Perichoresis - What in the world is it?
Most of us can’t even pronounce perichoresis much less spell it. What does it mean?
Let me begin with a story. I have a dear friend who said to me one day, “It just hit me what a worthless Christian life I have. For Pete’s sake, I’m married and I’ve got two kids. When I’m not grocery shopping, I’m cooking the groceries, and when I’m not cooking the groceries I’m cleaning up, and when I’m not doing that I’m trying to find clothes for my children and keep this mess of a house presentable. And sometime in there I’m trying to find time for my husband. I don’t even have time to read my Bible. What do I have that I can do for God?”
I said to her, “Where did that concern for your children, for your husband, for a nice home come from? Did you wake up yesterday morning and decide you were going to be a god momma, a good wife, a good homemaker?”
She said, “Not exactly.”
I said, “Isn’t Jesus the good Shepherd who cares about all His sheep? HE PUT HIS CONCERN FOR THIS SHEEP (YOUR CHILDREN, YOUR HUSBAND) IN YOUR HEART. You see, you are participating in nothing less than Jesus’ life and burden. He was tending to His sheep through you. What is greater than that?”
In the light of the fact that Jesus Christ died for us and rose again so that He could come and dwell right within those of us who accepted Him as Savior and Lord, we’ve got to rethink everything we thought we knew about ourselves and others and our ordinary human life.
The simple truth is there is nothing at all ordinary about us and the life we live. Caring for others from our family to our friends to the poor in spirit around us, our love for our husbands and wives and children, our passion for music and beauty, for coaching, gardening and fishing; these things do not have their origin in us.
They are not something that we invented. It is all coming from the Father, Son and Spirit through the indwelling Christ. When this dreadful secular/sacred divide is exploded, we can see and honor life as it truly is for the Christian – the gift of participating in the life and relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit.
The concept of perichoresis helps us understand what our living union with Christ means for us. We could define perichoresis as “mutual indwelling without loss of personal identity.” I other words, we now exist in union with the Triune God but we do not lose our distinct personhood in the process.
Only the Trinity could have union without loss of personal distinction – a concept that is hard for us to wrap our minds around. If you have union without distinction (as in many Eastern religions), you tumble into pantheism, and we would be united to God in such a way as to be completely absorbed into Him. There would no longer be a distinct “us” to feel and taste and experience the life of God.
If you have distinction without union, you end up with deism, Where God is just up there somewhere watching us from a distance, and we never see our humanity as included in the life of God. Motherhood and fatherhood, work and play and music and sports then appear to be merely secular, non-divine aspects of our human experience. Deism leaves us with a Christ-less humanity, and forces us to search beyond our humanity for connection with God.
In the biblical concept of union with Christ, we say “no” to both pantheism and deism. We have union but no loss of personal distinction, which means that we matter and that our humanity and everything about it form the arena for our participation in the life of God. The Triune God meets us not in the sky or in our self-generated religions, but in our “ordinary” human existence.
Jesus is the one who knows the Father. He knows the Father’s love and acceptance. He sees the Father’s face. Jesus has freedom for fellowship with His Father. And Jesus shares all this with us by uniting Himself with us and we get to experience His divine life with Him.
What does the understanding that we are accepted into the mutual indwelling and communion with God remove from our souls? Fear and hiding. We can have the peace of God in knowing that our daily activities are actually being programed by the indwelling Christ as we trust Him to do so. Our likes and dislikes are guided toward Jesus tending His sheep through us. For a Christian, nothing is really “secular”.
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