One of my friends put up the picture at the left on Facebook, so here I am forwarding it and expanding its pernicious reach. Go figure. If it brings you down, I apologize. No matter how painful the dialogue, it is better to have it than to hide, I think.
I couldn’t resist responding to my friend, so I almost got in to one of those email exchanges in which young men, usually, can argue a point for a few weeks and feel hurt when they don’t feel heard but act righteously self-reliant when confronted. I am not very adept at those, but I don’t mind blogging.
I have been suffering a little about this poster. It is painfully accurate. I wish it had shown a picture of Christians and not Jesus, but then it would not have been nearly as effective. I think most people leave faith in Jesus behind because of the Christians, not Jesus. They end up thinking that Christians are just as self-interested as unbelievers, only they have an overlay of religion in the way of being as real as unbelievers. I think a lot of former believers might admit they first thought Christians might be “full of shit” when their relationship with a believer could not fulfill their needs any better than the others who didn’t. Jesus, prayer, the Christians – everything was so disappointing!
My rather small response to the poster was, “Yes, people do pray like that. BUT — if Jesus’ prayer was doing jack shit, people would not STILL be tying to take him down.” That’s more of a confession than a recommendation. I got kind of personal with whoever made that pernicious and effective poster. I had to admit that my fellow-believers often use prayer as a retreat from living and an excuse for inaction. But I had to state the obvious, as well, that when Jesus prays, “Not my will but yours be done” in the garden, there are world-changing results that changed me, too!
I won’t repeat my whole reply, since friends need space to work with all the relational issues and understandings that probably need to get on the table along with the arguments. But there were two questions brought up in the exchange that I think I run into quite often. So I want to take a shot at speaking to everyone about them.
If Jesus is God, why is it that he struggles with humans taking him down? Why is God in a struggle with things he has all power over?
Are all cultures preoccupied with power, or is it mainly the empire-building Americans? The Christians seem to be zoomed in on God being “in control.” The more disempowered they are socially, the more dramatic the lust for power seems to be.
God is in a struggle with things he has power over because of his great love. He wants the relationship, not just the fruit of his power. God created beings with whom there could be a struggle in order to expand love in the universe. I think that is the usual and best response to the age-old question. God, in the person of Jesus (and alive in His Spirit, stumbling around in the body of Christ, the church) is the ultimate expression of this struggle. Jesus is so identified with humans, he is tempted to “take God down” by not fulfilling his destiny when he is praying in the garden. God has the same internal struggle we do – to not merely be “in control.”
Hasn’t humankind created God and all other gods, and that’s why ascendant cultures replace them over time?
My friend is “post-Christian” right now. I haven’t asked him if that’s his way of looking at it. But he is insightful, intelligent and can see that the culturally-subsumed Christianity of his childhood is breaking down and being replaced by a multicultural religion of tolerance and general unbelief in all “gods.” A new culture appears to be ascendant; it is certainly taught by all our schools and is the main propaganda of our media! If twentysomethings are not skeptical when someone thinks an old picture of a white Jesus antiseptically praying in the garden might mean something, I don’t know why they aren’t. I am skeptical, too!
My answer (for now): Humankind has created gods. Cultures often march into battle with the god-emblem of their society at the front of the troops. Supposedly-Christian Americans are in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect “our way of life,” often symbolized by the constitution which enshrines individual rights. So the point is well-taken. Jesus is God right in the middle of that mess offering a true way out of the redundant cycle of ascendancy and fall. Jesus is restoring our true image, lest we create another monster-god in our own.
People answer these questions much better, of course. They often take whole books to do it well. N.T. Wright is making a whole prophetic career on trying to speak to our era about all these things – and quite successfully. I am writing a blog-entry in my PJs. I just wanted to speak back to the poster. I have a lot of affection for the friend who posted it. I wish I could talk to the person who made it originally. I’d like to know if he’s making the implications about my friend, Jesus, that he or she appears to be making.