He must increase, we must decrease – Stuart Johnson

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When our daughter first came to us at 7 months, she was very sad and distant.  We could not hold her to give her the bottle and had to use a bouncer and hold ourselves at a distance.  Using the principles we have been give in our training, we began to closely interact with her.  With a lot of persistence and patience, she gradually let us be more intimate with her.  Now she loves the face-to-face moments and physical affection and the true girl hidden deep within her came to the surface.  Many of the professionals who were involved with her ongoing care were amazed at the progress we had made.

Just prior to her 3rd birthday, the paediatrician picked up some signs that she may be autistic.  I find this condition so fascinating.  With much research and listening to the experts, we have some insight into what is reality to people with this condition.  I am only able to gain some insight and be a part of our child’s world.  When she is behaving in her quirky way, we are able to decipher what is the cause of her quirkiness and sometimes, if need be, we can divert her away from it and bring her back where she needs to be at a more calmer level.

The thing is, she has no idea that she has autism.  She has no idea that her reality is different to everyone else’s reality.  We face the enormous challenge of trying to help her understand people and the world around her within her reality.  She sees things differently from everyone else.  It is not a matter of trying to change her.  It is a matter of trying to help her to cope with what is going on around her.  I take for granted the social norms and expectations.  My wife and I have some grasp on what is reality around us.  What we hope to do as she grows is to help her to grasp reality as we understand it and make the necessary adaptations.  If it were not for the fact that we have been given the enormous privilege of being a part of her world, it would not have been possible to do this.

There are times when we interact with her that she responds in such a lucid way and seems to see things they way they ought to be.  Most of the time, she appears to live in such a frenzied confusion.  Once she is over-stimulated her sensory responses goes into overdrive and we have to find ways and means to restore her to a calmer level.  There is no accounting for this and at this stage science offers no clear explanation.

Her problem lies in her inability to move from imitation towards intuition when she is in social situations.  Her learned social behaviour is largely what she imitates from others without understanding the cues from body language, facial expression or tones in communication.  She has quite a number of words in her language. Sometimes she sings along to songs on the radio.  This is all down to her skill at imitating what she hears along with a highly developed memory.  This is what is known as echolalia which literally means echoing speech.  This is a normal part of speech development but for those with autism they hardly move any further than the imitation stage and understanding the intuitive process of body language and facial social cues.

She will be drawn to detail in her environment without understanding how the detail fits and integrates within the big picture.  When she is over stimulated to the point she loses focus on her environment, we have to look for the small detail that has triggered her sensory response.  For example, sometimes when she eats yogurt she is fixated on the yogurt rather than eating it.  For a typical person, the may not see what the fuss is all about.  However, when we try to see what our child is seeing we often notice there is a tiny bubble in the bowl.  As bubbles are one of those things that over-stimulate the sensory system, she might end up refusing to eat it.  Other times, if we pop the tiny bubble, she will carry on eating the yogurt.  All in all there are some significant deficits in the way autistic people perceive the world around them.

The risk for our daughter is how people may so often misunderstand her behaviour.  Her condition means that she has a degree of blindness to what goes on within the being of those who are considered typical.  As she grows older and starts to try and understand other people, she has to take care that she does not take for granted that her blind spot is typical of all.  If she interprets peoples’ actions, social cues and emotions with this blind spot premise, everything that follows after will be misrepresented. We have the same problem. We have a blind spot when it comes to having insight into what her world is through her perception. What is needed is someone who is both autistic and typical to teach us. However this is not possible. An autistic person does not know how to be forthcoming to the degree that a typical person will understand and vice versa.

This is the problem we all have in one way or another.  We all have a history that shapes the way we view ourselves and how we interpret others around us.  I am profoundly deaf and have been since birth.  I know what I can hear but I do not know what I can’t hear.  Yet a hearing person has no way of knowing what it is I can hear.  When someone who hears tries to tell me what I should be hearing, then they are speaking from a position of ignorance.  Another hearing impaired person has better insight into the challenges I face but only I know what it is I hear, not what I don’t hear. Even if a person has heard perfectly all their life and lose their hearing in later life, they often find it very difficult to adapt to the changes. They even forget very quickly what it was like to have perfect hearing. Here again we need someone who is both hearing and hearing impaired to mediate between the two.

