I have been reading the bible since I was a kid, in fact as a toddler I remember my father carrying a big black one under his arm almost wherever he went. I was scared of it as most people I knew used it to emphasise a point and spoke with elevated tones pointing fingers at people.
I have heard the bible described as a love story and although I think there is some truth to that, there is a lot more in the pages than love. There are stories of hate, destruction, pain, injustice, contradiction and much more. I am amazed Christians don’t talk more about how disturbing the bible can sometimes be. Maybe it’s the fear that an admission like that reflects a fractured faith? To me it is a strength to believe and yet still feel secure enough to call a donkey a donkey – Richard Dawkins would hate that idea!
These days I find myself wondering if the bible was ever meant to be easily digested – with all the division it has created in church history from slavery to homosexuality, I tend to think it is unlikely there would ever be a definitive view on everything. I think I have accepted the mystery of it now and the inherent challenge of writings through the lens of culture, political views and the miracle of holding a cohesive theme with different writers from different generations. Many theologians will be able to highlight the miracle of its interconnection between it’s 66 books… it is amazing even from an intellectual perspective, you don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate it.
The thing that endears the bible for me is how Jesus makes a big splash right in the middle. Here is a man who is claiming he is God but openly shows humility and transparency in contrast to the powerful leaders of the day who thought they were Gods too. I am sure Jesus’ followers would have loved Jesus to muscle up against the bullies of the day but he disappointed and reinforced his radical behavior by muscling up against the religious instead.
Jesus didn’t miraculously climb off the cross as a way to prove his claims either – that is what I would have done if I were Jesus. Instead he let the people he loved spear him, rip his beard and virtually peal his skin off with whips. It would have been so spectacular and affirming for all his followers who had sacrificed much of their money, time and reputation to witness angels miraculously lifting Jesus off the cross as a show of power. Instead we are left with the possibility of doubt about his true identity and whether he was God or not. I think the purpose of that doubt is to complete the precarious make-up of what is required to have a faith. I wonder if faith can even exist without doubt?
Why did Jesus work against his potential? In fact why did Jesus sabotage his fame by telling others to not say anything about his miracles or hang with the kind of people that did him reputational damage? Why did he show his frailty asking God if there was any other way than him dying on a cross? It is the complete opposite to the kind of power we humans love to demonstrate (even in church life). Sorry, I am realising this blog is starting to sound more like an Easter blog!
I am deeply moved by the story of Jesus and deeply disturbed by Christianity. I am very reluctant when people press me to state whether I am a Christian or not. Unfortunately a word that once described a movement that served the poorest and broken has in some cases become a mechanism to elevate the insidious. I am saddened to admit I find it difficult to be associated with the name ‘Christian’ because of a fear that people will misunderstand who Jesus is and also make assumptions about me – what the heck!
This Christmas I am celebrating a Jesus that I know can sometimes leave me confused, God even more so, the holy sprit – even more mysterious again! I have to let go and let the mystery breathe in and out and enjoy the peace I feel of syncing my own breaths to its pulse.
My life to date has not been an easy journey and rightly or wrongly I cringe when I hear people around significant Christian calendar events describing God as safe, comprehendible and an attractive option for your life. C.S. Lewis described beautifully how I feel about God. He writes in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’:
“That you will, dearie, & make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?” Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
There probably won’t be a Christmas service claiming Jesus isn’t safe this year, I would love to be in the church service that does! Nothing about Jesus is safe or easy to understand, but he is good. As the world sees Christmas more and more as a commercial exercise, what is needed is the non sanitized version of Jesus to bring back some spark and purpose to the occasion. Otherwise the Christmas story will continue down the path where Jesus is no different to a fairy god mother – and everyone eventually grows out of that.
Maybe that is why some people have ditched God because many have over promised on what God will do and seriously under delivered. I would love to see the Christmas story regain its respect and relevance by bringing back the tension.
This year I have tried to use my blogs as a transparent and open-handed look on my journey knowing full well that a view I hold one day may change the next. I take a risk in sharing my thoughts but I long for a community that is comfortable sharing the doubts with transparency and affirm the known’s with celebration rather than defending God as its purpose. I am drawn to the idea that Jesus would like that.
I wish you a disturbing walk of faith and the paradox of a hope on earth as you ponder on the life of Jesus this Christmas. Jesus started his life with controversy born out of wedlock…lets bring that controversy back!