Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why do people find Jesus satisfying, as a god?

Today we looked at John 5. Here's a few verses pulled out of the chapter

Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.[b] 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"

...

Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

...

the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.



Nobody else asked this question--it didn't come up: Is this chapter telling us a story about a person who *could* have healed *all* the people at that pool who were lame, blind, paralyzed, what have you, and chose not to?

What kind of a god is this? Or what is the point of such a god? He's no better than us. We certainly, for instance, have the resources available to make sure every one on the planet gets sufficient food and clean water every day. We choose not to. That's altogether human. One hopes that we can move in the direction of making a better choice. But why do people want to "be in relationship" with a god who makes just as crappy choices as we do?

12 comments:

Seren said...

"Nobody else asked this question--it didn't come up"

I'd be interested to know how many people were thinking this question and keeping it to themselves.

I've sat through a sermon on this story thinking exactly the same things, but would never have dreamed of brining it up with anyone.

perhaps my experience of church and christianity would have been better, for me, if i had been brave enough to say what I was thinking? and perhaps it would have freed other people to share their "unacceptable" thoughts too?

Dmitri Dugelscu said...

JESUS is no better than us..you think?? I am a selfish bastard and Jesus is no better than me? I am unkind and Jesus is no better than me?
What are you doing? Trying to diminish your sense of mourning for and haunting by Jesus so that you don't have to contend with him? Huh?

Mike Edwards said...

Benjamin

Are you really asking this question or have you already made your mind up that any answer given isn't good enough to actually convince, persuade or demonstrate to you any sufficiency of Christ as God and Savior?

Are you, in this question, actually stating your opinion that: "God isn't fair"?

Benjamin Ady said...

Mike,

it seems to me that the way you phrase your questions and the way I phrase my questions indicates that we are simply coming at things from vastly different perspectives.

I could be wrong. I'm trying to get my head around the difference so that maybe we can talk about it. It might be interesting. I want to ask a good question, but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to do so.

Maybe I should attempt to answer your questions =).

For the question addressed in your first paragraph, I like to hope and imagine that I'm really asking the questions I'm asking, and that my mind isn't closed to the possibility of new answers. =)

To your second question, I think it's reasonable for me to say "No, that's *not* actually what I'm saying". It's this questions that leads me to think that we are approaching things from very differnt perspectives.

I would not say "God isn't fair", for a couple of reasons. The first is that I have no idea what the word "God" means in that statement. Or I would respond to the statement with the question "Which God?"

It might be more useful to say "Jesus isn't fair". Actually that doesn't work for me super well either. Even more useful would be "Jesus wasn't fair".

I wouldn't even go so far as to simply say "Jesus wasn't fair". It begs the question of what "fair" means.

Of course this *does* seem like a question that should be relatively easy to address. My 5 year old's pre-K classroom spent a week recently thinking and talking and teaching about "fair". At that level it means simple things like every body gets a turn, and we share our stuff, and so forth.

What would "fair" look like in the context of the story? Yes, You're right. I think it's a reasonable interpretation of what I was saying to rephrase it "Jesus wasn't fair".

And yes, I would rather hang out with people interact with others with a sense of fairness than with people who don't. So I guess that touches on what I was getting at. This story does not make Jesus attractive to me. If I had been there, I would have asked him why he only healed the one. And yet lots of people *are* attracted to Jesus. So I was asking about that--in light of this story, why is it that you are attracted to someone who behaves in this way? If you knew someone in the here and now, say an evangelist or some such, who could definitely heal people's major physical infirmities, and who claimed he or she could do this for anyone, and yet chose to only do it for a very tiny minority of people, what would attract you to such a person?

Benjamin Ady said...

Seren,

Indeed! You do kind of nail something. I have found that my experience is better when I speak up and ask the questions.

The other side of that is that I know I can sort of come to dominate a conversation. I had the same thing going on at university. I'm curious, and intelligent, and if I could, I'd be engaging the lecturer in a dialog the whole class time.

