We want only to communicate to you an experience we have had that here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves is a New Creation, usually hidden, but sometimes manifest, and certainly manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ.
Paul Tillich, “The New Being”
The New Creation to which Tillich refers is the message we are given to declare—we are aware of the New Creation, experientially aware. The New Creation, the New Being is not always apparent to us, in fact, is seldom so. Yet we remember its presence and therefore infer that at every moment, the New Creation is available to each and every human being. And so we seek; we cultivate; we strive to nurture ourselves and to communicate to others. Enfolded in God’s glory, we do become new beings—perfect, whole, joyful, and free.
This New Creation is not a reshuffling of old ideas, emotions, or sensations, nor simply an introduction to new ones. Because we encounter this Life differently from the phenomena of our nature, apprehension is problematic. Further adding to the difficulty is our reluctance to detach ourselves from the self-affirming comfort and strength we derive from exercising our natural powers, the powers of the old creation so familiar to us. Prying ourselves loose from the old while gaining confidence in the new does not happen without suffering, for it is an upheaval, a removal of all things that are made, “that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27).
Our tradition assists us in many ways with our entry into the New Creation, for that is its ultimate purpose. One of the earliest ways we see in Scripture is through the act of the promise. God’s promises to the Hebrews mark significant events in their history: His promise following the flood to no more curse the ground and His promise to Abraham to make of him the father of many nations are two such promises, which work to establish a relationship of trust between God and his people. These promises, as do all promises, guarantee future circumstances, allowing the promisee to act not according to what is, but according to what will be.
A promise collapses the distance between the present and the future, so that the old can be relinquished in favor of the new, as if the new were already here. Jesus tells his disciples:
I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49).
It is God’s promise that the disciples will be endued with power, and so they are willing to act in a new way—by staying put in the city—by standing still.
A promise also strengthens us with hope for the future. “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). A promise diminishes the significance of the here and now and pulls us into what is yet to be. Standing on the threshold of the New Creation, the promise allows us to step forward with hope and confidence.
The early Quakers affirmed the validity of scriptural promises, and they themselves continued the practice. We read in George Fox’s journal:
Therefore, all wait patiently upon the Lord, whatsoever condition you be in; wait in the grace and truth that comes by Jesus; for if ye so do, there is a promise to you, and the Lord God will fulfill it in you. And blessed are all they indeed that do indeed hunger and thirst after righteousness, they shall be satisfied with it (Works, 1:75).
If the promises pull us into the New Creation, the law—in the form of outward commandments—pushes us into it. Where the promises speak of good things to come, the law, on the contrary, makes our present situation inviable. Paul explores the effect of the law on the old being in the book of Romans:
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death (Rom. 7:9-10).
The law precipitates a disassociation from our natural selves, that is to say that guilt ensues from breaking the law:
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me (Rom. 7:15, 20).
This disjoining of will from behavior promotes some deep searching for relief, for wholeness that is beyond our reach. We look for salvation, a savior. Says Paul: “ O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24). We are thus pried loose from our natural moorings, and we are baptized into Christ Jesus, into his death (Rom. 6:3).
That the law’s purpose is to bring us to this state is further supported by New Testament stories in which the original commandments have been followed, only to be supplemented with additional commands. Witness the conversation between Jesus and the rich, young ruler who comes to ask him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says:
Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother (Mk. 10:19).
The young man assures him that he has observed all these commandments throughout his life, and Jesus tenderly loves him for his answer. Yet he then gives the man a more rigorous command: he must forfeit his riches, giving the proceeds to the poor that he may have “treasure in heaven” (v.21). This treasure in heaven, that is, eternal life, is not the result of having followed the commandments, for if that were the case, the man would have received what he was looking for immediately. The treasure will become available only upon the failure of the will, the awareness of that failure, and an ensuing sorrowful regret and longing. This longing and the accompanying inner turmoil belong to the birth pangs of the New Being.