If one is brought up in an environment of violence, then they may interpret all people through the framework of violence.  Some children grow in a household filled with domestic violence.  They often go on to live lives believing this is typical for all families.  Life experience will shape the way we make decisions and how we react in certain circumstances.  Refugees who have suffered conflict throughout their lives may have difficulty adapting in a peaceful country they seek refuge in. Some might adjust and appreciate the peaceful values in their adopted country.  Others may have an extreme views against violence and make it their mission to protest against it.  Some of those who are violent may not know what all the fuss is about.  Others may be too traumatised to even care about such issues.

I believe it is safe to say that even though we might place ourselves in the ‘typical’ group, there still remains some deficit that might cause us to misinterpret and misunderstand others around us.  Ideal personhood means we are open and transparent with no fear of hiding and shame from our failings. We all know deep down that there is something mysterious in each one of us that prevents the true nature of fellowship in freedom.  Each and everyone of us has some flaw that has fractured our personhood in some way.

This is also true of the way we perceive the world around us. Though we might have clues as what is really going on, there are always more questions that need to be answered of the objects we choose to study in our particular field. This is also true in theology

None of us can ever have the Godness to be able to fully explain all the ways and works of God. It is only God who can explain God and therefore it is only God who can teach. This is what I believe Paul is trying to show us in the first three chapters of Romans. Both Gentiles and Jews need to be taught. He is highlighting the character flaws in all of us focusing on the way we behave showing us that we all have lost sight of who God truly is. We don’t know what it is we don’t know. God gives Himself to us so that we may learn from Him. Jesus Christ is both God aware of His own Godness and as a Human Being He is also aware of His own humanity.

Aside from Jesus Christ, there is not one human being who is without some deficit that prevents them from understanding the true nature of the ‘other’ person.  How much more is this the case when we try to understand the depths of who God is in His own Person?  We cannot begin with our own understanding of personhood and use this as the ground for knowing God.  We cannot begin with a psychoanalysis of our nature and try to have some insight into the psyche of God.  We cannot begin with an anthropological system of understanding ourselves and try and fathom some theological depth in God.  Whatever method we use beginning with ourselves will only distort the true nature of God in some way.  Within us there is nothing but darkness in regard to the ways and works of God.  Whatever truth that is true about God is because God Himself has disclosed something of Himself in some way.  Because God reveals His truth of Himself to us, then it is still God who owns and interprets the truth of Himself to us.  He self-names, He decides and He proclaims and He self interprets things of Himself to us that we would otherwise never know.

Tip-of-the-IcebergAll fields of science is like an iceberg in the ocean. We only see the tip. What I knew about mental illness 21 years ago is different to what I discovered some 19 years ago and is significantly different to what I now know. What we knew about many things 50 years ago has changed dramatically and rapidly to what we now know. No doubt what we are yet to know will shed light on our current knowledge and either refine it or dismiss it. Yet, the volume of knowledge yet to be uncovered is like the hidden part of the iceberg. All the knowledge we have to date like the tip of the iceberg has hardly fully explained what we are able to see and access. We are always at only an elementary understanding of the universe and everything within it. This is so true even of our knowledge of God. If we acknowledge that there is so much we do not know about God, the universe and the many and varied fields and disciplines of science, then we must take extreme care in how we apply non-theological fields to theology. Anthropology, psychology, physics etc. should never be the starting point for defining God.  It is only God who knows God and therefore it is only God who can teach.  Our knowledge of God and our knowledge of humanity and the world we live is like chipping into the visible part of the iceberg.

