In John 9, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. This is shocking. Even more: This miraculous healing is a microcosm of the whole Christian gospel. In merely seven verses of text, the contemplative Bible reader can see the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work, putting the infinite Word of God into a mere handful of human words. In Christ the Lightgiver,
Clifton Stringer explores the story of the gospel from creation to the fall, then from the incarnation to the mystery of Jesus' (and our)
Passover to eternal life.
Converge Bible Studies is a series of topical Bible studies based on the Common English Bible. Each title in the series consists of four studies on a common topic or theme. Converge
can be used by small groups, classes, or individuals. Primary Scripture passages are included for ease of study, as are questions designed to encourage both personal reflection and group conversation. The topics and Scriptures in Converge come together to transform readers’ relationships with others, themselves, and God.
About the Author
Clifton Stringer is a Ph.D. student in Historical Theology at Boston College. He previously studied English and Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and attended seminary at Duke Divinity School. Clifton is ordained in the United Methodist Church, and has served congregations in both Austin and Lakehills, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Converge Bible Studies
Christ the Lightgiver
By Clifton Stringer
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2015 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
CREATION AND LIGHT SEEING IN LIGHT OF DAY
JOHN 9:1; GENESIS 1:26-29; GENESIS 2:15-25; JOHN 1:1-5, 9-10
1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth.
26 Then God said, "Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth."
27 God created humanity in God's own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground." 29 Then God said, "I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food."
15 The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16 The Lord God commanded the human, "Eat your fill from all of the garden's trees; 17 but don't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!" 18 Then the Lord God said, "It's not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him." 19 So the Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. 20 The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found.
21 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22 With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23 The human said,
"This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
because from a man she was taken."
24 This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren't embarrassed.
JOHN 1:1-5, 9-10
1 In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
2 The Word was with God in the beginning.
3 Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
4 through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn't extinguish the light.
* * *
9 The true light that shines on all people
was coming into the world.
10 The light was in the world,
and the world came into being through the light,
but the world didn't recognize the light.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man. ...
"Always go by appearances," says theologian Dr. Stanley Hauerwas. By the light of the sun and the bulbs we fashion and the fires that we build, we see the world. But to live wisely, we need to see more than the world. Christian life is the project of learning to see, and so act, as Jesus sees and acts.
What does Jesus see when he is walking along and sees "a man"? What does Jesus see when he sees you or me, or your friend or my enemy? To start with, Jesus always sees a creature.
JESUS SAW A MAN 'CREATED'
Fundamental to the Christ-way of seeing, the "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16) the Scriptures show us, is to see others as "created." When Jesus Christ sees someone, he does not merely see a friend or an enemy, a new face or an old face, a foreigner or a family member or someone he's never met. Jesus sees a creation, a creation of God.
John's Gospel, in the very first chapter, identifies Jesus as both "the Word" and "the true light" or "the light." He says, "Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being" (1:3). Later, he says, "The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light" (1:9-10).
Everything that exists came into being through this Word, this divine Light who is Jesus. To see someone in light of his or her createdness is to see someone in the deepest and most fundamental light possible. It is to see someone and recognize, not just the tip of the iceberg, but the whole of the glacier, from the top all the way to the bottom down in the fathomless deep.
That Jesus is dealing with this man (and with us) at such a fundamental level is emphasized by the "tools" he uses to heal the man: spit from his mouth and ground or earth, combined to make clay or mud. Spit is itself a combination of breath (for which our English word spirit is the equivalent in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin) and water. The tools of Jesus' healing thus echo, first, the Lord's forming "man" (Hebrew adam) from the dust of the ground or "topsoil" (Hebrew adamah) (Genesis 2:7), and, second, the implements of man's rebirth — "water and the Spirit" (John 3:5, as Jesus speaks of the sacrament of baptism). The healing this man and we are given by Jesus goes all the way down to the bottom of the iceberg, to our very foundations, to the full depth of our createdness. The "light" (Genesis 1:3) at the start of Creation participates in the "true light" (John 1:9) who is our salvation, Jesus Christ, the divine and eternal Son of God.
