"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

The Jesus Problem?

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(I wrote this several years ago and lost track of it)

A 2008 article published in Maclean’s titled, “The Jesus Problem”, set my fingers itching to pen a response. Life intervened which was good, as it gave me a chance to reflect and changed my initial anger into mournful (and prophetic) reflection.

The article is written with a clear anti-Christian focus. I won’t document this except to point out that the writer is clearly biased against the One Faith once given, and very welcoming of “modern” bible scholarship which, “…sweeps all that away, along with the miraculous elements…”.  What remains is Jesus, the ‘nice guy’, who never wanted to be God, never spoke of judgment, but was a good teacher and whose simple message was corrupted after his death by those who wanted to build a church on his legacy.

That ‘nice guy’ Jesus never said, “’Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Rather, the article is written around the equation that the personal, “Jesus is Lord” equals the impersonal, “love is supreme”. With that, Jesus is pushed aside as a curiosity of history and our own, modern (and without saying, more wise and knowledgeable) understanding of love is substituted.

Now all that remains to guide us is our own itching ears, and a human wisdom that fails to even approximate God’s wisdom.

The author cites Gretta Vosper, a United Church of Canada pastor and author of a book outlining the direction the ‘new’ liberal church must follow (With or Without God). Now that liberalism has gutted God and Jesus of any divinity, it seems, they have found themselves suffering the consequences of their actions. “But the wound on the left [of the church] has gone unnoticed and has hemorrhaged into nothingness as religious quests have become spiritual quests unconnected with church.”

Funny.  So the liberal church has spent the past 100 years destroying the faith passed on to them, and now finds all their followers have left to follow private spiritual questions – usually some syncretistic mass of a multitude of religious elements (so we now have ‘christian yoga’; ‘christian buddhists’; ‘christian materialist rationalists’ and so on). Is that not the logical consequence of telling people that God is dead?

The author skirts around that question, because once you gut God of any divinity and reduce Jesus to one of the few lucky great teachers to be remembered by history (who perhaps retired to Scotland to raise a family with Mary Magdalene or John the Baptist, depending on which sexuality you wish to promote), why do you even bother to attempt to hold together a faith community?  If the full scope of my spirituality is my own mind, why don’t I just stay home and focus on myself?  This is the real gift of modernity, I think, therefore I am, becomes the end all philosophy that defines my being.

The lunacy of that position seems to be lost on Vosper, who wants a church full of people willing to listen to her wisdom…but that embraces a neutered Jesus. “When Gretta Vosper looks at the emerging historical Jesus she sees no rock on which to erect a church. ‘In trying to capture exactly what he said, we have found, quite by accident, that what he said has little power.’” She goes on, “If we say we follow Jesus without clarification, we allow the assumption that we agree with all of his ideas, including the bad ones.”

Wow, it just gets better and better. With the travesty of ‘modern’ biblical scholarship, over the assumption that we are wiser and more knowledgeable than all who have gone before, we remove God from the Bible and leave behind only the sayings which fit with our view of the way things should be. Nothing is left but mammon – the perfect, wise human being. To quote my priest, who often asks rhetorically how well our own wisdom and efforts have been working to bring us salvation, “How’s that working for you so far?”

Well, the way humanity’s wisdom is working so far has brought us more death, destruction, broken families and children, lawful murder, coming lawful euthanasia, Rwanda, Auschwitz and sayings like ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’. If you object – “That’s not me”, I would challenge you to think carefully about your life, to see if your hands are that lily white. My observation (because I know the darkness of my own human self) is that anyone who can claim self-purity has not grown past the point of self-deception.  Paul’s comment on, ‘when we say we have no sin…’, doesn’t end up with affirmation of the self, but the affirmation of our ability to lie effectively to ourselves.

Our human history, when God is pushed out of our lives, is one of death and chaos – and there has not been a single historical example to the contrary. Every attempt to make a utopian society has failed, some dramatically. Why? As we know from God’s Word – all attempts made by man to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps is doomed to failure. We cannot redeem ourselves, let alone the rest of the world.

That is, of course, exactly the rock upon which Vosper and the writer of the article place their hope – the altar of human ability.

“[Jesus] taught acquiescence in oppression, ‘a stance not at all helpful in ending slavery, racism, patriarchal hierarchy, and so on.’ ” The Lord’s word on violence is seen by these as not at all helpful at changing the world. Suddenly, taking up arms to fight oppression seems a very ‘christian’ thing to do. Oscar Romero’s insistence that his priests not follow the path of violence, even when that stance led to his murder, now becomes a part of the ‘patriarchal’ failure of Christ.  As NT Wright pointed out, liberation theology arises when the church forgets that God’s justice (or righteousness) bears little resemblance to human ideas of justice, or ‘just desserts’.

Lack of emphasis here in older theological writing, due sometimes to individualism and sometimes to a dualistic split between church and world, has led to a reaction (e.g. in some liberation theology) in which ‘justice’ as an abstract virtue has been elevated in an unbiblical manner (e.g. at the expense of mercy). This should not prevent a balanced orthodox view of world-wide justice from regaining, and retaining, its place in the church’s teaching and practice.

So we’re justified in taking extreme actions (blowing up pipelines?) to protect the creation, because we have usurped God’s righteousness (justice) with our own end justifies the means philosophy that can justify anything.  As long as the goal fits within our wisdom’s assessment of what is needed, why pay any attention to the way of peace proclaimed by Christ?

As much as I hate to offer extended quotations from someone who has little time for God, the error  in Vosper’s thought comes through clearly in her summation statements.

“ ‘Jesus’ moral teaching is not outstanding.’ And it’s impossible to craft a moral high ground from his life, works and sayings: ‘His words are dead to many people. The world has changed, The words don’t make sense any more.’ And they aren’t necessary. ‘Why do we need a revolutionary voice from two millennia ago to guide us? We have fabulous ideas of our own, that are constantly weakened by having to tie them back to Jesus and Scripture.”

And so, we cut all ties to the dated and quaint teachings of a no-import carpenter from Galilee, and set forth sailing in a ship powered by sails of our own fabulous making. When the weak and fragile cloth rips, and we are left in irons (with no propulsion), our only conclusion is that we need adopt the next great human thought that comes along.

Those ‘fabulous ideas of our own’ will continue to bring us nothing but death and destruction and chaos and, ultimately, a life without meaning.

A young woman with a family is told she is going to die in mere months because of inoperable cancer – what do those ‘fabulous ideas of our own’ have to offer her? Sorry, they say, better luck next time. That bankrupt faith is what leaves so many in hospital beds complaining, ‘I lived a good life – how come I suffer now?’

No. That woman’s faith in Christ allows her to reply, “Thank God he has trusted me with this.”, for even death is given great meaning in Christ, the one whom even death could not hold.

Those who have come to know God, a deeply intimate and personal relationship that has literally reordered our entire being, know that our ideas only have worth in the context of that relationship. My engineering knowledge and skill exists without purpose, until I turn it and surrender it to the Great Reality, and give all I do to the greater glory of God. My bank account, my investments, my family and most of all myself, exist without meaning, until I give it all to Jesus. Only in the light of Christ do I see myself as God sees me: fearfully and wonderfully made, made to serve and worship God. A relationship that does not bring chaos, or sadness or slavery, but a relationship which brings me the only real freedom that exists in the entirety of creation…freedom in Christ Jesus.

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Written by sameo416

December 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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