Imagine you’re in a lab dissecting a frog. You’ve been instructed to remove everything until you find the one essential part of the animal that makes it a frog. What do you remove? Is it still a frog without its legs? Stomach? Heart? Which part is the part that makes it a frog?
Now imagine the frog is taken away and replaced by a huge stack of paper summarizing everything that Jesus Christ is. Someone hands you scissors and instructs you to go through the pages and start cutting until you’ve boiled it all down and identified the one characteristic that makes Christ who He is.
What do you remove?
Throughout our lives, it is helpful to be able to reduce something down to its basic parts. This allows us to tackle problems without being overwhelmed. It is a way for us to transform something that is too big, too powerful, or too complex for us into smaller, bite-sized pieces that we can address in order of importance. This skill is the reason why astronauts are able to go to space and the reason you can assemble that bookcase that came with unintelligible instructions.
It is how we determine what is important and what is unimportant, what is essential and what is unessential.
But we have to be on our guard lest this kind of reductionist reasoning leaves its rightful place and becomes the lens through which we see the entire world.
Living in the Shadows
This mistake has haunted humanity for ages and blinded us to spiritual reality. The ancient and celebrated philosopher Plato made this mistake when he asserted that there was a higher plane of Ideals, a spiritual dimension of ultimate Truth, of which the world of our experience was but a cheap imitation. Therefore, the world around us is of no consequence or eternal value.
According to Plato, our world is like shadows dancing on the wall of a cave, cast there by the light of the Real World above.
The Gnostics followed in Plato’s footsteps. Gnosticism was a teaching that emerged in the late 1st century among professing Christians, proclaiming that the material world was under the rule of evil, and only the spiritual world was good. According to the Gnostics, it did not matter what a Christians did with their bodies. One’s physical being, to them, was not spiritual, and therefore could not be sinful. This teaching was condemned as heresy by the early church in the 2nd century.
Unfortunately, even C.S. Lewis, the beloved Christian thinker, and author seems to have taken Plato’s philosophy to heart. In The Last Battle, the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia, the cast of characters meet their deaths as the world of Narnia is finally destroyed. However, to their amazement, they find themselves in Narnia once more – but this time, it is the “true” Narnia. It is bigger, bolder, and better than the Narnia they left behind.
The old Narnia had significance but immediately loses it once this “true” Narnia is discovered. When one of the characters, a scholarly professor, tries to explain this to his companions, he remarks: “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” Old Narnia is called “the Shadow-Lands” – a lesser reality, a mere shadow of higher truths, Plato’s shadowy cave.
Of course, we don’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We understand that some things matter more than others. We also understand that some things will pass away, some things are eternal, and one day, better things will come. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to take that extra step and declare that some things just simply do not matter or have any spiritual significance at all.
We do this all the time, even if we’re unaware of it. We believe that what we do Monday through Saturday is not as important as what we do on Sunday. We believe our enthusiasm for our favorite sports team is not spiritual. We are constantly dividing our lives between what we believe is mundane and unimportant versus what we believe is spiritual and significant.
Leaving Plato’s Cave
“Mundane” is a clever lie of Satan. If we believe something is mundane, unspiritual, or insignificant, we become completely blind to the rich fullness of God’s power and grace that is found in every aspect of life. We miss out on God’s perfect sovereign rule, the imprint of His royal signet ring, that is present everywhere we look.
Now apply that to your life. What do you remove? What part of your life holds no spiritual significance? What has God ordained for you that you can now discount as mundane? Your money? Your time? Your body?
The truth is, everything that exists does so by the will and intention of God (Colossians 1:15-17). Everything matters. Everything has some eternal weight. Everything is spiritual.
We see the mirage of “mundane” fall away in the person of Christ. We are constantly tempted to regard our bodies as unspiritual, mundane things. But now, this very moment, Jesus Christ exists as body and spirit together. He is just as much His body as He is His spirit. Would any of us dare to claim that the body of Jesus is not as eternally important as His spirit?
The scissors in your hand tremble as you hover over each characteristic of Jesus on the paper before you. His divinity. His humanity. His death. His resurrection. His righteousness. His childhood. Every single act of kindness.
Eventually, you give up and throw the scissors upon the table. It is impossible to remove even the smallest item from the pages before you without committing blasphemy. You cannot reduce Jesus Christ down to His bare minimum qualities. Christ is essentially everything about Himself, from the slightest motion of His finger to His great work of redemption.