I had a recent exchange with someone who wanted me to “level” with him on what my position was on Jesus. It caught me by surprise because I know I have blogged about Jesus a number of times and thought I was clear on how I felt. So, this is how I responded:
I believe Jesus was a real man who really existed and do not relegate him to just being a mythical figure. Clearly he was a great teacher and given the lengths his followers went to spread his message he may have performed extraordinary feats that through the lapse of time have become exaggerated. As to whether he was the messiah, I take a somewhat Jewish position on this. You will find that aside from the Chassidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects, most Jews have a very favorable opinion of Jesus. Most believe he was a great teacher and may have performed the miracles attributed to him. The reason they do not believe he is the messiah is simple – the temple is still destroyed, Jews are still scattered across the globe, and nations still raise their ‘swords’ against one another. Does this diminish the message of Jesus and what he tried to accomplish? I don’t think so. I think the New Law he taught was intended to save all of us from the rigidness and complexities of the Old Law and to a greater extent religion in general. The problem as I see it, is people still hold on to ancient traditions and superstitions that completely deflect the focus of the message and thus creates just another confusing collaboration of doctrines and dogmas, which is what I think Jesus was trying to “save” people from in the first place.
Then came the question of what I believe about God. Well this is indeed the tougher question because anyone who knows me, knows my views on this often drift with the wind. As inflammatory as this may sound, I personally believe that the God depicted in ancient texts like the Bible or the Koran only exists within the confines of those books. The late bronze/early iron age God, for all intents and purposes is dead. There have been no divinely appointed prophets with super powers and no unexplained nature defying miracles in at least 2 thousand years (assuming there ever were to begin with). We have put men on the moon, have telescopes that return images that are billions of miles away and yet, there is no sign of a Divine Destination where Elijah flew off to in his fiery chariot (2nd Kings 2:11) or where Jesus ascended to after his death and resurrection (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51). We have documents and tablets that predate the Bible which contain a moral code and similar cosmological myths (Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Tablets of Hammurabi) . The ancient writings must be weighed on their merits rather than on emotional tradition. The idea of a talking snake (Genesis 3:1-5) or a talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-30) is laughable to the modern mind (nowadays we have the ability to make it possible with computer animation or robotics). If I were to tell someone I was swallowed by a fish and lived in its belly for 3 days (Jonah 1:17) I would probably be committed to an asylum. So while at risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water, I must take the position that it would be better to not study the Bible at all then to take a fundamentalist or literal approach to it. Context is key. All ancient people had their own god or gods and they justified their actions no matter how atrocious by stating it was either their god’s will or the doing of the gods themselves. If you witnessed the destruction of your temple, city, the deaths of loved ones and friends, and were forced into exile in an unfamiliar land and forced to serve a tyrannical king you would be hoping for a supernatural savior too. If you did not have the knowledge of the universe that we now have and looked to the stars in the sky without the bright lights of an overpopulated city, how could you not think that the heavens proclaim the glory of God (Psalm 19:1)?
I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings. (Albert Einstein)
Just as the Jews changed from the polytheistic concept of “our god is better than your god” to the monotheistic concept of “our god is the only god,” our concept of God must evolve in order for God to remain relevant with the vast amounts of scientific discoveries. More and more people are walking away from religion than ever before and it is for a number of reasons. Whether it is because of the despicable actions of men who are supposed to be holy or the glaring absence of a “God who protects” in the wake of young children being slaughtered like animals by a deranged gunman; the God that most of us were taught to believe in, is quickly fading into obscurity.
Yet, when I look into my children’s eyes and am filled with love or when I see a kind act by someone to a complete stranger and am filled with joy or when I am in despair and need hope, that is where I find God.
The order from chaos..
The calm that precedes and follows a storm..
The breeze against my face on a sweltering hot day..
The sound of the tides mixed with singing of the sea gulls..
The intricacies of our DNA..
The unexplainable phenomena of the dividing of cells to form a new life..
The sparks of joy and promise in the eyes of a child..
The laws of nature and the discoveries of science..
God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things. (Baruch Spinoza)
And as to religion.. Well the Biblical definition of religion happens to be perfect:
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. (James 1:26-27)
There are two sides to the working tool of a level. Both sides must be even or on the same plane to be “on the level”. When someone asks me to “level” with them, I have to wonder which side does that person think is higher. Mine or his?
I appreciate and enjoyed your post, Nelson. It reflects many of my own questions about God and also quite a few of my own tentative answers. Keep sharing from your heart and head, my friend.