Human Spirit and
Evil Spirit aims at attacking and destroying the humanness of each
human being. This humanness is neither a physical nor a
psychophysical condition. It is a spiritual capacity possessed by
each man and woman and child.
Only because of this capacity in spirit are we able to believe in
God and to attain unending happiness in our after-death condition.
Only because of this capacity can we perceive beauty and truth in
this human universe. And, perceiving it thus, we may reproduce it in
our actions and our products. Diabolic possession negates this
The reason we have this capacity of spirit is Jesus of Nazareth. As
a man, he lived for not more than 50 years, as close as we can
calculate. But all of his achievements were his as God made man.
Hence those achievements are timeless and affect those at the very
beginnings of our species as well as all other humans until time
ends. Every man and woman in all time, every human ever conceived
had, has, and will have this capacity of spirit made possible by
Jesus. All, therefore, are capable of humanness.
We know of this humanness only from the mortal life of Jesus. As our
own lives proceed, we know only that by ourselves we become
increasingly helpless in every way, that our human love which we
desire so much seems to become vain and weak; and that all of us,
with all our aspirations and hopes, must end in the silent darkness
and the numbing secret of death. Jesus overcame the helplessness. He
accepted human love. He died successfully. On this triad of
helplessness, love, and death all humanness depends.
Jesus’ experience of each one, and how he responded to the
challenges of each-here is the central mystery of Jesus-made it
possible for every other human being to respond successfully when
faced with the same challenging experiences in the trial and
development of individual humanness. Such was the means by which God
from the beginning provided that mere creatures, tied to their
physical bodies, might overcome their all too obvious limitations of
time and physicality, and share, each one, in supernatural life. As
with Jesus, it requires not only the desire, but the participation,
the life action, the choice-in short, the will-of each.
Without any doubt Jesus spent his entire life attaining the
perfection of his humanness. But in the historical records about him
we find the ultimate steps in Jesus’ achievement of humanness were
crowded into a period of weeks prior to his execution. Because of
variations between the different written records, we have to take
the crucial period to be about four weeks in length, although it may
well have been that all those steps were concluded within the last
week of his life.
Nowhere is Jesus’ victory over helplessness more clear or vivid than
in the raising of his friend, Lazarus, from the dead.
Throughout his life as described in the records, Jesus displayed a
constant mastery over people, events, and things. There was never
any faltering or hesitation in his actions. He acted in his own name
with an authority that never reeked of authoritarianism or
arrogance, but at the same time brooked no refusal. “Amen! Amen! I
say to you.” All was decisive. He gave commands to men and women, to
evil spirits, to friends, to enemies, to the elements. In
confrontation with private people or public authorities, it was
always the same behavior: he acknowledged no one as superior to
himself, praised and blamed and condemned as he saw fit, never
withdrew before any other man as his master or as greater than
Whenever he worked miracles or ordered something done, his
instructions and dictates were clear, concise, supremely confident,
and direct: “Go out from this man.”
“Be clean!” “Arise and walk!” “Go show yourself to the priests!” “Be
up and walk!” “Hear!” It was only at the raising of Lazarus from the
dead that Jesus
exhibited a dependency, a lingering hesitation, a doubt-and that he
acknowledged his helplessness.
It is evident from the Gospel that at the tomb of Lazarus Jesus
experienced a flood of helplessness. In fact, his behavior from the
time Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha and Mary, sent for him was so
uncharacteristic as to be called indecisive. It was as if he were
passing through a waiting time, a period of unknowing and
apprehension we humans call doubt. First of all, he stated plainly
that “the end of Lazarus’ sickness is not death.” Then, “Our friend
Lazarus is sleeping. But I shall go and wake him up.” Finally:
“Lazarus is dead.” He delayed his departure for two days. Then he
spent two more days traveling.
When Jesus arrived at Bethania, where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary had
their estates, Lazarus had been buried. From the moment of his
arrival Jesus’ behavior was peculiar and unwonted. When he met the
weeping sisters, he was distressed, sighed, and wept openly. At the
tomb itself he publicly stated his personal trust in and dependence
on God-apparently a newly felt need of his at that moment.
Looking up at the skies, he said in a loud voice: “Father! I thank
you for listening to my request. I myself know that you always
listen to me. But I am speaking for the sake of the people standing
around here, so that they may come to believe you sent me.”
We ,can only imagine, and by comparison with our own lot, the
trouble Jesus suffered. He who never hesitated, hesitated. He who
personally commanded in his own name had to wait for approval before
commanding. In the previous years of Jesus’ life there may have been
other such moments. But this experience at the tomb of Lazarus is
the only one recorded in which Jesus’ exercise of divine power
within the human order was accomplished only after a short but
intense experience of helplessness.
Without diminution of his divinity, and only so that his humanness
would be achieved, Jesus was offered in this raising of Lazarus the
human ridge of fears and probabilities. He had the same alternatives
in that moment that all of us have at certain crucial moments
throughout our lives. One alternative says: “Stay with your fears.
