“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Paradox of the Empty Cup Overflowing, “Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything”

…How, one might wonder, will there be any life or joy or strength left if we are continually laying down our lives and giving ourselves sacrificially, becoming weak, nothing? The paradox, the mystery, the miracle is that it is in this self-emptying act that we ourselves are filled – it is in giving that we receive (Acts 20:35), in losing all that we gain everything, in emptying ourselves that we are filled to the point of overflow. Father Rodney Kissinger writes, “Love is always fulfilling itself by emptying itself. This is the kenosis of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery and this is the new math of Christianity: you add by subtracting.”

God’s love is ‘expended in self-giving, wholly expended, without residue or reserve, drained, exhausted, spent,’ and yet, paradoxically, his love is infinitely deep, without end, constantly overflowing – there has been love within the Trinity from eternity past, and God will never cease to love. God is never empty, his cup of life and joy never runs out! Although he has poured it out fully, emptying himself unto death, his cup became fuller than ever – it overflowed in the very act of emptying! He gained victory in the very act of dying! From the cross, the tree of death he hung, and from the same tree burst fruit, even eternal life! One day perhaps we will enter the kingdom of heaven and see “the river of the water of life” (Revelation 22:1) flowing from God’s throne and giving water to “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit” (Revelation 22:2). And perhaps beside that tree will stand another tree, the very cross of Christ, adorned with the leaves, fruits, and flowers of the tree of life. Even as “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2), so also is the cross for the healing of the fallen, the redemption of the lost. They are the same tree. It is the same cup that is emptied in sacrificial love that overflows eternally.1

Just as God, although he empties himself, is always full, so we who are “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) will, although we must become nothing like Christ, be filled to the point of overflow and inherit the “treasures in heaven” (Mark 10:21, Matthew 6:20) we store up in this life. We will partake in the community of the Triune God, the persons of whom2 have, from eternity past, loved one another with the self-emptying yet ever-overflowing divine love, and although the love shared in that community will be the same love Christ showed in making himself nothing, we will be, at the same time, always full, lacking nothing we desire. To be empty is to be full, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21),3 “having nothing yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). It has been called “the secret of Christianity, the secret of spirituality and the secret of happiness.” There is indeed, I think, a great secret in this paradox – a mystery woven into the very pattern of reality.4

“He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
– Isaiah 40:28-31
1“In the spending of love is the enriching of the spirit” (Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God 107).
2 Surely in death the secret of secrets is hidden. Death is the climax of our earthly life, an end and a beginning to prepare for eagerly beforehand, not put off or dread. Death is not a mere end or obstacle to what we seek to achieve in life – it is itself the goal, the great challenge. It is to prepare ourselves and others for death that we must live now.
3 Bet you’ve never read that phrase, “the persons of whom.”
4 And a mystery which ultimately reflects something about God. What that is I do not know. We have certainly glimpsed paradox in the Trinity.

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