Agapeo – to love as God loves
“A new commandment I give to you [a plural “you” in Greek], that you [plural] love [agapate] one another even as I have loved you, that you also love [agapate] one another.(John 13:34)
We have had many millennia to illustrate what the “old” human does. Human creativity can be stunningly beautiful and incredibly ingenious. Humans are astounding creatures – inventive, perceptive, and immensely creative. It is very hard to account for all this from an evolutionary perspective. Clearly, humans hold a special position within the Cosmos which is hardly relevant to the generally accepted laws governing the rise and survival of species.
Certainly, survival of the fittest seems to apply to the rise of humans to the apex of the natural world. In that wider sense, so does natural selection. But on that crude scale, what survival value does the ethereal, aesthetic creation of a Michelangelo or an Aristotle or a Siddhartha Gautama have? These sublime expressions of the best of the human spirit set us as a species apart from Gorillas, Orangutans, Dolphins, and Crows (probably the most intelligent species of bird-kind). But what is their intrinsic “survival value” or natural selective power?
They point to another dimension above and beyond the merely “natural and material”. They are no mere expression of vitality for survival and domination. They are sign-posts to a realm of infinite potential and a yearning for the sublime. They are the echoes of longing for some other, greater, culminating fulfillment transcending the merely physical like a wistful ghost of a lost memory – of “Paradise Lost” as John Milton put it.
Two millennia ago a unique individual human who epitomized all of this lived in Palestine. He had a common enough name – Yeshua. He came from a tiny place called Natzeret in Galilee. He was not born a prince or a noble into a wealthy, prestigious clan. He did not become a learned sage of the intelligentsia and establish an Academy or University to inculcate and spread his ideas like a great Greek intellectual. He did not compose treatises and set down esoteric propositions about the ideal society or life-style. He did not author any great works of literature or execute any artistic masterpiece. He did not engender a great political movement or gather a crushing military force to impose his vision for a new world under his own sovereignty. [This last notion was what many of his Jewish contemporaries were awaiting from a great new leader.]
Instead, he was born among the humblest of the humble in the most obscure circumstances imaginable. Yet he would become the most controversial and truly radical person to have ever lived.
Even his birth bordered on the scandalous with his mother pregnant before marriage. He grew up in a village of no consequence either historically (till then) or in the register of first-Century localities. His country was occupied by the most fearsome military machine of all time, with no earthly prospect of breaking free. He became a carpenter like his adoptive father. His education was what any Jewish lad then had – the rudiments of literacy in Hebrew in order to read the scrolls in synagogue. By all reckoning, he should have been an historical nobody, like 99.9% of everyone who has ever lived.
Instead, he became the most remarkable human in history. Yet this was not by conquering great dominions and building huge monuments to his own fame, as so many have done hoping to achieve a sort of pseudo-immortality. Nor was it by precipitating a revolution to overthrow the oppressors and institute a regime which, like so many others, would in time become oppressive in its own right. Since then, others have used his name to do just that sort of thing, although it is completely contrary to his own principles. (“Those who live by the sword die by the sword,” he told his followers at the moment of supreme crisis in his own life.)
Neither did he go about winning a name in philosophy and erudition to inspire others to study and ponder on his legacy of ideas and concepts – although certainly the by-products of his work include an enormous amount of that kind of material. Nor did he give us a body of stunning architectural and artistic marvels to be admired and emulated for ages to come – although others have given us that as they have striven to honor him.
Finally, and perhaps most baffling of all in the light of what received wisdom has so often attributed to him, he did not set up a religious system and establishment to replace previous ones in manipulating and cajoling people to bow and scrape in fear of the wrath of God, and, in his name, the humans who run the system. This last point is an immense subject on its own, one to which we cannot do any justice here.
We could carry on this litany for a very long time.
Instead of all this, Yeshua, the First-Century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth in Galilee, went completely “countercultural”. He challenged the most cherished aspects of the tradition and interpretation of “the Elders” and “Fathers” of his nation and the religious system. He made an end-run around the political powers and principalities, Jewish and Roman, by refusing to engage them on the grounds of nationalism, patriotism, manifest destiny and imperial ideology. His very message nevertheless challenged them at their very roots.
He spoke to “ordinary folks” about their ordinary lives and dilemmas and afflictions. He went straight to the heart of the human condition in all its pain and brokenness, its simple joys and sorrows. He directly addressed the alienation of every individual who is born from their Creator, from one another, from themselves, and from the creation. He showed them, by example before ever telling them, that the only exit from all of this complex of interwoven brokenness and fragmentation of reality, both physical and spiritual, personal and collective, whicht is found everywhere and in everything, was by “rebirth” into the Kingdom of God.
He embodied and enacted what he said – reconciliation with the Creator by being willing to put to death all the old “solutions”, which are all really manifestations of the delusion of the godhead of self. He showed and taught that keeping rules, subjecting oneself to personal discipline, and performing rites cannot bridge the great gap between us and the Creator. (However, he did say such things were never of value. He himself demonstrated them in proper order and place.)
Neither can chasing and even attaining all the perks of wealth, power, fame, and prestige “justify us”. The person who chases all these things remains just as broken in soul, mind, and spirit at the end as they were at the beginning of their quest. As he said repeatedly to those who came to hear him, “Let those who have eyes to see, see; let those who have ears to hear, hear.”
But he had no illusions that the majority would give up their “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life”, as one of his best friends later expressed it. The allure of the mirage is very great.
Only rebirth from above can break the cycle of bondage and open the heart to the spirit of Adonai, the Creator. Only the Creator’s Spirit, the Spirit of agape, entering the broken human spirit can break it. And how that happens is a mystery which, ultimately, we cannot penetrate. He said, “Many are called but few are chosen,” but he also promised, “Seek and you will find; ask and you will receive, knock and it shall be opened to you.” For Adonai, the Father, will “in no way cast out those that come to him” with “a broken spirit and a humble heart.”
As the supreme statement of rebirth, Yeshua died on a Roman cross, betrayed to the oppressors by his own people. But he did not stay dead. He was resurrected in his body, rendered incorruptible and immortal, by Adonai as the Creator’s final word of reconciliation and rebirth to a desperate world entrapped in its own hubris. He lives now to offer and give rebirth to everyone who comes to Adonai through him.
Rebirth is open to anyone. It is not exclusive, but it is not won by personal application as in some sort of self-flagellation, or by diligent study and cogitation of texts. It is there for the asking. “Any who come to me I will certainly not reject,” he says.
Rebirth is much more than an once-in-a-lifetime transaction. It is far more than a “slam-dunk” and move on sort of thing, as it has sometimes been very poorly portrayed in popular presentation and theological misconstruction. It is not a formula to be recited and dated like some sort of spiritual contract with God. It is God’s doing in response to a human cry of the heart and soul to have the “old human” die and the “new human” be brought forth.
Finally, it is the transition from spiritual death and slavery to spiritual life and freedom – freedom to become all that we were originally intended to be by the Creator. It is something that is to be grown into. Just as we grow up in the flesh, we grow up as a child of God. It’s a “rest of our lives” journey here on earth as those who have received it learn to live it now. It is the final resurrection in the New Heaven and New Earth which Adonai has promised and his Son Yeshua will bring into being in its fullness “when the times are fulfilled.”
“… the creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans in the pains of childbirth together until now…. we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption as sons [and daughters], the redemption of our body.” (Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:21-23)
(THIS CONCLUDES THE SERIES ON “WHEN EVIL COMES” AND THE SUBSERIES “REBIRTH”)