With the probabilities. With your impotencies. Accept them. That’s
the way it is. That’s life.” Another alternative says: “Declare
yourself helpless and incapable, and ask for help to transcend all
your helplessness and impotencies. Say: ‘I am helpless.
Help me! Unsure as I am, help me to be sure!’”
The second key element in the fullness of humanness achieved by
Jesus, and so guaranteed as a capacity in each of us if we choose,
is human love: its acceptance, its felt sweetness, its celebration,
the giving of it.
At first glance it would seem that there is no one who cannot love
humanly, that it is “second nature” to do so. Yet experience has
always told men and women that it is as hard to love as to be loved.
For human love is never a matter of logical concepts or data
matching. It implies no use of purposiveness. It is never a managed
process of quid pro quo. Those who love each other, in the exercise
of their love are enveloped in a transcendental atmosphere where
they remain distinct, but no emphasis is laid upon one individual
Richard/Rita’s exorcist, Father Gerald, had learned one shining
truth about human love through his ordeal with the evil spirit whose
method of dehumanization was debasement of love itself. In the long
conversation with him as we strolled in his garden some months
before he died, Gerald sketched for me his realization that our need
for sexuality in love is a result of our not possessing God-love
itself; and that sexuality is valid humanly and ennobling only as a
striving for and expression of the love we can achieve.
Our difficulty is that we cannot imagine a close and personal love
between man and woman that is not sexually based and ultimately
sexually expressed. But this is a limitation of our outlook, not a
deficiency in Jesus.
Jesus, being God, did not need the vehicle of sexuality, nor did
those who loved him. Yet who can doubt the tactile and warm love of
that Mary who poured a “pound of pure spikenard perfume” over his
feet and then dried them with her long hair? Her very gesture
implied a tender affection for Jesus, together with a trusting
presumption that what she did he understood, accepted, and, in his
own way, reciprocated. Full of the power that love confers, she held
captive the guests gathered around with the solemnity of love
expressed, as surely as the breath of that perfume filled “the whole
house,” as the Gospel tells us.
This is the only recorded occasion when Jesus was proffered the
beauty and intimate sweetness of human love by a woman, and Jesus
insisted it be his. “Leave her alone!” he said to the grumbling
Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew that human beauty and love was its own
sanctification, because they were tangible blessings given only by
And he therefore insisted that they be received-uncovered except
with their own inherent grace.
The Gospels make it clear that during the last days, when Jesus was
waiting for the Passover feast, he was frequently near the Bethania
family of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. It is left to our imagination
to portray his hours of companionship with this family, the
happiness of being with friends and the object of their love, the
gentle, probing conversations they carried on between them, the
nearness, the warmth, the celebration of their unity in heart, and
the sweetness of total acceptance.
In tasting such love, so Christianity teaches, Jesus made that love
possible for each of us. Humanly. If we choose.
It is central to Christian understanding of the fullness of
humanness achieved by Jesus that when, earlier, he overcame his
human helplessness, and when he accepted human love, he was
preparing his soul for his victory, not over mere dying, but over
For the victory over helplessness was only possible by trust, by
relying on the power of God, by resting his hopes on something
outside his human ambit. And the consent to love and be loved was
made possible only because he recognized and accepted God’s
guarantee that all human love-despite its pathos and weakness-could
be made eternal and divine.
In other words, to be humanly victorious in all three of these
circumstances, Jesus relied on the more than human, and on what no
human agency could tell him or effect for him.
For Jesus, as for us, dying was the ultimate and only surety. He
himself did not escape dying. Nor has he made it possible for any
other human being, even his own mother, to escape dying.
Jesus’ experience of dying was colored by two opposites. On the one
hand, his natural shrinking from dying and death as the summary
evil, as that which ended his human integrity. On the other hand,
his devotion to the purpose of his whole life, which could be
accomplished only by dying.
In some mysterious way, Jesus was made to undergo the same agonizing
of death that all humans have. Still at a distance from the hour of
his death, the
thought of dying made Jesus sad, almost querulous. “One of you is
going to betray
me,” he revealed to his followers at their intimate supper. “Could
you not stay awake
one hour with me?” he complained to his three companions who had
dozed off. “Let this trial pass me by,” he prayed in the Garden of
Gethsemane as he writhed and sweated on the ground in sheer
apprehension and loathing for his dying.
Whenever he confronted Judas, his captors, Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod,
the Good Thief, the Women of Jerusalem, Peter, his mother, he was in
command. His awareness was clear. His mission was firm.
It was only the black hand of death and the merciless coils of dying
that frightened him. For he had to accomplish his mission in his
identity as a man in order to break beyond the bonds of mere
humanity. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” This was no
questioning complaint. It was merely a human exclamation at the
sharp peak of his physical torture. For the first time, mists of
numbness were blackening and dulling all his psychophysical acts. He
could not see or hear very well anymore. His control of his
imagination was slipping. His memory worked in quick snaps, then
Yet he passed through this dying and out of all physical existence,
preserving his hope and trust: “Father! Into your hands I commend my
spirit.” At that one moment all his psychic faculties-memory,
imagination, feelings, sensations-were gathered into a hard ball of
pain. He could not breathe anymore. His heart ached with effort,
then stopped beating. His brain had no more blood. That quick
dislocation we curtly name with an inert monosyllable, death,
Jesus has not told us of the physical agony in that shuddering
wrench, when he ceased to hear, see, and taste, and in a traumatic
flash the human self he used to be was in a new dimension where all
was clear, where there was no more doubt, where he could no longer
be afflicted by material ills, and where his human soul existed in
the undisturbable harmony of God. He had died. As all humans must.
