Our differing views of Jesus
Have you ever asked yourself who Jesus really is? I'm sure you have heard much about him over the years. Some of us have been taught His name from the time we were held on our mother's knee. Some have only heard His name used to curse someone or something. But make no mistake, there are very few on this planet who have not come into contact with the name of Jesus. To people of faith He is different things. To Muslims, He is a prophet. To Messianic Jews, He is the Messiah. To those who follow Judaism, He was a good man, but not the Messiah they still seek. To Christians, He is Savior and Lord and coming King...and much more.
To agnostics and to many other faiths, Jesus was a good man who accepted and loved everyone. I've been reading several blogs lately and comments from people who are rethinking Jesus. Certain beliefs about the Bible, Creation, Sin, Hell, Judgment, Heaven, and who Jesus was and what He claimed have come under scrutiny. People are wrestling with these things, and that's not wrong. God is big enough to handle our questions.
But sometimes as Christians we fear the questions. I remember even my own dad's fear when in my teenage confusion I questioned something biblical. I don't recall what I questioned, only that it scared him. I get that now. Sometimes in our humanness, we fear that people we love will lose faith -- that very faith we've believed and taught them all of their lives.
And so because of that fear, sometimes we react. You've seen it. And sometimes as believers we react strongly in defense of our faith and that can come across to the one wrestling with those issues as judgmental or angry or even dangerous, because they think we are brainwashed for believing as we do. Or perhaps they pity us? But from what I've read, they definitely don't agree and attack the issues we stand for. And sometimes those things (on both sides) become hills to die on.
But should they?
I will be honest here. I don't have a theology degree. But I know my Bible pretty well. Not perfectly. I cannot explain to you the mystery of the Trinity. I was not there with God "In the beginning" so all of the science we discover and compare to Genesis, I'm not willing to tell you that either side understands creation and exactly how it happened without doubt because we weren't there. Even science gets things wrong. And the subject of how origins came to be - or even how our Creator caused creation to happen simply can't be proven without doubt.
I can also not tell you that I understand exactly how God is going to bring about the rule and reign of Jesus in a future kingdom. Though it is spoken of in the Bible, I wasn't there to witness what John saw in Revelation. I didn't have Daniel's vision. I can read about them and do my best to understand by God's grace and with the help of His Spirit in me, but I'm not going to fight for any view other than that Jesus said He is coming again and I believe He keeps His Word.
His Word. That's the biggest issue being bandied about. Somehow it has become one of the most dangerous teachings to believe that the Bible could actually have been given to men by Almighty God. I find that fascinating.
It's not that I've never doubted or wrestled with God. Trust me when I tell you I walk with a spiritual limp (like Jacob's physical limp.) Sometimes I accept what is said easily, but there are many times I wrestle with the Words of Scripture. Do I see metaphor and simile and poetry and imagery and story woven through its pages? Absolutely. Do I believe it's without error in the original language? Yes. Do I take every word seriously? I do.
To some this makes me sound like a hyper fundamentalist. But please, before you judge me for my beliefs, can I share my heart on this for a moment?
I'm fully aware of the arguments against the Bible. I spend my career studying this book and I see it taken apart and dissected or considered nothing but literature or worse, it's used as a battering ram to cajole people into believing a specific way. I get all of that. And I hear the arguments about Jesus being a great man who loved and accepted everyone. But that's not what Jesus said about himself or to the people of His day.
The Bible is one of those books that has the potential to change a life. But we could say that about any great literature, yes? How is this book different? What makes us think it's God's very Words to us?
Call this cliche or write me off as a fool, but I believe it's a heart issue. If you stop and evaluate that idea for a moment, perhaps it will make sense in the way I mean it. The Bible is a love story and God is a God of love. That is woven throughout both Old and New Testaments. The stories of the Old Testament and the life of Jesus and writings of the apostles in the New all reflect that love. We all warm to that idea, yes?
But Jesus (and He often quoted the Old Testament, which taught the same lesson) did not come to make our lives easier. He didn't come to accept everyone just as they are. He didn't come to just show us a good example of how to live and to die for the love of other people. He wasn't just humble and unselfish. He claimed so much more.
He told his own brothers, "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil." (John 7:7 NIV) (Woah! He told the world that what they did was evil.)
Later he told his disciples, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law. They hated me without reason." (John 15:22-25 NIV)
Jesus went around preaching "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." If He accepted everyone as they were, if we needed no forgiveness of our sins, why did he bother to come and die?
C. S. Lewis said of Jesus:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (emphasis mine)
I know this post is getting too long and will probably do little to convince anyone of anything. I wrote it to point out that people who believe the Bible is God's Holy Word, who love Him with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength (and their neighbor as themselves), who let the Word of Christ dwell in their hearts by faith, who know at a heart level that they have become a new creation because of Jesus, who have the hope of life eternal, the gift Jesus came to give to those who would "believe in His name", are not dangerous or otherwise.
The truth is, we've had a heart change. That's why I said it's a heart issue to believe the Bible is inerrant and we take God at His Word. There are many, many people in churches who don't understand this. They hear the message, but it doesn't penetrate to a soul level. And maybe that's because they still need time in their journey of life to wrestle with these things. God's Word isn't easy. And life is messy. And we don't always accept it wisely or without human selfishness getting in the way of what is true.
But to quote C. S. Lewis one more time, "I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
I think this is why Christianity -- the kind that trusts that this Word is truth, and that Jesus is the truth and the only way, becomes divisive. Even in His day "the people were divided because of Jesus." He never claimed to be all inclusive. But He opened His arms wide to include everyone who would come. When He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me," He was inviting us to come. We are given a choice. In the end, God does get what He wants, and unfortunately, that includes both mercy and judgment. We get a choice in that. But we don't get to tell God how He has to handle it.