The Synergetic Bliss of Co-Laboring
By John Crowder
Christology is a rather delicious topic which rests as the core of all Christian dogma; it is concerned foremost with the being of Jesus Christ, who He is in His person as the God Man. But rarely is attention given to the experiential pleasure, bliss or ecstasy embodied in the union of His humanity and divinity. Even less focus is given to the proper connection between Jesus’ being in Christology to the unspeakable joy of our own human activity in doing the will of God.
In fact, the concept that “co-laboring” in the kingdom should invoke this same divine pleasure that exists in the very being of the Son of God is virtually unheard of in the morose halls of religion. The talk is all about sacrifice, obligatory duty and self-repudiation … but not pleasure.
What I aim to show in this extensive article is that Christ is pure pleasure in His very being. The Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary defines glory (Hebrew: kabhod; Greek: doxa) as “the bliss of heaven,” and truly Jesus Christ is the “brightness of the Father’s glory” (Heb. 1:3; John 1:14; 2:11). That Christ is ecstasy in His very incarnate being has massive ramifications to the divine operation of grace in our earthly human endeavors. There is a vital connection between the bliss of Christ’s person and the practical labor of our daily lives. For His union with God is our union with God … and so is our participation in God who “works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:13).
For starters we must back things up quite a few centuries and recognize the tremendous value of the early creeds of the church, such as the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedon and so on. These early councils helped us to sort out the most basic, fundamental understanding of Christology (who is Jesus?) as well as formatting our understanding of the Trinity. Let’s face it. So many churches are still so confused about who Jesus is (many view Him as less than the Father – not authentically God; or as some superman – not authentically human, etc.). In His hypostatic union, He is both fully God and fully man, two natures in one person. This is Christianity 101. In the same way, the Holy Trinity is three persons in one essence. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Son or Father. They are three distinct persons, yet one, undivided God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God.
This is timeless stuff. You may think, “Well that’s just the basics. This has been around for almost 2000 years.” Yes, but much of the church is still totally wrapped up in the same heresies the early fathers were fighting when they fashioned the creeds. And unless you are a Lutheran or something, you probably do not even know the creeds. Nevertheless, they are highly relevant to us today.
Of course some folks may think creeds of faith are divisive or irrelevant. Perhaps too formal, stuffy or stifling.
“We don't need creeds or theology. We just need Jesus.”
Okay, well what you have just said is a creed. A creed is simply a statement of belief. It is a proclamation of what you hold to be true. And if that is your creed (“We don’t need theology. We just need Jesus”), well the creed you just stated is a woefully insufficient one. Because it fails to state anything about who Christ is or what He has done on our behalf.
Similarly, a person may say, “We don't need theology. We just need to live it.”
Okay, well that is also a creed. And one that denies the chief article of Christianity which is justification by grace through faith alone - not by good deeds (“just living it”).
So the point of good theology is that it actually liberates us, so we are not falling back into the darkness of religion, dead works, and a false humanistic focus on our own efforts. It re-centers us back onto who Jesus is and what He has single-handedly accomplished. These early theological frameworks, offered at the dawn of the church age, also represent the last time we could all agree on something!
There are a number of early church creeds. Of course they may not be completely infallible in every aspect, which is why the Protestant reformers said if a creed does not jive with scripture, it is okay to question it. But the whole point of the creeds was to clarify what scripture was telling us (not adding to scripture). Bringing clarity to our beliefs the very purpose of early church councils – which were gatherings of bishops, presbyters and leaders who were battling destructive heresies that pulled away from the glory of Christ and His work. The creeds serve as solid foundational references. As for the oldest, most basic of our statements of faith – the Apostle’s Creed – one would be pretty darn deluded to disagree with that one.
As time progressed and the church councils moved further along, much more detail was added to the church’s creeds. The fathers were not trying to pile on more and more theological minutia to what we should dogmatically believe (in fact, they were trying to say as little as possible). They attempted to keep their assertions simple, leaving open the freedom of our infinite exploration of the mystery God. In fact, they were merely writing off certain ways of talking about God that were untrue and destroying the Christian faith. For instance, heretical ideas usually emerged that would either diminish Jesus’ divinity on the one hand, or his humanity on the other. Often they found themselves having to clarify earlier creeds. So by default, the later creeds did get into a lot more theological detail as a byproduct. And this is where it is possible to start splitting some hairs in metaphysical areas about God that we just do not understand.
