Jesus rarely spoke of eternal life – the vast majority of his words were about everyday life and relationships.
And he spoke of love often – but not love as we might define it. He spoke of loving our neighbor as ourselves (with a vastly more expanded view of who our ‘neighbor’ than we might) and, even worse, who spoke of loving our enemies – those who don’t look like us, act like us or believe like us – those in fact, under ‘normal’ circumstances, we would not even like.
He called us to love (and forgive) those who have reason to not love (or trust) us.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, it’s not the parts of the Bible we don’t understand that bother us, it’s the parts that do.
Christianity has done what people do to simple, clean and challenging truths; we translate them into technological, incoherent jargon presented (and sold) to us by ‘experts’.
Martin Luther warned against theologies that would not make sense to a child. And even the law-heavy Old Testament tells us that ‘a child shall lead them’ into the only truth that matters, a truth that restores and unites, not only humanity but all of creation.
And even Paul reminds us that all of creation ‘groans’ for such a restoration (Romans 8:22).
But you’d never guess that by looking at the dominant books, magazines, music, theologies or personalities of current Christianity.
You’d be forgiven (no pun intended) for believing that the founder of Christianity came to deliver a complicated message packed with fear, guilt, greed and a love for big words all based on an obsession with violence and torture – especially eternal torture.
Far beyond a healing and restorative Jesus, most Christians (and most Christian cultures) have cultivated a thriving belief in what is almost lovingly called ‘redemptive violence’.
This term, like ‘substitutionary death’, ‘supralapsarianism’, ‘presuppositionalism’ and a thousand more words like that, reduce (or they would say, ‘elevate’) faith to an adult, sophisticated level.
And they would be using terms and holding assumptions that Jesus (or Paul, or any of the disciples) never would have.
Could you imagine ‘substitutionary death’ as an appealing evangelistic sales pitch to a child or sceptic?
Or even, to use a much simpler term, telling others that if they don’t agree with our interpretation of our theology, God, the ultimate Creator would (though we would rarely say it out loud) gleefully torture them for all of eternity? Such talk (or logic) could not be further from the life, values or purposes of Jesus.
If we look around the world and its religions and theological justifications (across perhaps all faiths) we would see immediately why a prophet (or messiah) like Jesus would have to be killed or silenced; Jesus, like most true representatives of God, through-out history, urged us to live – fully, freely and generously in this world – not to fantasize about or fear the next one.
We emerge, unaware it seems, from the hands, mind and words of a loving creative God who expects us to live in his image.
God himself must marvel at how hard we have worked to distance ourselves and fracture what little we recognize of the wholeness – mental, physical, social, environmental and spiritual eternally (and immediately) waiting for us.
Could many of us even imagine a restorative, healing, welcoming faith? A faith that leaves condemnation and judgment in the only hands worthy of it, and accepts as its baseline assumption that, as Paul reminds us, (Romans 3:23) that all of us stand equal – and equally in need – in the eyes of God?
Perhaps the problem is that we, as Christians, can’t decide whether our faith is a set of individual reflections and experiences or a set of philosophical/salvational propositions or a profound discovery or revelation or even a set of political positions or even business practices.
We have made of Christianity a complicated, contradictory amalgamation of fear, fantasy, patriotism, self-justification and self-congratulations that would baffle anyone who knew the dusty Galilean founder.
We can’t decide (or agree) if ‘being a Christian’ is something we do or have or believe. Most of us can’t even explain or define it to ourselves.
But most of us do have the certainty that our religion is better than that other religion. And for many of us, our deepest faith is not in how true our faith is but in how false the other faith must be.
We can’t decide if we are part of an institution or in active opposition to it.
We are like the children Jesus described (Luke 7:32) who wanted a god – and a faith – that danced to their own tune – not that actually required anything of them.
How often have you seen Christianity marketed like an exclusive club with the only decoder ring for all the theological jargon?
Is it really so difficult to keep it simple and walk in faith without presumption?
Now that’s a philosophy any of us could explain to a child.