I like reading about a variety of opinions, and I often find religious debates invigorating. This week I am brushing up on eschatology, and I found some very interesting essays. But I noticed as I read, that many of them were hostile to interpretations other than their own. One Lutheran writer not only held the amillenial position, he regarded all others as “devilish” and “heretical”, and went to so far as to say that anyone who wrote in defense of an opinion different from his own was working for Satan. Rather a strident tack to take in discussing the words of fellow Christians. I do indeed understand that the fellow is convinced that the subject is of great importance and that he has great confidence in his own interpretation of things, but I could not help but wonder if he had stopped to test his own assumptions, while denouncing such behavior in other writers.
That’s not a knock on Lutherans, but on anyone so sure they are right that they figure it’s time for the rest of the world to agree with them or just shut up. And as the last several thousand years of human history shows, that’s been as common in religion as in any other place. The Gospel accounts warn us that the Jewish religious officials had become stiff-necked and legalistic, just as the Egyptians were during their day, the Babylonians during theirs, the Romans during theirs, the Roman Catholics before the Reformation, and so on. Pretty much every religious group which gets a bit of power, abuses it, whether the Baptists, the Lutherans, the Anglicans … et cetera, et cetera ad nauseum. This is one reason why so many people reject religion altogether, being put off by the worse elements in the world of faith, but that ignores the great good done by people of faith, and to my mind the essential truth of God. Not that I have it all figured out, but I do respect the many works done by people who claim allegiance to a creator and holy person. If we should note those who claim God as if he were a possession of theirs or their employee, so also we should respect the humble yet worthy efforts to increase understanding and goodwill done by those who think and act in terms of love and compassion. Which brings me to Christ Jesus.
I speak from the perspective and experience of a Christian, and therefore my opinion is that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, who redeemed Mankind from sin and evil for all time, the only begotten Son of the Most High God. I mean no disrespect to any other beliefs, but speak from what I know as true. Anyway, one of the great truths about Christ, but one which often is quickly forgotten by believers, is that despite His right to glory and power, Jesus lived a life of hardship and poverty, one He accepted without complaint, indeed one he specifically chose. I believe He did so for many reasons, including the proof that anyone can be truly good if their heart is pure, and money or power or influence are convenient luxuries, but not really essential for doing good works. I also think this ties in to something Christ warned His disciples about, that to enter what he called the ‘kingdom of Heaven’, that they must “become as little children”. As in helpless, totally dependant on their parents, completely open and honest in all things. Imagine a toddler, unable to even change his soiled diapers on his own, and then imagine the Lord God deliberately choosing to subject His very person to such a condition, dependant on the creations to whom he had granted life and free will, and who had inevitably screwed up everything given to their trust. For all the doctrines of authority and power, of ultimate destiny and so on, the creator of all Creation once laid in a manger, wholly dependant on the love of humans for His own survival and welfare. He walked among ordinary people and shared all of their common experiences, including the ones which involved pain and loss. Jesus lived as a man, honest and without offense against any other person. The worst true claims His enemies could make against Him, included the admission that he helped people, as in ‘Jesus healed on the Sabbath’.
This is the season Christians call ‘Advent’, when we might do well to consider Christ the child, who chose the life of a poor itinerant preacher as the model for true goodness.