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Daniel Gorman, regarding my last post, stated that:
"You list "immutability" as an attribute of God; however, you do not list "mutability" as an attribute of man. The attributes you do list are all affected by man's essential mutability. For example, immortality is not an essential attribute of man. However, in his essential mutability, mortal man puts on immortality (1 Cor. 15:52, 53)."
He is right. The most important attribute of man is his mutability. If man were incapable of being changed, then there would be no hope for him. We, by nature, are dead in our trespasses in sin, and, if we were to remain that way would suffer in everlasting perdition. But thanks be to Christ, God has had mercy on us, and given us His Son's righteousness. As a result of this, we now have life in Him. Besides God's mercy and the Work of Christ on His cross, the only way any of this is possible is due to the fact that man's nature is capable of being changed from something dead to something alive by God's hands.
All this reminded me of something I read recently. The subject was regarding "Christian Alchemy", and the book was by John Warwick Montgomery; Principalities and Powers: A New Look At the World of the Occult. If you are interested on the history and subject of Christian Alchemy, then give what follows a read.
This passage comes from the 4th chapter titled, "The Stars and the Hermetic Tradition", under the subheading, "Alchemy: Gold From Dross":
Whether or not all such accounts represent reality, alchemy had another, and considerably more important side: spiritual transmutation, the search for a means by which the dross of one's base nature could be transformed into the gold of spiritual purity. Exceedingly important studies of this largely neglected aspect of the alchemical tradition have been made by religious phenomenologist Mircea Eliade and by analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. They have observed that the laboratory operations of the alchemist served as a "physical liturgy" - a ritual whereby the adept searched for the means to overcome the disjunction in himself (expressed as the opposing principles of "Sulphur" and "Mercury"). The discovery of the Stone of the Philosophers (often significantly termed the Elixir of Life or the Universal Medicine) would arise on the basis of the "conjunction of opposites" in the personality (symbolized by the alchemical marriage of Sulphur and Mercury). Thus would the alchemist achieve what Jung called "individuation": personal wholeness, salvation. Physical or metallic transmutation interlocked with this because of the fundamental hermetic belief that a "cosmic unity" embraced both the Macrocosm (nature) and the Microcosm (man). The Philosopher's Stone would therefore not only accelerate the organic and natural transformation of base metals into more "noble" elements but would also serve as the means to personal salvation and eternal life.
The redemptive side of alchemy was capable--as is anything related to human salvation--of two approaches, charachterized in Christian theology as "works-righteousness" and "salvation by grace through faith." Works-righteousness refers to any and all activities on the part of fallen man to save himself through self-effort; such attempts are doomed to failure because sin, like water, cannot rise above its own level, and the very activity of trying to save oneself is evidence that the sinner refuses to admit the extent of his self-centeredness. Salvation by God's grace, appropriated by faith, is the only way to life, for to rely on God is to see the true extent of one's own sinful incapacity and to go to the one pure source of lifegiving medicine. Alchemy outside the Christian tradition, and the Gnostic, "nature-philosophy" hermeticism of Renaissance Paracelsians and modern esoteric alchemists, is most definitely a variation on the theme of works-righteousness. By self-motivated religio-chemical technique, the adept harmonized the contraries within him, produced the Philospher's Stone, and transmutated his own existence to higher, more spiritual plane. Goethe's Faust is a characteristic example of the esoteric alchemist who by trying to save his own life ends up in a genuine devil's pact.
There were also, however, many Christian alchemists, who, losing their lives for Christ's sake saved them. Particularly in the epoch of the Protestant Reformation (the 16th and 17th centuries were the high point of alchemical activity in western history), alchemists imbued with Luther's central conviction that the just shall live by faith employed alchemical operations as a liturgy of biblical salvation. The Philosopher's Stone became "the Stone that the builders rejected": Christ Himself, who alone could achieve the conjunction of opposites in the individual soul and in the cosmos (the "chemical marriage" of Sulphur and Mercury displayed the Marriage Supper of the Lamb). Reformation alchemists produced outstanding works interrelating hermetic symbolism and Scriptural truth (e.g. Heinrich Khunrath's Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae of 1609, and the many writings of Michael Maier), and some of them, such as Libavius, contributed mightily to the development of today's chemistry.
Did "spiritual transmutation" work? The common rationalistic approach to the question is first of all to demythologize physical alchemy (metallic transmutations were merely "symbolic" of inner, existential transformation) and then to dispense with the spiritual claims of alchemists as subjective will-to-believe. This line of interpretation directly parallels the negatively critical approach to the Bible which first demythologizes the texts by eliminating their historical claims and then subjectivizes their message. But not all cases even of physical transmutation can be easily dismissed, as we have already noted. Where spiritual alchemy is concerned, Carl Gustav Jung made the striking discovery that the fundamental symbols and motifs employed by the old alchemists also appear in the dream life of the modern businessman! These common--indeed, universal--"symbols of transformation" represent what Jung calls archetypes of the collective unconscious: symbolic patterns describing every man's need to have his broken soul mended.