Mike brought up the issue of "fairness". I've also developed this other thing where I realize it's not really fair for me to dominate the conversation. Every one should get a chance to talk, if they want. Plus sometimes when other people talk, they end up telling completely fascinating, moving, mind-blowing stories, which I *love*. This is likely to happen more often if I manage to be quiet and *listen* more often. I think there is a balance.

I guess also I've had so many bad experiences with churches and Christians and Christian leaders being so completely freaked out, disturbed, and frightened by my public and private questions--experiences where that leads to a backlash that is rather unpleasant for me, that I also have that operating against me asking the questions. I think this touches on why I generally don't like going to these sorts of things. Perhaps I should make an agreement with myself that I *won't* go to them unless I choose to ask the questions. =)

Benjamin Ady said...

Dmitri,

Sorry you seem to be asking some questions but I'm a bit confused about how to answer them. I love your use of the words "mourning" and "haunting". Your questions lead me to ask myself "Am I mourning Jesus? Am I haunted by Jesus?"

At one level the answer to both of these is definitely "no". I mean Jesus died 2000 years ago, and I've never met him, so it would be hard for me to be mourning him or be haunted by him. Yet I think your questions touch on *something* real. Is there a mourning and or a haunting going on for me in terms of ... Christianity/the church/Christian community/clearly knowing what I believe? Yes, I think it would be reasonable to say that to some extent that has been the case. Having to some extent lost/left some things that meant a lot to me for a long time, there must surely be some mourning/grief that I've gone through, and perhaps haven't finished going through. The word "haunted" touches on part of that. The main character in Yann Martel's Life of Pi grew up as a Hindu. When he is older, and no longer clearly a Hindu, he says this amazing thing that really worked for me. He says that Hinduism colors the landscape of his imagination. This is true for me about Christianity. The story and stories of Christianity color the landscape of my imagination. Sometimes this is really useful or even delightful and beautiful, and sometimes it is haunting.

JadeEJF said...

I wonder if you've ever read Annie Dillard's essay "The Wreck of Time"? (It's here in case you're interested: portal.chaminade-stl.com/Portals/211/The%20Wreck%20of%20Time%5B1%5D.doc)

I guess her essay sort of informs my answer, which is that I think somehow if Jesus had healed every single person in that pool, it would have had less impact, much in the way the 138,000 who died in the Bangladesh flood she mentioned have less effect on me than the death of my own grandfather.

In fact, I find the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (or whatever) to be pretty unremarkable- much less striking or memorable than the account of his saving a single woman from being stoned to death for adultery. It is precisely *that* Jesus is personal, that he cares about us individually that draws me to him.

Of course, it would be ideal if Jesus healed the entire world right this second, or healed the entire population near that pool. But I guess I believe that in healing that one single person, Jesus somehow had more impact, though there is no way I can know that for sure (not being omniscient and all).

And I say all these things knowing, of course, too, that when it comes to thinking that God has a plan that is carried out in some small way by not healing Person X or whatever, that it is a million times easier to say that when it is not *you* that is in pain. I'm a total wimp when it comes to trials, and have a terrible time believing that God's trying to work through whatever circumstance I'm in right this second, because holy crap, doesn't He see, it would be so much easier just to fix it?!?!

So, that's my answer, as unsatisfactory as it is. I think there's something powerful about Jesus helping and healing individuals; and I trust that in choosing one person over a multitude that He has some plan that I can't know; and that I'm not very good at believing that when it's me that's not being healed :)

Benjamin Ady said...

Jade,

Thank you so much for the essay link! Annie Dillard is sometimes very difficult to slog through, but sometimes, as with the essay, a delight to read.

And I learned "seriatum"! =)

I hear what you are saying, and it makes enormous sense to me. Of course we cannot wrap our heads around these huge numbers, although there *are* big thinkers among us (I'm thinking of Paul Farmer, Bill Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, World Vision, UNCHR, etc. etc.) who are trying (and sometimes succeeding) to address some issues on a larger scale.

