Christianity 201

December 15, 2010

What Does Spiritual Maturity Look Like?

The following are some very small excerpts from a much larger piece posted today at Christianity Today under the title Welcoming Limits.   If you have the time, I would urge you to read the entire piece by David L. Goetz, author of Death by Suburb (HarperOne) and the president of CZ Strategy, a marketing consulting firm in Wheaton, Illinois.

One of the more arcane theological concepts—the kenosis of Christ—has taken on new meaning for me as I walk through the valley of the shadow of midlife. Kenosis (“emptying”) is the theological attempt to explain what happened at Christmas, when God became a human in the person of Jesus. The word comes from the Greek for self-emptying, which Paul uses in a crucial passage in his letter to the Philippians: “Though [Christ] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave ….” (2:6-7, NLT). What Christ volunteered to do models a different kind of spiritual growth as I involuntarily come to terms with the limits of my own story.

These accumulating “limits,” as Franciscan Richard Rohr has described them, enable me to grasp emotionally and actually what Christ experienced as a human. I have, of course, always been human. But I’ve experienced only a modicum of suffering, unlike my Christian brothers and sisters throughout much of the rest of the world. Suffering is not meted out evenhandedly in this life. In my darkest and most lonely moments, I can’t recall thinking much about the life to come. I don’t have to. I awaken most mornings with the naïve assurance that tomorrow will be better than today.

When God took the form of a human, he was confronted with our limits, though, granted, much different in degree and in kind from my petty psychological and physical ones. The cryptic expression that Christ “gave up his divine privileges” has raised numerous theological questions: Was Christ still all-knowing as he lived and suffered? Was he still knowingly and actually all-powerful, even as the whip tore up his back and as he hung on the cross?

Theologians have framed their debates in the context of Christ’s humility, a trait for which I have little imagination. Christ’s humility, though, is not like the demeanor of a passive lap dog. His humility originates in power, and that is an important starting point for someone like me, who has achieved a modicum of power and status in this life. His voluntary decision comprises both self-knowledge and self-restraint, modeling how I should submit to the limits of this life.

The ability to accurately assess how I’m doing spiritually doesn’t seem to come standard with the original equipment at conversion. I paid scant attention to this interior banter as a young man. I exhausted myself corralling the sins of the flesh (lust, ambition, and greed). I spent years absorbing all the information I could about the earthly expressions of faith: friendships, church, Bible study, mission trips, and other forms of Christian service—all important to establishing a beachhead on the shores of faith.

So much of my pursuit of God was conflated with my anxiety about significance…

These quotations are from pages two and three of a five page article.   I urge you to consider the whole piece and see if you resonate as I do with its insights.   Link here to read all of Welcoming Limits.

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