I will begin this section by being up front about my views of Jesus and the meaning of his life. First, what I do not believe:
I do not believe that Jesus died “because of the Jews.” Nor do I believe that he died because it was according to some Divine Plan by a God who made the world, which operated on certain rules that He created, but Who was powerless to change “the rules,” thereby requiring that “His Son,” Jesus, the “perfect lamb,” be sacrificed in order that God can forgive men, all of whom became guilty because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve in eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God is neither a terrorist nor vindictive. Surely the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a metaphor for a deeper truth.
My experience of the Truth in any religion is that Truth is not always to be found on the surface. But, the fact that I need to search for Truth beyond the mere facts of many of the biblical stories does not mean that everyone must do the same or in the same way. Some people need something more concrete. I have heard many Christians cite the verse literally, “We love because He first loved us.” Many of those interpret that verse to say humans are capable of loving only because “He first loved us.” I really don’t understand what that means. If we are “made in the image of God,” and if God is Love, it is only natural that we would love one another. Although I believe that the power of love is greater then the power of “belief,” nonetheless, if one must believe first in order to love, what is the difference? Good fruit is good fruit, and that is what we are called to produce.
I cannot believe in miracles as magic that suspend the laws of nature. For example, when the story is told in Judges that the sun was made to stand still so that Joshua could complete annihilating an enemy, I believe there are many laws of nature that would make a disaster of that feat if it were literally true. Science is based upon observation and experimentation, and I cannot ignore that. The United States did not make its moon landings on the basis of a hope and a prayer. When Discoverer and Challenger exploded, we discovered that there was a physical reason for it. It was not the intervention of God. One of the signs of mentally healthy persons is that they “see things as they are,” not as they want or imagine them to be. Miracles are not magical suspension of the laws of nature, but rather, miracles are “where the eye of faith sees the hand of God at work.” (I owe that to my professor, Dr. Nida, at Salem College, West Virginia.)
I accept the part of any Christian creed that asserts that Jesus was fully human. The gospel of John is the one gospel that asserts what amounts to a Gnostic claim that escaped canonical condemnation to extinction (except for the Dead See Scrolls) that Jesus and God are one. That is the last gospel that was written and it was written after Paul took the gospel to the”Greek world” of the Gentiles. It is not one of the synoptic Gospels, meaning those first three books of the New Testament share a common view of the life of Jesus. I see John as a poetical response to the Jesus experience. Poetry is not an equation but a celebration. I note that many principles of modern psychology are forecast in Gnosticism. Modern psychology would understand the role of its symbology in the world of dreams that reflect upon our experiences of life and guide us; they tap into our subconscious. When I consider the book of John in relation to the Genesis creation stories, I see that we each are children of God, and each of us is made in the image of God. When we lose sight of that, we risk idolatry. Jesus, the human, I understand; Jesus, the God – separate from humanity, I do not understand. Eric Fromm understood the difference.
There are certainly events in our lives without rational explanation. Not all reality is to be experienced rationally; not everything needs, or deserves, an explanation. Some truths must be simply experienced. Rationality is only part of the experience of human life. But I cannot ignore the physicality of our experiences of sense, logic, emotion, and the spiritual. I do accept that human beings sometimes have accurate premonitions, forebodings or visions of the future that cannot be explained. As an example, my mother tells of the dream that she had when she heard a voice, much as Samuel heard, say, “It is not unto death.” I do not recall the passage in the Bible that was quoted in her dream, but she recognized it. The next day, one of my younger brothers told her of a lump that he had on his neck. They took him to the doctor and the growth was biopsied, resulting in a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer. We had just had an older church member die of the disease, and at that time it was considered to be fatal. My brother had his lymph nodes surgically removed and was seriously threatened by a staph infection while yet in the hospital. At that time my parents and younger siblings lived in Rhode Island, not far from Yale University . Yale had developed a high-intensity radiation treatment that offered some hope. Whether by vision, divine promise, prayer or love, my brother survived that bout with cancer. Since then, treatments have improved. He has had two other recurrences, each more aggressively treated, but each has been followed by remission.
My mother’s own mother was also a woman of great faith, and, like Mom, was well grounded. My mother tells in her written Memories of a time that she asked her mother, “If I have the faith of Peter, could I also walk on water?” Grandma answered, “When you have to, you will.” Mom has walked on water,” as she will say, “with God’s help.” Her weekly e mail correspondence usually ends with, “God is so good.” Gratitude is a natural expression of faith and worship. And Christians share that with many “God-filled” persons of many different faiths and religions.
