Thursday, October 27, 2005

Where is Jesus?

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?


Glen Robinson said...

Just a couple of questions if I may...

1. What is the real meaning of Jesus' ascension? Where did Jesus go? When I read this, I thought of Acts 3:19-21 (especially v.21 - "whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times.").

2. Can Jesus be embodied in other things beside humans. Where did transubstantiation come from, and why is the bread and cup considered the real presence of Jesus?

Tony Myles said...

Perhaps this is the question behind the question - is the nature of God confined into "either/or" categories?

Keith.Drury said...

I am interested in how the early church might have answered this question. I tend to think they'd go for #1 and explain the Holy Spirit be the "spirit of Christ" among us... is that right? Where is Bounds when I need him?

rob massie said...

John records Jesus as saying, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Will we be closer to him when he returns than we are today?

Paul said, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." It seems that Paul had a pretty good relationship with Christ, but he thought departing and being with Christ to be "far better".

I don't have a problem with saying Jesus is localized. After his resurrection he said, "does a Spirit have flesh and bone as you see that I have?" Scriptures like this cause me to question hypostases.

I don't have an issue with "splitting up the body and spirit of Jesus". We are able in a limited way as you stated to transcend our location; how much more the Son of God?

You have some very good posts. Thank you for taking the time to think about these things. Some of the thoughts you've recorded make some people nervous.