I read today a quotation emphasizing that Jesus has taken up residence in the human heart. I get it and I don’t think it’s wrong. The language of abiding in the gospel of John would indicate that Jesus continues to be present to his followers through a mutual indwelling. The problem, though, with the “Jesus in my heart” language is that we can internalize the saving work of God in the world. This turns salvation into a “Jesus and me” thing, and misses the larger social and material significance of the kingdom of God.
So, Jesus goes from being the marginal peasant who walked the dusty of roads of first century Palestine, embodying the kingdom of God, proclaiming a way of non-violence, creating new social arrangements by welcoming the unclean and sinners and tax collectors, providing space for women and children in the welcome of God, to living in the hearts of individuals. Jesus in the heart, in an age of expressive individualism, becomes a therapeutic presence, inspiring peace and tranquility, and personal, moral improvement. These are hardly things to put anyone to death over.
I guess if I were to play the other side, defend the “Jesus in my heart” expression of much of contemporary Christianity, I would have so say that God’s plan is to make the world better one heart at a time. But then I would have to explain how this expression of Christianity carries little of the radical social and material nature of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. I think at many churches you’re more likely to hear a sermon extolling the virtues of personal responsibility than you are to hear one on sharing possessions or turning the other cheek.
While I think I have something of Jesus in my heart, I think it is more in keeping with the incarnation, with the life that Jesus actually lived in the world, to think of his continuing presence as being with the prisoner, the hungry, the naked, the abandoned, the overlooked, the refugee, the poor and marginal, all those excluded in other realms of significance and power.
I was asked by a student a few years ago why incarnation isn’t a bigger theological warrant in our program. That seemed to him to be a pretty big oversight for a program emphasizing God’s mission. But our program does emphasize incarnation plenty if what counts is the life Jesus actually lived and the kingdom he actually proclaimed.
I know this is a grumpy old man kind of post. I have mounted a blatantly obvious soapbox. I’m not asking anyone to ask Jesus to please vacate their heart. If he’s there, that’s great. What I’m trying to suggest is that Jesus’ actual, ongoing presence in the world is bigger than your heart. In fact, you might want to see if the Jesus in your heart looks like the one who continues to be present in the world.
Ok, next post will have less snark.
I truly do appreciate this understandable reaction within you, Mark, along with the sentiment you graciously express here. The me and my (personalJesus) perception/mentality is indeed prevalent amidst the religious landscape in our day, one may even say dominant.
I would only encourage you, brother, that the “Jesus in my heart” language so frequently employed from the pulpit and so commonly understood in religious conversation and discussion… doesn’t even come close to the realms of staggering revelation presented to us in the New Testament. Jesus often hints of these things in the gospels, and perhaps more subtly (yet more organically), reveals them to his disciples (and to us) through his manner of living/being/teaching, especially in the gospel of John. Yet these full orbed spiritual realities seem to have been uniquely been entrusted to Jesus’s specially chosen vessel of Paul. For him, the reality of the indwelling Christ…is… the revelation…of the mystery…hidden before time…now revealed. It was the bursting, driving, all consuming force of His ministry. One can sense Him often straining for words and vocabulary to somehow express the cosmic significance of this life shattering reality, hidden so long…now revealed…by God. He even went so far as to say the life he now lived in the flesh, by the faith of the Son of God…was no longer him, but Christ dwelling in Him….through whom He was crucified to this world system…and this world system to him. This is the same reality lived and expressed by Jesus in his earthly life and ministry…He who has seen me, has seen the Father, (through our mutual indwelling), As I live, because of the Father, so you shall live, because of me…(through mutual indwelling), and you will do…the works I do…
Me thinks we have terribly missed something here : )
Namely…a revelation of Jesus Christ…and only, upon this rock (a spiritual revelation of Him…in the fullness of our mutual indwelling), will He build together His called out ones, into the fullness of His incarnate presence on this planet.
All that to say, I appreciate the lament within your heart concerning the shallow waters of just a “Jesus and me “ understanding of the gospel, I just don’t believe the radical nature of the gospel is put in jeopardy by the revelation of an indwelling Christ, in truth, I believe it depends on it.
I am grateful of your stimulating thoughts, Mark,
Your brother in Him,