“Jesus Christ, were you born in a barn or what?” Well, actually….
It’s true, Jesus Christ gets stuck with a lot of labels. Mostly he gets stuck with having to shill for people who want him to save them from the wrath of his evil father. Jesus as the nice and non-judgemental guy. “I’m not a Christian, I am a Christ-follower” is a popular trope. It’s for those people who hold their noses and pretend that they are better than what may have passed in different portions of Christian history. They claim their Christian brothers and sisters have ruined the word and they have to dis-associate and call themselves something different. This is not new. There was a branch of Christian heresy that flattered themselves with the idea that they could just detach all that violent stuff from the Old Testament, that it was done away with when people came up with better ideas and a better version of God, 2.0
Marcionism surfaced in Rome around the year 144 AD, and made a dualist version of events. You were on one side of the fence, or the other. To quote Wikipedia,
“Marcion believed that Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. Marcionism, similar to Gnosticism, depicted the God of the Old Testament as a tyrant or demiurge (see also God as the Devil).”
Cut and paste Christianity is not a new thing. Thomas Jefferson did exactly that, long before computers. He actually took a razor to his Bible. He cut out all the supernatural stuff, what he though of as mystical and beyond rational, and pasted back together only what he thought he could swallow, a version of events that had Jesus as a pretty good and smart guy, who had some ideas beyond the usual fare. A good man, and a good example. A humanist, and entirely rational. Never mind those mystical parts.
We still get this. Paul Young’s ever popular “The Shack” is a narrative that has even been made into a movie for those who don’t read. In his version of God, it’s Oprah as God, up front and centre, with the Holy Spirit as some kind of oriental maven, and Jesus as a surfer dude in a plaid shirt, a version sure to resonate with hipsters. Jesus is “cool” with everything, he never condemns anything, just repeats the idea that human beings have the wrong idea about God as an angry father lamming everyone with blame. The only sin, to believe in sin.
Those who follow down this camp, are legion, even today. It’s where the “what would Jesus do?” meme came from. It’s red-letter Christianity, where people select only the parts that Jesus commanded, and follow that. They think a lot of the other stuff is shibboleths and impractical junk.
Jesus himself, had other ideas. For example, for those people who don’t like the idea of Hell and skip over those parts, they have to avoid the fact that Jesus talked about Hell more than anybody. For those who downplay the Devil as a real entity counterposed to Christ, Jesus talked about the Devil more than anybody else. It comes down to the basic nuts and bolts. Either you take the story as it is, or you jettison the whole. Jesus quoted the old Jewish texts a lot, as one stage of witness given to Man. He said, not one jot or tittle of the law and the prophets will be done away with, until everything is fulfilled. Take it or leave it, but leave the story whole.
So we have God as the mean guy wanting to throw everyone into an eternal prison as some kind of cosmic revenge, and Jesus who came along and was like, “Don’t listen to any of that. My father is not to be trusted. I have come with the straight goods. Ignore everything you have heard before.”
Not so. This was pointed out to me, by a wonderful article I cannot seem to locate but it sticks in memory. It was called “But God” and it was written by Fred Craddock. In this dissertation, he appeals to the idea that you cannot separate God and Jesus. God gets lammed with the evil twin part. Craddock leans toward the rescue of this idea, that there is unity after all. You have to start with Jesus’ assertion to Philip, that “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father, I and the Father are one”. You get to the “But God’s” of scripture.
Yes, there is all that negative stuff, and then you come to the but God’s, the one who bailed us out, the one who thought up a way to get everyone back on track. You can get there a little easier if you see Jesus and God as two distinct but separate faces of God. “I and the Father are one.”
From Ephesians chapter two.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able”.
There are a lot of “yeah, but” Christians out there, making a bit holier than thou when they recreate God in their own image, a little less judgemental, a little more cool. “But God” is not hard to find throughout the Bible. It’s where he throws our silly ideas out the window and points back to the witness of the law, the prophets, the entirety of Scripture as concerning his big plan to send us Jesus as a way to bring all of us back to himself.
It’s true. We were lost and wandering around in the dark. But God, sent us Jesus to show us the way back to himself.
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
It’s all in the book. All of it. Not one word to be removed, until all is fulfilled.
I like big buts. They belong to God.