The Two Wills of Christ
After Nicea, the next big church council was Chalcedon. Here they clarified that Jesus has two natures in one person. But even after this, controversy arose among two schools of thought. Some leaders wanted to focus on the unity of Jesus, as one person. And other leaders wanted to emphasize the duality of His two distinct natures: God and man. Both sides of this equation are radically true. Jesus is fully God. He is fully man. But the glorious mystery is that the two have become one in Him.
Again, Christianity 101.
But the devil is in the details. And the question began to arise whether Jesus has two "energies" or one "energy" (whatever an energy may be). Furthermore, the question arose as to whether Jesus had only one will, or did He have both a divine and human will. A lot of this was semantics and quibbling between church leaders who spoke different languages and lived a thousand miles apart. Like an ancient theological Facebook battle. But this heated discussion would lead up to a massive, final church council – the last ecumenical gathering whose decisions would be adopted by both the Eastern and Western church.
Again, the question – does Jesus have one energy or two energies?
And the similar question– does Jesus have one will or two wills?
By the sixth century, as early theologians met to resolve these issues (which had already begun splitting the splinters of doctrinal discord emerging between East and West), this final binding ecumenical council took place in Constantinople – it was the Third Council of Constantinople. Here at Constantinople III, the church fathers made a proclamation which, quite honestly, was a bit difficult for me to stomach when I first stumbled upon it in my studies of church history.
They declared that monoenergism (the idea that Jesus just has one “energy”) is a heresy. He has two energies – both human and divine. And they declared that monothelitism (meaning Jesus just has "one" will) is also a heresy. Jesus has two wills – both human and divine.
Now why did this trouble me?
For starters, I understand many Christians view scripture as presenting two different wills going on between Jesus and the Father. As Christ steps into the full depth of becoming and bearing our sin in the Garden of Gethsemane – as He fully begins to empathetically bear our corruption in His own body – it is such a weight and burden that He begins to sweat drops of blood. And here is where we get his dramatic statement in Luke 22:42:
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done."
But I never saw this as two separate wills between Jesus and the Father. Why? Because Jesus is clearly willing and choosing to do the Father’s will. If it is Christ’s will to do the Father’s will, then what is the difference? One will. Though perhaps distinct, their perfect union is the resounding narrative.
To be honest, I was already so rooted in the gospel message by the time I dug into Constantinople III, it just did not make sense for Jesus to have two separate wills. Forget for a moment the idea of Jesus and the Father potentially having two dispositions … In Constantinople III the church patriarchs are telling us Jesus has two wills going on within Himself! A human will and a divine God will. To me, this seemed reminiscent of the schizo Jesus taught by many evangelicals who emphasize Christ’s different desire from the Father in Gethsemane – to avoid the cup of suffering. The emphasis rests on Christ wanting a separate thing – as if there was an overarching other desire of the Father different from Jesus’ own volition. Now, Constantinople III seemed (in my mind) to push it even deeper in saying Jesus has two separate wills within Himself. How many Christians already believe that God, by nature, will always contradict what they want to do? How many Christians are already taught that within themselves are warring two natures in opposition – one for God and the other for self?
The reason Constantinople III did not initially sit right with me is because I had already realized we do not have to wrestle with a schizophrenic dual nature within ourselves. My old crooked will and nature died with Christ (Rom. 6, Gal. 2:20, Col. 3:3, Col. 2:20, 2 Cor. 5:14). I don't have to live a constant battle fighting against my rebellious, stubborn, old, hard-hearted, Adamic nature. That was never who I authentically was. I have a new divine nature. I legitimately want to do what is right. I desire to do what is holy. As a new creation, my will, my choice, my preference is to do things God's way. I am not going back to that old schizophrenic, indwelling sin, non-gospel message.
