It was a rainy Sunday in November 2013, when at 7 am the central section of the Elevado da Perimetral near the city center of Rio de Janeiro was imploded. It took more than a ton of explosives to turn the road into rubble and dust, a lot of dust. A structure that took years to complete was down in just five seconds. However, it took several to remove the rubble.
By Hermes C. Fernandes
Among the rituals prescribed in the Mosaic law, none was more radical than circumcision. It is a surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed, the skin covering the glans of the male reproductive organ, as invasive and traumatic as cutting the umbilical cord. Unlike other ceremonies such as those that required the sacrifice of animals, circumcision left a mark on the individual’s body. In fact, circumcision was instituted well before the law, serving as a seal of the covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants. Every male child should be circumcised on the eighth day (G.17: 10-12). Jesus himself needed to be subjected to the rite.
Currently, many advocate circumcision as a hygiene measure, useful to prevent the accumulation of genital secretion in the space between the glans and the foreskin, a region commonly the focus of infections. Research points to the practical benefits of circumcision such as the reduction of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and cervical cancer in partners, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Despite the value attributed by modern medicine to practice, I would like to propose a biblical investigation in search of its symbolic/spiritual meaning. The sacred writer says that the rites and ceremonies of the law have “the shadow of future goods, and not the exact image of things” (Heb. 10: 1). Paul adds by saying that the reality to which they point is found “in Christ”
(Col.2: 16-17). Therefore, much more than a hygienic and preventive measure, circumcision has a broader and deeper meaning. In fact, circumcision turned out to be the subject of much controversy in the early church. Some Jewish disciples thought that any Gentile who converted to the faith should submit to the rite. Only then would the new convert be accepted into the Christian community, being officially included among Abraham’s descendants. Paulo was one of the ones who most fought against this belief. According to the apostle, what was once a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham, has now become a tool for holding people hostage to a frivolous and vain religiosity. “Being careful,” warned Paulo,
“So that no one may make you their prey, through philosophies and vain subtleties, according to the tradition of men, according to the rudiments of the world, and not according to Christ; because in him the fullness of divinity dwells bodily, and you have your fullness in him, who is the head of all principality and power, in which you were also circumcised with the circumcision of Christ ” (Col.2: 8-11). Therefore, the circumcision instituted in the law was only a shadow of the true circumcision to which we are subjected to Christ. In Him we reach fullness; in other words, we lack nothing. We are complete. His grace is enough for us. There are no additions to make.
Some more moderate disciples felt that circumcision should be viewed as optional. Anyone who wanted could be circumcised. Whoever did not want to, could remain uncircumcised. However, Paul, anticipating that this would promote the division of Christians into two distinct classes, was radically opposed. “If you let yourself be circumcised,” warns the apostle, “Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal.5: 2). And the logic he used was unbeatable: “And again I protest to every man who allows himself to be circumcised, who is obliged to keep the whole law” (v.3). I couldn’t compromise. Whoever wanted to live under the aegis of the law would have to observe it completely. Either everything or nothing. You either live by the law, or you surrender to grace. And he himself sentences: “You are separated from Christ, you who are justified by the law; you have fallen from grace ” (v.4). For Paulo, that was a long-overdue issue. Turning her into a workhorse was a complete waste of time. For this reason, he refuses to put on warm clothes. The matter had to end right there. “Because”, after all, “in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value; but the faith that works through love ” (v.6). And he concludes: “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any virtue, but that he is a new creature” (Gal.6: 15). Neither value nor virtue. Therefore, no one can boast to God for the simple fact of having been circumcised as prescribed by law.
In almost all of his epistles, Paul had to return to the question, even if reluctantly. The church suffered continuous harassment from those who defended circumcision as a sine qua non for salvation. To the Philippians, he argues that true circumcision “is we, who serve God in spirit, and boast in Jesus Christ, and do not trust in the flesh” (Phil.3: 3). Unlike the law that had served as the platform of a meritorious system, grace overturns any human presumption, since it reveals our spiritual bankruptcy, the weakness of our flesh and our inability to fulfill the demands of divine justice. You cannot trust Christ and trust our flesh at the same time. Any attempt to establish a meritocracy succumbs to the radical nature of grace.