When the man sorrowfully leaves, Jesus exclaims, “…how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 24). In addition to straightforward reference to material wealth, we might also infer that the natural assets of a person, that is, a strong will, great intelligence, talent, youth, or charisma could hinder entry. For the more advantaged a person feels himself to be, the more he must do to divest himself of attachment to self. And it is this divestment that readies him for putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). Conversely, attempting to sustain a coherent, powerful sense of self, once weakness and fragmentation become self-apparent, entails anxiety, self-deceit, and too often the defrauding or victimization of others.
With what equanimity does George Fox see himself as he is in the old creation, once he has entered the new:
Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can get by history or books. That love let me see myself, as I was without him; and I was afraid of all company; for I saw them perfectly, where they were, through the love of God which let me see myself…I was afraid of all carnal talk and talkers, for I could see nothing but corruptions, and the life lay under the burden of corruptions (Works 1:74).
Another example of a more rigorous command superadded to those previously given occurs in the book of John. Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure by giving them a new commandment. For even though the disciples have left all and followed Jesus (as the rich man did not), they have not yet known the New Creation. There remains a distance separating them from Jesus. They cannot come to where he is.
Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another (John 13:33-34).
A commandment is to be carried out by the power of the will. However, this commandment—to love one another—cannot be carried out by the will. Love is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and therefore, one can love as Jesus loved only as it is given to us from God: We love him, because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19).
The commandment that Jesus gives the disciples carries them into territory where the will is of no more use. Their wills are strong; they’ve left all to follow Jesus. Yet obeying this new command is beyond theirs or anyone’s capacity.
Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake (Jn. 13:37-38).
The old being reaches its end, iconically in Jesus on the Cross and distinctly in Peter’s bitter weeping (Mk. 14:72). The new can only be awaited. “Who can be saved?” the disciples ask. Jesus replies, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mk.10:27). The law pushes us to the point where we are ready to receive salvation. We reject our old selves and await the New Creation because we can embrace a standard that is beyond our keeping.
Finally, I would like to look at a different kind of lesson, which goes beyond both the commandments and the promises, types that originated and were carried over from the Hebrew tradition. This new lesson is in the book of Mark, and, once again, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. As he did in the previous story, he is pushing them into new territory beyond the commandments he had previously given. In this lesson Jesus borrows and alters an image from the first stanza of Psalm 46. It is an image of a mountain being cast into the sea, an image of monumental upheaval. In this passage, nature is in tumult:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof (Psalm 46:1-3).
This psalm is about disruption, and though the imagery is of outward nature, we, as Quakers (and therefore not literalists), know that it’s really about an inward state within human nature. And the most disruptive inward state is the transformation from the old being to the new, as our mountainous egos undergo dissolution.
In the correlating verse from Mark 11, Jesus puts us into the position of commanding the mountain to be cast into the sea. In other words, we are not to be passive victims of the inward disruption, but are actually to welcome it, even to call it forward, to take command of our nature, rather than remaining its captive:
Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you. That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them (Mk. 11:22-24).
Jesus uses the image of utmost disruption, the mountain cast into the sea, and turns it from an image of fear into an image of desire. The movement from the old creation to the new involves this same change of perspective. We lay down the old and take up the new. To be willing to endure and even to urge on the demise of the old creation, to know in one’s heart that the old is outworn and ready to be set aside is to make oneself pliable to God. The demise is not against one’s will, but it is within one’s power. Not only should it not be resisted, it should be pursued. The death of old Adam, the old creation, is the Cross. The new creation, the second Adam, the resurrection, is at hand.
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father (Jn. 10:17-18).
In these words, the promise, the commandment, the laying down of the old and taking up of the new, all converge: the New Creation, the New Being is here.
Returning to Tillich’s essay, we hear his assessment and plea:
The New Creation—this is our ultimate concern; this should be our infinite passion—the infinite passion of every human being. This matters; this alone matters ultimately. In comparison with it everything else, even religion or non-religion, even Christianity or non-Christianity, matters very little—and ultimately nothing.
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