12). The siphonophore is a great metaphor because each animal has a particular part to play and is a part of something bigger than itself. In fact, “most of the zooids are so specialized, they lack the ability to survive on their own” (Siphonophorae, Wikipedia article, 2015).
I happen to be a juggler and a public speaker. But there are many things I cannot do or cannot do well (like shoot a basketball or perform surgery or cook a turkey). Sometimes I wish I could do it all, but then I remember that God made me with certain gifts and not others. It is my responsibility to pursue excellence at the things God has gifted me with and celebrate and encourage the many gifts in those around me. When we come together, there is an unstoppable synergy that becomes the force of Christ’s body on earth advancing the Kingdom of God.
I hope this encourages you today.
Here is what Paul says to the church in Corinth…..
1Cor. 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1Cor. 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
1Cor. 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1Cor. 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31a But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Whatever is Admirable
The sixth virtue in Paul’s Philippians 4:8 list is “whatever is admirable.” When we say that we “admire” something, we are speaking of it as something we aspire to, something we want to be like, and something that is worthy of respect and honor. When we fill our minds with things that are admirable, our thoughts help point us in the right direction of growth towards the Lord. Like the other virtues, God epitomizes everything that is admirable. Admiration also represents the things we ponder and think about all the time (that’s what we do with admirable things – we think about them A LOT).
What is admirable? Virtuous and wise people are admirable. Godly men and women are admirable. Humility, love, compassion, patience – these are all admirable things. So let’s fill our minds with them.
Whatever is Lovely
God is love (1 John 4:8,16). So anything that is of God is lovely. And all things lovely are of God. This includes, but is not limited to, the love we share between one another in various relationships such as friends and family. In fact, all people are God’s creation and we are called to love them. So other people are lovely. And we should think about other people – how they are all beautifully made in God’s image. We should think about them before ourselves (Phil 2:3-4).
What else is lovely? God’s creation. The nature around us. Anything that reflects the image and glory of God. For example, it is a lovely thing to attend a wedding and celebrate the coming together of a husband and wife. On the other hand, it is not lovely to watch a husband and wife hurling insults and hurtful things towards one another. When we think about the wedding and ponder what is going on, our minds and hearts are pointed towards God and His glory. When we ponder hate and hurtfulness, our hearts and minds are pointed away from God.
Whatever is Right
Paul tells us to think about things that are right (Phil 4:8). What is right?
There is right and there is wrong. As Christians, we believe in a divine Creator who is also the moral standard for the universe. Without a moral standard, how can we know right and wrong in the first place? Does a right and wrong exist at all? Humanists will argue that there can be moral standards without God, but unfortunately, there are as many opinions on that as there are humanists. Which one do you listen to? Granted, Christians have divided and disagreed over the centuries about how to interpret God’s moral standards. But at least we all agree that there is one imparted to us from outside this finite universe in the first place.
To think about things that are right is to think about God’s moral standards as opposed to our own selfish desires. Thinking about things that are right means chewing on truth, pondering justice, and seeking to do the right thing as opposed to the wrong thing when faced with a decision. How do we know what is right? By studying God’s Word, by staying close to His heart, by fellowshipping in the body of Christ, by listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and testing our conclusions among “the counsel of many” (wherein plans succeed – Proverbs 15:22).
Lots of young people are graduating from something right now. I remember my final month of high school – it was the longest month of my life. It seemed that the teachers were just trying to fill time and space when all of us seniors had already checked out and preparing for college or whatever was next.
Then there was that feeling of “finally” at the end of it all. The relief that the hard work was over. I could move on to what was next.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he also says “finally” towards the end of the letter (Phil 4:8). But he uses a different nuance of it than a graduating senior would. Sure, he is wrapping up his letter and finishing the hard work of composing heart-felt didactic letter.