Thus the alchemists were engaged in a real--not a mythical or individual-subjective--quest. Did they find an answer? We know that the Christian alchemists did, for Christ was their Philosopher's Stone, and His historical resurrection from the dead establishes the veracity of His promise that "because I live, you shall live also" (Jn. 14:19) As for the esoteric alchemists who sought (and continue to seek, for many still exist, especially in France) a salvation that can be drawn from within themselves or achieved by technique, they too "have their reward" (Mt. 6:2, 5, 16). It would be fruitless to deny their claims to special spiritual experience. But salvation can be counterfeited, for the Evil One is "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). The quest of the true Philosopher's Stone is dangerous: "whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Lk. 20:18). A broken and contrite heart will not be despised, and the path to salvation goes in that direction; while the arrogance and false security of self-salvation have no other end than the crushing weight of a millstone.
(Montgomery, John Warwick; Principalities and Powers; pgs. 101-104, Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1973)
Anybody who reads my blog should have ascertained by this point that my regard for natural, unaided human reason as it relates to theological knowledge is not very high. So, indulge me in a little thought experiment to show you why.
Jesus is “Theanthropos”, meaning, both God and man. Plain and simple. (Well, maybe not so simple.)
Now, some attributes of God are (but are not limited to):
The attributes of man are (but are not limited to):
- Immortal, yet Earthly finite
- Comprehensible, yet not entirely comprehensible
- Potent, yet under authority
- Knowledgeable, yet ignorant without limit
- Fixed in space-time
- Ruled by greater power
- Largely unjust
- Mostly self-loving
Here the line is marked between man and God as regarding some of their respective attributes. Now, I wouldn't say that the attributes of man are exactly antithetical to Gods, they're not; however, they are antithetical in this one aspect: God is unlimited, and man is limited to an almost infinite degree!
These are two truths that can never be confounded, for to confound them, to confuse them in any way would cause a contradiction in terms. All that the word “God” conveys would be emptied of any clear meaning if God was found to be limited in some way. Likewise, all that the word “Man” conveys would be emptied of any clear meaning if man were found to be unlimited in some way.
What I have said here is very logical, in that, logic's “law of contradiction” is preserved by not confusing the terms “limited” and “unlimited.” If they were confused, this would break logic's “law of identity” by muddling the definitions of each with the other. In order for our minds to work properly, these two laws must always be immutable, for if they were mutable in some way, then we couldn't make sense of anything we observe, nor would we ever be able to effectively communicate our knowledge gained by observing.
Therefore, we ought to reject anything that violates these laws (at least says the reason of man).
Aha, now we have it! We can go merrily on our way knowing that are knowledge of God and man is secure, logical, and true. Nothing to worry about. That is, until you read this scripture in Luke 2:52, it says:
...Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
For Jesus to increase in wisdom and stature would imply that these were things not with Him from the beginning.
Wait a second....what? I thought Jesus was God? Should we then reject Him?
It is true that He is one-hundred percent God, and yet one-hundred percent man. How that can be is beyond me, but, when we are exposed to something which affords us no insight, such as the incarnation of Christ, we are to rest our reason with God's Word, just as Jesus emptied His glory while Emmanuel (God with us). For, as it says in Phillipians 2:5-7:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
So it is that Jesus was a child once created in the "likeness of men", helpless and defenseless, at least by the sight of human eyes and man's fallen reason. Yet Jesus, in His lifetime, expressed fondness for children. His fondness, however, was not anything we might think fond about children. In two instances He said:
in Mark 10:14-16:
But when Jesus saw it [i.e. his disciples withholding children from Christ's presence], he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
and in Matthew 18:6:
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
The verse in Matthew is rather harsh, but shows his deeply held convictions regarding children. We look at children and admire them for their cuteness, their naivety about the world, etc., but to admire them for their ignorance is something else entirely.
This means there is something beautiful in the ignorance of man. Not that ignorance in itself is beautiful, it's not, but the fact that ignorance is something supposed to be beautiful and it's not, exposes a problem within ourselves.
When I speak of ignorance, I am not speaking of it in the sense of someone being belligerently profane. No, I speak of ignorance in the sense of someone being profanely humble. Not that being ignorantly humble in and of itself is profane, but if the world is given the choice between power and humility, power seems to win out more, whereas ignorance is used as an invective against somebody considered to be stupid; weak; inferior. And, where something is used as an invective, it intentionally betrays the insultor as someone who has the fear of being considered ignorant.
In other words, the secular world considers humility, that is in relation to ignorance, as something offensive to it's sensibilities. So much so that the westernized nations pride themselves on the strength of their public education system. A system designed to liberate children from the oppression of ignorance.
So here we have two contrasting views of children. The one of Christ, and the other, the worlds. Why are they so drastically different?