Despite my hesitation to embrace the conclusions of Constantinople III, as I started digging deeper, I realized that all of my fears were unfounded. Here I had missed the point of the early fathers entirely. In fact, this whole issue of Jesus having two wills was one of the most intoxicating revelations on the planet
Gnomic and Natural Will
Behind Constantinople III was one of the most powerful, highly revered theologians in the Orthodox Church. His name was Maximus the Confessor. Maximus explained the difference between something called the gnomic will and the natural will.
The natural will is defined by Maximus as normal, healthy, everyday human nature. Our desire to do what humans want to do. Go the grocery store. Buy a dog. Eat popcorn at the movies. Help an old lady across the street.
But here is the kicker … the Orthodox understanding of our natural will is radically different from the modern American evangelical idea that human will is totally depraved. To say, “You’re only human,” for a lot of Christians that means you are sinful and evil! The Western church has embraced a strong notion of Augustinian, hyper-Calvinist total depravity. Every thought, inclination and action is considered tainted and corrupted by sin. It is thought that we are literally capable of no good.
On the contrary, the Orthodox say our natural will is actually made by God with factory settings to be oriented and prone to do His will and to walk in the Spirit. We are made in His image and restored to His image in Christ. That is the real, true self.
So to say Jesus had a natural human will is not unorthodox. In fact, there is no contradiction to His divine will. It is natural. Normal. Like Adam in the garden before the fall: your natural wants, desires and motivations are organically geared to be in synergy with God. Human nature is not constructed by God for opposition.
But then there’s this other type of will … called the gnomic will (rooted in the Greek word gnosis or “knowledge”). This could also be called the deliberative will, by which as humans we deliberate and rationalize things in such a way that we choose death, sin or evil. We may choose to act against God. But this choice is actually contrary to our nature … it is contrary to our God-given natural will.
Realize that the gnomic will is not actually a thing in itself. It is more of a twist or perversion of the natural will. This deliberative choice to rebel against God is indicative of a corruption of something good, rather than an actual entity itself. Just as the word “lie” is a thing inasmuch as the term “lie” is a noun listed in Webster’s Dictionary – we all know that a lie is still a falsehood, a nothing … it is a delusion – a smoke and mirrors nonentity.
In the same way, for Maximus, gnome properly refers not so much to a will that we possessed. But rather an inclination of will. It was the propensity for a man to do evil with his natural will. Rather than actually “possessing” an evil will, the force and good willingness of man is hijacked by an evil judo move to operate in an evil way.
Again, our natural will, which is instilled within us in the very DNA of our creation, is hardwired to do what is good – without the need for deliberation and questioning God’s inspiration. Our God-given desires are innately programmed with all that makes us human: both physically as well as spiritually. Contrary to those who think that man inherently wills evil – no, the natural will innately wants what is good.
At our core, we desire and choose what is lovely by nature. The natural will directs us to nourish our bodies with food, to raise our children properly, to be faithful to spouse and friends. It directs us to the help and love our neighbor. It is within the very essence of man. So Christ Himself, being both God and man and sharing whatever it is to be fully human, therefore had a natural will. We see this because Christ willed to eat, to drink, to sleep and to work in Joseph’s carpentry shop. He performed any other number of activities which are natural to mankind. Jesus Christ reveals what it is like to be really human again.
But humans under the fall also have another thing: a schizophrenia … because we have this twist, this perversion, this inclination or propensity of the natural will to do what is bad. And that perversion is the gnomic will. But again, we cannot truly talk about man having a gnomic will in the same way that man possesses a natural will – for it is not a thing to be possessed. It is more of a bent, in which the natural will is subverted and acts out in bad ways.
We have a natural will to eat, but the gnomic will perverts it to make us food addicts. A natural will to party, but the gnomic will makes us alcoholics. A natural will to succeed and prosper, but the gnomic will turns this into greed and avarice. A natural will to have sex, but the gnomic will sends us to the strip club instead of putting a ring on it.
Gnome, for Maximus, refers to the proclivity that emerges in humanity through sin, which leads toward that sorrowful truth of scripture, that “there is not one righteous man left, no not even one” (Rom. 3:10). Yes, of course we all inherited sin in Adam. But that is not our authentic nature.