This is not to say there is no truth in these sciences. The problem is there is not enough truth in them.   There is truth that we are yet to know. If there was no more truth to know, then how do we move forward? It takes God to know God and it is only God who can define Himself to us. It is God as the Man Jesus Christ who shows us what true humanity is. The stark characteristic of darkness is it hides things about us and about God. The knowledge in all disciplines must be regarded as knowledge, ‘so far’. The part we know is the tip of the visible part of the iceberg, the small fraction of the whole. There is still so much we don’t know about the visible part of the universe.  We might be the leader in a field at the cutting edge of new frontiers in regard to all aspects of our humanity and its behaviour. What we must not do is to turn this knowledge into some sort of logical muzzle and place this onto Christ. This is making darkness an interpretive tool for the gospel. Our knowledge and understanding of our humanity is subordinate to Jesus Christ. The Light shines in our darkness but our darkness cannot master the Light. What God discloses to us governs how we define Him in accordance with his disclosure in His Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Do we need to have anthropology to understand Jesus Christ? Do we need to have an understanding of psychology to understand Jesus Christ? Do we need to be scientists and so on? Do we need to be theologians? Most Christians I know have no qualifications in any of these disciplines.   Is it necessary? How many of you are experts in these fields? For those of you who are not, you know the truth when you hear it, right? Jesus Christ said, “you will know the truth for yourselves and this is the truth that will set you free.” He was speaking here of an inward teaching that is intuitive and instinctive. It is Jesus Christ whose being is in union with our being. It goes underneath our knowledge and impresses us from the inside.

The source of all the Light of knowledge of God begins in God Himself.  This Light shines only from God Himself.  It cannot shine from darkness. The only way we can see the Light is if God causes it to shine from deep within us and enlightens our dark knowledge so that we are able to see His knowledge (John 1:9).  The Incarnation of God did just this.  God penetrated deep within our beings and shone the Light of Truth of Himself within us.  The knowledge of God and our knowledge interpenetrates and indwells one another and interacted within us to enable us to recognise the truth precisely the way He wants us to.  This light of knowledge of God is the Light that shines from Christ in us outward. As the light travels out from within us, it enlightens our hearts and our minds. We see nothing but their love.

When we focus on Jesus Christ we begin to see the big picture. This is something our daughter is not able to do. If we had a view of a landscape, we would take in all its beauty as a whole in awe and wonder. Our daughter might look at a tiny part like a tiny piece of rubbish stuck in a bush. She will focus on the small object and see the whole world through that object. Instead of coming under the sheer majesty of the landscape, she will be lost in a tiny detail.

This is what I believe happens if we allow natural science to muzzle the knowledge of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We move from the beauty we find in the big picture and get lost in a tiny detail. We start to see the whole world through this tiny detail and dismiss what is happening in the big picture. Instead, the big picture can tell us much more about the tiny detail and how it all fits in. Natural science is beginning to discover things that have been evident all along in Trinitarian Theology. It confirms to us the fingerprint of God’s handiwork. It is like we get a peek at a glimpse of reality in the most breathtaking way often disclosing to us things far too glorious to explain.  Yet, it is only a tiny detail in the whole landscape of knowledge.  We must not get lost in the tiny detail.

May passion lies in attachment theory and it has immediate practical applications in the many scenarios we have experienced with foster children. There is something wonderful and mysterious that happens from the moment a baby is place into the arms of their mother and father. There is a bonding and a connection that starts to develop almost immediately that kick starts neuro development within the brain. The parent and the child develop what is known as attunement. There is a mysterious harmony with the tenderness and kindness portrayed in face-to-face relationship that the child picks up. It is far more complex than our feeble attempt to put into mere theoretical words. This attunement becomes vital as the child develops typical emotional responses. When this is broken and fractured either through an event or through some genetic deficiency like autism, the outcome in emotional development is different to the typical. There is so much of what attachment theory teaches which is research that has been gathered over the last 50 years.   What will be uncovered over the next 50 years is promising as knowledge in this area will be uncovered and new light is shed on human behaviour. When we look closely at the theory we can see the obvious theological hallmarks of the relationship that has been given to us in Jesus Christ. This gives me assurance this theory is indeed very promising for understanding how we facilitate a better means of healing broken relationships. We let ourselves be taught by the observations. However, the truths we find in attachment theory is like the tiny detail in the big picture. It is like the tip of the iceberg with most of the iceberg underwater and out of our sight. I must be self-disciplined and not allow this small detail to become a logical muzzle and become the interpretation for all the ways and works of God and His relationship towards in Jesus Christ. The picture is far bigger and much more beautiful as a whole.