It would have to do with the differences in ignorance as regarding what sphere, would it not? That would be the right question. Of course our reason is a gift from God, and should be used as an end unto itself in all Earthly matters. In this sense the western educational ideal, i.e. a liberal education, is of great importance. However, when applied to the sphere of things spiritual it must restrain it's liberality, and be bound to the Word of God. This is the import of what Luther always tried to convey in many of his writings, in that reason is used within two spheres: the magisterial and ministerial use.
The magisterial use of reason applies to the goings on in this world. So, if you are trying to balance your checkbook, if your trying solve a math problem, or trying to discover the Higgs-Boson particle at CERN Switzerland, all these things require the use of reason as a guiding light in an otherwise dark world.
However, the ministerial use of reason applies to the goings on in the Bible. Not that all reason is surrendered to sacred Scripture, i.e. reason can't be used at all, but that its worldly authority should not predicate dominance over God's Word. So, when reason is in relation to God's Word it surrenders all authority over to the Bible. Reason in this sense is bound, tethered to the good Book as it were.
So, when we look at God, it is hard to not to think of Him as being anything but powerful. His power would be displayed in His "God-like" attributes, such as: omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, etc., and humility would be the last thing we'd expect to find. But so it is with Christ, the living paradox. Two antithetical truths in tension in one person. God's sovereignty and God's humility are bound, but not confounded in the person of Christ. The finite contains the infinite. The eternal bound by space-time and eventual death. The unlimited bound by the limited.
Who can understand it?
Relax, we're not supposed to. We are to let God's foolishness be wiser than man's wisdom, to let God be true and every man a liar. So, in that spirit, let's embrace the little Christ Child in infantile faith and be fools together in the riches of God's Kingdom. Let the world scoff us, but pray that one day those who are not forgiven in Christ will find the atonement He has won for them on His cross and join our merry gang of fools.
Of old thou hast laid the foundation of the earth : and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed : but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
May we rejoice, that, while men "die, the Lord liveth; that, while all creatures are found broken reeds and broken cisterns, he is the rock of ages, and the fountain of living waters. Oh that we may turn away our hearts from vanity, and, among all the dissatisfactions and uncertainties of the present state, look after an interest in that everlasting covenant which is ordered in all things and sure.
We thank thee that thou hast revealed to us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. In his name we come. Oh receive us graciously. Justify us freely from all things. Renew us in the spirit of our minds, and bless us with all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.
Suffer us not to neglect the claims of eternity in the pursuit of the trifles of time; but, knowing how frail we are, may we be wise to choose that good part which shall not be taken away from us. May thoughts of death and eternity so impress our minds, as to put seriousness into our prayers and vigor into our resolutions; may they loosen us from an undue attachment to things seen and temporal; so that we may weep as though we wept not, and rejoice as though we rejoiced not.
Remembering that the present life—so short, so uncertain, and so much of which is already vanished— is the only opportunity we shall ever have for usefulness, may we be concerned to redeem the time. ' May we be alive and awake at every call of charity and piety. May we feed the hungry and clothe the naked; may we instruct the ignorant, reclaim the vicious, forgive the offending, diffuse the gospel.
As we have entered on a new period of life, may we faithfully examine ourselves, to see what has been amiss in our former temper or conduct; and in thy strength may we resolve to correct it.
Prepare us for all the duties of the ensuing year. All the wisdom and strength necessary for the performance of them must come from thyself: may we therefore live a life of self-distrust and of prayer; may we ask and receive, that our joy be full; may we live in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit.
If we are indulged with prosperity, let not our prosperity destroy us or injure us. If our relative comforts are continued to us, may we love them without idolatry, and hold them at thy disposal; and if they are taken from us, may we be enabled to say, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Fit us for all events. Nothing can befall us by chance. - Thou hast been thus far our helper; thou hast engaged to make all things work together for our good; all thy ways are mercy and truth. May we therefore be careful for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, may we make known our requests unto God; and may the peace of God, that passeth all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Bless, oh bless the young! May each of them, this day, hear thee saying, My son, give me thy heart; and from this day may they cry unto thee as the guide of their youth. Regard those who have reached the years wherein they say, We have no pleasure in them. If old in sin, may they be urged to embrace, before it be forever too late, the things that belong to their peace; and if old in grace, uphold them with thy free Spirit, and help them to remember that now is their salvation nearer than when they believed.
Bless all the dear connections attached to us by nature, friendship, or religion. Grace be to them, and peace be multiplied.
Let our country share thy protection and smiles. Bless all our rulers and magistrates.
Bless all our churches and congregations. Bless all thy ministers; may thine ordinances in their hands be enlivening and refreshing, and thy word effectual to wound and to heal.
May this be a year remarkable for the conversion of souls and the extension of the gospel. Bless all missionary societies; and let the circling months see the banner of the Redeemer carried forward, till all nations are subdued to the obedience of faith. And to thee shall be all glory forever. Amen.
(Lutheran Prayer Book, Benjamin Kurtz, 1860)