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pondering matters of faith

Question to ponder, asked at outset of church this morning: "What is your position on Jesus?"

It is easy to answer with numerous things that I know are theologically expected; but I'm not interested in doing that. Those things, to me, are old and tired. I am only interested in saying them if they actually have meaning for me. Sounds nice and postmodern, doesn't it? ... There was a time when I didn't want to be postmodern. The truth is that I fit about halfway into the modern mind and about halfway into the postmodern mindset. This makes me a good person to attempt to help people learn to relate well to each other, I suppose.

Do I believe Jesus was Jewish? Yes. Nice "historical Jesus" position. I believe that Jesus was a Jew who was unsettled with the way that people lived out the Jewish tradition; and I believe that he walked a fine line between maintaining that tradition and reinterpreting it at the same time. It unsettled a lot of people and eventually earned his followers (which included Jews and Gentiles alike) the name "Christian." I do not believe that Jesus ever intended to start his own religion. I do believe that we now have one: a religion which has been reinvented by Gentiles who were not required by their Jewish counterparts to follow Jewish customs in living out the teachings of Jesus. I could write a book on this; and I suppose that someday I will. Some people have already done this in academic circles... When I do it, I will do it in language appropriate for lay readers--without dumbing it down.

Do I think Jesus died for my personal sins? Well, this is one of those things where my views don't really go nicely with the evangelical things I grew up hearing. I don't even know where I first heard all this evangelical stuff--it is ingrained in almost every facet of church culture, even when a particular church group's theology differs on a particular point. What I believe is that Jesus was crucified because of the impact of his teachings on the political situation between the Jews and the Roman empire. What does that mean, theologically, for sinful humanity? That is the real question. It has nothing to do with Jesus being on a cross and thinking of me, personally. This personal representation is something that I cannot preach. It is a very individualistic way of thinking, and it drives me crazy. I must learn to accept the symbolic nature of salvation. God is so much bigger than I!

Do I believe that Jesus was both human and divine? I can accept this. How I can accept this I do not know. I do not question it. It just is something I accept, like I accept that I am both a learner and a teacher.

This morning, my pastor talked about how death is no longer bad news when there is resurrection... This left me with a question. How do you preach such a gospel to people who want to die--people who are suicidal because of mental illness, people who want to die because of chronic illness, people who simply accept that death is part of the cycle of life and do not treat it as bad news...? What is the gospel that is good news to them? This took me back to my experience hearing Jim Wallace speak at camp meeting, when he talked about the gospel being the bread of life. I wrote in my notes: "How is the gospel bread to people with disabilities...?" Unlike people in poverty-stricken countries, no one meets people with disabilities with the social gospel and then transforms it into spiritual good news. People with disabilities must jump spiritual hurdles while their immediate needs remain unmet. It is no wonder that some become bitter toward God. In their minds, God never did anything for them; and when people of faith come proclaiming healing and prosperity, those things are for everyone else.

So what is the good news of Jesus that really does speak? I am challenged to sort it out, again, so that I can speak it adequately. It is not that I doubt... I don't. It is a question of knowing just why I believe what I do, and being able to put it into language that makes some kind of sense, because my faith really is a faith that goes beyond any kind of meet-immediate-needs faith. I came to faith before I had those immediate needs... So how do I communicate it to people who are so weighed down by things that matter in this life?

Much to think about...


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 26th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
This was very interesting to me.
I am not Christian although there was a time when I was.
I have heard the phrase "Jesus died for me above everything."
It seems to be a very personal statement, but it also seems to be acceptable in Christian circles for anyone to say it. The phrase "above all else." or "above all" is pyramid shaped to me. There is the person who is above, and then there is the "all."
So how could Jesus have died to save someone from sin, putting their need for salvation above all, yet have done the same for a whole bunch of other people?
This is something I never understood when I was a Christian.
I appreciate you writing this post. It will be interesting to read the comments.
Apr. 26th, 2010 04:46 am (UTC)
This is precisely my point. Jesus did not die for me above all. (I despise singing the song--there is a song entitled "Above All," btw.) I can sing, "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus..." (See my comment to sk8eeyore. It is a different kind of theology: what covers everything also covers me. But if one thing is done just for me, oh look what a wonderful gift, it seems very selfish for me to flaunt it and then try to hold it out to someone else as good news. The more insecure our society becomes, the less that would work and the more contradictory it will seem. It seems to me that we must be able to talk consistently and we really do not have much ability to do that.

