“The glory of God is the human person, fully alive.” This quote is from St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a second century theologian, born in Asia Minor. Among other things, Irenaeus went on to be the bishop of Lyons, in Gaul. Christianity was still spreading and defining itself at the time: What did it mean to be Christian? What beliefs fell under the umbrella of Christianity? Which ideas were considered orthodox and which were not?
Some of the competing ideas that Irenaeus encountered were from different Gnostic sects, whose dualistic understanding of matter and spirit challenged Christian understandings of the incarnation and creation. In the Gnostic imagination, the material world (creation) and the divine world (God) did not interact. Because the material world was corrupt, the two were separate. In his writings against these ideas, Irenaeus affirmed that the God of creation is also the God of salvation: that God touches both matter and spirit, and that there is nothing inherently corrupt in creation. It is through the distortion of sin that humanity is separated from God, and it is through obedience to Christ that we are ultimately redeemed.
I say all of this because I think that Irenaeus’ declaration that “the glory of God is the human person, fully alive” is still pretty revolutionary. When we live our full lives, when we are known and loved as our full selves, we give glory to God. (Living into the fullness of life is different than achieving some kind of perfection. Sometimes, and maybe you’ve experienced this, too, I spend more time trying to get things just right than I do living them out; I get stuck in the boundaries I’ve constructed in my mind. It makes sense: our world and culture compel us to be and act in certain ways. When we don’t fill the world’s expectations, we can feel shame. Irenaeus’s words are a reminder that what God wants for us is to be fully alive, not to live perfectly or into the world’s expectations.)
And God wants that fullness of life for all people. This weekend, I attended a Black Lives Matter rally at the corner of N. Charles and Northern Parkway, just down the block from Redeemer. We lined the corners and held signs as cars drove past. In affirming that Black lives matter, we were upholding some of the essence of what Irenaeus thought: we were affirming that Black lives are worthy of being fully lived, that they reveal the glory of God. They are, and they do. And it is part of our baptismal call to ensure that all people – especially people whom society and the world reject, like the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed – are able to live full lives.
Addressing racism in myself and in the world around me is one way I strive to live out my baptismal covenant. When we are baptized we are asked to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, to break bread and pray; to resist evil and repent when we fall into it; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being, all with God’s help. (Which is good – because we can’t do this alone and we won’t always get it right.) When we are baptized, we join God’s family, with these responsibilities to and expectations of our shared life in Christ.
For me, living out the responsibilities and expectations that are placed on me by my faith, rather than the world, is part of how I am fully alive. And my life, and its fullness, is bound up with everyone else’s. May we each seek to be fully alive, in all that we do, and may we seek that fullness of life for the whole world.
P.S. Sometime, when I see you in person, I’ll try and sing the song I learned for this Irenaeus quote! It’s fun.