You Can Be Complete in Christ

Afternoon Vista-By Marcello Newall

Afternoon Vista-By Marcello Newall

You Can Be Complete in Christ

By Marcello Newall

1. The Deepest Darkness

In a truly horrendous nightmare, Jean Paul,[1] he himself a Christian, imagines what a world without God would be like:

‘Christ went on: “I traversed the worlds, I ascended into the suns, and soared with the Milky Ways through the wastes of heaven; but there is no God. I descended to the last reaches of the shadows of Being, and I looked into the chasm and cried: ‘Father, where art thou?’ But I heard only the eternal storm ruled by none, and the shimmering rainbow of essence stood without sun to create it, trickling above the abyss. And when I raised my eyes to the boundless world for the divine eye, it stared at me from an empty bottomless socket; and Eternity lay on Chaos and gnawed it and ruminated itself. –Shriek on, discords, rend the shadows; for He is not!” The pallid shadows dispersed just as a white vapour formed by the frost will melt in a warm breath; and all became void. Then came into the temple a heartrending sight, the dead children who had wakened in the churchyard, and now cast themselves before the sublime form on the altar saying: “Jesus! have we no father?” –And he replied with streaming tears: “We are all orphans, I and you, we are without a father.”‘[2]

In this sense the present state of the animal kingdom can be seen simply as the projection of the inner brokenness that pervades every human soul. We can say that a human being will manifest in his natural environment and his relation to animals the degree of peace that he himself possesses within himself/herself. If anything else the animal welfare/rights movement recognizes the fragmentation present in our relationship to animals and in creation and seeks to address it. One of the most curious aspects of this movement is that, even though it is often dressed with a secular ideology, it clearly reflects a spiritual longing and its ultimate fulfillment can only be attained through a spiritual transformation i.e. the coming of the kingdom of God. Like all secular movements derived from a messianic matrix and expectation, praiseworthy as they may be, the secular animal rights movement is limited in that it cannot in any way guarantee its own final goal and purpose: peace within creation and the individual’s place within it.

2. Already but Not yet

According to biblical history we are currently living in the interval between the First and Second coming, Parousia in Greek, of Christ. In many ways this is a very particular period in time, perhaps in no other phase has there been such a strong contrast between what theologians have termed the already but not yet. We see that on the Cross Jesus proclaimed that ‘it is finished’[3] meaning the work of redemption, including full redemption of creation and animals, has been accomplished, yet we don’t see its full realization in the world around us. For those interested in the treatment of animals this tension seems to be exacerbated: the tension of living in a broken creation and the longing for its restoration. In this sense animal welfarists, like all eschatological witnesses, are in fact a sign and manifestation of the coming world. In many ways this present parenthesis in the human narrative is both fantastic and absurd: fantastic in that we can taste, albeit dimly, our future and yet absurd in all its dramatic cruelty and brokenness. Ultimately the Christian animal activist’s expectations will find their complete fulfilment only in the next world, theirs is truly a life of hope awaiting the vindication of God’s promise: ‘All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth’.[4]

  1. Finding my Place in this World

And yet the human experience is one lived as an individual: we ultimately relate to God, others and the natural world around us as individuals. We all ask ourselves ‘what’s my place in all this?’. Unlike many Eastern religions, in which the human personality ultimately is fused into the deity losing forever all its distinctiveness, Scripture teaches that our individuality is preserved in salvation. As individuals if we want to know God we have to encounter God. And if we want to encounter God we have to encounter him personally. The Jewish existentialist philosopher Martin Buber underlined that all genuine relationships are based on the meeting or encountering of others in what he called ‘I Thou’ experiences.[5] For Buber the ultimate ‘I Thou’ encounter was no other than that with God himself: in many ways Buber’s philosophy was so similar to Christian theology that many accused him of being a nicodemite, a Christian in secret. What Scripture teaches us is that each individual must encounter Christ for himself/herself personally: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest for your souls’. In fact it is this concrete personal encounter with God in Christ that creates a framework of expectation and hope for each individual believer. When Paul testified to the meaning of his life in his final letter, 2 Timothy, he declared that he knew in «whom» he had believed: far from a series of ideas or creeds Paul’s faith was rooted in a personal encounter with Christ, who was the source of his hope.

In his letter to the Colossians Paul fought against various philosophies that promised completeness to their followers through mysticism, legalism, asceticism or a mixture of the three. Paul responded with the words «you are complete in Christ».[6]

While we live in this broken world we can be bearers of God’s peace and ‘perfection’, whereas as animal welfarists if we seek ‘completeness’ outside of Christ we risk to be vulnerable to continual frustration and despair and we will find that even our best efforts are insufficient. In final analysis for the human being to truly be complete he must experience in his own life God’s love, which surpasses all understanding:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.[7]

  1. In the Lord I take refuge.

 ‘I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night,

nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.’[8]

Reading through the Psalms we see a recurring theme expressed also in other parts of the Bible, namely that true security and safety are found only in the Lord himself, hence the idea of taking ‘refuge’ in him. The psalmist often describes situations of extreme need and distress and the peace and rest he finds in God himself. In the same way our only safe haven from the violence and cruelty in creation is actually Christ himself, personally received and whose Presence accompanies us daily. Likewise David and the psalmists invoke God’s salvation from violent and bloodthirsty men who are persecuting them: ‘deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men’,[9] and ‘Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers; protect me from the violent’.[10]

5.  You can be complete in Christ

In a world of chilling brokenness, despair and cruelty we can find personal peace and completeness in Christ knowing that after this present darkness there will be the hope of a resurrection morning.

[1]Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, was an 18th century German writer/philosopher.

[2] “Speech of the Dead Christ from the Universe that There Is No God” (1796), Siebenkas.

[3] John 19:30.

[4] Hebrews 11:13.

[5] Ich und Du, “I Thou”, Martin Buber 1923.

[6] Colossians 2:10.

[7] Ephesians 3:16-19.

[8] Psalm 91:2-8.

[9] Psalm 59:2.

[10] Psalm 140:1.

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4 Responses to You Can Be Complete in Christ

  1. Roslyne says:

    A really interesting and wonderfully uplifting post Marcello! I like especially where you say, “our only safe haven from the violence and cruelty in creation is actually Christ himself, personally received and whose Presence accompanies us daily”. So true – thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ben DeVries says:

    Very well said, Marcello.

    Liked by 1 person

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