To the Christians of Rome, he pins:
“Because what is outside is not Jewish, nor is circumcision what is outside in the flesh. But what is inside is Jewish, and circumcision is what is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise does not come from men, but from God. ” Romans 2: 28,29 Circumcision of the heart? Where did Paul get this concept from? Was it a totally new concept? Was there any indication in the Old Testament that under the new covenant would circumcision of the flesh be replaced by the circumcision of the heart? And what would such circumcision mean? Jeremiah, the most emotional of the prophets, admonishes:
“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and remove the foreskins from your heart, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my fury come out like fire, and burn so that there is no one to put it out, because of the malice of your works.” Jeremiah 4: 4
This veteran- testamentary passage makes it clear that the non-circumcision of our hearts would attract the judgment of God. It is also understood that our evil works are nothing more than the fruits of an uncircumcised heart.
Even during the institution of the law, long before the age of the great prophets, God had already committed himself to promote the circumcision of the hearts of His people. Therefore, it is not human work, but divine. Read what Moses says about it:
“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your offspring, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. ” Deuteronomy 30: 6
Note this: circumcision of the heart is what enables us to love God. Jesus said that the whole law was summed up in two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. Without a man having his heart circumcised, he will never be able to fulfill them. The fulfillment of both depends entirely on this operation made by the Holy Spirit within us. And once we are unable to love our neighbor, we will certainly also deny him justice.
“Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and do not harden your neck any longer. For the Lord, your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of lords, the great, mighty and terrible God, who is no respecter of persons, nor accepts bribes; who does justice to the orphan and the widow and loves the foreigner, giving him bread and clothing. ” Deuteronomy 10: 16-18
Peace is only possible if there is justice, and this, in turn, is only achieved where there is love. However, there is a foreskin in every man’s heart that prevents him from seeing this. Paul also refers to this covering as a veil capable of hardening human understanding. Hence the warning that we do not harden our neck. In other words, we have to stop being tough headed. However, for this, the veil has to be removed. This only happens when we are converted to Christ (2 Cor. 3: 13-18). Therefore, the genuine conversion is equivalent to having a circumcised heart.
Let me make use of a psychoanalytical understanding of our human condition that seems to echo the truth announced in the Scriptures.
According to Freud, we are all born narcissists. When we are born, all our love is turned to ourselves. Even our mother is seen as an extension of our being. This seems to fit perfectly with what Christian theology says about our human condition: we are all born in sin (Ps. 51: 5). Sinit is, by definition, missing the target. We were not created for self-love, but to love God and our neighbor. Self-love is, as it were, the essence of sin. We are born in sin because we are born turned to ourselves. We invest all of our affection in our self. The other is just a mirror where we can see our image. It is for the other that we become aware that we exist. The world seems to orbit us. Until such trauma occurs that Freud calls castration. If narcissism is the enthronement of “I”, castration is its deposition. We are confronted by the law imposed by the superego in a process called the Oedipus Complex, through which we discover that not all of our desires can be satisfied. The role of the superego is to equip us with a moral conscience, dictating the good to be sought, and the evil to be avoided. It is through castration that the law is embedded in our consciousness, generating a neurotic psychic structure, based on desire and guilt. An eventual failure in castration will generate a psychotic, or even perverse, psychic structure, in which the subject is unable to feel guilty. Without guilt, there will also be no regret. It is necessary for the law to fulfill its role in order for grace to enter the scene so that the celebrated apostolic declaration is fulfilled: “Where sin abounded, grace abounded” (Rom.5: 20). As a Christian who believes in the ministry of the Spirit in convincing man about sin, justice, and judgment (John 16: 8), I firmly believe that no one is immune to His efficient work, even the psychotic or the wicked. However, this action necessarily involves the admission of guilt, without which, a grateful conscience for forgiveness will never be reached. Without the law, there is no possible gospel. The law condemns the gospel to absolve.
Anyone who thinks that the law was bequeathed exclusively to the Jews is wrong. Paul states that even the Gentiles “naturally do the things that are of the law, since they have no law, for themselves they are law; who show the work of the law written in their hearts, testifying together to their conscience and their thoughts, whether accusing them or defending them ” (Rom.2: 14,15). This law in the heart is what Freud calls a superego.
It is precisely castration that throws us out of ourselves and makes us search in the other for what we do not find in us since it reveals our desperate condition of incompleteness.
Now we have an ego suppressed by the superego and a third psychic instance that Freud calls Id, which is equivalent to what Paul calls “flesh”. Let’s say that the superego is that little angel that stimulates us to do what is right, while the Id is the little devil that instigates us to do what is wrong. It will be up to the ego to arbitrate between the demands of the superego and the Id.
