Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Beating the Future into the Present

A "type" in biblical literature is commonly understood as a kind of "preview." Paul says that Adam was a "type" of Jesus who was to come (Rom. 5:14). These previews can also work as "examples" or "patterns" to follow or learn from: the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness are examples for Christians to warn them (1 Cor. 10:6), Moses saw the pattern of the tabernacle on the mountain and was to follow it in the construction of the house of God (Acts 7:44, Heb. 8:5)), and Paul will call upon believers to follow his "example" (Phil. 3:17, 2 Thess. 3:9) or commend others for becoming faithful examples (1 Thess. 1:7). A "type" is ultimately a sort of "image" (e.g. Acts 7:43). In this sense, the "image of God" in man is a replication of the "type" of God which comes to fulfillment in Jesus. It points to the origin; it refers to the archtype.

But the word tupos also means "mark" or "blow." It is only used once in the New Testament in this sense and refers to the "mark" of the nails in the hands of Jesus. Thomas says that unless he sees the "mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe" (Jn. 20:25). But the verb form of this word tupto occurs numerous times in the NT and means "beat" or "strike." Jesus is "struck" (Mt. 27:30, Mk. 15:19, Lk. 22:64), later Sosthenes is "beaten" (Acts 18:17), and Paul is beaten (Acts 21:32) and "struck" (Acts 23:2).

This suggests a couple of possible directions to run with this. First, to call people to follow the pattern/example of Jesus or the apostles, is to call them to be "pierced" or "struck" or "beaten" into conformity with the image. Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God, the type of the image of God that we are striving to be conformed to. Second, this suggests that the "example" of Christ and the apostles and other believers so frequently associated with suffering should perhaps be taken more literally. To be "beaten" for Jesus, to be "struck" for His name is to bear in the body the "marks" of Christ. Paul uses a different word in Galatians 6:17, but the parallel seems unmistakable. The "type" is struck in the believer in so far as their suffering is suffering for good (like Christ) but the "mark" is not merely illustrative, it is also efficacious and transformative. Like a bit of soft wax pressed with the image of the King, the marks of Christ leave an indelible reality of God's Life pressed into the individual who suffers. No wonder the apostles call us to rejoice.

Lastly, and a bit more speculative, it seems like there is a temporal-eschatalogical promise implied in this picture. Given these previous points, "types" seem to function as prophetic signs. "Types" call upon God to fulfill them. Sacraments are the supreme types, but even people, persecution, and various patterns seem to function as invitations for God to interpose the reality into history to which the "type" points. Perhaps more provocatively, types strain forward into the future and at the same time pull the future back into the present. While God does know the end from the beginning and certainly orchestrates all things according to His good counsel, there is nevertheless clearly a mysterious way in which humanity is invited into influencing the course of history. Prophets speak in the divine assembly, and God listens to them. God changes His mind; the future is not fixed in an abstract filing cabinet in heaven. The future is held in the hand of our faithful Father.

This would mean that "pounding" an obedient type into the present is one of the ways that God invites our participation in the future. The imprint, the mark of faithfulness will remain, and more than that, perhaps we have far more impact on the future than we sometimes imagine.

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