(Thought 29 Jun 13)
Let me start off by floating a controversial idea: and it’s that we in the church, and indeed in the faith at large, concentrate on the wrong things about Jesus and that we’ve become a self centred, if not ‘selfish’ faith. Why do I suggest this as an idea? Well start off look at the life and ministry of Jesus as told by John. From the 19C onwards John was seen as a late gospel – even a bit of fictional padding. That was modified when they found fragments of the gospel in the dead Sea scrolls at Qumran but it was still seen as the last of the four gospels. The ex Bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson however puts a strong case together that in John you have an eyewitness account – by the disciple himself or in his tradition – and since we know that Matthew, Mark & Luke are based on a single tradition and that they weren’t there, that it is in John that we see the correct chronology for the ministry.
Why is that important? OK, in John’s Gospel you have a clear pattern of Jesus’ ministry over a two year period, with the starting gun by being anointed by John The Baptist; followed by a barn storming ‘cleansing of the temple’, in the Baptists’ tradition of; a time of contemplation in the wilderness; and then a retreat to Galilee during which Jesus seems to have decided that a message of ‘hell and damnation’ were not his way. The body of his ministry then starts off in a way that militates AGAINST a message of ‘sin and redemption’. Instead the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry are given to healing as an outward expression of God’s love.
You see, it isn’t Jesus that talks about sin and God’s forgiveness all the time. It’s John Baptist. Jesus forgive sins as a way of helping and healing people; and perhaps at this point we need to break down what the word ‘sin’ means. Sin in 1C Palestine meant ‘failure’. It didn’t have the connotations of ‘taint’ & ‘evil’ that Augustine of Hippo suffused the Western half of the church with in the 5C when he came up with ‘original sin’ – oh and to make it worse Augustine’s ‘sin’ is a taint spread by sex with women. In other word ‘sin’ as opposed to ‘failure’ is a grossly distorted way of looking and thinking about life; and comes about as a reaction against his world falling apart – both a personal ‘mental breakdown’ and the fall of the order that was the Roman Empire. In fact think you can argue that Augustine ideas on sin involve a self loathing that we decry in victims of abuse but that we espouse when thinking about God; and if God is a loving God it’s just plain wrong. If you hear me talking about ‘failure’ rather than ‘sin’ you can now understand why.
Following this line of thought, let’s go to the next stage: we have a model of God as ‘king’ or ’emperor’ which is probably a relic of The Emperor Constantine making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 3C; but Jesus talks about God as ‘father’ not ‘king’; and if we model God as a father – and think what that means in the context of our own children or of our own childhood – they we have to re-examine all our thought processes. For instance we talk about ‘worship’. Well worship came increasingly part of that vocabulary of the church at the reformation when having downgraded the eucharist/mass/communion we Protestants needed something to fill some of the gap; but ‘hold on’, how many parents here want to be worshipped by their children? According to Jesus we are not courtiers surrounding a high and mighty ruler but children surrounding a loving God.
Next we talk about God’s plan for us. Well how many ‘good’ parents have plans for their children? On the contrary I’d suggest that ‘good parent’s’ have ASPIRATIONS for their children; and those aspirations are to have a loving, self fulfilled life. In fact when I hear the phrase ‘God’s Plan’ I find myself tempted to get up and scream ‘no’. There can’t be a plan in that sense, or if there IS a plan then we have to re-examine everything we think about God and freewill. What we in the church seem to have done is to take a model of God as ‘Abba Father’ and turned it into ‘An High & Mighty Ruler’.
OK having cast some doubt on three pillars of the way we look at Jesus and the faith based on his life and teaching, let me suggest another way of looking and thinking about God – one that fits with a 21C view of the world rather than the 4/5C perspective we’re locked in to: A Creator God begins a process that he/she/it hopes to deliver a sentient species capable of loving its fellows which, starting with Big Bang 13.7 billions years ago and through a mechanism we know as evolution, produces us. The aim of a process begun by a loving God, surely, has to be to produce species – one, two or an infinite number in the universe, that can love one another. Love, not sin, is the key to God as personified in the person of Jesus of Nazareth whom we know as The Christ because in him we believe we see the nature of God.
I can understand why a beleaguered faith fought so hard in the early days to have it recognised that Jesus was more than just a prophet but in concentrating on WHAT Jesus was rather than what he REPRESENTED about the nature of God we, the church, have allowed a distorted thought pattern to survive – and the trouble with any other model of God that doesn’t concentrate on a loving ministry to ALL peoples is that it leads you down a blind alley: where the church spends the early centuries debating the nature of God, the nature of Jesus and the relationship between the two, and then spends the next 1500 years pondering ‘our personal link with God’ – both of which are inward looking and arguably self centred – and don’t do anything to progress the love of God in the world.
In contrast I’d like to suggest that we need to follow the model of a ‘father God’ model along the lines shown by a loving son where love and an aspiration of a loving community for humanity predominate over everything else. Oh and if you want a simple rule of thumb by which to live your life let it be something someone who was special to me once preached: ‘let everything you do contribute to the Kingdom of God’ – from not boiling too much water in the kettle so as not to waste water & electricity to voting in such a way as to best car for peope.
As I said: some of these thoughts are rather revolutionary and I suggest them to provoke thought. It’s taken me 30+ years of thinking to come round to this point of view and who knows where I might reach in another 30 – if I last that long 🙂