Monday, August 27, 2012

Why do I believe...part 3 (who Christ is)

Why do I believe in Christ?

For some, it is enough to envision God as an abstraction that gives us our life force.  Buddhism operates on this level.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Yet we are relational beings; we thrive in relationships rather than in isolation.  We long to relate to those who are important to us, those who give us guidance about how to live our lives.  Therefore, many cannot do what God calls them to do – namely, serve Him by doing good – without having a personal idea of who God is.  God is not oblivious to this fact.  Remember, He is the source of everything, including our human nature, so the fact that we would long for a personal relationship with Him is not a novel idea for Him.

As a Christian, I believe that God didn’t leave any leaf unturned, including this one.  I believe that He incarnated Himself, that he took the form of one of His prized creations, to better reflect Himself-as-Love.  After all, if God is love, and love is only found in relationship, then how else could He have shared Himself with us, if not through becoming one of us as Jesus of Nazareth?

Jesus taught us to call God “Father”.  This is why we refer to Jesus as the “Son”.  It’s very confusing when we apply our limited this-side-of-heaven intellect.  How can someone be their own Father, their own Son?  But this is what we get for not being satisfied with an abstract understanding of God.  We cannot forget that we are not in heaven yet, where all things will be made clear.  I believe that the reason for this difficulty is to encourage us to take a leap of faith.  Not just in terms of accepting this basic tenet of Christian theology, but in life in general.  There are times when we do not fully know what, or why, or how, yet we must act and so we take a leap of faith.  Only in retrospect does our leap then make perfect sense.  I believe this is why God didn’t just make it crystal-clear to us who He is, and how He can be His own Son/Father.

I think Jesus was speaking as a representative of us humans when He called God “Father”.  He was modeling for us what we ought to do.  I don’t think this necessarily meant that Jesus had a split personality.  And consider this:  if you are a parent, or if you’ve ever worked with children, surely you have explored pretend play.  A dad may choose to sit on a tiny chair and put on a boa scarf and sip air out of tiny teacups for the sake of better relating to his young daughter.  He in no way ceases to be her father.  Yet how much more will she be able to come to know and love her daddy if he is willing to come down to her level, and thereby support her efforts and encourage her?  Given the choice, wouldn’t any child welcome their grown-up parents to play with then rather than watch from a distance, intermittently wagging their finger when the child does something wrong?

This is why I believe that if God is love, then God must have shown Himself to be this love in the person of Jesus.  He came down to play among His children, using our own level of understanding to guide us towards serving Him better.

I believe that Jesus’s purpose was to live among us, to teach us, and to model a life of integrity.  This is another point of contention I may run into with Christians, who hold that Jesus’s purpose was to die on the cross to save us from our sins.  I don’t want to contradict this.  However, I do want to offer a slightly less religiously-laden explanation, which I don’t think in any way takes away from what Jesus indeed did for us through His crucifixion.

I believe that Jesus was true to Himself as God-is-Love.  He turned the other cheek, He forgave wrongdoing, He sacrificed for the sake of His children.  Doesn’t this sound like the ideal of any relationship, to put the other person first?  I further believe that this was starting to have a radical effect on those He came into contact with, and His integrity threatened the political and religious powers that be.  Jesus was not the only one in history whose well-intentioned integrity was resented by leaders: Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind right off the top of my head.  In no way were Ghandi and King perfect, as Jesus was perfect, but they likewise strove to help others by loving them, by putting themselves at risk, by speaking the hard truth when no one else dared.  It got them both killed. 

I believe that premature, violent death is part of the scenery when one walks in line with God even when this means threatening the status-quo.  Too many people are self-seeking.  Too many people desire greatness for themselves to tolerate any perceived competition.

Therefore, I believe that Jesus’s passion and crucifixion were sort of inevitable based on the fact that He remained true to His mission, the mission of the incarnation.  In order to show love, one must put the other before oneself.  Jesus even said that "greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).  He didn’t seek death for death’s sake.  He discerned getting around it.  Jesus "fell on His face and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will' (Matthew 26:39). He anticipated it with much anxiety.  And yet, in spite of the limitations He placed on Himself by incarnating as a human being (and thus limited), Jesus tapped into His core as God-is-Love, and succumbed to the consequences of His integrity. 

Christianity popularly calls Jesus’s crucifixion and the following resurrection the crux of our salvation.  But I think the reason for this is not so much in the fact that He suffered and died.  I think the salvation we get from Jesus is in His example of love to the death.  He preached it, and then He modeled it for us.  He left nothing to the imagination.  He summarized all commandments into one two-fold commandment.  In the gospel of Luke, when a rich young man asks Jesus how to reach heaven and suggests that the Jewish scriptures say “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself"  (10:27), Jesus affirms him by saying "you have answered correctly; do this and you will live" (10:28).  Given the opportunity to simplify the religious code of the day, Jesus said that our purpose as human beings is to love.  It is clear that this is because we are made in God’s image, and as such, we are to reflect what and who He is.  If God is love, then we as His image-bearers must reflect that love in our lives.

I believe that a non-Christian can look to the example of Jesus and be “saved” without subscribing to the theology that comes with it.  I believe that Jesus died, nay, that He lived, obeyed, and subsequently died as a result of said obedience, to open the doors to heaven, as it were, for all of us.  He told us to do likewise.

There are arguments about this that I do not care to address, for I am not trying to address Christians, but rather seekers who may not be convinced with traditional Christian rhetoric about the existence of God or His love for us.  However, I believe that when Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), He meant that only those who follow His example of self-sacrificial love can ever come to know God.  Many will argue that Jesus said that only those who believe in Him will have eternal life.  Yet what they are referring to is undoubtedly John 5:24: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  Here, Jesus says that we must believe “Him who sent Me” (meaning the Father), and not “in him” (meaning in the divinity of Jesus).  Also, He prefaces this by mentioning hearing His word, which means He wants us to believe what He taught, not necessarily to believe who exactly He is, or what does it mean to be Messiah.

For this reason, I believe that Jesus is the “word made flesh” – God taking on human form for the sake of better expressing Himself and allowing us to get to know Him better.  I believe that Jesus taught that to be saved, ie. to keep from following Satan to hell, but rather to follow God to heaven, we must look to His life, His teachings, and His example, and do likewise. That is what I believe Jesus taught about salvation.  Notice also that Jesus never said “I am God”.  This would actually be a limitation of who God is, because God in His entirety cannot be contained in the one human incarnation of Jesus.  While Jesus was God to the extent of living a life of self-sacrificial charity, He intended to lead others to follow His example and thereby have eternal life by virtue of their love.

John 13:34-35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

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