Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Encountering the Son of Man

Of late, like the psalmist of the Jewish Bible times and George Fox at the start of the English Civil War, I have despaired observing the ocean of darkness that is again inundating, drowning this present generation.

Fundamentalists of all stripes justify violence, from Christian rightists to Israeli settlers to Muslim jihadists to Hindu extremists. Even Buddhists are getting into the attack mode in the name of truth. And while this bloodletting stains the world on the physical level, all manner of darkness comes forth from various worldviews twisting our understanding...

Some polytheists claim that malaria and Death aren't evil; religious nontheists assert, with amazing certainty, that there is no Ultimate Meaning or Purpose to Existence.

Reformed leaders inundate the Internet and bookstores with their claims that God loves and wills only a limited number of humans to find the Truth. They assert that God preordained the vast majority of humankind to be eternally damned for his glory.

On and on this deluge of despair keeps 'reeking' havoc in the lives of human beings.

So, again, I turn to the one who I follow for rescue--for hope and joy and peace and love. Let us encounter again this one human who lived 2,000 years, this "son of man" (his own term) who stood against the evil of his generation to the extreme point of torture and death.

Tragically, however, this individual now has so many false selves, so many utter distortions and reversals of what he stood for that I am going to use his name in Aramaic/Hebrew for a few paragraphs rather than the common English version.

Hopefully, this will keep reminding us that the one I am referring to isn't the religious figure who Augustine, the crusading Popes, Cromwell, Dabney, Sproul, or Piper follow. Of course, I realize that this is my own limited perspective. I am an average joe:-) academically. I don't read Aramaic, and only started Hebrew class when in Israel/Palestine so I am not a scholar, but rather simply an individual who hopes to help shine a little of God's light into this current overwhelming darkness.

The story of Eashoa/Isho'/Yeshua Bar Yehosef/Yeshua Nasraya in the Good News of Mark starts with a prophet named Yokhanan HaMatbil "who appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins..."

"And it came about in those days that Eashoa came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by Yokanan in the Jordan." (NASB Mark 1:4 and 9, except for Aramaic names)

If we take these verses in the plain sense of the text, (without theological abstraction or tradition) it would seem to be that Eashoa came to be baptized for his sins! But of what sins? Traditionally, most followers of Eashoa have claimed he is perfect and sinless. Most even claim he is omniscient, is God.

So what sin could this Eashoa have committed that led him to want to be baptized for repentance? Only one is mentioned in Scripture. Eashoa is shown to have "missed the mark"--to have sinned when he took off for 3 days without permission and without notifying his parents.

At least most parents, whose kid at 12 years of age takes off without permission and disappears until they finally find him 3 days later, would consider this less than perfect behavior.

Luke seems to be aware of this difficulty because he emphasizes that after this Eashoa was obedient to his parents and "kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men." (NASB Luke 2:52)

Also, note that at this point, (as well as later in his recording of the disciples'' speeches in the Book of Acts), Luke describes Eashoa as a human being, not as God, certainly not omniscient. Luke emphasizes that Eashoa is separate from God, but increases in favor with God and in wisdom.

This is a very different picture of Eashoa from the Nicene Creed. As a student of religious history I understand what motivated ancient church leaders to create the Creeds.

But I never have seen Eashoa as God--not even when a young and fervent fundamentalist Baptist, nor as an educated Evangelical, etc. It's been much clearer for me to understand my rescuer and leader as Colossians 1:15 says: "And He is the Image of the invisible God..."

In this understanding, I follow William Barclay the N.T. Greek scholar, and others, who point out that the vast majority of Scriptural texts emphasize that Jesus (Eashoa) is the Son of God (not literally but spiritually, metaphorically), is definitely not God.

Barclay says there are only two verses in the Bible which assert Jesus is God. The familiar statement of Thomas after the resurrection and in some manuscripts of Titus 2:13 "our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." However, Barclay points out that some manuscripts say instead "the great God and our Savior Christ Jesus."