“As sin becomes ever more part of the context of human existence, it becomes a habit, an inclination, that drives man ever towards the wrong, debased, transgressing living-out of its God-created will,” writes Russian Orthodox archimandrite Matthew Steenberg. This inclination drives the manifestation of our natural will to go wonky and habitate and gravitate toward evil. So in a very real sense, you could call this gnomic will the sinful nature couldn’t you? For that is exactly what we are talking about. And is the sinful nature really a thing in itself? Absolutely not. It is a delusion. It is a lie existence. It just pulls the judo move on your God given human will and directs it to a wrong, wobbly way.
Did Jesus Have a Sinful Nature?
So in attesting there are two wills within Christ, was Maximus saying Jesus had a sinful nature or a gnomic will?
Well this is something he developed more clearly over time in his theology. But of course Jesus did not have a sinful nature or sinful propensities. God never changes. And Jesus is not inclined toward evil right now, nor has ever been. He did not deliberate evil. He did not entertain the idea of it.
The straight answer is absolutely no … Jesus did not have a gnomic will. But there was in a sense the very real possibility for failure: for He opened himself to every frailty we have, every temptation, stepping into our dilapidated human condition. Jesus did not come as a superman, but entered our brokenness. Jesus had a natural human will. But in the same way that our natural human desires are fractured and confused, limited in knowledge and strength, so Jesus stepped into our twisted condition … and any warped propensity we have to incline against our Ceator, He somehow mystically beat that natural will back into submission on our behalf.
His repentance was our repentance. His faith was our faith. His baptism was the baptism of the entire world. In His circumcision on the eighth day, the entire world was circumcised. "Why circumcise the Gentiles?" asked Paul. All of them are already Jews now thanks to Jesus.
Jesus did not Have a gnomic twist or perversion, but He beat His natural human will into alignment. And therefore vicariously secured the redemption of the human race.
Constantinople III Revisited
I know this can all get a bit tricky and academic for some; but let me slow it down, back it up and begin to make things a more practicable for your own life, dear reader.
Jesus has a natural, God-given human will that is prone to do what God wants us to do. And in this, He typifies our own true identity. We are holy with factory settings to be holy. And plus, since Jesus is fully divine, He also has a divine will. But my early suspicions about Constantinople III were totally wrong. The church fathers were not making Jesus a schizo by giving him two separate wills, both God and Human. They never said these two wills were separate! Herein lies the most glorious conclusion: the fathers tell us that the human and divine wills in Jesus are completely united. Here is the doctrine the council affirmed:
We … proclaim in Him, according to the teaching of the holy fathers, two natural volitions or wills and two natural actions, without division, without change, without separation, without confusion. The two natural wills (human and divine) are not – by no means – opposed to each other as the impious heretics assert; but His human will is compliant, it does not resist or oppose but rather submits to His divine and almighty will.
Because of the Christological cohesion of the divine and human will in the person of Christ – there are massive ramifications to me, due to his vicarious repentance, obedience and being on my behalf! It means that my own human will has now been reformed and aligned within the very will of God in Jesus. I don’t have to desire porn anymore. Or methadone. Or burning kittens. Or being racist. Or stealing from the cash register.
Deified in Christ
Similarly, each of us can now live in the flow of unity between our human and the divine nature, without a sense of conflict, battle or inner division. God is within my choice of a stroll to the park. Within my visit to the barber or the grocery store. The foolish presumption that the human and divine natures are necessarily opposed to one another has been overturned in Jesus. I don’t have to second guess every choice I make, wondering if it is in conflict with God’s will. I am naturally prone to do His will.
Jesus has two wills totally reconciled and compliant in unity. So now my will is now totally reconciled and compliant to God. The struggle is over. The battle is over. I may not have it all outwardly figured out. I may still at times be confused about my wants and desires, but His desire is the deepest echo in my being that longs for release.
The divine and human in Christ must not be conceptualized in terms of parts, for one and the same is wholly both. And similarly, so have we thus been woven into the divine nature, while still possessing a true humanity. The integrity of Jesus' humanity is not threatened by this union, but rather the one nature deifies and the other is deified. There is no aspect of Jesus that does not fully exist within the divine union. And in this union, He deifies our humanity.