Due to our sinful condition, we are much more likely to respond to the calls of Ethan to the stimuli of the superego. We want to indulge our flesh’s desires at any cost, even if it results in the unhappiness of others. Unlike the stars around which the most varied planets orbit, we become black holes that suck everything around them.
Neutering was not enough to make us full human beings. At most, we owe her our introduction to spiritual adolescence. The fullness that we so need is found in the grace revealed in Christ. It frees us from the oppression of the superego and the continuous pressure of the Id.
Circumcision of the heart offers us a stage beyond castration. Both the ego and the superego are destitute and in their place we enthroned Christ and the Holy Spirit respectively. “I am crucified with Christ,” declares Paul, “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal.2: 20). The axis around which our existence revolves is no longer our self to be Christ, and the voice of our conscience is no longer the inquisitive voice of the law to be the sweet and encouraging voice of the Holy Spirit. Only the Id continues to occupy the same place since the flesh is never converted. We only get rid of the drives of our sinful nature when we receive new bodies and God is all in all (1 Cor.15: 28; Phil.3: 21).
Through castration, we were taken to the Tree of Knowledge of Good from Evil, but only by the circumcision of the heart are we brought back to the Tree of Life.
From there, instead of seeing our own image (narcissism), we started to see in ourselves the image of Christ and the flagrant transformation sponsored by the Spirit of Freedom (2 Cor. 3:18). Finally, with a circumcised heart, we stop living for ourselves. As Paul says, “the love of Christ compels us, judging us like this: that if one died for everyone, soon everyone died. And he died for everyone so that those who live will no longer live for themselves ” (2 Cor. 5: 14-15). This holy constraint not only affects the way we see ourselves but also how we see the other. Paulo adds: “As soon as we know anyone from now on according to the flesh” (v.16). In other words, we no longer look to the other for our own satisfaction. The other is no longer a mere item of our desire, a dream of consumption, and is seen and welcomed as someone to whom we must unpretentiously devote our love. By grace we become free to love both God and our neighbor; not driven by the neurotic guilt generated by the law (superego), but by the Spirit of Christ; not out of fear of being inadequate to the expectations of others, but out of the pleasure of finding happiness in someone else’s reason for our own happiness.
It can be said, then, that the being conceived in the uterine environment will only reach the fullness of his humanity when he is regenerated, passing through the circumcision of his heart.
By Hermes C. Fernandes
The first step that needs to be taken to fight evil is to admit it. But, unfortunately, just a few weeks ago from the Olympic Games, when the country expects to receive thousands of tourists from all over the world, of which a significant portion is female, it is not easy to admit that there is a culture of rape installed in our society.
The international press is highlighting the unfortunate episode of collective rape to which a young woman of just 16 was subjected, and rightly criticizes the fact that the Brazilian press does not give due importance to the case, even trying to discredit the victim, raising suspicions that he had participated in a consensual orgy. A very different treatment was given to the episode that occurred in India in December 2012, when the young Nirbahaya also suffered a collective rape. The mainstream Brazilian media covered the episode in detail, labeling India as a dangerous place for women. This same biased media is silent on the case in Rio, and on another collective rape that occurred in Piauí just a week ago.
The case in India had such repercussions that it brought about changes in the law. With that in mind, what should we expect from a country where a deputy tells a colleague of parliament that he just wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it? What to expect from a country where a religious parliamentary group decides to create a bill to boycott the law that guarantees free public health care for rape victims? What to expect from a country where the audience of a TV show cheers wildly for an actor who has just confessed to raping a woman after leaving her unconscious? This same actor has the courage to meet with the minister of education to give him suggestions for the management of his portfolio.
Hence, some patriots of occasion leave shouting that there is no rape culture in the country! Tell that to every woman who is raped every 11 minutes in Brazil, according to data released by the Brazilian Public Security Forum. Tell that to the 47,646 victims just last year. Would these numbers be sufficiently convincing for us to admit that there is a culture of rape properly installed in Brazilian society?
First, let’s understand the origin of the term “rape culture”.
This term was coined in the 1970s when American feminists were engaged in a campaign to raise awareness of society about the reality of rape. According to Alexandra Rutherford, the doctor in science and psychology, and a specialist in feminism and gender, before the feminist movement brought up this subject, little was said about it. Worse, it was believed that both rape, domestic sexual violence, and incest rarely happened.
The growing number of cases of rape in society, as well as the typical reaction of part of the population, highlights the existence of a culture of rape. It does not mean that rape is seen as normal, that it should be practiced and encouraged, but that the culture produces fertile soil for it to occur with worrying frequency.
Really, society sees the rape with some condescension, even if it says it is horrified. This condescension is revealed each time you try to blame the victim and exempt the perpetrator as if this were inherent to your own masculinity.
Parents raise their children to be predators, true stallions. Even if they do not admit it, but they are proud to know that their son is “passing the general squeegee”. The woman is seen as an object to be conquered, a wild mare to be dominated and tamed. Obviously this is not said openly, but between the lines, in the jokes, in the catchphrases like “lock up your goats that my goat is loose.”
The same culture that forges the figure of the “alpha male”, produces the ambiance conducive to rape. Boys grow up hearing that when a woman says no, she actually means yes. The “no” is just a charm. She wants to force herself. Be thrown against the wall. Forced. Women don’t like soft men. Show her who’s boss! Every woman has the fantasy of being raped. Women really like to be beaten … And so on … Does anyone still dare say that there is no rape culture?
Isn’t she trying to get the girl drunk and then taking advantage of her rape? Is what, then? But all of this is seen as perfectly natural. Nothing more. Crazy teen thing.
Many women have even convinced themselves that they were born to be easy prey in the hands of these crooks. There is a glamorization of cafajestice. Not that every crook is a rapist, but he is certainly a strong candidate since he has no qualms or moral restraint.
If, on the one hand, it seeks to naturalize the posture of the predatory man, on the other, it seeks to blame the victim. Something she did to deserve this!
In the case of the only 16-year-old girl raped by 33 men, social media was swamped with accusations that tried to execute her and discredit her testimony. Photos were posted in which she allegedly appears with rifles. I said “supposedly”, because it was proven that some of these pictures were not hers. Testimonies of alleged friends emerged that leaked through WhatsApp stating that she was used to having sex with several men at once. From one hour to the next, she stopped being the victim to be the slut, the brazen, who looked for what, who consumes hard drugs, who lives in funk dances, etc. Although all these charges were true, they do not justify the crime committed. She could even be a prostitute who has already had sex with 50 at once. If she said no, it has to be respected. And more: even if it had been consensual, she is a minor, and reportedly, she was doped. In fact, it was not the first rape he suffered. It was widely reported that she is the mother of a three-year-old child. Soon, she was a mother at thirteen and possibly got pregnant at twelve. The name of this is vulnerable rape! Sex with minors, whether consensual or not, remains rape.
However, our culture is so steeped in machismo, that we don’t even realize that by adhering to this discourse, we are reinforcing it, thus fertilizing the soil where the culture of rape flourishes. It doesn’t matter the size of the shorts you wore, the places you went, or the drugs you wore. None of this diminishes the seriousness of the crime.
There were those who pondered the fact that she had not gone to the police before the video went viral. Now, let us not be cynical. The reason is the same as why most victims prefer to be silent. They know the risk they are at being blamed. For this reason, most suffer from silence, being raped for years on end. And you don’t even need a promiscuous environment like a banning funk dance. Most are victims within their own homes, by members of their own families. Others, on their way to work or during work hours. There are even those who have been victimized in unlikely environments such as churches.
How to combat the culture of rape? It is not enough to guarantee severe punishment for criminals (chemical castration, for example). We need to resort to preventive measures. And that goes through the family and the school. And it will not be repressing the woman any further, making her a double victim. Increasing the length of the skirt, decreasing the size of the neckline, or something like that, are palliative measures that only reinforce the culture of rape. It is like saying that the rapist is right. That any woman dressed in the most attractive way is asking to be raped. Nothing more ridiculous than that, right?
So, what to do? Teach boys to respect women early on. Prepare them to be real men, not sex machines. Emphasize the feeling of empathy in them. Teach them, for example, which man also cries. That this is not a woman thing. That the woman is not a piece of meat ready to be eaten. She has feelings.
If the boy has no contact with his own feelings, he will not respect the feelings of others, not even of a woman.
The problem must be dealt with at its roots and for that, education is essential. Both at home and at school, children need to learn to respect both the similarities and the different. Hence the importance of the so-called “education for diversity”, which is so opposed by fundamentalist religious sectors, as they believe that it is a veiled apology for homosexuality.
Something needs to be made clear: rape has nothing to do with sex or sexual desire. This shameful practice has to do with a power relationship, in which men, through a process of intimidation, keep women in a state of permanent fear.
