Jared Witt - May 31, 2019
I can see it in their faces whenever I teach a Bible study. People want to buy my version of who Jesus actually was: Something like a Dada performance artist meets an occasionally though not always zen-ed out meditation guru meets that guy who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square.
They yearn for my image of Jesus, yearn for it in a vital and eager way, because they see Truth there easily and organically, not in the forced, top-down way that they’ve been taught they’re supposed to see the Truth in Jesus, depicted as a somehow weightless God-man who floats about saying wise old aphorisms about life in this world but who is basically unaffected by it.
They want so badly to believe in the earthy relevance and spiritual urgency of my version of Jesus, but there is a mental block. And it's one of the hardest things for people raised with the felt-board God-man image of Jesus to absorb. It sounds off to them, like some kind of blasphemy even if it's just a simple fact: Jesus didn’t know we were recording.
What I’m saying will naturally offend some. But when you think about it, those are the ones who are offended by everything, so what can you do?
It offends them because they’ve come to believe it’s a matter of piety, let alone morality, to picture Jesus as a sort of doctrine machine, always regurgitating timeless truths and never asking a fruit vendor how much for the peaches, let alone ever swearing at the refs on the corner plasma screen in his neighborhood pub. Basically, it seems blasphemous to them to take seriously the second part of the creeds that their lips murmur every Sunday: that God became a dude and chilled among us.
A documentary came out a few years ago called “Kumare” in which the director, Vikram Ghandi, poses as an eastern spiritual guru to see if he can get anyone to follow his fake religion. Spoiler alert: he can.
It intriguingly demonstrates how you can always find someone to drink your Kool-Aid.
But I wish someone would write a fresh new movie script about a man who has been named cult leader by certain followers, even though he has been trying to avoid that. His curse is that they then treat everything he says or does as holy writ. Every time he comments on the news, every mistake in the kitchen, every swear after stubbing his toe is preserved and venerated for all time as some great lesson or exemplar. If you follow it to its logical conclusion, it wouldn’t take very long for any chemically balanced protagonist to just stop talking and doing stuff all together.
Did Jesus know that, two thousand years later, some teenage kid was going to try to pluck out his own literal eyeball because he caught himself staring at Becky Whitehead in gym class? Or that some 16th century painter would paint a snake crawling through a skeletal eye socket attempting to visualize what must be meant by a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth?”
Occam’s razor—that is not making more assumptions than what is needed—would suggest that he didn’t. And perhaps he would’ve stated himself differently if he’d been privileged with all that future information.
I know. To some, it seems like I’m the one making wild assumptions, and the idea of the future-knowing God-man who only speaks in universal principles seems a very Occam-esque explanation for the data. But never confuse the most repeated explanation with the simplest explanation. If you’re picturing Jesus that way, it’s because that was the first thing that was taught to you. And there’s no reason why the first thing should always be the best thing taught to you.
If you can venture it, even if only as a fun little thought-experiment, try this: consider if Jesus was not just a calm, impassive wisdom cube who went to the cross fully confident that his was the one and only Truth and no less assured of the outcome.
Imagine instead if he were just a guy—perhaps a guy to whom we can retrospectively ascribe a holy and timeless Truth and purpose but only retrospectively. For now, just imagine a guy, terrified and dry of mouth, the stress tension in his back overcoming the pain of the lacerations, looking up the hillside at his all too readable future, pressed forward only by a conviction—the kind of conviction that comes to all of us from time to time, less so later in life than in our young “idealistic” years—that no injustice can truly be tolerated and no wrong can finally live forever.
Perhaps he is only 50% sure—who among us is ever fully of one mind at a given time?—and so he antes up his life on the ultimate gamble that just maybe the Christmas Truce of 1914 is a stronger Truth than the far more visible truths of the surrounding battlefield, that just maybe Mandela in Prison is stronger than his captors, that guns and mortar shells are no match for a hunger strike, that, by some shady logic not easily explained but nonetheless true, it is only by dying that one really lives.
Allow your version of Jesus to not know the outcome and to courageously go on being Jesus anyway, and watch what happens to your commitment to the Truth.
Cheers and Peace,
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