A Bad Marriage
For Christians Christmas is about Immanuel, God with us.
Any reader of the Old Testament should be aware that Yhwh’s marriage to the twelve tribes of Israel was a rocky one right from the start. Many have objected to Yhwh and his anger. The desert wanderings were forty two years of infidelity and domestic violence.
A God of Love
One of the most significant contributions Christianity makes to the conversation is the idea that God is love.
Spiritual critics and defectors from Christianity often fail to own up to this innovation. It should be self-evident that the god of “survival of the fittest” displays little emotional concern for individual creatures or species.
The gods of most world religions while sometimes generous either towards their favorites or towards moral superiors usually make it clear that people must suffer for the welfare of the gods not the other way around. With Christianity we see a dramatic reverse.
For Christians of course Jesus is the ultimate revelation of Yhwh’s mysterious heart.
According to Jesus the desert wife-beater has been misunderstood. In Jesus we see that God has mercy upon sexual sinners and national traitors. Jesus invites such lavish expectations of prayer among his followers as to spawn prosperity churches where God is just begging to not only fill pots with chickens but garages with Mercedes. Responsibility for Harold Bloom’s assessment of America’s god, that God is just crazy about us and dying to get close to us, seems to lie directly with Jesus.
Jesus in Syncretism’s Stew
Religion simply will not be left out of the American love of melting pots. Jesus’ contribution of a god of love when mixed with Hinduism and Buddhism has brought forth the popular religion of The God Within. We are not only emanations of the divine within us all but emanations of a divine love seeking to heal, comfort and excite. This makes revisionism infects other religious traditions with Jesus’ love making the universe a very happy place where each of us is entitled and obligated to get everything we’ve ever wanted.
Beware of Fine Print
This happy story of spiritual evolution comes with baggage, however. While it is true that one of Jesus’ huge contributions to the conversation of our search for God is the revelation of a divine lover, Jesus has other things to say in Christianity’s problematic book. The Jesus of the canonical gospels seems to want to have it both ways. God is in fact crazy about us and desperately wants to live with us, but we are still in a bad marriage with him and given our asymmetrical status of existence God is still very dangerous to be close to. The Lord of Angel Armies still demands exclusive rights to define “the good” and simply won’t accept our demands.
When the Holy Spirit Feels like a Mixed Blessing
Not only does Jesus introduce us to his Father of love, he also introduces us to his Spirit who remains. While Americans have again focused on this Spirit as a giver of enabling, miraculous power Jesus did assert that this Spirit would also be a convicter of sin for her hosts. This Spirit suggests, to those who listen to Voice within, that the problems in the marriage come from us. The Father gives good gifts to us when we ask for them even like we who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children.
Being Around Jesus
As much as children’s Bibles and new age revisionists have tried to make Jesus into a warm, fuzzy ball of unending acceptance and niceness there is a historical record even the most ardent doubters of the Bible must engage, that Jesus was unpopular enough with a broad enough group of people to be killed. Jesus did love parties but it seems he spoiled as many as he favored. He criticized wealthy and powerful hosts while also mentioning the relational and sexual difficulties of a Samaritan woman from whom he requested water.
Jesus could attract and enthrall a crowd inciting them to make him their king, but he could just as quickly say or do something to turn that crowd against him and tempt them to commit regicide. He would do miracles, inviting the religious observants to imagine him to be sent as a rescuer from their god but just as quickly violate their oral tradition of sabbath keeping or dietary scrupulocity making them suspect he was from the devil. He would speak audacious words of social justice and then turn around to demand impractical standards of sexual purity. After three years of intense, in-depth discipleship training his chosen twelve seemed to not know a thing about this man probably frustrating one to the degree that he would sell him out to his enemies for thirty pieces of silver.
This Jesus may have introduced us to divine love but he clearly was a pain in the ass to many who knew him face to face.
Which Jesus Do You Want?
Given that freedom of thought is a fact for us we can have any Jesus we choose.
Public figures are regularly subject to individual interpretation. For some Barack Obama is a Muslim Communist liar who is hell bent on taking away their guns. For others Obama is a failure to the liberal cause who won’t even say the word “gun” while addressing the grieving parents of the victims of a mentally ill killer. If you can have any Barack you want you can certainly have any Jesus you want, but if you are relying on this Jesus for something more than individual manipulation of the world you perceive integrity demands we dig a bit deeper.
Logic would demand that if there is a god of love we are not it. We can’t live in peace with one another nor much of the time even agree with each other, especially those closest to us. The most unarguable fact about humanity is that we fight amongst ourselves and all of us are very certain the other guy is in the wrong. Does it really make sense to imagine that the god of the universe simply mirrors my best thoughts and tastes? Even Freud saw through that one.
What makes more sense is that if Immanuel would come, if God would be with us, then we would have issues with him. It would also make sense that this god, who is better than I at both love and the use of power, would at the same time be on my side in a wiser way that even I myself am, like a parent who knows better than their child.
One of the lessons lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary horror of killing twenty first graders is the reminder that children sometimes kill their saner, loving parent. We do like keeping the weapons of war handy in case we need them for patricide. One lesson the resurrection of Jesus suggests is that there is parental supervision in the universe.
Blood on the Christmas Lights
Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, in his podcast noted that in Newtown Connecticut people took down their Christmas decorations. He found this indicative of what Christmas is for America. Christmas is an occasion for our indulgence in consumerist gluttony which is rightly set aside for the sake of grieving families. For Christians however, Christmas stories, including the slaughter of Bethlehem’s children, is about our dysfunctional relationship with the Creator and the sacrifice our dysfunction demands of our rescuer.
This is a god of love, because only a god of love would risk so audaciously to send himself to us as a vulnerable infant. This is also a god who knows his way around a difficult relationship, knows how to stand his ground and make unwelcome demands on his problematic partner for the sake of the family and the children.
At Christmas we are invited to a party that winds up becoming an intervention and we are appalled to discover the intervention is for us.