They say that a man’s greatest fear when arrested is being raped by his cellmates. I wish they knew that this is the greatest fear of women all the time. Even inside your own home.
As parents of two daughters, I wish to leave you a less hostile world than the one in which your grandmothers lived. And that my only son is the kind of man that every mother-in-law dreams of having as her son-in-law.
Say no to the rape culture, refusing to echo macho speeches that objectify women. Your daughters and granddaughters will thank you.
By Hermes C. Fernandes
The religious industry has patented the process of serial behavioral standardization, misrepresenting it as sanctification. The instrument used in the production of large-scale believers goes by the name of discipleship. Each new disciple is called upon to reproduce, forming others who are his replica. Thus, what we call discipleship is more about cloning.
Definitely, sanctification has nothing to do with the production of lead soldiers. The process of sanctification is closely linked to that of individuation.
Peter urges us to come to Christ, “a living stone, rejected, in fact, by men, but with God chosen and precious”. Similarly, we have become “living stones, built as a spiritual home”, to be “holy priesthood”, in order to offer “spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2: 4-5).
This is not the only time we have found this analogy in the pages of the New Testament. Therefore, its readers were probably familiar with it and understood that the new temple erected by God was made up of people and not inanimate bricks. It was enough for Pedro to refer to each one of us as “stones” or “bricks”. However, he deliberately adds the adjective “viva”. We are not just stones, but living stones. Why did he add the adjective?
Everything that lives is in constant motion. This is not something static, but dynamic, in continuous evolution and maturation. So are we. Our greatest example is Christ, who, being God, emptied himself completely, to submit to the process of maturation. The writer of Hebrews assures us that He, even though He was a Son, “learned obedience through what he suffered; and, having been perfected, he became the author of eternal salvation for all who obey him ” (Heb.5: 8-9).
We are all equally involved in this process of improvement, which must last “until we all come to the unity of faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God, the perfect man, to the full stature of Christ, so that we are no longer fickle boys, carried around by all the wind of doctrine, by the deception of men who cunningly deceive fraudulently. Rather, following the truth in love, let us grow in everything that is the head, Christ, whose whole body, well adjusted, and connected by the help of all the joints, according to the just operation of each part, makes the body increase, for your edification in love ” (Eph.4: 13-16).
Like living bricks we are properly set on one of the walls of the sanctuary of God. Therefore, we are no longer loose bricks, vulnerable, and susceptible to any wind. However, once settled, we do not stop growing. It is the process of individuation, which Paul called “reaching the stature of a perfect man”, or, a complete, mature man. We are no longer merely people but fully individuals. The term “individual” means indivisible, whole, whole.
One of the characteristics of this individuation process is authenticity.
Peter says that Christ, as a living and precious stone for God, suffered the rejection of men. The price of authenticity is to be rejected by the standards in force in the world. Because we do not bend to standardization, we are considered by rebels, insurgents, exotic beings that must be pushed to the margins of society.
We are no longer defined by the social roles we play, the status we achieve, or anything else. What we derive from what He is. It is from our relationship with Him and from the place we occupy in His purpose that the meaning of our existence comes.
As he was sent by God to bring His people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses asked him: What will I say to them? In the name of which will I present me? “God replied to Moses, I AM THAT I AM. He said, “Thus you will say in the eyes of Israel, I AM sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14).
Egyptian deities were known by their names. But the God of Israel could not be defined by the joining and pronunciation of some phonemes produced by human lips. Beyond all definitions, He is what He is. Therefore, God forbade images to be made of Him. However talented the artist was, he would be unable to represent the Creator God of the heavens and the earth in a sculpture.
This same God has commanded us to be holy, because He is holy. Therefore, we must not allow ourselves to be defined by anything, except by the grace that has been granted to us by this God. It is this grace that enables mortal man to relate to the Eternal God and that should guide our relationship with the rest of creation. With this in mind, Paul declares:
“But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace towards me was not in vain, but I worked much more than all of them; yet not me, but the grace of God that is with me. ” 1 Corinthians 15:10
What I do does not define me, but it reveals who I am. Although I do more than all those who came before me, I must credit my performance to grace, as it truly defines who I am. What I do, I do because I am. But I am not what I am for what I do. I just fulfill the purpose of my existence.
Sanctification puts everything in its right place. The factors are properly ordered so that they do not alter the product. Sanctification realigns the meaning of each thing and makes us see it in perspective.
