Tuesday, January 11, 2011

RE-POST: The Inward and the Outward

[This a golden oldie from my Mr. Standfast days. A commenter recently brought it to my attention, so I thought I'd share it with the rest of you.]

The outward is deteriorating, wasting away, but the inward is being renewed day by day. That's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16. Elsewhere: Jesus says, it's not what you take in that stains you, but what you put forth--what comes out of you (Mt. 15:16-20).

I've been thinking about the inward and the outward. The inward I will define as, well, the soul--the ineffable me (if you're looking for anything more precise, you've come to the wrong place). The outward: everything else, including my own flesh. Now, the outward has a formative effect on the inward. This is of course a commonplace notion. The way I think and feel, how I interact with the world, who I am, is to some immeasurable extent a product of these influences. This is the presupposition of behavioral science.

The Romantic poets, prizing the inward above all else, saw that influence as entirely deteriorative. The original self, at birth, is unsullied. The wasting process has not yet begun. Ah, but shades of the prison house descend around the growing child. That's life, my friend! Get used to it.

I think just about everybody labors under some form of this presumption. We do assume that the outward wastes away at the inward. We never "get over" this. The impact of childhood abuse, for example, lasts forever; or so the assumption goes. Victimhood, according to this mindset, inevitably becomes our definitive status. Life is simply a series of action and reactions which have a text-book certainty of outcome.

Here's an example. Somebody does something to harm us. We react, naturally, with anger. We begin to shy away from that person, even to despise him. Or perhaps we strike back. Or smear his good name. In any case, if the act was terrible enough, we will never quite forget it. Every time we think of it, the old anger returns. And it's all quite natural and understandable. The act was, after all, sheer evil. No one can blame us.

Now, this distortion of the self by the world, the inward by the outward, is the basic blueprint for our understanding of life on earth. It's how we see the world. But is it really inevitable? I am not suggesting that the Christian can or should simply rise above the world like some sort of Zen-master. But there is this thing called redemption. The closed system of action/reaction has been broken open and a new power has entered into the equation, making all things new.

You see, everyone understands and agrees that the world is fallen and sinful, even if they use different descriptors. The question, then, is how do we who live in the world overcome the world? Jesus answers, I have overcome the world (John 16:33). It's not your job at all. Please trust me on this.

So when Jesus says, the world can't stain you, only you can stain yourselves by what comes out from your heart, he is announcing the release of the self from the bondage of the world. The point is to see to the disposition of the heart. To partake of the cleansing power of the blood and live a different kind of life altogether.

Go back to Paul. He claims there was a significant change in our standing vis a vis the world when we were born again. The whole trajectory of life has changed. We are renewed inwardly. We go from dark to light, from a life that is essentially a downward spiral to death, to one that is upward to light and life. If this is true, it is a fact that cuts across the text-book certainties of the behaviorists. If this is true, then the wasting effects of the world are essentially temporary and superficial, because that which is within is being renewed day by day, is growing in grace, and is moving always from responses of faith and trust to yet more responses of faith and trust (Rom. 1:17).

This is life in the Spirit. This is being saved. Living as children of light. It is not pie-in-the-sky be-happy-ism. There is still the outward wasting away that Paul speaks of. The world is still the world and the flesh still the flesh. But the evil one is not battling for the outward. It is primarily a spiritual warfare that has engendered this state of things, because Satan is a spiritual being who is after our souls. Thank God that we do not fight with merely human weapons!

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