Jesus has two wills, but there is no act or will in opposition to God in Christ. His human nature is and wills in "perfect harmony in concurrence" with His divine will. And my true nature is geared to flow in the bliss and glory of the divine. My very appetite for pleasure is the infinite itch driving my will to be eternally satisfied in Him.
Not My Will But Yours
Let us now return to our secondary dilemma of Jesus’ will versus that of the Father. Now that I see there is no schizophrenic division in Christ – that His human and divine will are in sync with one another – I can now return to the problem of Gethsemane (where again it appears like two different desires are taking place).
The very fact that Jesus complies with the Father’s will, this tells me that these two are also in sync. If two wills are ultimately desiring the same thing, is that really a division? Of course not!
"Not my will but yours be done" speaks not of division but unity in the heart of the Trinity. The true emancipation of the will – your freedom from sin – is realized when we see that His will was always our deepest, if not hidden desire.
In a remarkable quote from Pope Benedict XVI, he summarizes how our true, God-given nature – together with Christ’s vicarious restoration of that nature on behalf of the entire human race – is present in the story of Gethsemane.
"Human will, by virtue of creation, tends toward synergy,” says Benedict. Synergy in working together: we are prone to work together with God by nature. Original sin is not your original nature. Christ is your original nature. He is your authentic blueprint, not fallen Adam. Benedict says, "but through sin, opposition takes the place of synergy: man whose will attains fulfillment through becoming attuned to Gods will, now has the sense that his freedom is compromised by Gods will."
And therefore what we do? We rebel against God's will. We conceive the idea that God’s will is a slavery or a limitation. The whole world thinks of Christianity as some legalistic bondage … so the world opts to do its own thing. But there is no freedom outside of Gods will.
His Vicarious Repentance
Benedict continues: "The drama of the Mount of Olives lies in the fact that Jesus draws man's natural will away from opposition and back toward synergy, and in doing so He restores man's true greatness. In Jesus's natural human will the sum total of human nature's resistance to God is present within Jesus Himself." In bending His human will toward God, He was vicariously bending all of our human will toward God. As the last Adam, He represents the curbing back and realigning of our human will toward the Father. That is what Christ was doing in the garden. He never opposed the Father’s will … we did. He was vicariously assuming our brokenness in order to reshape us.
"The obstinacy (stubbornness) of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in His struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant (unrepentant) nature to become its real self,” adds Benedict. Latent within Jesus’ struggle, you were in Him in the Garden. He restored you back to who you are. "The prayer ‘not My will, but Yours’ is truly the Son's prayer to the Father, through which the natural human will is completely subsumed (enveloped) into the ‘I’ of the Son. Indeed the Son's whole being is expressed in the ‘not I but you’ – in the total self-abandonment of the ‘I’ to the ‘You’ of God the Father. This same ‘I’ has subsumed and transformed humanity's resistance, so that we are all now present within the Son's obedience; we are all drawn into sonship.”
In saying that Christ vicariously repented on our behalf and bent our wills back to the Father, am I suggesting we keep this all theoretical or positional … leaving it as some theological ideology with no real bearing on your natural life? By no means!
Every one of us still acts and wills of our own volition every day of our lives. We choose to drink coffee, go to work, play with our kids. But just as Benedict says, human will, by virtue of creation, “tends toward synergy” with God. This element of synergy – of working together with God, vitally aligning with His will in real action on a daily basis … this has been a point of radical misconception. We have considered the will of God to be against our human will – quite often picturing our deepest desires to be in direct conflict or contradiction to God. But in reality, there is a heavy duty ecstasy that comes along with doing His will … because we are created for a divine synergy at the deepest levels of our longing. What if He is the one who has kindled our deepest desires, while the gnomic twist simply offered us cheap, unsatisfying fixes to those infinite longings? Let me clarify: when I speak of the will, after all, I am speaking of our deepest heart’s desire that results in action.
The Ecstasy of Co-Labor
The Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 3:9 states, “For we are co-workers (co-laborers) in God's service. …” The Greek word for co-labor is synergoi or “synergy.”