There was a discussion among the religious of Jesus’ time over what would be most important, the gold or the temple, the offering or the altar. Jesus put things in the right perspective:
“Woe to you, blind drivers! for you say, Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but he who swears by the gold of the temple, he is in debt. Fools and blind! For which is greater: gold, or the temple, which sanctifies the gold? And he who swears by the altar is nothing; but he who swears by the offering on the altar, he is indebted. Fools and blind! For which is greater: the offering, or the altar, which sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears on the altar, swears on it and on everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by him and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one seated on it. ” Matthew 23: 16-22
In other words, it is the whole that sanctifies the parts and not vice versa. The offering is sanctified by the altar where it was deposited. Outside the altar, it ceases to be an offering, that is, it loses its meaning as such and becomes just money.
As individuals, our meaning comes from our relationship to the whole. Do not confuse individuation with individualism. Our relationship with the whole is synergistic and reciprocal. Just as the whole sanctifies the parts, the parts must attribute holiness to the whole and recognize the holiness of each part individually.
It is not a matter of attributing meaning by the function it performs, but by the relationship it has. Being a father, for example, adds meaning to our lives. It is much more than just a social role.
A hand owes its meaning to the relationship it has with the rest of the body. Even if, eventually, it becomes immobilized, it will still be what it is.
Our relationship encompasses, at the same time, the whole and the other parts of itself, regardless of the function performed. ” For just as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually one another” (Rom. 12: 4-5). Notice the detail: we are members of the body, but individual members of each other. You cannot sanctify the whole and despise the parts.
It is not just about being aware of its existence and meaning, but also seeing yourself as part of a network of mutual care. What happens at one end of the network affects the other end. We are all connected. Therefore, “if a member suffers, all members suffer with him; and if a member is honored, all members rejoice with him ” (1 Cor. 12:26).
We can only offer and receive care if we admit our interdependence. So that “the eye cannot say by hand: I have no need for you, nor the head to toe: I have no need of you ” (1 Cor. 12:21). We all invariably depend on each other. And this interdependence makes us sanctify one another, honoring them, that is, giving them special and non-transferable meaning.
Returning to the sanctuary analogy: we are living stones positioned in their own place on the temple walls, and thus, collectively, we become God’s dwelling. No one is God’s dwelling in isolation. We lack the relationship with the whole. Not everything we are together, we are in particular.
Paul says that “every well-fitting building grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in which you also are built together for the habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2: 21-22).
Many claims to have failed to congregate because they themselves are the temple of God. These seem to ignore the biblical warning that “he who lives in isolation seeks his own desire; rebel against true wisdom ” (Prov.18: 1).
Sanctification aims to prepare us for communion. We are individuals learning to relate to other individuals, giving them meaning, and respecting and honoring their own place in the Whole. Sanctification, therefore, is a process that begins with individuation and culminates in communion.
Each living stone is formed (individuation), then fitted in place (meaning), and finally plastered (communion). All the stones together, united in love, supporting each other, form the temple of the living God. However, our individuality is maintained. We are absorbed by the Whole but never dissolved. Behind the layer of dough that covers the wall, bricks are still carefully laid on top of each other.
Any proposal of spirituality that promotes the dilution of being should not even be taken seriously. Everything in this world seems to conspire so that the individual loses his identity and starts to act according to decisions made by others. And that is how certain groups are perpetuated in power.
When individuality is lost, allowing itself to be diluted, the person is able to do things that he would never do in his right mind. It is as if your critical sense is in suspension for a while. Do what you want. Paul warns us not to walk “as other Gentiles do, in the vanity of their mind. Blackened in understanding, separated from the life of God by the ignorance in them, by the hardness of their heart; who, having lost all feeling, gave themselves up to dissolution so that they could eagerly commit all impurity ” (Eph.4: 17-19). The keyword in this passage is dissolution, where the verb dissolve comes from. Our feelings are canceled out. Our judgment is set aside. We act as if by instinct, but in reality, we only subject ourselves to a temporary collective conscience.
We read in Exodus 23: 2 the admonition that says: “You will not follow the crowd to do evil; nor on a demand will you testify, accompanying the majority, to pervert justice. ” We never allow them to think and decide for us, however comfortable it may seem. Each will have to answer before God for their own choices.
