The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Dec 21, 2013

The Ultimate Paroikos

Paroikos: “A stranger, foreigner, or resident alien; one who is displaced from his or her home; one who is treated as a stranger by those residing in his or her vicinity” [Source: The PAH Lexicon for Rare Koine Words Used in the NT, soon to be published in 2050 (maybe!)]

“He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11, NET Bible)

“But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4, NET Bible)

I know what it’s like to be a “Paroikos,” as do many of my readers. At its best, you experience exciting new cultures, new foods, new adventures, new friends. Playing alongside my Japanese friends, accepted as one of them, constitute some of the best memories of my childhood. At its worst, however, your own foreignness is thrown back into your face in the form of insults, discriminatory actions, and the state of being simply ignored.

Yet even for the most displaced Paroikos, there are times when you can feel “at home.” For me it was with my parents, with my closest Japanese friends, or even at the local Japanese Ramen noodle shop—Japanese service is the best in the world, and even a foreigner is made to feel like royalty in the average store or restaurant! Furthermore, there is a sense in which the common band of humanity binds us all: language, skin color, and mannerisms may all be different, yet at the least we all shame the same basic features and can reason rationally. Direct communication can take place, food is always edible (yes, even “squid on a stick”) and our basic needs remain the same. In light of that, there may even be something romantic and adventurous about being away from home. Thus Plutarch, when trying to comfort a friend who has been exiled from his homeland, argues that the exiled man, rather than being bound to a single city, now has the air itself as his sole boundary and is truly free to go where pleases! (see Plutarch, On Exile, 1-12).

Hold that thought, however; we are, of course, talking about humans among other humans, humans on earth where they were born to be. The whole concept of “Paroikos” is taken to another level now when we dare to talk about the Incarnation. Here it is not a matter of simply “leaving one’s homeland” or “moving to another country” or even “being around people who are different than you [and who eat squid!].” Now we are forced to grapple with the idea of a whole different type of being (indeed, the Supreme Being) being sent to a whole other plane of existence, if you will. In other words, the second Member of the Creator/Trinity Who, like the other two Members, existed outside space and time without regard for any of the laws of matter and energy (indeed, He created them!), now voluntarily becomes part of the physical universe in the form of a human baby some. So that eternal Being who existed outside of space and time now exists as part of space and time.

Many of my readers will, perhaps, be familiar with the expression “culture shock.” This occurs when you visit a new culture and find out that things are different than what you expect, and your brain has trouble grappling with it: what for you is a simple wave in your home country may actually mean “yes, I will marry your daughter and bring the bride-price of a live goat” in your new culture. Furthermore, whatever expectations you have armed yourself with fly out the window when exposed to reality. Thus, for example, when my parents first went to Japan they more-or-less expected Japanese men to be walking around in traditional robes armed with Samurai swords (compounding their “cultural shock” was the irony that the very first place they ate at in Japan was a “Denny’s”). Likewise many Japanese, based off of their exposure to Hollywood, assume that American urban life is a constant mish-mash of gunfights, exploding helicopters, and high-speed car chases involving unrealistically thin supermodels (this is, of course, only true in Los Angeles and certain parts of Chicago).

Now I would not be so bold as to suggest that the second Member of the Trinity experienced “culture shock”; after all, “shock” implies being exposed to something that surprises you, and God cannot be surprised, at least cognitively. Nevertheless, for all of our theological adherence to the immutable nature of God, we must stress that God certainly experienced something different in the transition to human flesh in our space-time continuum. It is one thing to go from the skylines of New York to the mountains of Switzerland. It is another thing entirely to go from being outside of space and time altogether to being voluntarily confined to 4 dimensions (or 12, if you’re a String Theorist). It is one thing to never know the need for food or drink; it is another thing entirely to suddenly know hunger and thirst, and, in the early stages of the Incarnation, to be totally dependent upon others to provide it. It is one thing to see new sights and hear new sounds in a different culture; it is something else entirely to actually experience sight and sound, in the limited human way, for the very first time. And this, of course, included pain, suffering, and temptation, various concepts totally foreign to the nature of God himself because it was brought on by Adam’s sin! Thus even in something as simple as the tears he shed when first exposed to planet earth’s light and sounds and temperature outside the womb, Jesus experienced something entirely different as a human, a new world, a new existence where he, the King of the Universe, was destined to live as a stranger.

My friends, can we truly wrap our mind around the true “strangeness” of the incarnation, especially in the early stages? Take whatever “strangeness” you may experience in a foreign culture, among foreign people, and multiply that by infinity. Yet this “strangeness” represents the great (and only) hope for humanity; the fact that, in the apt words of J. Houghton, “the God out there has entered our world in the person of Jesus” (page 158 in Houghton, J. ‘Where is God? Thinking in More Than Three Dimensions,’ in Stannard, R. (ed) God For the 21st Century, Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation, 2000)

One more thought: Jesus, the Son of God, did not come to earth to only temporarily experience humanity and then leave this plane of existence, shedding his human body. Rather, his transition to this state of existence was permanent. He did not leave his humanity behind when he descended into heaven (albeit it is a glorified human body, a precursor of what is in store for his followers). No, he remains human, a part of his creation, and someday he will reign on the literal earth from the literal city of Jerusalem, once more literally existing as Immanuel, “God with us.”

Yet what, then, is the immediate result of the incarnation for Christians? Why, namely this: “Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:14-16, NET Bible).

So Merry Christmas, my friends! Oh, and while you’re at it, this holiday season be kind to the foreigners living among you, for Jesus Christ was once one of them.

Postscript: Whenever we describe the Trinity, we naturally fall short of the exactness of language and clarity that most scientific disciplines would demand. I reject any form of polytheism on the one hand and modalism on the other: God is “three persons, one essence”; yet sometimes the language I or others might use may seem to come close to either of those heresies. This is not my fault; if God had wanted to us to better understand the Trinity, he would have described it more clearly for us through the writers of Scripture! Nevertheless, I beg the reader’s forgiveness for any inexact language or descriptions of mine in this (or any other) discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment