Friday 7 August 2015

Reasons for believing (3)

I believe in God because Jesus is His Son

I am convinced that the character of Jesus is not fictional. There is no-one anywhere in literature who even begins to compare with him.

It is very difficult even for a Shakespeare or a Tolstoy to create a good character who is not bland. This is because we find it hard to conceive of goodness except as an absence of character flaws – but these same flaws are what make people interesting to us and enable us to identify with them. But Jesus is someone who is good all the way through, and yet the most disturbing, commanding, inspiring and magnetic person in all human writing. Bland? Jesus?

One very unusual feature of Jesus' character is the way he unites in himself traits that to us seem opposites. What I mean is this. A visionary person may not always be the most practical, down to earth person you could meet, whereas that same hands-on person may be contemptuous of those whose heads are in the clouds. A man on a mission may find it hard to be a people-centred person, whereas a compassionate and understanding person will find it too challenging to push on with their goals in the face of opposition from others. A highly charismatic leader will find it difficult to get down to the level of washing others' feet, but a meek and humble person is unlikely even to aspire to leadership. And holy and righteous people are not often prone to seeking out the company of sinners.

So how does Jesus manage to unite in himself what seem to us such opposites? We all have the weaknesses that go with our strengths, so much so that they may seem to be their necessary counterparts. So if gentleness is our strength, firmness is our weakness. If words are our strength, silence is our weakness. If tasks are our strength, people are our weakness. Yet somehow Jesus seems to combine them in one complete and coherent personality, to have just the strengths without their downsides. It is as if he is humanity as we were meant to be, all that is best about us fused into one majestic whole. I wonder if this is what Jesus meant when he referred to himself as the Son of Man? Is he someone who represents everything that we could be, if only we could achieve our full potential?

 But I want to go beyond even this. Is he more than a very special and unusual person? to argue that I believe in God because Jesus is His Son is to assert that at least some things that are unique about God are also true of Jesus. I don't mean immortality, because he died, or omnipresence, because he lived at one time and in one place, or omnipotence or omniscience – all these he surrendered when he embraced our humanity.

I certainly mean the holiness of God. Jesus has a very powerful kind of holiness which does not consist of cutting himself off from the world, the flesh and the devil. Instead he is there for tax collectors, prostitutes, people in meltdown, sinners and lepers, not shunning their uncleanness to avoid being contaminated but, by embracing those enslaved to it, making them clean.

I also mean the freedom of God. Jesus has this tremendous ability to be himself and to fulfil his mission no matter what pressures are put upon him. For example he's on his way to rescue the daughter of a pillar of the local community when a woman in the huge crowd that has gathered touches him. Instantly he focuses on that one person who has reached out to him – as though the crowd and the synagogue rulers and the desperate situation and even his own disciples pressurising him to keep going are simply not there. Finally he discovers her: and it as if he has all the time in the world for her healing and affirmation. At last he reaches the house of the dying girl only to find the funeral has already started. He kicks everyone out – can you even imagine what it takes to disrupt a funeral like this? Then having restored the little girl to life he calmly tells the completely mind-boggled family to give her something to eat! It really isn't the miracle that is so astonishing here, it's the absolute freedom of Jesus to be himself. The bare-faced cheek of him! Well, all right, the miracle is a bit astonishing too...

But above all when I assert that Jesus uniquely displays characteristics of God in human form I mean the love of God. The key insight of Christian spirituality is God is Love. It is doubtful if this insight could have come about without Jesus, as a reflection on what his life says about who God is. But it carries a huge weight with it. If "I believe in God because Jesus is His Son," then Jesus has to be nothing less than God incarnate: and God incarnate in Christian talk means Love incarnate. Can Jesus' life and character stand up to this scrutiny?

To do this we have to re-set our parameters for what "love" means. Most of us would like God to offer us grandad love – giving us whatever we want on demand, turning a blind eye to all our foibles, making sure everybody gets to heaven (except for those who obviously deserve to burn, like Nazis and paedophiles). I think we all know that this sort of love, this sort of God, isn't good enough. In the spoiled West we give him a job description – to make sure nothing bad ever happens to anyone – and by and large we've sacked him for sleeping on the job. If he is so cuddly he's not going to mind anyway when we reject him, is he? So he will get us to paradise however rude we are to him – won't he?

But what if the Divine Love is not like that at all? What if our image of God is in fact an idol, a projection of our own consumerist desires? Surely anyone who is grown up, who has actually tried to love another human being, or has looked for more than a few minutes at the world around them, knows that grandad god is pure fantasy.

What Jesus gives us instead is the Cross. This is love so fierce it will dare any suffering, so powerful it will overcome every obstacle, so broad that it embraces everyone without exception, so uncompromising that it demands everything. Here at last is love that is worthy to be linked to the name of God – deeper, wilder, purer and more passionate than anything we could imagine. Again and again we see this love in the Gospel stories of Jesus: overwhelmed with compassion at the needs of outcasts, deeply angry with our hardness of heart that cast them out in the first place, demanding that we leave everything to follow him, shouting with joy over the tears of the Prodigal. Here is the length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God in a form that lives a human life with us. I believe in God because I believe that Jesus is his Son.

But Colin! We expected a proper argument here, with facts! This is subjective, it's opinion, it's literary! Where is your hard evidence?

Well actually there is plenty of evidence to look at, but that needs a new post, of a different character to this one. I hope to get on to it soon – watch this space. All I really want you to do as I round this post off is to read about Jesus for yourself. Try Mark. It's the shortest Gospel, you could do it in not much more than an hour.

And as you read, ask yourself a few questions:
·                What kind of person is Jesus?
·                Is there anyone else in history like him?
·                Is there anyone in fiction like him?
·                How can he be so like us, yet so different from us?
·                Is this what love incarnate looks like?

Who is this man?

But be warned. If your answer to that last question is yes, there are implications. Divine Love means eternal love. Jesus is still around. He's real. He will want to be part of your life, and that won't happen without you being changed by him. In the end, I believe that Jesus is God's Son because he came into my life and changed it utterly.

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