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There is a fundamental difference between the three Abrahamic faiths; Jews, Christians and Muslims, that is the answer to Jesus’ question who do you say that I am. Of the three Abrahamic faiths only Christians believe that Jesus was both human and divine (setting aside various ‘heresies’ within Christianity which disagree with the divinity of Jesus). Jesus was both human and divine. What God was able to do Jesus was able to do, because Jesus was God. Why then is it difficult to accept that Jesus performed miracles; indeed that his life was in many respects ‘miraculous’ from his birth to his rising from the dead. Critics and modern ‘reformers’ of Christianity are so willing to renounce any ounce of the possibility that Jesus was anything more than simply a good guy, another prophet.
Darryl Ellwood commented in the October 2007 edition of Focus (the newspaper of the Anglican Church in Australia, Diocese of Brisbane)
I understand that Jesus was more than a good ‘man’ for us to emulate. If he didn’t miraculously come into the world. If he didn’t miraculously heal the sick, if he didn’t miraculously rise from the dead to show us that he and the Father (sic) are one, then where is the Good News of the gospel… Was the virgin birth too much for the creator God of the universe to organise? A ‘Spongified’ gospel doesn’t sound like good news to me.
I have to admit to not reading much of Spong’s material. I do think that he, as well as other more scholarly people have challenged contemporary interpretations of scripture that are used to divide and condemn the people of God. Listening to some podcasts of his work I am left wondering the same question as Ellwood. What is the Good News of the Gospel. Spong would have use believe that many of the NT scriptures used to support a divine Jesus are somehow made up or at least misrepresentations of the reality. He would have us conclude with him that the writers – redactors, authors – of the Gospels used well known Jewish stories of miraculous prophets to paint Jesus as ‘greater than our ancestors’ (I use a phrase here from the Samaritan woman to Jesus at the well who asks if Jesus is greater than their ancestor Jacob); in other words is Jesus somehow more than a prophet, or more correctly the woman wonders whether Jesus is not indeed the great Taheb of Samaritan belief who would deliver the people and restore true worship to the people of God.
The belief that Jesus was somehow more than a failed prophet-Messiah brought the disciples out of hiding after their dispersion after Jesus’ execution and caused them to risk life and ridicule and indeed expulsion from the Temple to preach Jesus’ Good News. This outcast group of Jews and Gentiles whose ‘deviant sect’ was tormented, killed and systematically sought out for destruction survived and from it’s Good News came what we call today Christianity; a faith centred on the belief that Jesus was more than a man, whose miraculous life pointed him to be more than a prophet, but a divine being, incarnate in the world, the word made flesh, God in humanity.
OK so for arguments sake if the disciples, writers of the Gospels, redactors or whoever got it all wrong, and drawn on ancient stories to make Jesus out to be more than he was then what… do we cancel Christianity, go back to the ‘faith of our ancestor’, do we become Jews, do we return to the religion of pre Jewish-Christian schism or what about before the schism between Jews and Samaritans. Where do we find God and God’s revelation of God’s message to us.
Recently I sat through a viewing of The Divinci Code; an interesting drama and mystery, but not more. I’ve actually not been all that interested in viewing it, but did so out of interest and because the person I was viewing it with was interested in watching it with me. What I’m intrigued about is how readily some people are to accept Hollywood dramas regarding religious content and matters of faith yet quick to dismiss the reality of a personal experience of the Divine. That is, it seems to be that movies such as the Divinci Code take questionable material and some how sell it as fact and people will believe it; perhaps because they need to, perhaps it helps them to ignore the reality of a personal faith, perhaps it offers an easy way out for them to not do their own soul searching about what it is they believe in.
What is more interesting to me, is that people assume that because of the Church’s sometimes dubious and roller coaster past that when ever something comes along ‘putting down the Church’ people are quick to dismiss the reality of a lived faith with God. The trouble with this is that it assumes a shallow understanding of faith and belief in the Divine. It assumes that those who have a faith and belief in the Divine do so only because of the human existance of the Church, and not the lived experience of a personal encounter with God.
I would be the first to admit that if I relied on the frailty and sometimes unworthiness of the Church I would have no faith or belief at all. As some who know something about me know I like many people have more excuses to distrust and dismiss the Church than reasons to believe in the Church. Fortunately for me, my faith and belief in the Divine does not rely on the humanity of the Church alone, for all it’s frailties, faults and positivities. My faith is based on a living encounter with the Divine in my life.
I’m aware of brief moments in my life when I have truly encountered a moment (even if for a nano second of time) of being in the presence of the Divine. In small, miniscule ways; through looking into the eyes of a dying person, washing the feet of a woman with infected sores, seeing a baby born, watching a person make their first Communion or Confirmation, being a part of a football team who pray together (not to win but to give thanks to God and intercession for their loved ones), seeing a person survive tremendous abuse, I see that there is a God who is alive and who does carry us when we most need it. There are times too when it is much harder to express; but moments when, for a blink of the eye, I see and touch the presence of God. This is from where comes my faith and belief in the Divine, not some man made Church which seems to agree or disagree at the drop of a hat.
The Church is falable, despite how much we might try and make it not so. We are human, trying to interpret and express an encounter with the Divine. And we can do this only in so far as our human language and frailty can allow. Let us give thanks to God that our faith and belief in the Divine does not need to depend on the humanity of the Church, rather let us give thanks that our faith and belief is derived solely from a personal encounter with God.
One of the difficulties of helping people today to understand this (that faith is a lived real experience and not something we get from simply reading words on from an ancient manuscript) is that we cannot give them our ‘God experiences’. They need to discover this for themselves. The trouble too is that it requires that people be willing to be open and vulnerable to the presence of God in their lives. Often people can be to content to be wrapped up in their own sense of self and self-righteousness to bother to look at how God is speaking to them today. They dismiss that a personal experience of God can be real and lived and encountered, often doing so by finding the path of least resistance in attacking the humanity of the Church rather than encounterting the Divinity of God.
No, the Divinci Code cannot shatter my faith. My faith and belief in the Divine is not reliant on humanity but rather the Divinity of God and the reality of the Graces that God gives in my life. The moments of encounter with the Divine in the simple acts of being in the human world. The Church will fail us, as surely as we will fail the Church and God on more occassions than one. But it is important to know that God will never fail us and the Divine will continue to exist within the world for all of us. We simply need to open our hearts and minds, the be vulnerable, trusting, and open enough to take off our blinkers and see that God not only exists but God calls us into a relationship with the Divine.
Leave movies like the Divinci Code on the shelf of the video store. Or at least remember what they are, Hollywood selling it’s latest blockbuster. Take time to find your own ‘God experience’ allow God to become real and lived in your life. For it is here you will discover what is true faith and belief.