“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)
Consider the tomatoes of the garden. They neither think nor contemplate, they neither strive nor work, they neither believe nor disbelieve, and yet they experience a transformation that completely remakes them from a rock-hard little green orb into a succulent red fruit to be enjoyed by all. Ripening happens to a tomato not because the tomato works hard at it and puts aside all the unripe portions of its flesh. Ripening happens because that is the natural, right end of the tomato.
Greek philosophy has given Christianity much of the language we use to describe the spiritual. For the Greeks, that God-given natural goal was called the telos. The point of all ethics, spirituality, contemplation, thought, and life is to reach the telos that is intrinsic to you. The telos of a tomato is to ripen and be eaten. A concurrent telos would be for the tomato to “be fruitful and multiply” by spreading its seeds through being eaten. Literally, the tomato has to die in order to achieve its God-given goal.
And this process of “achievement” really is achievement at all. The tomato doesn’t strive to ripen, doesn’t strive to be eaten. I suspect the tomato doesn’t think about it much at all. The tomato simply does what it does naturally: it becomes ripe because that’s what it was made to do.
Humanity too has a telos. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the chief end of humanity is to love God and enjoy him forever. We were created for love, for union, with God. By nature, that is what we should be able to do without any effort, striving, or thinking.
Sin has gotten in the way. Not just our personal wrong thoughts, words, and deeds, but sin as separation from God. Our distance from God keeps us from realizing our telos, which is union with God. To overcome that distance, we see God taking on flesh and coming to us. St. Irenaeus put it this way: “God become man so that men might become God.” God bridged the gap between heaven and earth himself so that we might experience our telos in a renewed nature.
But we don’t really like to simply wait on transformation. We tend to see John’s instruction to purify ourselves just as Christ is pure as a call to action – we have to do something. I’m not sure that’s true. What could be more pure than a ripe tomato on the vine? Might it be more true that purity is the absence of striving; that striving is actually more related to ego and achievement than to transformation and telos? I believe so. I think much of the emphasis in Christianity on doing more, doing better is really geared towards feeding our ego rather than allowing the grace of God to change us. Ripening is a process; it takes a while. We would do well to learn from the tomato to simply trust God in this process and embrace who it is we are becoming.
Cody Nygard, Associate Pastor