Why it matters if we understand Jesus
None of this may sound warm and fuzzy. But Jesus alluded to the fact that heaven is not the way earth is. When the Sadducees questioned Jesus about seven brothers who each married the same woman after the previous brother had died, Jesus accused them of not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. He continued in Matthew 22:30-32: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Not only does Jesus state plainly that our understanding of the world (in this case, marriage) does not apply in heaven (“the resurrection”), but He also reassures us that there is life after death by stating that God is a God “of the living”.
Therefore, when He says elsewhere that we are to put our trust in Him and follow Him, I think He means for us to quit trying to figure out things that can only be understood by God, or in the life to come. I think Christians grossly misunderstand John 14:6, where Jesus says that no one “comes to the Father but through” Him. So many Christians, perhaps even well-meaning and sincere, have reduced Jesus’s life of teaching, example, and sacrifice to a mere declaration of a few select words as a sure-fire ticket into heaven. We are told by evangelizing Christians that we must simply repent of our sins and state that we are claiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and that declaration, with no further action on our part, will guarantee us salvation (or what I think means a return to the Garden of Eden; ie. life with God). How woefully incomplete, simplistic in the worst possible sense, and with tragic consequences!
As soon as we are relieved of responsibility for our own actions, our own sins, we cannot be expected to be motivated to do right. Those Christians who have a better understanding – if only intrinsically – of Christ’s true message do indeed try to live out their lives modeled on the actions of Jesus. But sadly, many do not. Yet I am not here to critique the (mis)interpretations of Christian symbolism, but merely to outline them in ways that make sense to me.
* How to follow Jesus
In the end, if I am to follow Jesus, I must live the way He lived. And if I’m going to do that, I need a very strong motivator to do so, because His life was not easy! For some, like myself, this means establishing a theology that is sufficiently acceptable to warrant the truth of what Jesus taught about Himself, God, and us. Scare tactics will not make me lead a more righteous life. And I do believe, without a doubt, that the kind of life we lead is precisely what God is interested in. Living a life of kindness, compassion, and generosity is God’s will for our lives. The way we live is the way we worship and glorify God, the way we imitate Him, and the way we draw closer to Him. In day-to-day prayer, it may be easier for many to address God as a fellow individual, a person just like us. Jesus provides a very easy way to personify God by having been a historical person, indeed just like us. If His identity helps me fulfill God’s will, so be it. But if His identity only seeks to confuse me and distract me from His message, then I think I better focus on Jesus the Man and address God the way Jesus did, rather than trying to merge the two.
Some will call this blasphemy. But no matter what we believe, there is someone out there who will call our belief system blasphemous. No one is more privy to God, to God’s heart and mind, than anyone else. If we truly do try to be like God – to experience our own existence – then we will worry less about the experiences and explanations of others. I think experiencing God – love and intellect – may be the only way to rid ourselves of the need for religion. Though that’s not to say we can’t likewise use religion as a tool to help direct us to God – to love and intelligence
(go to part 6)