This is all another way of saying that when Jesus sees a man (inclusive of "male and female," as Genesis 1:27 says), Jesus sees someone created by God ex nihilo, "out of nothing." Each of us is created out of nothing, alongside everything else that exists. Creation is thus the pure gift of the entire Trinity of persons in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. "The skies were made by the LORD's word, all their starry multitude by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6).
The Son (or "word") and the Spirit (or "breath") create, in unity with the Father, the whole marvelously vast array of things that exist. The night sky, twinkling like a tapestry, like a Picasso, is luxuriously draped into existence by a God who is eternal relationship and loves the elegant proportions of created relationships which we rightly call beautiful. And light sets it all off with incendiary majesty: the small human spied by Jesus as he walks along, the colossal power of the star that small man spies ruling the night sky, rendered tiny by the even-more-colossal distance between them, a created proportion that makes for intense beauty.
For this relationship between created things, like every relationship, is visible and knowable only because of light. In this case, the light of the stars. "Let there be light!" (Genesis 1:3) says the great dramatist, setting the stage miraculously made.
But in a higher sense, the light that makes the relationship visible and knowable is not only the physical light of the star, but the intellectual light of the human contemplating the beautiful star and beautifying distance. "For human beings are greater miracles than any miracle human beings can perform" (St. Augustine). The God-given created light of the human intellect makes relationships humanly visible and knowable.
This created light that God gives the human intellect is so staggering that we are even able to contemplate and know the fact that we, along with all that exists, are created by God. Although many of us know primarily by faith that God exists and we are all his creatures, great philosophers (whether pagan or Jewish, Christian or Muslim) have sometimes succeeded in knowing God's existence, along with some things about God, through reason alone, apart from divine revelation or the gift of faith. Yet Jesus sees God more clearly than do all philosophers combined. Hence, when Jesus sees another human, he (like a great philosopher) sees someone created by the God who is simple and perfect, infinitely good, omnipresent and unchanging, eternal, loving, and one. Further, Jesus sees intimately beyond what any philosopher on earth could see by reason alone; for Jesus is the Son of God who sees and knows his Father on whom he eternally depends, and the Holy Spirit, which he (with his Father) eternally breathes.
When Jesus sees someone, he sees him or her in God. He sees a creature created and loved by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To exist is to be suspended in the Breath of the Father and the Son.
JESUS SAW A MAN CREATED IN RELATIONSHIP
Creation is a social network, in ways far more complex than Facebook or any other. This fact about Creation has its root and wellspring in the reality of the Creator.
Genesis 1:26 gives us the glimpse of the Lord we need: "Then God said, 'Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us. ..." First, that humans are created in God's image is the source of our holy dignity and value; it is the reason it is a mortal sin (peccatum ad mortem, 1 John 5:16-7) to murder a human at any time between conception and natural death. It is the reason every single human, whoever it is and whatever it has done, for good or ill, is to be accorded profound respect, prayed for, and offered ways to grow good and flourish.
Second, that God says "our image" in the plural is extremely significant. Whatever the ancient Hebrew human author of this verse was imagining, Christian readers, knowing that the Holy Spirit inspired the multivarious biblical texts in a way that exceeds the comprehension of any of their human authors, have typically heard God's speaking in the plural as an evidence of the voice of the Holy Trinity. The God of Jesus Christ is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Thus, God is eternal relationship. This is, incidentally, one way that John's phrase "God is love" (1 John 4:16) makes profound sense. There is a lover, a beloved, and their shared love all already and always in God. And this is what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are an eternal relationship of love. This Triune Lord of love is the only light that is truly light.
The Scriptures depict humans as created by God with at least four layers of relationship. In Eden, as described by Genesis 2, these different levels of relationship are all holy and harmonious. As theologians Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering summarize, Adam and Eve, our first parents, experience this holy harmony, first, "between themselves and nature"; second, "between body and soul" (as in Genesis 2:25's note that they felt "no shame" in their nudity); third, "between each other"; and, fourth, harmony "between themselves and their Creator." Dauphinais and Levering note that "Harmony and peace, not violence or competition for power, describe the original state of the first man and woman."
Each of these four layers of relationship will come into play throughout this book. Jesus' seeing us as created means that he sees us in light of the holy and harmonious web of relationships he wills for the world. Jesus sees not just "a man" when he sees any of us. Jesus sees a man or woman immersed in a whole world of relationships.
