During his passion, Jesus remained fully aware of what was going on around him and to him. He participated fully in his body, even as he hung on the cross. He refused the wine mixed with myrrh that might have given him some pain relief. His intent was to be fully aware and to participate in every aspect of his humanity.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil… (Hebrews 2:14).
Through his participation in human life, Christ redeems human life. He participates in human life so that we might participate in the divine life. And we, too, are being called to fully incarnate our human lives, no matter how difficult they are.
Iulia de Beausobre, whose husband Nikolay was shot for serving in the Czar’s diplomatic corps, was tortured in Russian prisons by the Communists after the Bolshevik revolution. Over the many months of her interrogation, she discovered there were two ways of coping with torture, both of which were intended to create an invulnerability. The first way was a kind of mindless passivity, which, she says, unfortunately leaves the person “clodlike, indifferent, sub-human”—basically, numb to what is going on.
The other way of coping is pre-eminently active: a heightening of consciousness, which is inseparable from the pain that goes with any expansion of awareness. It demands simultaneous participation, by an intense effort of sympathetic insight into the entirety of your present situation; clear perception of all the most trivial details occurring around you; penetration, as far as possible, into the mind of [even your tormentors]; insight into the breadth of God’s composition for this particular event on earth; a tremendous heightening of sympathy; a mood of complete selflessness.
In other words, the first way of dealing with torture was non-participatory; the second was participatory. The second way was much harder work—but it was also more fully human. It was thoroughly incarnational.
We are born into an embodied life, and our calling is to live this life to the full. This implies pain and death, but the one who establishes the boundary of death will also resurrect us on the Last Day.
What is distinctive for you about a fully incarnational life?
Don Simpson is a certified spiritual director in Colorado Springs and is senior editor at NavPress. He is coauthor with Dallas Willard of Revolution of Character (NavPress, 2005). He also participated in launching Discipleship Journal and The Small Group Letter, and was cofounder of Helmers & Howard, Publishers.