While some early followers of Jesus, even in N.T. times, must have seen him as God (probably Thomas), generally this is not the N.T. view. Even the book of Revelation one of the last books of the Bible separates God and Jesus.

Contrary to many Christians in history and today who claim Jesus is God, including being omniscient, the author of Revelation says this: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him..."

Notice that even though this is at least 70-some years after his resurrection, Jesus isn't omniscient, nor is he God in many other ways.

The text states God gives Jesus a "revealing" of the end of the world.

Also, while there is great value in the Book of Revelation, observe that the author of the book gets verse 3 wrong: "for the time is near." But, of course, if one reads the plain meaning of those words, they are incorrect.

Nearly 2,000 years of human history have passed and the end of things hasn't come yet. Obviously, the author was in error.

So what's the first point of this reflection?

#1 Jesus, at least in the openings of the Good News of Mark and in the Book of Revelation isn't like what most of church history has theorized him to be. And, to me, at least that is a relief--is indeed wondrous Light, for it means that the "Jesus" of theological determinism, of the Inquisition, of the many Christian wars, etc. isn't the real Eashoa.

There is in Eashoa an infinite Ocean of Light and Love which overcomes the ocean of religious darkness.

To be continued:

How does this give us hope?

Why did Jesus call himself the Son of Man?

How is Jesus the Son of God?

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?

In the Light,



forrest said...

I'd say that by our own intuition, plus a number of religious traditions, death only appears to be terminal (though I too would find it inconvenient; and I hope that someday we go beyond the need for that sort of "sleep." One spends "a lifetime" developing a persona that knows which end of the bod to think with, which end to use for other purposes. Mostly one learns this the hard way, & I would prefer at least an easier process next time.)

Do contemporary humans "deserve" to be swimming in darkness, seemingly oblivious to, even mildly excited by, various prospective tsunamis of darkness approaching in all directions? Not really, but we can't go on as we've been, you know! Collectively, people are like Nasrudin's neighbor (sitting on a branch to saw it off) until they catch on to the existence and causal importance of spiritual reality.

Our man Yeshua left us some impressive tools for digging our way out of the mental blindness that seems such a common human trait. The most basic is the trust in God he exemplified, and recommended in the Sermon on the Mount. If something in people's lives smells like "havoc", it probably isn't desirable, but it can't be afflicting them needlessly.

I've read, by the way, that baptism was originally practiced as a dedication, a preparation for war (or some similar ordeal) in which, yes, one would not want to be ritually unclean if one could help it. But John's "baptism" might have been something else, a figurative reentry into freedom, the promised land, life under God's law rather than Herod and Caesar's... In any case, I am convinced that Jesus got anointed (hence the title: 'Messiah') aside from whatever John normally did with people. As the ("coronation") psalm puts it, "You are my son; today I have begotten you." Although a "son of God" might be anyone sufficiently like God, the phrase would also apply to the divinely-appointed king of Israel (Consider another nation's similar language: The Emperor of China was customarily called "The Son of Heaven.")

Since this next Messiah was expected to rule over the goyim as well as Israel--to embody God's rule over the Earth--then "to be a follower of his" should logically mean that yes, we would like to see God (at last) visibly manifest Shalom over us all. The technical difficulties that impede us seeing that--are the same difficulties that so far necessitate keeping God's hand hidden behind the scenes.

Diane said...

A thoughtful post. You seem more than "just a layperson."

I do wonder, though, about the weight of an almost 2,000 year tradition celebrating Jesus as God. Should we erase that memory? Why do we privilege the texts written closest to life of Jesus as more accurate than later understandings but in other cases (say, Nazi Germany) find later texts more accurate? Also, for me, an important question is why the celebration of Jesus as God? Whose agenda is served by undoing that tradition? Wouldn't the principalities and powers like to diminish Jesus and hence what he stands for: social justice, the worth of every human, putting people ahead of money, etc? Thanks for bringing up these issues.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Forrest and Dinah,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

In the Light,


Daniel Wilcox said...

Oops, guess I am more tired even than I thought.

I meant to write Diane. Sorry.