by John Collings


My daughter and her boyfriend wanted to know my reaction to watching the movie Stigmata.  It was late and I had no response at all.  That is until the next morning when I awoke unable to go back to sleep.  This is the 4am response to his question.

I don’t know how to write this.  There are too many words that need to be said at once, and I’m afraid of losing all of them.  You were right, the message of the movie is one that is part of me, probably the deepest thing I would like to communicate, but it is so complex – so simple – so foreign that it is difficult, maybe impossible to convey with words.  It is only really known in the fellowship of it. 


A friend asked me last week how I was doing.  I responded that I felt like God was making me more human.   Sounds like backwards thinking at first, shouldn’t God be working at making me more godly? 


Man is born into this world in egotism.  Not even with conscious thought about it.  He is the center of his universe.  His needs are of the utmost importance, and everyone should stop to feed him, to give to him, to change his diaper, to give him pleasure in all ways.  As he grows in years, those self-serving needs simply become subtle.  In young adulthood, he thinks he can conquer the world, achieve greatness, provide for himself, or in a baser way he looks to fulfill his own lusts: sex, drugs, power, wealth.  Either side of the spectrum from good to evil, it is the really the same thing.  He is striving to be god through philanthropy or through lust.  Still, he is the center of his world.  If he seems to fail, the world owes him and he sinks in his pity.  If he seems to succeed, he wants more or wants to do more.  It is a self-absorbing endless cycle. 


Sin is thought to be one side of the spectrum of good to evil, the bad things that he does.  That is the illusion.  Sin is who man is.  It is his inherent selfishness, self-centeredness, his egotism.  Even his religion can only an attempt to be morally good and is always perverted into self-serving purposes.  Sadly, there is no way for him to achieve his own deliverance.  There is no way for him to climb out of the cycle of sin and death, not through good works, not through penitence, not through his own martyrdom and not through endless cycles of rebirth.  His plight is hopeless.  Sin is not what man does, it is who he is. 


There is a mystery in the Gospel.  It is such a mystery that even though it is plainly stated throughout the Bible, it can only be known by its initiates.  By those who have taken it by faith, and who have been given the experience of the truth of it. 


God chose to place Himself in our sphere, humbling Himself by choosing the limits of the flesh.  He was God, but He allowed himself to be tempted in every way.  He didn’t become a man so that He could teach great truths, or even to provide a perfect example for man to follow.  He became man so that He could experience manhood, so that He could KNOW man.  He became man so that He could DIE.  He died the death sentence that was set for the utter sinfulness of man.  Yet God, in Jesus, lived the perfect life.  The death sentence that He received was not His, but He took the punishment that was meant for man.  He took our punishment and paid the price for man. 


God’s choice to become a man and to die for Sin that was not His is not the Mystery.  Neither is His Resurrection the Mystery.  It isn’t so hard to accept that if God died, that He might live again.  The Mystery was not that He paid the price for Sin and set us free from the Law of Sin and Death from which we had no escape.  Before this freedom we had no choice but to live under that Law, but now, by faith we have choice.  It is a choice to die to the inescapable law that had entrapped us and to die to our humanity, to die to our ego, to die to our lusts, and to die to our self-righteousness. 


The Mystery is that in choosing death to the Law of Sin and Death, we are actually choosing Life, now not our life, but His Life.  We have been offered the opportunity to sacrifice man life for God Life.  There are many human lives, but there is only one God Life.  The Mystery is that we can now live by God Life. 


This is so unimaginable that though clearly stated throughout the Bible it can’t be heard until we become so desperately mired in our humanity that there are no other choice available to us.  Until we have tried every other option, this one is not an option.  We try to save ourselves but it impossible. 


“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. . .


 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.  Gal 2:16-20


It was His plan from before the beginning.


(Jesus Christ ) who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether {they be} thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all {things} he might have the preeminence. For it pleased {the Father} that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, {I say}, whether {they be} things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in {your} mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and {be} not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, {and} which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; {Even} the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what {is} the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:  Col 1:15-28


If you have endured to this point I hope you can begin to hear because still this is only the foundation of what can be our purpose.  We have been given this God Life so God can live it out through us.  He died once and for all, but now He in us dies daily and not only for ourselves, but for others that they might begin to know.  Amazing by human thinking that Grace that we long for can begin by death to ourselves, then be continued in suffering for the sake others. 


Only now that we have taken the Life of Christ as ours, and have made the move from manhood to godhood, it is before us to give up our godhood to become human.  Finding our humanity seems to come in forms of severe hardship: death of our loved ones, bankruptcy, abortion, infidelity, separation, violence, rape, persecution.


No one wants to hear these things and it is a greater fool who would choose his own hardships, his own martyrdom.  Actually the hardships are God’s Grace for some that that we might be able to identify with Him.  All who are called by His name say they want fellowship with Him, but most don’t know what His fellowship entails.  “The fellowship of his suffering”.  We want to know Him, but to begin to know His heart is not idyllic peace, it is to know His deep intercession for man who can’t begin to see his own hopelessness.  It is not to pray an empty prayer of  “fix the symptoms”, but it is to walk in the shoes of others and truly understand how they hurt and how lost and confused they are.  This is not something we can do.  It is what Christ in us accomplishes. 


It is my prayer for you that:                 


the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what {is} the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set {him} at his own right hand in the heavenly {places}, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all {things} under his feet, and gave him {to be} the head over all {things} to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. Eph 1:17-23


Stigmata is such a harsh picture of Grace, yet the transformation that was portrayed in the final scene is beyond imagining.  From utter pain and brutality to Peace and Love. 


I awakened this morning unable to sleep until I wrote these words in response to your question last night, Jeff, but this is the beginning of what I have yearned to speak to both you and Sandy.  The difficulty has not been with saying the words, but with communicating the message without the religion that confuses the words.  That is why my own humanity has had to be gained before the words could be uttered.  And why you have been privileged to live some of it with me, as I have lived some of your hardships with you.  Even so, it is easy for me to say with Paul, that


But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things {but} loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them {but} dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.


I remember sitting with you in front of Daybreak Coffee one evening early in our relationship at a point of your hardship.  I wanted to talk about these things.  Instead I could only recognize that you could not have understood me, but would see preaching or religion.  I told you that I had to veil myself with you and speak in your words with your vocabulary of what you knew then.  It has been our time together that has allowed me to unveil my words so that I hope you can receive this in the same way my other close friends can.  Don’t worry that I might be offended if you offer a different perception or opinion.  I simply feel free to share with you now, without need to worry about you misunderstanding what is in my heart.