Don’t be more spiritual than God

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In the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, Christ gives his church 6 petitions to pray. The first 3 are rather lofty petitions: “Hallowed be your name”, “Your kingdom done”, “Your will be done” (Mt 6:9-10). They are, as we might expect, prayers exalting the name and kingdom of God. This is, after all the purpose of the Christian: to exalt God’s name, to spread his kingdom, to focus on God!

However, after these petitions are commanded, Jesus leaves the focus off of God, and gives three more petitions to  pray for ourselves: “Give us…”, “Forgive us…”, “Lead us not…”. This first petition especially is focused on one’s physical needs: “Give us this day our daily bread” (6:11). What a simple prayer: God, provide what I need! It’s focus almost seems selfish! 

However, in this simple prayer for bread, Jesus teaches us something rather important: namely, that God isn’t too spiritual to care about the physical, tangible, real things in our lives; God really cares about it all. He acknowledges and wants to provide your every need!

Frederick Bruner brings in further insight on this verse:

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that it is not selfish to pray about physical, social, and personal needs. It is in fact Jesus’ command that we pray for these things…

The prayer for bread in this petition should be allowed to remain, first of all, a prayer for bread. At times in the church’s exposition this bread has been turned into spiritual bread (cf…Augustine…and Jerome, who believe that here we are praying especially for him who says, “I am the living Bread”). It is possible to be more spiritual than God. Why would Jesus who fed the five thousand not want us to pray for the feeding of our six billion? And while Jesus says that man does not live by bread alone, he is too realistic to say that man does not live by bread at all. We may pray, certainly, for spiritual bread, but here…we pray first for physical bread for physical people. (Christbook 1, 305-306)

I have heard from other commentators as well, that this petition is primarily for the “super-substantial” bread (from the Latin Vulgate translation), the Lord’s Supper. And while the Lord’s Supper is important, Bruner is quite right to highlight the fact that our Lord cares about the physical bread, and the physical people! He doesn’t just care about the spiritual.

It is important that we not be so spiritual that we miss the emphasis here: God cares about your paycheck. He cares about your children. He cares about your house. He cares about your physical state. And he wants to provide for you, if only you ask!

Don’t be more spiritual than God!

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The Incarnation and the Physical

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One of the most central doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the incarnation. The claim that God the Son not only came into our world, but united himself with our world. The claim that God not only revealed himself to us, as he had already done in the OT, but that God became one of us. That God became truly human. That he came here physically. That he was born of a woman (Gal 4:4), that he lived and breathed, that he worked, that he walked and talked, that he ate and drank, that he slept, that God was truly human in every sense of the word.

The incarnation tells us that God not only came into our physical universe, but put on the physical. That he put on flesh. 

But what is so important about this fact? What is so important about God becoming truly man, being physical and material? Certainly the realness of Jesus’ humanity was important to the cross. Jesus had to literally (not spiritually) die and rise for our salvation. Had he not truly died, then we would not be saved. And had he not truly risen, we would have no hope.

But is the significance of the incarnation limited only to salvation? I would answer “no”. In fact, I would say that the incarnation speaks volumes about who God is and what he cares about. Let me explain.

I think that incarnation says something very important about God’s attitude toward the physical; toward the material. Namely, that God loves his material creation; that he thinks it “is good”; that his interest in our universe isn’t simply to get us out, or to remove us from the world. God doesn’t want to “rapture” us out of the world, in other words.

Actually, what the incarnation explains is that God wants to come into this world, not to get us out of it, but to transform it into a dwelling place for himself and for his creation. The reality of the incarnation tells us that God and the physical aren’t enemies, and that the great goal of God is that he would dwell on the earth, with his people.

In other words, the very reality that Jesus is the God-man, tells us that God has created the physical universe as a home for both him and man. He created the cosmos, that “the dwelling place of God…[would be] with man” (Rev 21:3). And so the incarnation tells us that the physical is inherently “good”, and that God doesn’t desire to remove us from it, but to enhance and beautify it! It tells us that God doesn’t want to do away with our physical bodies, but he wants to glorify them.

In short, God loves material, and we should too! That, is the beauty of the incarnation; the beauty of the God-man.

Theologian Robert Barron has much to add to this thought. He sees the incarnation as the central tenet of Christianity. Barron says this about the incarnation:

The incarnation tells central truths about God and us. If God became human without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature that he became, God must not be a competitor with his creation… God… enters into our creation, [and] the world is thereby enhanced and elevated. The God capable of the incarnation is not a competitive supreme being but rather, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the sheer act of being itself, that which grounds and sustains all of creation, the way a singer sustains a song.

And the incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Dues (God became human so that humans might become God). God condescended to enter into flesh that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion. And this is why Christianity is the greatest humanism that has ever appeared, indeed that could ever appear.

God became a man, that his entire creation might be redeemed. This is the truth of the incarnation: that God cares about his creation, and means to bring us into the “divine life”.