The Sole Function of the Human
There is only really One Person in the universe—God Himself. The creation is the means of manifesting Him. Human beings, created as persons in His image, only exist to contain and manifest Him as The Person, for they alone as persons can do that. But likewise, being persons, and therefore self-conscious and free, they can and did refuse to “retain God in their knowledge,” and thus became the containers of the false spirit of self-love in place of the Divine Spirit of self-giving. The way they became like this, and the way back, we will go into later.
But at the moment I want to stress most plainly the complementary fact to God being the only real Person. It is that we humans are basically containers, and nothing else. I have already referred to our misconception of the function of the human self, and here it is. Through the self-sufficiency we inherited from the Fall, we instinctively regard ourselves as something very much more than containers. “Vessels” the Bible calls us; it was the first description given by the Ascended Christ of the most dynamic Christian of history, the Apostle Paul: “He is a chosen vessel unto Me”: just a vessel, that was all. Were all the dynamism, the wisdom, the revelations, the passionate love, the self-sacrifice then attributes of the vessel, or of Him whom it contained? And Paul himself went on to call us all “earthen vessels”1. Not even tin cans, but nearer to crackpots! Humbling, self-emptying, an offense to any man not enlightened to facts by the Spirit of God. But let us get it plain, and without equivocation. If God is the All, and we are merely the means of His Self-manifestation, is it not a fact that we must be just containers? “Christ is all and in all.” “Temple” is another like metaphor, for a temple has no reason for existence except to house its god: “Ye are the temples of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them.”
The point then is that a vessel or temple has only one function (and you will remember that we humans have a misconception of the function of the human self). Activity is not the function of a vessel, but receptivity. Here we reach right down to the roots. Receptivity is the simplest, most childlike human function. In Bible terms, it is not works, but faith. But what we have to re-learn is that receptivity is not a function, but the function. All other functions are by-products. The whole of life is a parable of this. Is not everything some form of the self-giving of God? And do we not totally live by what we receive—food, air, the floorboards beneath our feet, the clothes on our backs? And in most cases something has died to give us life. Life is surely based on receptivity, and the Bible word for receptivity is faith. Can anything be simpler? How wonderfully God has made us: to live, spiritually and materially, by exercising a capacity which is as near as possible to doing nothing—just receiving. Not reaching up to drag things down, but things poured upon us in such abundance that we just open our mouths and they are filled: and the gift of gifts we receive is Himself.
Wait a minute, you may object, but we do have to act also. Certainly, activity is a product of receptivity, but not a substitute for it. But remember we said that we must take extreme measures to expel the human self from its false position before we can replace it in its true one. Certainly, we are real persons. We think, we will, we act. Yet it is not safe or even true for us to regard ourselves as such until first we have “died” to our independent selves, and begun the life of constant recognition (reception) of Another as the Real Self in us. We must start at the bottom and remain forever at the bottom—mere containers, vessels, capable only of receiving, and with no other capability.
Do we see then what this means? Not that we have a life to live with God as our helper. Not that we must pray more, give more, love more, witness more. Not basically that we are God’s partners or fellows or co-workers, but that God Himself is the All in us. He is the One who prays, gives, loves, witnesses. He lives our life, our common everyday life—as we shall see more clearly later.
When we have really seen this, then we can add to it the other fact—that we humans are obviously more than inanimate pots and pans. We are people! Humanity has spent all the years of its history running amok with the claim to be autonomous selves, like a horse with the bit between its teeth. Therefore again we say, active self must be thrown right out, as it were, and replaced by receptive self, before we can allow the usurper back into favour again. But if the expulsion has taken place once and for all, and the lesson learned, then the self-in-action can be recognized again in its rightful function, although all our lives it will have to be reminded of where it belongs and snubbed when it tries to take over again.
Its rightful place and function is portrayed for us by Christ’s parable of the Vine and branch, and Paul’s analogy of Head and body. The Vine and branch truth emphasizes the indissoluble union of Christ and the believer. We are organically one. One tree, one life; yet in that relationship Jesus underlined the fact that we, the branches, are merely channels of the sap from the vine. A branch is more than a channel, because a branch is alive whereas a pipe is not, and a branch does absorb and utilize the sap to produce the fruit. It is not entirely inactive, though entirely dependent. But it was the dependence Jesus was pointing to: “apart from Me, ye can do nothing2.” So that illustration is taking us one further than the vessel. First, we are merely containers. Then, having absorbed and accepted that fact, we are more. We are united to Him whom we contain in a way a vessel can never be united to the liquid in it. We are united because we are living people as He is the Living Person; yet in that union, as branch to vine, we remain as totally dependent as the vessel. Without the sap flowing through us, we can do nothing. Yet it is this time a living dependence, for we are to “abide in the Vine.”
Once more then, Paul’s illustration takes us further. We are body to head. Again that makes one Person, just as it was one Tree. So one that the Bible even speaks of the body (not the head) as Christ (1 Cor. 12:123). Yet the body is as solely the agent of the head, as branch of vine. The total dependence is maintained. The union is maintained. But in head and body, the activity of the members comes to the fore. A body is made for action. A head is useless without a body, so the body in Eph. 1:234 is specifically spoken of as the fullness of the head, as the head of the body. They are necessary to each other. So here we come back full circle to active self, but dead, risen and ascended, and thus forever knowing itself as basically containing the Other, motivated by The Other, He living His own life and expressing His own Self through ourselves; yet we freely in action, just as if it was we, thinking, willing, working, laughing, talking, living as normal human beings in normal situations, and the world thinking it is just we, except for something unusual they can’t identify about us. What? We know: “your life is hid with Christ in God…Christ our life.”
But to get all this into focus, we must probe deeper. To recapitulate, God is the one real Person who lives. We live as persons, so that our derived personalities can be the means of manifesting Him. Humanity, as all creation, lives, exists by His life, all are forms of Him; but we being persons, spirits, are the only creatures who can refuse to be what we were made to be—persons who contain The Person. This is what happened, we humans receiving and containing another spirit—the satanic spirit of self-love, the enemy of God. Thus, though we live and move and have our being in Him, we actually live the life that is the exact contrary of His, the life of self-centredness; we express the reverse of God, and are therefore in His No, not His Yes; in His wrath, not His good pleasure; in His darkness, not His light; in His judgments, not His mercy.
How then can we become that for which we were created? Nothing can function harmoniously, except according to the laws of its being. Humanity in all its history is thus so patently out of gear, right down to each of our personal lives. How can we get into gear?