Sunday, May 17, 2015

Re-Discovery?

Lots of noise is being made these days about the Church rediscovering the truth about the atonement, about the faith, about the nature of God. I've made noises earlier in this blog about the magic word "Patristic" and how it seems to be used as a golden ticket to selling your views especially when presented over against a more recent view. After all it's Patristic...

But I'd like to take a bit of a swing at the whole rediscovery thing. And the first thing to be made clear is that this is not like the story in Kings, where the Book of the Law had been lost and now it has been found again. This is one view, expressed chronologically earlier than another view expressed more recently. The assumption that that the one marketed to is expected to take on board is that the earlier view is 'of course' right because it's earlier and the later 'of course' wrong because it's later. But it all depends on how you tell the story. One way is to say that this was lost early on and now, thank God we've found it. The other way is to say that our understanding is now evolved and the newer idea has superseded the old. Can you see the problem? There's no way to tell which is the true tale. Which means no re-discovery has taken place. We've merely found something we like better than what we had. And we're willing to depend on a bad sales job, namely, what C.S.Lewis used to call chronological snobbery, to assure ourselves that it's the right one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Unpopular Jesus

Much is being made these days of Jesus words, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father." And the thrust of this always seems to be a repudiation of the Old Testament view of God. Now I believe I've blogged this elsewhere, but I think it bears repeating, that if you don't have the Old Testament, you don't have Jesus. His ministry and Messiahship are rooted in and validated by the Old Testament. There's been a change after Jesus' coming, no doubt. But whatever we learn of God from Jesus gets integrated into the whole of what the Old Testament teaches, and does not cancel it out because if the God of the Old Testament is false, then he can't bring forth the Christ. But that is not what this post will be about. I think that there are enough examples in the Gospels themselves that amply demonstrate that God as revealed in Jesus still carries with him the unpopular traits that the church these days finds so embarrassing, but without which he is truly the 'tame lion' alluded to by C.S.Lewis.

Jesus the Law Giver

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a go at the law. And in every case, he validates the existing Law by strengthening it. Everything is now not merely about action, but motivation. This is very significant. By strengthening the law, he makes the offence against the law a much bigger deal than it ever was. When we examine our actions, we might say they're better than someone else's, but when we look at our motivations we are rightly ashamed.

Jesus the Severe

Examine how Jesus speaks to those he admonishes. Frequently he warns of extreme consequences if his words are not heeded. "Whoever denies me... I will deny..." "It will be more bearable for the region of Sodom than for you." He does it with a wonderfully unadorned style. He's not portrayed as rageful. But the consequences remain and are spoken of frequently. Even more significant are the God-figures in his parables. Kinglike, they bless the good and just and severely punish the evildoer.

Jesus the Judge

Much is made, and rightly so, of the tempering of justice with mercy. The converse is also true. Jesus freely admits that the people he calls are sinners, even while he implies that the righteous are worse off because they are not being called. But while we recognize the reversal -- the righteous are not actually righteous because they deny their need -- let's not forget that the ones who come are acknowledged as sinners, that is, those deserving punishment, to whom the offer of mercy is actually meaningful.

Jesus the Descriminator

"Not everyone, who says to me Lord, Lord..." "The knowledge of the Kingdom of God has been given to you but not to them." "Depart from me, I never knew you." These are just three examples of a theme that no one likes exploring, because it makes us terribly nervous, but that is throughout all the Gospels. The idea is that in end some won't be in after all. They might think they are just great, but they will have been deceived. Ow.

Jesus who calls it as he sees it.

Look at how Jesus treats his own friend Peter. "Are you still so foolish?" "Get behind me Satan" etc. There are obviously times of no mincing of words, no gentle remonstrance. Are we open to being talked to like this? Even more cutting language is levelled against religious leaders. (try the choice phrase "twice as much a child of hell as you" about the Pharisee's disciples.)

Jesus the Inscrutable

Sometimes Jesus does things that would tend to offend us -- with no explanation. Why did he curse that fig tree? In the narrative, no real explanation is given.

etc.

One of the prophecies (Isaiah 11) about Jesus says that he will delight in the fear of the Lord. I think that we need, even while we strengthen the message of God's love for us, to recognize that we are still in the presence of one who has every right to treat us severely and even harshly if he deems it necessary. As he extends love to us, let us receive it gladly because he has not "treated us as our sins deserve." Let us not try to sugar coat either our situation or God's righteous judgement. If we truly believe that if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father, then we must be willing to acknowledge the uncomfortable parts of the Father that Jesus reveals along with the parts that bring us relief.