A friend of mine was babysitting and asked the kid "Have you asked Jesus into your heart?" He promptly replied, "Yes!" After a pause, the kid got a puzzled look on his face and asked, "Who lives in my ear?"
Although amusing, the innocent literalism of this child challenges our linguistic habits. What do we mean when we say that Jesus lives within us? Do we really take this seriously? And if we do, what happens to our belief that Jesus was raised from the dead? How can an embodied person be present in us?
This puzzle first hit me a few years back, but I have yet to "solve" it. However, I do have a better sense of the options and what is at stake than I used to. So here goes a crash course in the debate surrounding the bodily presence of Jesus.
Either: Jesus is in heaven
After Jesus was raised in bodily form, he ascended to the right hand of God the father, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. Thus Jesus' body is locally present at the right hand of the Father. He has "ascended to the heavenlies." Jesus can be said to be present in us only in the form of his Spirit. Any presence between the believer and Christ is to be understood spiritually. We will only be bodily present to one another at the end of time when he returns.
The advantage of this view is that it holds on dearly to the genuine bodily resurrection of Christ. It also gives a significant place to the Holy Spirit in the relationship between Christ and the Christian. The disadvantage of this view is that Jesus' body appears to be "trapped" in heaven. He lacks the freedom proper to his divinity. He is present only in Spirit, but is that a genuine presence? Is that any different than me being "present" to my friends in California because they are thinking about me? Furthermore, this view merely begs another question: Where is heaven? Is heaven in outer space, tucked behind Saturn? Is heaven even a place at all?
Or: Jesus is everywhere
The alternative view is that Jesus' raised body takes on the properties of divinity, and thus is capable of being omnipresent. Jesus in his glorified form can be bodily present beyond the usual boundaries of space. Thus Jesus really is present to us and in us. This is certainly a mystery, but it is a mystery based on a promise: "lo I will be with you to the very end of the age" and "wherever two or three are gathered, there I will be in the midst of them." So the right hand of God the Father is not some place, but a symbol of the divine power by which Jesus is present.
The advantage of this view is that it can take with radical seriousness the biblical claims to Christ's presence with the believer. It also avoids splitting up the body and spirit of Jesus. The disadvantage is that an omnipresent body is an unthinkable thought. What makes a body a body is that it is bounded by space. A body that is everywhere ceases to be a body. Furthermore, one wonders how the Holy Spirit fits into this equation. Why did Jesus ascend and pour out his Spirit if he is already omnipresent by virtue of his resurrection? On this view, the cosmic narrative of Jesus falls into redundancy.
What do you think?
Is Jesus localized in heaven?
Or is Jesus everywhere?
Which view's advantages outweigh its disadvantages?
Can one view assimilate the concerns of the other?
Is there a third view?
Should the question be reframed? For instance, are these views rigidly spatial and so need to be supplemented by temporal questions?
What else should be taken into account?