Our frail human mind can barely come to grips with the true nature and character of such an over-abundance and overflowing of their love towards us.  It is inexplicably astonishing beyond measure.  We must take care that we try and not interpret God through our small frail mind and turn something bigger than us into a tiny detail in the big picture.   I must interpret what I see on its own merit knowing there is a certain darkness that prevents me from fully understanding the natural world.  It also means the playing field is level when it comes to those who believe they are leaders in the field of theology. Regardless of our so called expertise in theology we all have the very same access to the Object we study with the same deficits, blindness and ignorance. Thus Defining God in ways other than what is true to His nature will bring about an end result that is far removed from He that is revealed in Person in Jesus Christ. There is much more to God then we will ever be able to understand. We will lose the big picture.  When we are sharing the message of the gospel, we are pointing away from ourselves to Jesus Christ who is in us.

If our knowledge of the realities we choose to explore in our particular fields is incomplete with many questions yet to be answered, then we must take care in how we apply these truths in other fields. Even if the premise is built up over many decades of research and is widely accepted throughout, one small discovery can change everything. There is so much more that we don’t know and at this stage we don’t know what it is that is yet to be known. Jesus Christ is the only constant in the whole universe as created light is the only constant in the universe. Jesus Christ is the only meeting point for all human beings to understand the ways and works of God.  “The Trinity is the crossways for all human thought” (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London 1957), p. 66.).

This is different when it comes to God’s relationship to us.  He can identify with all aspects of what it is to be human with all its weaknesses, frailties and temptations because He became flesh and dwelt in us as the human being Jesus Christ.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  In this way, Jesus Christ is the Perfect Mediator between God and humanity.  No other human being in the whole of human history can better understand our nature.  In addition, being the only One who knows our condition, He becomes the perfect Doctor and He Himself becomes the perfect Patient addressing all that stands between humanity and God and destroying the enmity.  His light can shine through all our deficits and enable us to see Himself as He truly is. This is the miracle of encounter in all its various forms through all manner of conversations. It breaks through all our deficits, our faults, our confusions, our ignorance, our arrogance, our disabilities and so on. We see Him for ourselves, for who He truly is.  It is the nature of an encounter with Jesus Christ in the Spirit who brings us to the Father that is way beyond the boundaries of any form of human analysis.  Jesus Christ is the Light for the blind so we no longer need to be led by the blind.

This is the heart of what John the Baptist is saying in his final testimony in John. John was saying in a humble way that I am of the earth and know only things of the earth. The one who is from eternity is above the earth and knows all about eternal things.

We cannot and must not stand in ourselves and impose on others our understanding of the relationship between people and God in Christ.  We are of the earth and speak of earthly things. We all have too many blind spots.  All we can do is to testify to what God thinks of all people regardless of what we or anyone else thinks.  If we try to build our understanding of God and human relationships based on our own subjective experiences, then blind spots will get in the way of understanding who God is and human behaviour.  It will turn a grand, glorious and beautiful picture and force it through a tiny detail of the folly and feeble attempt to understand what is primarily a gift.  Knowing the weaknesses of our human condition, it is necessary for us to turn to a point of reference away from ourselves to the gift of God Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

The truth of God must remain in God regarding all aspects of our understanding of Him, what we testify, what He declares regarding all human beings and how we behave towards all human beings.  The ultimate truth of God informs us of the ultimate truth of humanity of which we must never try to master nor control.  This truth comes to us independent of us but at the same time it dwells in us in the Spirit of Christ.  Truth regarding all human beings is not in our hands to arbitrate. Instead we must be obedient to it.  We declare what Christ declares to us.  His truth and our understanding interpenetrate one another so that we know for ourselves deep within our beings the difference between the folly of our understanding and the wisdom of God.

We do not become followers of ‘Paul’ or followers of ‘Apollos’ or followers of ‘Peter.’  We become followers of who they follow.  We are encouraged to become co-followers. Whatever ministry we establish or participate in must have the one and only foundation that has been laid which is Jesus Christ.  It is not this ministry or that ministry or this church or that church or this person or that person.  It is a community of people who are establishing each other on the foundation, Jesus Christ.  Whatever role we play in our community, our ultimate aim is to point people to Jesus Christ and establish them freely upon His eternal, rock solid, foundation.