If we are talking about will, desire or choice, then we are also talking about practical doing or action. Of course our primary calling as believers is a passive one. It is abiding. It is trusting. It is loving. And yet, love also does verbs. In the mystics and Eastern fathers, you often see that our co-laboring is chiefly in the passive act of surrender, more than any human endeavor to “help” God.
“You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem … ” (2 Chron. 20:17).
This synergy of doing the will of God is radically foreign to what we call “human willpower” or working something up. The Gospel is about what Christ has done. Nevertheless, we do indeed exercise our will in freedom in working hard, pursuing goals and achieving dreams in this life. You can work hard and still be operating out of an inward bubble of rest, peace, security and tension-free, anxiety-free grace. You can exercise your will and choice without striving.
We talk quite extensively about resting in the finished work of Christ. And often folks can get confused about it all. You can work really, really hard if it flows from an inward wellspring of desire, and still not be toiling under a curse of strife. A lot of people think it would be pure utopia to just retire and never work anymore. But did you know God created us to actually enjoy work? Even Adam had a job in Eden. His job was to tend the garden of pleasure. Quite the job description! It was not until after the fall that Adam’s work and his play were divorced. Now we work in order to buy play time, and we play in order to avoid work. But we are actually created to thrive and ecstatically enjoy what God has called us to do. If you are trying to figure out what God has called you to do, ask yourself: if you could do anything in the world, what would you do even if you didn't get paid for it? Perhaps your true calling is connected to that theme.
I personally work far more than 40 hours per week, yet I do not feel I’ve done an honest day’s work in my life since starting the ministry! I love what I do. Work motivated by passion is not diseased by toil, rote obligation, burnout, depression or a false sense of godless responsibility.
There is ecstasy in the doing.
Our ecstasy in God is not separate from action but intrinsically connected to willful action. We don’t work for the wine of His love! Your efforts are not necessary for this intoxication. But true love does manifest in action. Doing good works are not some separate thing from our bliss - at least not when they are done properly as fruits of faith, rather than trying to earn acceptance or approval. Working is not to "pull out of the wine room," as if inward intimacy with God’s presence stands in stark contrast to my outward labors. There is a joy in our vocation.
It helps to know that His will for my life may completely cohere to something I assumed was completely secular. Jesus was in the secular workforce until age 30. To always reject what we inherently want to do – be it business, skateboarding, comic book collecting – we may think the only holy life is one of fasting, starvation and being a full time missionary to Botswana.
However, in the inherent ecstasy of doing God's will, we may in fact lose our taste for certain things in lieu of a higher calling. Divine ambition may supersede the drive toward something we would naturally want to do on a lower level. Perhaps indeed you are into comic books, but something grabs hold of you in a way that you do put all your chips on red and move to Botswana.
Let us not forget, that the very nature of ecstasy is to come outside of ourselves. The fifth century mystical theologian Pseudo-Dionysus and other early writers talk about a synergetic ecstasy - a symmetry of ecstasies (the biblical Greek word for trance, “ekstasis,” means standing outside yourself). Now generally, we just think of trances and ecstasies in terms of personal devotion, raptured outside ourselves when we are lost in God’s presence in worship.
But Dionysius explains that in the hierarchy of celestial beings, when a lower being (think man) is receptive to a higher being (think God), this allows for a synergy to result in a mutual ecstasy.
There are two keywords here: synergy and ecstasy.
Synergy. Remember that word people used in business seminars back in the ‘90s? It was usually some dork talking into his Bluetooth earpiece. “Yes we'll touch base. Hit the ground running. It's the new normal, a game changer. Going forward, I'll have my people call your people for some teambuilding. If we face time you can give me a ballpark. We'll fast track it, take ownership and avoid a non-starter ... We need synergy!”
Again, our entire discussion here is on will, choice, desire, doing and action. And in synergizing or flowing together with the will or desire of another, we are talking about ecstatically stepping outside ourselves (out of our “own will”) as we co-labor with the desire of another.