JESUS SAW A MAN CREATED TO SEE, TO KNOW AND LOVE THE LIGHT
When Jesus sees "a man," he sees someone created to see. Seeing, in the context of seeing Jesus walking toward one, means the capacity to take in Jesus' real presence with one's fleshly eyes, and in seeing Jesus, to recognize Jesus as Jesus. It means to regard Jesus as one who is also regarded by Jesus. Seeing thus means recognition of the other, and it entails a mutual relationship between (at least) two; in short, seeing means relationship.
Sight, ideally, which is to say as it is intended by the Lord in the gift of creation, serves knowing and loving. It means knowing Jesus as one is known by him. "Father, ... this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent" (John 17:3).
It is no surprise, then, that throughout the tradition of the church, seeing is the most common theme used to describe eternal life with God in heaven, the life of sharing the Lord's knowledge as one is known by him. Hear Paul tie these two together: "Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known" (1 Corinthians 13:12, italics added). According to St. Thomas Aquinas and other doctors of the church, we will be given the grace of mentally beholding the Lord's glory directly, through the Lord's lending his own light to give our feeble minds, with their finite created intellectual light, this awe-inspiring, unspeakable honor and surpassing treasure.
This vision of God is, in short, what we are made for. It is the only thing that could ever make us truly happy; and it will make us truly happy eternally. God is and will be our "end" — our Alpha and Omega. God is the goal of our very being; and our deepest, best, and fullest longings will be redeemed and come to their end through fulfillment in God.
The church's tradition calls this the "beatific vision." Beatific means "happy." In the vision of God, the visionis dei, we will be happy.
"As Jesus walked along, he saw a man." This man is Adam and Eve; and this man is us, each of us, created by God, created to know and love God and so be happy, created to see.
1. Do you think that Jesus saw every person he ever saw in light of their createdness? Even people far off in a crowd? How can you practice seeing other people in their createdness? What you can do to remind or train yourself?
2. How, do you think, does God see you? Look at Genesis 1:27. Is it difficult to believe that God sees you as made in God's own image? What might it mean to be made in God's image?
3. Is there anything interesting about the list of things God gives humans for food in Genesis 1:29? What might it mean that this list is exactly as it is before the fall, when sin enters the picture?
4. What is suggested about the intimacy of humans with the rest of creation when "the human" (Genesis 2:20) or "Adam" names all of the animals?
5. What is suggested about the intimacy of man and woman, and by extension, the whole human family, in Genesis 2:23? Try to see everyone you look at as "bone from [your] bone[s], and flesh from [your] flesh."
6. How does reading the first 10 verses of John's Gospel change how you read Genesis chapters 1 and 2?
7. What might John 1:3 mean when it says, "Everything came into being through the Word"?
8. Read again the quotations on page 21 from Dauphinais and Levering's Holy People, Holy Land: A Theological Introduction to the Bible. Which of the emphases of the fourfold harmony are you best at? Which do you care about most?
9. How does a finite human contemplate an infinite God?
10. What happens when a believer isn't connected to a community of other Christians?
11. Why is praying so important? Which do you find easier: praying alone or with other believers? Why do we need to do both?CHAPTER 2
DAMAGED EYES, FALLEN GAZE, AVERTED WAYS ON (NOT) SEEING IN LIGHT OF ORIGINAL SIN
JOHN 9:1-3; LUKE 11:34; GENESIS 3:1-24
1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus' disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?"
3 Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God's mighty works might be displayed in him.
34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness.
1 The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say that you shouldn't eat from any tree in the garden?"
2 The woman said to the snake, "We may eat the fruit of the garden's trees 3 but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, 'Don't eat from it, and don't touch it, or you will die.'"
4 The snake said to the woman, "You won't die! 5 God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.
8 During that day's cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden's trees. 9 The Lord God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" 10 The man replied, "I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself."
Excerpted from Converge Bible Studies by Clifton Stringer. Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAbout the Series,
1: Creation and Light,
2: Damaged Eyes, Fallen Gaze, Averted Ways,
4: Sent to See and Say,