I believe the nuance Paul has in Phil 4:8 is that of a summarization of most (if not all) of what he has said up to that point in the letter. Here is what he says:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
This is not just a stand-alone endorsement of having good thoughts. This is Paul “bringing it home” by summing up the whole letter and saying “in view of everything I’ve said thus far, think about these things…”
What has Paul discussed in the letter so far? A lot. Here are just a few highlights:
Chapter 1 – Paul writes while in chains (I’m assuming it was tough to always have positive thoughts); Paul’s prayer for the Philippians; “to live is Christ and to die is gain”
Chapter 2 – The humility and emptying of Christ; the exhortation for his readers to also be humble and to “shine like stars
Chapter 3 – “Whatever was to my gain I now consider loss for the sake of Christ”; pressing on towards the heavenly goal of perfection in Christ and becoming like HIm
Chapter 4 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7 NIV)
I am especially struck by the fact that Paul was writing while in prison (or at least while chained up if not physically behind bars). Yet he still encourages the church to think about things that are noble, right, true, and pure. He surely had first hand experience struggling with bad thoughts. But he learned through that process that when we think about God rather than on earthly things, there is a promise – “the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).
I’d like to explore the different words that Paul uses in this list of virtuous things to think about. I’ll do so over the next few posts.
Jerusalem IMAX Review
Yesterday, I saw the IMAX film Jerusalem at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. Put out by National Geographic Entertainment, it shows both the bloody history as well as the beautiful peoples and cultures who live there today.
I spent a semester living in the Old City of Jerusalem when I was in college for a study abroad program. I also got to re-visit Israel with my family last May for a few weeks. So this was a film that I was greatly anticipating ever since I heard it was coming out.
The film is a mere 42 minutes long, but it is fully packed with stunning fly-over shots, three-dimensionally moving panoramas, and everyday-life Old City action that really does make you feel like you’re shopping for fresh pita bread just inside of Damascus Gate. The soundtrack is driven by a recurring orchestral riff akin to tracks found in epic action movies (think Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack). The only sense it was missing was smell (think a mixture of Old City garbage, ferrel cats, incense, and baklava), but I guess IMAX technology hasn’t reached that level of development yet.
I have to admit, there were a few moments when I wanted to shout out loud “Oh Yeah!” when I saw these beautiful arial views of Jerusalem from various angles. But I kept my thoughts to myself out of respect for the other movie patrons. My eyes raced around the wraparound screen to find the spots where I lived, studied, and visited multiple times. It was a real thrill, and I will come back to see it again (and bring others with me).
It opens with a brief overview of the history of Jerusalem (starting with a nice 19th Century David Roberts painting of the city). The narrator explains why the city has been the centerfold of history, religion, and humanity – brutally fought over more so than any other piece of real estate on the planet. The reasons, of course, include being positioned at the crossroads of the world’s major continents, the elevated bedrock which served as a high holy place for worshippers, and the water coming from the Gihon Spring.
Then we learn about the three major monotheistic religions that call Jerusalem home: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (in that chronological order). Each is given equal attention and the unique culture of each is shown in a positive light. Three young women, each one raised in their respective faith community in Jerusalem, tell the story of their faith from their perspective. The film then displays how these women’s lives (and also their entire communities) live so close yet connect so little. The movie closes with the three ladies, well, I won’t spoil it for you. You have to go see it yourself!
I love Jerusalem the city. The main reason is because it holds so much meaning in the story of my faith as a Christian. But I also love it for the architecture, archaeology, the various people groups, the cultures, the politics, the inescapable intense global issues, and the gorgeous scenery (might I say heavenly?).
Teaching Kids Godly Character at Home
Here is a great real-life example of a family in our church who is living out Deuteronomy 6:7 in their home (“Impress them [God’s commands] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”). Click on the link below to read about it:
Knife Juggling and the Bible
Tomorrow morning, the Scripture lesson for Godz Kidz at Commonwealth Chapel is going to be the same as what the adults will hear in the adult service – 2 Timothy 2:14-21. I’m going to focus in on verse 15, which says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Part of my juggling show (which I’ll show the kids tomorrow) is juggling knives. Now, a knife is an interesting object. It is sharp, deadly, and dangerous. At the same time, a knife is also useful, helpful, and life-saving. The Bible (which metaphorically refers to itself as a sword) is the same way. It can be used for harm or it can be used for good.
Many people wrongly judge others using Bible passages taken out of context. Many cultures throughout history have used the Bible to justify evil and hatred. On the same hand, the Bible, when properly handled (like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon) brings life, hope, peace, and justice to a world full of darkness and hatred.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about rightly handling the Word of Truth. That means reading it, studying it, interpreting it contextually, and asking the Spirit of God lead us in understanding it.
Lord, help us to properly understand your Word and always handle it in ways that bring the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to this world. Amen.
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