Thursday, 29 November 2007

WDJD - What DID Jesus Do?

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement sprang up about ten years ago. It was loosely based on a book that asked people to consider their actions in light of what Jesus would do in their position. The acronym WWJD suddenly appeared everywhere - on keychains, rings, wristbands and bracelets, bookmarks, stickers, Bible covers, even backpacks and purses. It was a nice sentiment - a bit cheesy, but more or less harmless and not really offensive even to members of secular society, most of whom could respect the humanitarian teachings of the historical Jesus.

In reality, WWJD is a signpost that ought to warn us just how far into wish-land Christianity has slipped. Instead of concerning ourselves with facts and realities, those of us who call ourselves Christians have collectively become more and more interested in what might be and what we hope, think, wish to be rather than what is. We dabble in shadows. We are convinced by dubious accounts of the "miraculous", stories that play on our emotions, and meta-philosophies that do little more than confirm what we are already sure of - our own superiority. We ignore most of what ought to uniquely concern human beings, what is natural and reasonable - our responsibility to manage and nurture the earth, our relationship with other human beings, all that belongs to the realm of reason and human experience. Instead, we want to play about with the supernatural. We take our delight not in the wonders of oceans and trees and stars, nor the mysteries of love and life. We have lost sight of what IS, and have become fascinated, rather, with unverifiable tales, and ideas that lead us out of our natural sphere and into a land of half-lights where we are singled out for special revelations. In that land, our imaginations are given free reign, and we are elevated to gods and demi-gods by virtue of our individualised experiences of a "God" who not vast and unchanging, but as various and as fickle as we are.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Secular Humanism, which has at last stood up and said, "Enough is enough". Though its adherents deny God, they at times demonstrate who He is and who we are with more clarity than much of what masquerades as "Christianity".

We who call ourselves Christians need to stop believing the lie that calls "mysterious" what might be better labelled murky and dubious. I don't deny the existence of a spiritual reality. The supernatural is just as real as the natural. But it is not the native sphere of the human. And we ought not to confuse the spiritual with the merely supernatural. Neither one is a thing to be toyed with.

What is spiritual is not fully comprehended in reason, but that offers us no excuse to lazily toss reason aside and settle for wishy-washy definitions, or to fully depend on personal experience. The spiritual realities described by the Bible are NEVER unreasonable. Even while they are not fully comprehended in reason, they never deny reason's bases, nor its value.

The question then is not, "What WOULD Jesus Do?", but "What DID Jesus Do?". And indeed, why should it matter?

At the center of Christianity is the issue of who Jesus is. The linguistic root of "Christianity" is "Christ" - the Greek word the Hebrew "maschiah" or "messiah" - the "sent" one. Jesus is "sent" from God in fulfillment of God's promise to the world through the Jewish people. "Jesus" comes from "Yeshua", meaning "saviour". His full title is tranlated into English as "the Lord Jesus Christ". "Lord" is a term used in place of the Hebrew "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" - the Almighty God. Jesus is the Almighty God, Sent as a Saviour.

Jesus is God come to us in human flesh. He is the Creator of all things. He is God demonstrating his love in willingness to experience what we experience as humans. He is God willing, for Love's sake, to humble himself, to take on the pains and indignities of human life. He is a Holy God beyond the scope of our universes and countless universes unimagined by us, the Source of Light and Life and Love. He is in his essence, not merely his position, Worthy and pure. He is Light and lives in Light. He is personal. The Eternal One showed his pity for a beautiful but flawed and floundering humanity not by reaching down - but by becoming what we are; by sharing our experience. Jesus is the High and Holy God willing to leave behind all that belongs to him - glory, peace, worship, light, and the full fellowship of Love - in order to demonstrate Love in human terms. He doesn't hold out a tingly experience, shiny angel-sightings, or sweeping emotion. He comes himself - Love eating and drinking with fishermen and prostitutes, Love attending weddings and telling stories; Love paying taxes and cooking breakfast; Love tired and hungry, with a beard and dirty feet; Love sweating and breathing and crying and bleeding.

The Lord Jesus Christ laid aside all that is his - the worship of a realm we cannot imagine, the incomprehensible glory belonging to the Prince of heaven, the deep beauty of God, the undisturbed joy of Love's daily fellowship with Love. He became part of the secular, human world that he had created. He ate and drank, worked and wept. He shared the simple joys and the wracking suffering that belongs to humanity. He demonstrated Love in a tired, hungry world reaching for the divine but devastated by selfishness.