Building ourselves on the foundation Jesus Christ, means we encourage people to follow after Him according to His nature.  Whatever we teach is teaching His teaching the very same as He taught and the very same as was taught by the Apostles.  We must be able to articulate clearly that when Jesus Christ speaks, He is God speaking on His own behalf.  As we are being taught by the Spirit of God, the very same Spirit is also teaching those we teach.  It can be clumsy and messy as people come to grips something that only God Himself can teach which comes under no other control than under the control of God Himself.  It does not matter if an individual has the highest of credentials and is esteemed greatly among his peers, if what they teach is not speaking the very same as Jesus Christ taught, then all their work is in vain.  Self-importance can cloud the all-important framework of reference of God Himself revealed in Jesus Christ. In addition, this style of teaching leads to a dependence on a person rather than on the Spirit of Christ.

The dialogue of the Father, Son and Spirit interpenetrates into our conversation.  It is They who bring to life the Truth of themselves in such a way that is beyond our ability to grasp and exploit without the risk of misrepresentation.  Instead, we let the Truth of God speak for Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ.  This makes all human beings servants of what God declares on His own behalf in Jesus Christ.  I mean ALL human beings!!

We are never in a position to fully understand all the ways and works of God.  This is not because God has hidden Himself from us.  It is because there are limits in our fallen mind that make it difficult to know God like Jesus knows Himself and the Father.  In our endeavour to share the knowledge of God, we point people to where we draw our knowledge from.  This is what I believe Paul is talking about primarily in his first epistle to the Corinthians in chapter 3.  It was not about Paul, Apollos or Peter.  Without Jesus Christ, they would have nothing to say.  If anything happened in their ministry, it was because God made it happen.  Generally speaking, it is ministers of the body of Christ as a whole (and I am not just talking about those within institutions, seminaries and universities) who endeavour to plant the seed while others water it but it is God that causes it to grow.  When the Spirit opens the eyes of someone to the Truth of Christ in them, then it is reason for the whole community to rejoice along with all the angels of heaven.  God has worked a wonderful miracle through the means of a community who should endeavour to strive to work towards revealing Christ.

As John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He must increase but I must decrease,” we too should try and keep this in mind.  There are so many quiet achievers active in the church who receive no credit for the conversations they may have in many parts of the community.  The Spirit of Christ is at work in homes, shops, cafes, workplaces, sporting places, in vacations, in places of conflict, in hospitals, in brothels, refugee camps, prisons and in places we cannot even imagine in our Western way of life.  Our temptation is to try and gain some degree of self-importance in what we do. There is only importance in what we say if it lines up with the One in who is above all, Jesus Christ who shares all that He is with us.  John the Baptist receives joy in knowing Jesus Christ is increasing.  Jesus Christ is the One, the only One, who can bring to us the knowledge of God in His unique and specific way. Without Christ, we can only speak things of the earth that can never understand God.  It is the Spirit of Christ who makes Christ known. Be wary of those who try to set up the golden stage and fireworks display to gain your attention.  It is Jesus Christ who must increase. Always.

There are many voices throughout the world who claim to be teaching the fundamentals of Trinitarian Theology. Be wary of those who lure you in with words of, “listen to me,” “follow me,” or listen to this great man of God. The heart of Trinitarian Theology is “Christ in you,” listen to Him, follow Him, let Him teach you. We all hope that what we teach is something Christ has already spoken to you deep within your heart.  There are a large network of people who are endeavouring to do just this.  They need our support, encouragement, prayers and co-workers.

I am enormously thankful to many, many people within our community who have shown me God as Triune.  In turn, I find those I am thankful to are  also enormously thankful to those who have helped them on their journey to this Triune gospel.  Our thanks does not stop going back until we come to the feet of Christ.  It is because of Jesus Christ who shares Himself with each one of us that we know what we know now to the degree that we feel passionate enough to want to share it with others.  Sometimes this comes at a great cost and a degree of pain as we allow the Spirit to work on us and our hearts.  Yet, His mysterious truth leaves us steadfast in the face of hardship.  It brings on a whole new perspective, a whole new way of seeing.  It sets us free to do things in service.