What this 5th century mystic is saying is that, in doing the will of a higher creature (namely God) somehow we are actually coming outside of ourselves. And in this is a symmetry of ecstasies, in which God Himself is also experiencing ecstasy. By creating, sustaining and saving us – God is coming outside Himself in a sense, also participating in a mutual ecstasy. This coming outside yourself, ecstasy, is the very intoxicating nature of love in action for which we were created (“… created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” [Eph. 2:10]).
In rightly defining extasis as being a "departure from our own being," know that there is a mutual bliss and satisfaction in giving oneself over to the other. Jesus did this Himself in some sense as He kenotically emptied himself, setting aside the fullness of His glory and taking upon Himself our humanity. His greatest ecstasy was to step out of Himself as it were, lay down His life and take a bride. According to Alexander Golitzin, “As God comes out of Himself, exestekos, in a ‘departure from His own being’ in his processions to create, sustain and save the world, so we are called to ecstasies, a departure from ourselves, as the act of our return to Him.”
In this symmetry of ecstasies, we find ourselves rooted in the divine, ecstatic, other-givingness of God pouring Himself into humanity and humanity emptying Himself back into God - the continual rapture occurring ontologically within Christ's own being.
In Jesus, God is rapturously given over to man, and man is rapturously given over to God. Jesus Christ is a living ecstasy.
I do not want to get overly mature with the subject matter or sound too crass, but the best analogy we have for this symmetry of ecstasies is perhaps lovemaking. And just to be clear, that it is the scriptural analogy, not my own metaphor. The husband and the bride, this is Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).
Shall we take the entirety of Song of Solomon for our illustration? The ecstasy of romantic love, and overtly the act of physical sex, is about the most indicative allusion we have to represent two distinct individuals coming outside of themselves into the other. Each is so focused on the other lover that both soul and flesh are knit together whilst some transcendent, ecstatic experience unfolds. Even in that physical act of literal interpenetration, two separate human wills are drawn together as one in unified desire in that moment.
Forgive the terminology, but there is a literally an orgasmic frequency to our calling to do the will of God. Obviously I am not talking about some carnal, coital imagery of literally making love to God. It's a limited metaphor. But if the analogy must be pushed, doing the will of God is more akin to an orgasm than breaking your back in the belly of a slave ship.
Perichoresis is the term for the other-giving, interpenetrating love of the Trinity. Robert Capon said the whole creation came out of the mystical love bed of the Trinity at the beginning of time. And rest assured, as we live and move in God’s presence, there is divine fruitfulness and creation/creativity that takes place as we, as mother church, as a womb, give birth to an expression of Christ in our own lives. Out of this perichoretic, interpenetrating dance of surrender to the will of God, creative energy begins to bear fruit, much fruit and fruit that will remain. Talk about literally coming out of yourself in ecstasy … In Genesis, we read that God put Adam in a deep sleep (the word is ecstasy), and Eve came out!
God has lost Himself in you. And somehow you spilled out of His bliss. And now we are drawn to lose ourselves in following Him.
And the irony, is that our natural will has always been geared to crave this blissful submission to the otherly will of God.
The pure utopian pleasure of doing God’s will, of stepping outside of yourself and being plunged into doing His sweet desire, whether as an astronaut or a humble dishwasher like Brother Lawrence, is the very thing you were born for. There is indescribable pleasure of thinking outside of ourselves. Of losing sight of ourselves altogether. Just as God has lost sight of Himself, as Catherine of Sienna says, throwing Himself blindly like a man fast drunk with love into the opprobrium of the cross.
It is in losing our lives that we find them. That is the way of this upside down kingdom. Yet what we must relentlessly understand is that God is experiencing that very same other-focused rapture by delighting in us ... this ecstatic pleasure is a two-way street.
If you had any idea how ravenous God is over you, how drunk on love! May the wine go straight to my Lover (Song 7:9) This wine of love is a wine of losing oneself in the other. Marvel that somehow Christ mystically stepped out of the will of His own divine timing at the wedding supper of Cana in order to serve at the will of His mortal mother and exchange our dirtiest water into the finest wine. The gospel is a mutual drinking – a symmetry of ecstasies between God and man. He is intoxicated on serving you. And the empowering synergetic joy of responding to His divine will in our lives – far from a dry, religious duty – is an exhilarating epiphany.