I cannot explain my mother’s experiences when her eyes of faith, or, if you will, her ears of faith, reveal to her the Divine, but I do know that she has had other experiences where she has become aware of circumstances and received some form of knowledge or perception that is beyond normal human experience. I would not call them paranormal experiences; my mother would say it was God speaking to her. None of us knows the extent of human powers or of the power of the Divine, “the Living God,” in human lives. Pres. Abraham Lincoln is said to have spoken the night before his assassination of a vision in which he looked upon his body in a casket lying “in State” at the Capital. Whether that is true or not, or whether it was reinterpreted following his death, I don’t know. There is much that I do not know nor need I know.
I believe that there is a power of healing that is beyond mere medical intervention, the extent of which we do not know. But, if I have appendicitis and I must choose between prayer and surgery, I will choose surgery and be thankful for any prayer support that may be offered. I also trust that there are certain laws of nature that I can rely upon: if I throw a ball up in the air, and it is not caught or diverted by an object, gravity will pull it back to the earth; as a student of physics, I am confident that there are certain laws which are mathematically expressed that will determine its rate of dissent. It is that kind of faith and knowledge which enabled NASA to make its moon landings , its Mars landings, and exploration upon each. I am sure that there were a lot of prayers offered at the time of the NASA moon landings , but that was not achieved except for immense scientific understanding, engineering skills, analysis of the circumstances that would be encountered, including of the demands of the mission and preparation.
Some things may change in ways that we do not expect, whether it is due to human action or not, but for my purposes today I can rely upon observations of science and personal experience that, based upon the facts known to me, appear to be accurate. Things are relative; I understand that. But, if I choose to participate in my future then I must do my preparations in a real world as it is revealed to me, trusting that if I do something well, something good will come from it; and that whatever comes of that effort, I can learn from it rather than the victim of it. That is my faith. It is sufficient that I live in the light that I have today. The following is my attempt to remove the scales from my eyes so that I can live in that light.
About “God” I cannot say anything specific and concrete; I tend to agree with the mystics of each of the Abrahamic religions. I am inclined toward Moses Maimonides’ Doctrine of Negative ttributes. However, I’m not sure that we can even describe what God is not. As the psalmist says, wherever I make my bed, “Thou art there.” I believe that.
I believe in a Divine presence and activity that is larger than a God that fills the empty spaces of our knowledge. If, for example, we were to discover why evolution has been capable of coordinating a number of changes to achieve a particular bodily or intellectual function, it would be just another piece of knowledge that we are able to gather, but likely there will always be a mystery no matter how much we know. In my experience and in science that I trust, nothing is created out of nothing; energy and matter are simply exchanged or their form is changed. I think that the mystics, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, were on the right track: the world is filled with mystery. That is enough for me without needing to explain it, except as it may help me to act. Whether or not some phenomenon appears to someone to be the action of “God” or “Allah” can always be debated. It will be revealed only to the eye of faith, and that not contrary to the evidence. I believe that we are “given” our senses, our memories and our intellect to be used wisely, accepting that there is yet more – a great mystery, not a great magic show.
As a man, which the creeds acknowledge, I believe Jesus was subject, not only to the same temptations, as creeds hold, but also to the same physicality of himself and physicality in laws of nature about him. In my view, he died, not “because of of the Jews,” but in large part because he violated the rules of the powerful of that day, the religious authorities: he refused to allow the law to prevent him from doing good or from caring about people. Every religion has its adherents who take the stories of that religion in a literal, exclusivist way, robbing them of their underlying truth and power. It is the same with Christianity. Too often the zealots become the religious authorities whatever the religion. That is what Jesus was up against during his lifetime, and, unfortunately, that is also what we all are up against when, in every one of the Abrahamic religions, and likely among all religions, fundamentalist zealots, promising certainty in an uncertain world, come to powerful positions in that religion and in their society because they tell people what they want to hear. However, because of their own disguised uncertainty, which they refuse to acknowledge themselves, they destroy all those who they see as a threat to their own idolized faith. Such persons, whatever their religion, Abrahamic or not, are unable to live a life of faith, but need self aggrandize and control in order to maintain the appearance of certainty. These types of persons develop styles of hypervigilance and aggressive defense, because the paths to that certainty are constantly changing with life, the essence of which is change. The very thing that makes us human, growth and change, they cannot tolerate, but must destroy.
Enough said. Now, on to a discussion of who Jesus was, what the meaning of his life is for me, and how Christian dogma developed. That will be the subject of my next post.
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