Expecting dissolution from those who do not know God may seem natural. The problem takes on another dimension when those who call themselves spokesmen for God’s grace are the promoters of dissolution. Care must be taken to ensure that we are not deceived by the false spirituality of such people. Since the very beginning, the church has had to deal with this. For this reason, Judas denounces those who infiltrate the church, and “convert the grace of our God into dissolution” (Jd.1: 4).
Nothing is more contradictory than using grace as a pretext to manipulate the masses, leading individuals to give up their individuality, allowing themselves to be dissolved.
Let us, therefore, be sober and watchful so that no one speaks on our behalf, using us unscrupulously to reach unchallenged targets. Communion, yes. Manipulation, never. Sanctification, yes. Dissolution, never.
* If you haven’t read it yet, read the article before this one for a better understanding of the topic. I will soon post the last part of this reflection.
By Hermes C. Fernandes
What should be the right motivation for seeking sanctification? For many, it has been fear; fear of hell, of the devil, of losing salvation, and so on. Others believe they have accumulated merits before God. For these, sanctification is a bargaining chip. If I sanctify myself, I can charge God for whatever I want. This is more about sanctification. Sanctifying oneself on such bases is equivalent to building on quicksand. At any moment, everything falls apart.
The only valid and accepted motivation by God is love. We do not sanctify ourselves for our own benefit, but for others.
In His priestly prayer, Jesus pleaded:
“Sanctify them in your truth; your word is the truth. Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And for them, I sanctify myself, that they too may be sanctified through the truth. ” John 17: 17-19
The holiest of men, even though God was incarnate, had to sanctify himself. Not for Himself, but for the sake of those entrusted to Him by the Father. We must, therefore, follow in His footsteps and seek sanctification for the common good. Paul expresses his desire that the Lord would increase us, and make us “grow in love with one another, and with everyone”, so that, thus, we may become “blameless in holiness before our God and Father” (1 Thessaloniki) .3: 12-13). Our love should not be directed exclusively to the group to which we belong. On the contrary, it must be inclusive. No one should be left out of your reach. Only then will we reach the expected standard of holiness.
If the motivation for sanctification must be love, the result of it must be justice. It is worth remembering that justice is giving each one what is his right. When we recognize the other’s place, without coveting or envying him, but encouraging him to occupy him fully, we are paving the way for the practice of justice in the kingdom of God. In the same epistle in which Paul speaks of growing in love for all, he also says:
“See that no one gives evil to others for evil, but always follow good, towards one another, and towards everyone (…) Abstain from all kinds of evil. And the God of peace himself will sanctify you completely. ” 1 Thessalonians 5:15, 23a
How to love without being willing to benefit the one you love? How to love without being fair? Without following good, towards each other and towards everyone? We become blameless in holiness when we love indistinctly. But, we are completely sanctified when we promote justice without distinction. Loving without practicing justice is like filling your car’s tank to leave it in the garage.
It is not enough to be willing to do good. There must be available for this. The members of our body, previously offered as instruments of iniquity (injustice), presented “from wickedness to wickedness” , must now be presented to “serve justice for sanctification” (Rom.6: 19). We took our tools from the iniquity warehouse to make them available at the justice desk.
To serve justice is to raise your tired hands, your knees wobbly, and make straight paths for your feet, “so that the lame do not deviate, but be healed”. And so, we follow “peace with all and sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12: 12-14).
We are facilitators. Instead of making access difficult, we prefer to make it easier. We are called to be peacemakers, not agitators. We seek and promote peace. However, peace is only possible if preceded by justice. And justice is only established when preceded by love. Backward: love produces justice, and justice produces peace, and both pave the way for sanctification.
The world is rugged terrain, full of mountains and valleys, high and low. God’s plan is to flatten, straighten, and level this terrain. When justice is finally established, there will be no more rich and poor, big and small, dominant, and dominated; therefore, there will be no class struggle or social injustice. As Isaiah prophesied: “Every valley will be exalted, and every mountain and hillock will be cut down, and what is twisted will be made straight, and what is rough will be leveled. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind will see it. because the mouth of the Lord said “(Isa. 40: 4-5). It was with this in mind that Jesus said that without the peace that results from justice and sanctification resulting from love, no one will see the Lord. The terrain needs to be leveled for everyone to see Him. It is not a matter of that vision that we will have of Him on the last day, but of discerning Him on a daily basis, of seeing Him mainly in the other, both in the similar and the different, both in the near and in the distant. For that, we have to plan the path, remove the stones, facilitate access. “Go through, go through the doors; prepare the way for the people; flatten, flatten the road, clean it from the stones” (Is.62: 10). As the Roberto Carlos song sung by the Titans says: “Every stone in the way you can remove. On a flower that has thorns, you scratch yourself. If good and evil exist, you can choose. You have to know how to live.”
