It is common for us to think of God as self-giving, and rightly so. The infinite kenosis of the Triune God who pours himself prodigally into the world out of unquenchable love for his lowly creatures lies at the heart of the gospel about Jesus. God is and eternally has been self-giving, self-expending love. The life of the Triune God is a fire of infinite love, of passionate ardor and mutual rapture that transcends and outstrips our common conceptions of agape and eros.
However, our God is not merely a God who gives himself, even giving himself away, he is also a God who binds himself. How often do we reflect on the self-binding nature of God? When God creates the world he binds himself to it, committed to seeking its good and forming a people for himself in the world. God binds himself to a people – Israel & the Church – and an unfaithful people at that! When Jesus comes he binds himself to a rag-tag band of twelve mostly uneducated followers. The Holy Spirit, poured out at Pentecost binds himself to the broken earthly community of the disciples, forming it into the body of Christ.
God is God who binds himself in to those we would not expect. He becomes the God of a nation of slaves and wanderers. The head of a body of no-account fanatics from every tribe, tongue, and nation. He cares for the poor, the widow, and the alien as their God. God binds himself to a specific people for the sake of his magnificent dream which is pictured for us in the Marriage Super of the Lamb. The God who pours himself out in his infinite kenosis is not a philanthropist or a charitable donor. He does not give from on high. He gives of himself by descending into the depths of humanity and binding himself us to recreate us in Christ as his new humanity, his covenant partner, and beloved bride.
God calls us to correspond to his self-giving and self-binding through the power of the Spirit he has given to us. We are called to give of ourselves and to bind ourselves to one another in the power of the Spirit of Cruciformity. Often enough we like the idea of being self-giving, of being Aristotle’s “magnanimous man” or participating charities, social action, and other missional activities. And none of these are wrong in and of themselves. But they fall short of what God calls us to. God does not merely call us to be compassionate givers, committed social activists or charitable donors. That is far to easy and indeed far to self-centered. Everyone wants to be known for their good works and upstanding character.
No. God calls us to bind ourselves as he has done. We live lives of transience and ultimate autonomy. We determine where and how to give ourselves if we so choose. We may give money to the poor, but we do not sit with them. We are great at being compassionate from a distance. We are even better at being compassionate and committed to important causes of justice…So long as those are causes that we care about, that we choose for ourselves and that we are free to extricate ourselves from whenever we choose. Rarely do we bind ourselves to the other that God calls us to love and share life with.
God binds himself to us, makes us his people and indwells us through his Spirit, sharing his very life with us. And yet we so often indwell only the pleasures and values that we choose into. Our philanthropy and compassion is just another cloak for our autonomy and self-consumption. How many of are willing to follow the pattern of God’s self binding? How many of us dare? Will we bind ourselves to God’s people when that might mean spending 23 years pastoring a church in east Texas when your abilities and passions seem far more ambitious? Kyle Childress, friend of ours through the Ekklesia Project can teach us all a little about that. Do we dare to bind ourselves as God has done? When it might mean that we have to turn down a promising career because a Sunday School class needs you to continue to be its teacher? Do we dare to bind ourselves to one another, to truly be the church? Do we dare to really view the unsexy, the old, the awkward and the broken among us in our churches as people that we need and cannot live without because Christ has made us one?
I hope and pray that we can and will dare to bind ourselves. And that in binding ourselves to one anther we will discover the freedom and joy of the liberty that comes through self-limitation. This is the glory of Christ that he bestows on those who follow him. Through grace we need not live to ourselves. We are given something better. The glorious freedom of the children of God a freedom of being bound together in a communion of love and grace. But to experience it we must relinquish that which we so often hold so passionately to: our self-proclaimed autonomy.
If Christianity is true then we must believe this. We must believe that life is outside ourselves and that the outcome of our desires and perceived passions is the death that comes from self-love and self-consumption. The fire of God’s infinite love must become our passion, poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and indeed often by means of the weird person beside us at worship who God calls us to bind ourselves to in love that together we might become the people of God. May the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the cruciform, self-binding God enliven and draw us into the ardor of his life that we may participate in his self-binding and come to see and to live as people who do not view each other expendable and provisional.