Eating God ?!

By Dr. Paul Zung

 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  John 6:53

 “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23

                                                                                                           Advent, 2023

Dear Reader,

The thoughts I want to share may seem foreign to how many of us understand faith in Jesus Christ, even difficult to digest.  However, my conviction is that they are essential, and I want to share them with you. At heart, some elements of the gospel message are given in categories of thought that differ from those we are familiar with in modern Western culture. Rather than an analytical and objective vocabulary that suits descriptions in a world of objects, scripture uses the language of interpersonal relationships and union. I want to show this to you by highlighting four critical scripture passages.

First, isn’t it interesting that the Isaiah’s Servant Song (Isa 42:6) says,

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,

 He does not say that the Servant will bring or announce the covenant but that he will be the covenant.

Next, we go to the discussion of Jesus with his disciples the night before the crucifixion. One of his disciples, Thomas, was perplexed concerning how they would follow Jesus when they did not know the way to his destination.  To this, Jesus answered with that stunning claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:5). What Thomas is expecting is for Jesus to show him how to get to the Father, but Jesus claims that he is the path.

Again, as we claim that Jesus’ work is to reconcile God and humankind, we usually think of this as something he accomplishes outside of himself. But scripture reveals him to be human in every way that we are human. At the same time, he is divine, just as the Father and the Spirit are divine. The reconciliation he brings, he brings within himself and in his person. If not for this, he cannot accomplish his work of reconciling man and God.[1]

And again, we usually say that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin or bore our sin, and that, of course, is true. However, the apostle Paul, the foremost author of the New Testament letters, goes so far as to say, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

What an astounding statement!  It is the sort of claim that if it were not found in the scriptures, you might suspect that I am heretical.  His identification with us in life was so all-embracing that he took upon himself all the vulnerability to the temptation that we face.[2]  In his atoning death, the curse upon sin was the very curse that rested on him – not just the consequences of sin as something he paid outside of himself. Rather, he drank down into himself the full consciousness, self-loathing, and judgment that are inseparable from rebellion against God.

Finally, Paul, writing to the Ephesians, explains that he does not just make peace between God and man, Jew and Gentile, between whom there were the most irreconcilable hostilities. Instead, he says,  “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, “ (Eph 2:14)

Do you see that scripture everywhere frames the atonement as the act that arises out of the identity of the Son of God and not just as a message about what he did, as we often think about it?  All that the Son does he does by way of embodiment.  As Karl Barth puts it: ‘He is, at the same time, the electing God and the elected Man.’ He does not just reconcile; he is the reconciliation- the oneness of God and man. He doesn’t just bring God’s word; he is the logos.   He does not just show the love of God.  He is the mercy, forgiveness, and love of God.

How does that make a difference to us?  Just this: most of the church has been held captive in trying to fulfill an obligation to please God by what we think, say, and do. It is impossible without an internal surrender and displacement of our identity by his. The work that God requires is to abandon ourselves in trust to the one he has sent. (John 6:29)  My work in counselling and spiritual direction has shown me repeatedly that most of us inside the church and most people outside the church think in terms of conformity to God’s expectations rather than transformation of identity. We can only do what he commands if we take him into ourselves.  What do I mean?

Let me put it this way:  If someone gives you a painting and you accept it, you hang it in your house. If it is a sweater, you wear it.  If the gift is food, you eat it.  But if the offer is to adopt you, then all you are is his, and all that is his becomes yours. (Rom 8:23, John 16:15) If another person is giving himself to you in marriage, you cannot receive the gift without a change in your own identity. –And a change in identity is the growing root of permanent and authentic change in real life–how we see him, others and ourselves, and how we live out his life in the world. What else could Christ mean by saying that Father and Son will make their home in us? In what other way can we possibly understand what Christ meant when he told us that we are lifeless unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood?

Christ is the gift unto complete union with God. He holds nothing of himself back. Then the only way we can receive him is to embrace him without holding anything of ourselves back–That’s the deal. To belong to him is to be cast into the red-hot fire of his holy love until we begin to glow.

Athanasius of Alexandria, the 4th-century defender of the doctrine of the Trinity, said, “The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of men might become the sons of God.”

Dear Reader, may Christ be born in you this Christmas.

Dr. Paul Zung is a Senior Dentist who has served the psychiatric and addictions population for over 35 years.  He has studied counselling and is interested in the intersection of psychology and spirituality.

[1] Torrance, Thomas F. Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ. Edited by Robert T. Walker. Milton Keynes: Paternoster; Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009; #2009-TFT-1