Delighting in Humanity (Tertullian)

humanityI love old things!

Especially old books. If a book has made it through the test of time and into my hands today, it is unlikely to disappoint.

Recently I’ve been reading a collection of writings from the early church fathers. 1 I enjoy the clarity with which the early church wrote. And they had to have this clarity, they were practically inventing a new language to describe what took place in Jesus Christ.

While I was reading Tertullian, a particular passage struck me as profound and valuable for today’s church. This is what I read. It comes from his work On the Flesh of Christ

Christ loved that human being, that lump curdled in womb in the midst of impurities, that creature brought into the world through unmentionable organs, that child nourished on mockery. On his account Christ came down. On his account Christ preached. On his account Christ, in all humility, brought himself down to death, to death on a cross. Clearly he loved one whom he redeemed at great cost. …

He would not have redeemed what he did not love… By heavenly rebirth he remakes our birth, putting death away. He restores our flesh so that it is free from trouble; he cleanses it when leprous, gives sight to it when blind, heals it when paralyzed, purifies it when it is demon-possesed, raised it when it has died. 2

Tertullian here writes beautifully on Christ’s love for the flesh, for the human being. He states something like what Gregory of Nazianzus famously said. “The unassumed is the unredeemed.” Since Christ has come to redeem humanity, He has likewise assumed that very same humanity He seeks to redeem.

But what strikes me so profoundly is not just the Christological ramifications. Instead, take this passage and contrast it to the way we speak today. We often speak of the flesh, of our human existence, as a sub-par-existence. We believe that one day we will escape this flesh and fly of to a merely “spiritual” reality. But if Christ has come to redeem our humanity, whose to say that we will escape it in the end? 3

Simply speaking, in today’s church we devalue what Christ came to value. 

If Christ came to redeem our humanity, we must learn to celebrate our humanity. Celebrate the life you live and enjoy every second of it. We are not here to wish away our time until we die and fly off to some spiritual place. This life matters.

Earthly pleasures are a gift. Out of context they can be a pitfall, but when enjoyed as the bounty of God’s joyous heart this life and the good in it is nothing short of heavenly. We have been given the gift of existence, and we are not to waste it away.

Take delight in your humanity, for Christ has taken delight in it already.

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  1. The specific book I’m reading is The Christological Controversy. It’s a collection of writings form the early church that all deal with the nature of Jesus Christ and the controversy of his dual nature as man and God. I recommend it as a great primer into the early church. Here’s a link.
  2. Chapter 4 sections 3 and 4
  3. This argument and line of thinking is more thoroughly argued and explained in the context of eschatology in my book We Belong: Trinitarian Good News chapter 14.

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