But that isn't all he did. He didn't just hold out the love that we so long for. He stood between us and God. He accepted the consequences of his own character. He took on the results of our flaws and our selfishness before God. He allowed God to lay our guilt on him. Jesus died to demonstrate his full indentification with a broken, dying humanity, and he accepted God's judgement of our selfishness. Through him, we can approach a pure and holy God. Because he sacrificed his own comfort and his own pleasure for Love, he broke the hold selfishness has over us as humans. In choosing him, we can be free from the flaw that eats away at our best gifts. He offers us his own Spirit, not to give us supernatural powers that will allow us to cure our friends of cancer or deal masterfully with demons, but to give us a spiritual power that demonstrates itself by setting us free from the selfishness that destroys us.

Jesus comes not, as we have presented him, in white-robed splendour with coast-to-coast tours and glowing billboard testimonials, promising freedom from poverty and sickness. He comes to us in the dust of the everyday. He reconciles Jews with Palestinian Arabs, North Americans with Iranians, Britons with First Nations peoples, Koreans with Japanese. He says that Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Mormans and Wiccans are not enemies, but fellow humans to the Christian. To the one who chooses him he gives a power that overcomes the seeping poison of self-interest that hides beneath mother-love, humanitarian compassion, and the fidelity of friends.

He who is Love, demonstrated Love to his own hurt, and offers us the power to love truly. That's what Jesus did.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Ancient Wisdom in Modern Language

It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve, and bad things are very easy to get. (Confucius)

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Faith: How Much is Enough?

ex·pe·ri·ence (ĭk-spîr'ē-əns)
The apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind: a child's first experience of snow.
Active participation in events or activities, leading to the accumulation of knowledge or skill: a lesson taught by experience; a carpenter with experience in roof repair.
The knowledge or skill so derived.
An event or a series of events participated in or lived through.
The totality of such events in the past of an individual or group.
tr.v., -enced, -enc·ing, -enc·es.
To participate in personally; undergo: experience a great adventure; experienced loneliness.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin experientia, from experiēns, experient-, present participle of experīrī, to try.]

'For which reason, because we have righteousness through faith, let us be at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; Through whom, in the same way, we have been able by faith to come to this grace in which we now are; and let us have joy in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but let us have joy in our troubles: in the knowledge that trouble gives us the power of waiting; And waiting gives experience; and experience, hope: And hope does not put to shame; because our hearts are full of the love of God through the Holy Spirit which is given to us.' (Romans 5:1-5, Bible in Basic English)

'I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again.' (2 Cor 1:8-10 Living Bible)

'A big wind storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so much that the boat was already filled. He himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up, and told him, "Teacher, don't you care that we are dying?" '(Mark 4:37-38 World English Bible)

Sometimes I can really relate to those disciples in the boat, crying, "God, don't you CARE? Don't you SEE?" It's always amazing to me that God is not weakened by his love for me. His pity doesn't soften his resolve to give me the experiences I need. I've been in the boat with him before. I am beginning to realize that he never planned to keep the storms from touching me. I'm beginning to learn that with a little patience, I'll have an experience that will allow me to trust him further.

I can sympathise with those who find themselves unable to span the chasm that lies between their present knowledge and a knowledge of God with a great leap of faith. We who ask others to do such a thing ought to first ask ourselves if this is what we have done. I have not.

On reflection and careful consideration, however, it has taken a little faith. Enough to make me begin, and to keep me searching for what I had only sensed, and that rather dully. There was no single leap, for me, from doubt to faith. I carried both all along the way. I took little steps with the hope that there would be Something There, and my "faith" was replaced by experience.

Just as there is no way to quickly know or trust a person, or even a methodology, so knowledge of God is rarely sudden and undeniable. Rather, it is a cumulation of experiences that, looked at individually, may amount to little, but as a whole offers a body of knowledge that satisfies the questions we ask.

How much faith does it take to know God? A little. Enough to give me a little patience so that I can see the end of a thing. Enough to take a single step forward in the search for what God is - not a super genie offering wishes; not a white-robed grandfather-in-the-sky, but Light, Love, Truth. We need not take a second step until our faith be replaced with knowledge.

To all of you who have tried to make the leap and failed, many have done as you have done. But God does not require a leap into the dark. I hope that I can shine enough light on the trail to convince you only to take a tiny step toward whatever you may sense of Him who is Light. You don't have to take off your "atheist" sticker. You don't have to change your religion. You don't have to begin attending church. Just take a little step. Put yourself in a place where you could experience a God who who is Light, Love, Truth; the kind of God who makes stars and suns and trees and oceans and lions and puppies and people; the kind of God who is what he is no matter how much it hurts you OR him.

Faith doesn't mean deciding what God should do and believing sincerely that he will do it. It means knowing God well enough to be sure that what God does do is good, no matter how rotten it feels. There is a huge difference. Faith requires experience.