“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

Saturday, July 3, 2010

He is Himself the Grain of Wheat: The Self-Emptying Nature of God

“They who add years to years in lumpish aggregation, or miles to miles and galaxies to galaxies, shall not come near His greatness. The day of the fields of Arbol will fade and the days of Deep Heaven itself are numbered. Not thus is He great. He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped: Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed and does not distend Him. Blessed be He!”
Lewis' next paragraph (above) touches on one of the most crucial characteristics of God and the way he does things. God's greatness is not to be found merely in his "bigness," that is, in his power to make enormous, sprawling universes that stretch for lightyears and megaparsecs. Certainly this is part of His greatness, but He is so much more than just that. Paradoxically, writes Lewis, His greatness is to be found most of all in the small things, in the weak things, the things that seem to be nothing at all (see 1 Corinthians 1). "Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed" - what a beautiful image!

This paradox gets to the heart of Christianity - that is, of the Story that God is telling - and it is at the center of that Story, at the cross of Christ, that we see the paradoxical pattern of God's character most clearly and most beautifully.1 The explosive growth of creation and the unforeseen new things that spring into being are, according to the New Testament, mysteriously rooted in the event of the cross, where God himself became weak and small and apparently defeated, suffering and dying a human death. But from suffering infinite joy will grow, the greatest evil is transformed into the greatest good, and in death itself a seed of eternal life is planted (see "The Victory of God"). This paradoxical "pattern of Descent and Reascent," writes Lewis in Miracles, "is the very formula of reality." It is a pattern in God himself, in his very being: "Because He truly lives, He truly dies, for that is the very pattern of reality." In His death is new life, in His suffering is the birth of eternal joy - the pattern describes His nature because He is the one who defines it in His own death.

What is the grain of wheat of which Christ speaks when he says "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit"? He speaks of himself. God himself is the grain of wheat. God himself falls into the ground and dies, but because Deep Heaven is in Him, because He is the resurrection and the life, because He is the fountain of overflowing life, he cannot truly die. Empty yourselves out of love, our Lord tells his disciples. Die to yourselves, lose your lives, and you will find the greatest treasure. The treasure is Christ, because though he emptied himself and gave all he had, in that very act of love did His cup overflow again. God dies, yet he cannot die. He empties himself, yet he is never empty, but always overflowing in new life (see "The Empty Cup Overflowing"). Why? Because He is Himself Love, He is Himself Life - it is in his very nature to become empty and to overflow, to die and rise in new life.

The image of creation as a tree serves us well again. It grows outwards and upwards explosively, but from the smallest, weakest, most frail beginnings. What a marvel it is that the tree is, in a sense, within the seed! And what a miracle that God's greatness is hidden inside the smallest things, that he has even planted himself as the seed of new creation.

God is the fountain of life, of existence itself. He gives being, he creates, and that great power cannot be snuffed out. It is seen again in his Resurrection. But the beauty of the way he creates is that it is through weakness, through emptying. He is not only the fountain of existence from which creation flows, but also the dying seed from which the tree of creation grows.2 Creation is vast and endless, always growing, but in the most paradoxical way. Always when things appear bleak and barren, decaying or dying or falling into nothingness, always at that very moment there is rebirth and light bursting from darkness and beautiful fruit from barrenness. It is almost as if God's way of bringing new things into being is by letting what is there fall to the very brink of nonexistence and then return in explosive eucatastrophic power.3 This too is the pattern of reality, and like everything else we have seen, it is found first in the Maker Himself, and for this beauty He is to be praised.

1 Again, this Story is the brightest and most complete revelation of God's character that we have, so if we want to know anything about his way of doing things, we must look here especially.
2 And in holding back his full power and allowing evil to come into being for a while, he brought into being something that could not otherwise have been (see "The Victory of God"). Creation is more beautiful and wonderful, more alive because it grows from this divine grain of wheat, the Crucified.
3 Redemption is a creative act. Creation is not a once-for-all event - as we have seen, new things are always coming, creation always growing and expanding. In our Story, this is seen most clearly in the "new creation" which was brought into being through Christ's death and resurrection, in which the pattern we have seen is exemplified.

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