Then, what was prophesied by Isaiah will be fulfilled:
“And there will be a road, a path, which will be called the holy way; the unclean will not pass through, but will be for those; walkers, even crazy people, will not miss. ”
Isaiah 35: 8
The unclean is what insists on attributing profanity to life. It is one whose conscience has not been properly purified. After all, “ everything is pure for those who are pure, but for the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; rather, both your mind and your conscience are defiled ” (Titus 1:15). The unclean cannot discern the intrinsic sanctity of the other’s life. He profane it, trivialize it. Therefore, it is unable to treat it fairly. The other’s life is worthless. So what right would he have?
Once again, Paul admonishes us:
“Now, beloved, since we have such promises, let us cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting sanctification in the fear of God. Receive us into your hearts; we did no one wrong, nobody corrupted, nobody exploited. ” 2 Corinthians 7: 1-2
Just as we must sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, we must also receive any human being in our hearts, guaranteeing him a captive seat. In the eyes of the one who loves, all are saints. That is why it is unacceptable to do injustice to any human being or to seek to corrupt or exploit it for our own benefit.
No one should be considered banal, profane, ordinary, impure. As Jesus said to Peter: “Do not call what God has purified”(Ac.10: 15). Europeans felt they had the right to exploit the Indians because they could not see the sacredness of their lives. The same was true of blacks who were made slaves. And with women for centuries. They were not even counted in the censuses. In order to correct this, Pedro instructs husbands to treat their respective wives with honor, recognizing their fragility, and seeing them as co-heirs of the gift of grace and life. As if that were not enough, the apostle threatens the troglodytes that their prayers will not be heard if they refuse to give the woman its due value (1 Pet. 3: 7). Laws like “Maria da Penha” are an attempt to rescue the value and sacredness of women. Documents such as the Statute for Children and Adolescents aim to rescue the original sacredness of children’s life. Unholy child labor is the most beautiful of all ages.
Whoever perceives the inherent sanctity of life, refuses to use anyone for their interests. To use someone is to reify him, seeing him as an object that can later be discarded. Whoever does so, attacks the sacredness of life, trivializing it, desecrating it, debasing it.
It was in this context that Paul says that the will of God is our sanctification, and that, therefore, we must abstain from fornication (1 Thess. 4: 3). Anyone who thinks that fornication is synonymous with sex between singles is wrong. The Greek term is “pornia” which, broadly speaking, means sexual impurity, which can be clearly identified as the reification of sex. Even when married, they can be fornicating when they use each other in the search for pleasure, without considering the feeling and pleasure of the other. Paulo concludes:“May each one of you know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles, who do not know God. Let no one oppressor deceive his brother in any business, because the Lord is an avenger of all these things, as we have said and testified before. Because God did not call us for filth, but for sanctification ” (vv. 4-7). The issue is not sex itself, but using it with a vile aim of oppressing, cheating, harming, taking advantage. Tools other than sex can be perfectly used for the same purpose.
In Ephesians 4: 23-28, Paul opens up the range more:
“And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new man, who according to God is created in true justice and holiness. Therefore, leave the lie, and speak the truth each with your neighbor; because we are members of each other. Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Give no place to the devil. He who stole, don’t steal anymore; rather work, doing with your hands what is good, so that you have something to share with what you need. ” Ephesians 4: 23-28
Definitely, lying and stealing do not match our new being, recreated according to the image of God, injustice, and holiness. How could we deceive someone without profaning the sanctity of human relationships? How could we harm him without first damaging our own conscience? Rather, we prefer truth to deception, even if it does us harm. We roll up our sleeves and work with the objective of having enough to share with what has nothing. Giving place to the devil is nothing more than committing the sacrilege of allowing him to meddle in our relationships.
May it be the purpose of our heart that, “delivered from the hand of our enemies”, we serve God without fear, “in holiness and justice before him, every day of our lives”(Lk.1: 75). May the enemy of our souls never find space to desecrate the sanctity of our existence. Let us stop seeing life from the perspective of the devil (etymologically, the one who divides, who compartmentalizes, who segregates), and we start to see it from the divine, integrated, whole, holy and full of meaning optics.
* If you have not read the two previous posts, I suggest you do not forget to read them for a better understanding of the topic.