This Series: This is the second blog post in a series called Human Being, Human Becoming. I am exploring what human nature and human personhood are from biblical and theological perspectives. I combine those insights cautiously with other disciplines, like neuroscience, psychology, etc. Throughout, I am explaining why the medical substitutionary atonement view of Jesus – forging in himself a new humanity – makes perfect sense with this exploration of Scripture. Meanwhile, penal substitution renders human beings into “human doings” and impoverishes a truly Christian view of human nature and personhood.
A Conversation Between Hobbits
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga, the two hobbits Merry and Pippin get swept up from their humble homes in the Shire, into a grand adventure where the fate of their world hangs in the balance. Merry offered his stout courage and strength to the Riders of Rohan. He rode into battle with the warrior Eowyn, who had disguised herself as a man in order to fight in the battle. Together, they traded blows with the dreaded leader of the Nazgul, the Witch-King of Angmar. As the Witch-King advanced to crush Eowyn, Merry drew his sword – a sword crafted centuries ago for the very purpose of battling this very foe – and sliced through his leg. Eowyn, despite her broken shield arm, drove her sword into the shadowy space between his crown and mantle, defeating the Witch-King.
Eowyn, her sword arm crippled by the enchantments that protected the Witch-King’s body, and Merry, his right arm also numb and useless, returned to the ‘Houses of Healing’ in the city of Gondor. They joined the many who lay sickened with a strange malady – a malady which came from contact with the evil Nazgul. Even the wizard Gandalf was unable to stop many from dying. Fortunately, the king-to-be, Aragorn, came forward. He used the herbs of healing and a deep reservoir of spiritual strength to heal Eowyn and Merry.
When Aragorn and Gandalf departed from the room where Merry lay, Pippin joined him. They marveled at Aragorn and Gandalf. Pippin wondered aloud how they had come to know these fine and noble friends, who they have come to respect and love.
‘Was there ever any one like him?’ he said. ‘Except Gandalf, of course. I think they must be related…’
Pippin encouraged Merry to smoke his pipe and eat some food. Merry declined the food, then returned Pippin’s sense of wonder at how their adventure had changed them.
‘No,’ said Merry. ‘I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little. But I don’t know why I am talking like this. Where is that leaf? And get my pipe out of my pack, if it isn’t broken.’
Merry’s reflection is poignant. The two hobbits started this adventure by trying to help their beloved hobbit-friends, Frodo and Sam. The adventure expanded into a quest to defend their beloved homeland, the Shire. They started with a simple affection for ‘soil’ and growing things. Their love had ‘roots.’ But, by knowing Aragorn, the rightful heir to the throne of men, and Gandalf, now greatest of wizards, they had grown more and more in their care for the wider world. They had met Dwarves, Elves, Ents, and Huorns, and realized the stakes of the struggle against Sauron. And they had grown in love – not love in a merely sentimental sense, but in its deepest sense, which expresses itself in the desire to pledge and give one’s very life. ‘It is best to love first what you are fitted to love.’ But through their personal contact with others, who were themselves of noble character and love, Merry and Pippin grew in their love for ‘things deeper and higher.’
In Real Life, Too
I came to love God and others that way. Before I knew about Jesus, I understood love in my limited, human way. But as I saw the limitations of human love, including my own, I also watched Christians worship Jesus, and love Jesus, and love others. That made an impact on me. I opened up to Jesus’ love. Then, by watching Jesus love his Father by the Spirit, I learned to know and love the Father, too. We must start somewhere and have roots. But there are ‘things deeper and higher.’
I’ve also seen a deeply traumatized woman be transformed by love: love for her child. In order to be a stable mother, she entered a drug treatment program and beat her habit. She went to anger management classes and grew in patience. She sought regular counsel instead of living a fiercely private life. And she opened herself up to Jesus. Because of love, she grew as a person.
God Will Enlarge Our Hearts
God designed us to grow through love. He meant for us to love others and the world in the appropriate and ever-deepening way. The Psalmist says:
‘I shall run the way of Your commandments,
For You will enlarge my heart.’ (Psalm 119:32)
The Psalmist describes the impact of obeying and internalizing God’s word as revealed in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). God gave commandments to Israel, when He appeared in divine fire on Mount Sinai (Ex.19). But God’s commandments are not for His sake. They are for our sake. God designed human beings in such a way that when we listen to God’s word and obey Him, something positive happens within us. Our hearts are enlarged.
The Psalmist also wants to internalize the biblical story in which God narrates His commandments. The Psalmist speaks of God’s ‘testimonies’ and ‘ways’ (Ps.119:14 – 15, 24, 31, 36, etc.), which constitute the biblical story of God. God’s story begins in Genesis (see the NHI small group leader notes!) with His desire for gardening partners. And after much heartbreak and sorrow, God develops Joseph as His ultimate gardening partner. Even in exile, Joseph makes Egypt flourish like the garden of Eden. Together, Joseph and God feed a multitude. The saga of Genesis certainly enlarges the heart.
We participate in God’s love simply because we are made in His image (Gen.1:26 – 28). But God calls us to grow in His love, as the Psalmist says time after time. We are to receive His word more deeply into our hearts (Ps.119:10 – 12, 26, 33, 64, 66 – 68, 73, 124, 135, 171).
Jesus’ Human Heart
Jesus of Nazareth is the only human being who has successfully saturated his human heart with God’s word, in terms of both God’s commandments and God’s story. It may even be that the human author of Psalm 119 voiced it intentionally from the Messiah’s perspective. After all, who else could reasonably say, ‘I have more insight than all my teachers’ (Ps.119:99)? Regardless, Jesus made the Psalm his own.
Jesus was faithful to receive God’s word into himself, and he fulfilled the Sinai covenant, including this aspect (Mt.5:17 – 20; Rom.10:4). He is the true Israelite, who did for Israel, and for us, what we could not: He enlarged his heart, by the Spirit, to fully contain the love of the Father for the whole world, and love for the Father from every part of his humanity.
Jesus accomplished a medical miracle, as our medical substitute: He permanently changed human nature, by healing his human nature in partnership with God.
When we have faith in Jesus, we participate by his Spirit in his humanity and his faithfulness. So participation in him means progress in us. We look to Jesus, and ask him for help to internalize the whole biblical story and his teachings. We ask him, ‘Enlarge my heart.’
Of course, ‘it is best to love first what you are fitted to love.’ But we are also meant to far outgrow our little plot of soil, and our home town. Through our personal contact with Jesus, and others who love him, we grow in love for things ‘deeper and higher.’
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, book 5, chapter 6
 Ibid, book 5, chapter 8