And he survived in spirit, as all humans may now do, because of
Jesus’ dying and death.
As the first human being to undergo dying and death perfectly, Jesus
had to rise from the dead. He had to live again as a human being.
His bodily death and his living again in the body are two phases of
one integral act. Hence, what Christians have always called his
Resurrection implies not only living again; but also dying, and
surviving that physical death.
Jesus’ message in the Resurrection accounts of the Gospels is clear:
Do not simply accept that I survived death. For this is not a
Christian idea. But it is: Believe I have transformed your dying and
your death, making them a means of resurrection and ascension and an
entrance into the Kingdom of God. For every man and woman.
This is why the witnesses to his Resurrection were not concerned
with his bodily appearance or characteristics after death when he
lived again, but with his person and his identity and his presence.
A real salvation from the pathos of being merely human, therefore,
implies that not only does it become possible for us to live
forever, but that we know and pursue this goal in a way that enables
us to escape the confines of time and space. We must know with
absolute surety. Such knowing is called belief.
Jesus effected that our act of believing give us knowledge of him
and of our salvation; and, by that act of believing, we escape from
the confines of our material world and of our own consciousness.
And, after the first assent of belief, we have the quiet flow of
certainty about each person as man, as woman, and about God as
father, savior, and eternal joy.
Because Jesus completely fulfilled his humanness as regards
helplessness, love, and
dying, each one of us is capable of overcoming our helplessness; of
love; and of living forever. This is the capacity Jesus won for us.
It is a capacity that
defines the largest outlines of what we experience as the potential
humanness in each one of us. On this huge canvas are painted all the
smaller details of what we may achieve in our individual humanness.
This capacity, our potential for humanness, puts all men and women
into direct relationship with Jesus. It is not merely that our
aspiring, our loving, and our dying is measured over against his.
Nor that we receive from him parcels of strength, in order to be
able to imitate him in these matters-much as we consciously or
unconsciously imitate popular heroes, heroines, idols, and ideals,
and so model our behavior on someone whom we esteem highly. Jesus
does not help us merely in the same way as we assert from time to
time that this or that great man or woman has helped us by their
actions and their inspiring words.
The relationship is much more intimate. If our choice is to aspire,
to love, and to die in the hope of living, then our aspiring and our
loving and our dying in such a deathless hope is the aspiring and
the loving and the dying Jesus performed so perfectly once for all
time and for all humans. When we choose to achieve this humanness,
then between our humanness and the humanness achieved by Jesus there
is a paradigm of identity. Not a physical identity, but rather an
assimilation in spirit. The limited capacity of each mortal becomes
a minor and partial participation in the divine fullness and rich
overflow of Jesus’ divine spirit. Each individual is destined to
become a “Jesus self” in some degree or grade: to be a self with the
humanness of Jesus.
It was this primordial function of Jesus that Paul of Tarsus
summarized when he drew on the ancient Jewish myth of Adam as the
“first man” and as “head of the human race” in physical generation
and biological derivation. Paul called Jesus the “Second Adam” and
the “head of all men and women” in the being of spirit. In the
language of classical Christian piety and religion, each one becomes
an alter Christus, another Jesus. They become part of that fullness
of good in our human universe that God has foreseen and permitted.
In the Christian view, all of this is so because Jesus was God made
man. All his human acts belonged to him as God. Their value and
meaning shared in the eternity and total perfection of God. Jesus
has a priority in that eternity that ensures his ever-presence and
priority within all the changing time-space frames of our human
history. As a mortal human being, he lived in one place at one time.
Yet in humanness he was and is coexistent with and present to all
human beings as the source and guarantee of whatever humanness each
of us attains.
At the same time, Jesus was also a mortal man, a Jew who lived a
certain number of years in and around Palestine; who had certain
mortal limits of mind, culture, life experience. During his mortal
lifetime Jesus could not achieve the full extent of humanness
possible in billions of individual humans diversified by climate,
language, culture, gender, and civilization. For this goal, God
chose to need the participation of men and women.
In the Christian view, therefore, Jesus is the key to the fullness
of our humanness, because he achieved that fullness for us
potentially. It must be achieved actually in each man and woman, and
can be achieved only by each one’s choice and personal actions in
the reality of the good and the evil present and possible to us all,
and whether or not we have ever even heard of Jesus.
And the key to the fullness of evil-that which negates and kills
humanness and achieves the opposite of God’s plan-is Lucifer, the
shining angel who chose freely to separate himself from God, but as
God’s creature could not separate himself from the human universe.
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