In John 3:31, “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth.”  However, great  a ministry is, only has its greatness because the ministry is informed from the One who is the Source of all things.  The knowledge we have is not our knowledge but knowledge that has been freely and graciously imparted to us.  “Freely we have received now freely we give” (Matt. 10:8).  No one can corner the market with the gospel and have power over people.  There is a big difference between people in ministry who are of the earth and the Lord of all ministry, Jesus Christ who is the Source and fountain from which all ministry flows.  Ministries flourish and grow only because God causes it to grow.  When our ministers and ministries do the work of the gospel, it is Jesus Christ we want to see more of and the ministries and ministers we want to see less of.  “He must increase we must decrease.”  If it is the ministers and ministries who increase and Jesus Christ who decreases then we need to be aware that we might be too much under the control of people rather than under the control of the Spirit of Christ.

How do we know if we are under the control of the Spirit of Christ or under the control of another??  This is getting to the heart of the Covenant established and ratified by God in Jesus Christ.  It is a miraculous ‘unveiling’ of the way things really are.  It is often illogical and may not make sense,  Yet, deep within us, there is a note that sounds and rings true.  Our hearts begin to hum as the truth resonates within us. Those who teach the ways of Christ that are consistent with who He declares Himself to be in Scripture will be in sync with what is going on in us.  Christ is made bigger and the one who teaches is often smaller than what is unveiled to us in what they teach.  There is freedom to be able to test for ourselves the credibility of all teachers and make up our own minds.  On this journey, we find as we unpack what is unveiled to us, those who played a part in helping us see are patiently and lovingly alongside us, serving as Christ serves giving us freedom even in our times of confusion and misunderstanding.  The nature of Jesus Christ continually shines through helping us, perhaps for the first time, to be able to stand on our own two feet.  It is the very same nature of Jesus Christ who wants us to grow in confidence that we truly can know God for ourselves.  It is Covenantal and is something we need to be acutely aware of and familiar with as we engage with other Christians.  We must ask ourselves the question, “Am I afforded the freedom to consider whether or not a teaching is in the true nature of Christ and does it exhibit the genuine fruit of the Spirit?  Be wary of pressure, hostility, ridicule or mockery of any sort.

It would be useful to have a read of Hebrews 8:10-12 (Jeremiah 31:31).

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbour,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

The decree of God outlined in the OT where external pointers to who God was in Himself.  What the New Covenant is saying, now, is the internal nature of God Himself has been place at the core of our being.  It is true face-to-face, being-to-being fellowship.  It is God as paraclete from deep within us holding our hearts together.   His presence is the healing balm that heals all our brokenness.  No one else can do this.  Anthropology, psychology, science in all its forms cannot do this. Theology cannot do this. Only the Person of Jesus Christ who is in intimate union deep within our beings can do this. This is the mystery of the atonement that is veiled to us. This is something that God does in Christ in us.  When it happens it transforms us in a way we never forget.  Yet, some people will give all due credit to the preacher, teacher, minister, ministry etc.  This is what Paul was trying to address in his letter to the Corinthians. “Don’t follow me, Apollos or Peter.”  Jesus declared John the Baptist to be the greatest of all prophets.  He was the only prophet who not only told of the imminent arrival of the Messiah but He was the only one who pointed Him out for all to see.  Once he singled out Jesus, he declared, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

The gospel truth is rooted in God’s self revelation in Jesus Christ. It has practical and immediate use for those who we preach to. It has relevance to the mission field. It is a message that evangelises; it brings about repentance in all situations. If it does none of these things, then it is not true. We must not do an injustice to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ for the sake of holding onto non-Christological ideas and theories. We are of the earth and therefore only know things of the earth. We must allow the things of the earth to grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Remember the old saying, “The devil is in the detail.” Don’t let a small and narrow perception ruin the whole picture. Small details will often have rules to follow, high bars to leap over and hoops to jump through. It means you will more than likely have your intuition taken away and replaced in captivity under a doctrine or teaching. It means you might lose your freedom to think for yourselves. “You will know the truth for yourselves and it is this truth that will set you free.