My difficulty, perhaps, lies in the insistence, from both Jesus, and the church historically, that Jesus was somehow *different* from us. The Chalcedonian Creed, which we looked at last week and apparently has been very widely accepted by churches/the church since the 5th century, says that Jesus is *God*. In this chapter he makes similar claims for himself.

I'm kewl with it if he is limited in the same ways we are limited. If he can't get his head around the big numbers, If he lacks the will or the resources to fix most or all of the suffering, fine. So do I. What I don't understand is why people are attracted to him as a god, if that's the case. How do Christians reconcile to themselves the fact that Jesus ultimately couldn't, and hasn't, done much more than any other person to fix things up?

I think perhaps part of the answer to that question has to do with what we mean by "fix things up". I'm willing to accept some limitations and ultimately failure (on the large scale) in terms of "fixing things up" in my lifetime. I just can't see any point in worshipping a person, or a transcendental/supernatural personality, who is just as stuck in that place as I am.

Thank you for your honesty. It's very refreshing =).

Joe said...

I think the humanity and deity of Christ is a difficult issue that few Christians actually want to think about.

If he wasn't God, then a) almost all of what we are taught in church is bunk and b) he is no different as an example than (for example) Gandhi or Guru Nanak.

But then if we over-deise (not sure if that is a real word) Christ, we create a Superman with amazing super-powers but no understanding of being a human. Indeed, our inclination is to over emphasise this in Church, to the extent that we tend to ignore passages in the bible which show Christ being human.

Looking down the telescope of 2,000 years it is easy to think that Christ wasn't actually that interesting or amazing. I think that is a rational position, particularly if you've come out of an intense religious background.

I'm not offering any answers - although I wonder if our western lifestyles stop us seeing the miraculous. In some of the dark places I've visited the message of Christ seems to be a light which other ideas don't penetrate and for that reason I think it is divine.

Karin said...

For me Jesus is neither God nor 'not God'. I see him as an Enlightened One, something like Buddha. He is certainly the Way, the One to Follow, who shows us how God/the Creator/Supreme Being shows us how to live. He may be 'God', or the 'Son of God', whatever that means.

Karin said...

P.S. I'm starting to think that a lot of what we are taught in church is bunk.

Maybe life is about how we travel, how we question, rather than arriving and finding answers??

jadeejf said...

I guess my secondary response to your question has to do with looking at other gods that have been worshipped in comparison to Jesus. There are a few other reasons I'm attracted to him despite His seeming inability to end all suffering right this instant. I think, too, about the Greek gods, who presumably to their worshippers were just as divine, yet also failed to end suffering- and in many cases *caused* it.

I suppose you could argue that terrible things have been done in Jesus' name, and that would certainly be right, but Jesus himself managed to avoid *causing* suffering, as far as I can tell. Which perhaps speaks more to his deity than being able to end suffering- I don't know any humans who are very good at avoiding causing others around them to suffer in one way or another.

Perhaps Christ is limited- I don't personally think He is- and I like to think that there is some "greater plan" out there that I just am incapable of comprehending. But I am very thankful to worship a God who doesn't need to be appeased in order to avoid being smited. I suppose you could argue that that actually is the case in Christendom (perhaps even complete with Biblical backup), but it hasn't been my own experience, really. If the only reason I worshipped God was out of fear of punishment, I don't think I'd be able to worship that god very long- and I guess that sort of holds true for causing suffering (which, to me, is a form a punishment). Jesus doesn't hold suffering over our heads as incentive to worship him (imho), and doesn't seem to cause suffering Himself. Instead, he actually solves individual cases of suffering, if not massive ones. Like I said, perhaps he is limited, I don't know, but his non-involvement in causing pain/hardship, etc., is a bit of a proof of deity to me.

I'm glad you're asking these questions! I wish more people did- and forced me to think longer about why I believe what I believe :) I always said that if it hadn't been for the folks asking Jesus questions in the Bible, we'd have nothing particularly interesting to read about Him. It's unfortunate that the Church is so generally uncomfortable with the tough realities. Anyway, keep asking questions!