[hugs] Thanks for reading. I appreciate your perspective.
Apr. 26th, 2010 05:57 am (UTC)
Re: precisely
Could it be that, when people say, "Jesus died for my sins above all," or "Jesus died for me", that they are saying it only to bring Jesus/God, who is already elusive in other ways--you can't see Him, you can't hear His Voice, you can't touch Him--closer to the person who is using that sentence? To say that He died for "me" is a way, it would seem to me, for young Christians to grasp it maybe? It is a binding thing, a way to bind Jesus close to them maybe? I don't think about the "Jesus died for my sins" much; rather for me it is that He died for my salvation and to allow me to be with Him upon my death. I will have some other things to say to this post that aren't directly related to this reply, which means a re-read tomorrow,but I felt moved to reply to this particular thread right now. Using a phrase like "for me" makes it more personal. And I think that getting close to Jesus, or God, is something we have to learn to do, and it can take a while to get to the point where you wake up every morning and go through your day and then go to sleep knowing that God is right there, so that kind of phraseiology helps.
Apr. 28th, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
Re: precisely
I believe it goes back to in Romans where it says the wages of sin is death. Jesus being sinless took the death thus paying for all sins. When I do sing above all I don't take it to mean me personally but it humbles me to sing it for the things I do. I think of it as my brothers and sisters the church whech we are all part of that body. Can I back this up I'm not as much of a biblical scholar as yourself, but i believe that he took punishment yes for what you saind but also undeserved in order to teach and love the church.
Apr. 26th, 2010 04:28 am (UTC)
Sometime I would be interested to hear more about what you mean by "the symbolic nature of salvation."
Apr. 26th, 2010 04:40 am (UTC)
symbolic nature of salvation
A short version so that I don't forget... :) I am referring to one man's death being an act that covers all sin. It isn't necessary for Jesus to have me in mind personally in order for his death/resurrection to cover my sin--it covers sin, period, and that includes mine. By making it so personal, I think that we rob it of its truly awesome power.
Apr. 26th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Re: symbolic nature of salvation
Well said, but see my reply to you/PawPower regarding the use of it to help spiritually young Christians. I do however completely agree with you here.
Apr. 26th, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
Re: symbolic nature of salvation
Thanks for elaborating on that. I agree with you that there is something almost over-sentimentalized about the crucifixion in parts of the church today, that this runs the risk of diminishing our soteriology, and so it's a problem.

At the same time, I do think that, in his divinity, Christ could very well have had in mind each one of us who would be saved through what He was suffering. I know that in my case, I grew up having been taught that "Jesus died for us," but this meant little to me until I heard -- yes, from evangelicals -- that that meant me, personally, and it meant I could have a personal relationship with God. That transformed every part of my life.

I agree that this point isn't one on which the doctrine of the atonement stands or falls, however, and I think we have to be careful that our language about what was accomplished on the cross doesn't veer too much in either an individualistic or abstract direction.

Edited at 2010-04-26 08:00 pm (UTC)
Apr. 27th, 2010 03:49 am (UTC)
I have a question, and maybe this isn't the place to ask it but it's something I've never understood, not even when I was Christian.
God is God (I'm using the word God here because we're talking about Christianity).
I understand that in Christian theology, God is perfect and that we are people and sin which makes us not perfect.

In order to be with God we need to be perfect too because God can't handle being around all of that sin and badness, or something (this is where I start to get kind of vague on it).
So if God, being God, all powerful, all knowing, etc. etc. is all of those things, why can't he just make us the way he wants us to be? Why does another being, Jesus, have to wash away sin. Why can't God just be God and forgive them.
Like say God is the banker, and we, the people are taking money out of the bank that we don't have by sinning. So we take and take and take and so on. Jesus, as I see him, is the guy who comes in and pays all the money back that we owe. However if God is the banker in charge, why can't he just forgive the debt?

Like I said, this is probably the wrong place to ask but it's something I'm curious about.
Also I don't mean to be disrespectful or rude or a jerk or anything. So I apologize in advance if I am coming off like one, but I'm honestly really interested in this question.
Apr. 28th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
I believe this would fall under the idea that God gave us free will. He could make us as he wished, but doesn't want to have mindless sheep but people who love and want to follow his commandments.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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