One of the more common understandings of Christianity that I’ve found in Mainline churches is that God is all about love.
I struggle with that belief. I know that God is a loving God, and as expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, we get to see a God that really did love those that one might think were unloveable. As a gay man, I understand how faith has been used to kick people out of church and how important it is to see a God that cares for us no matter who we are.
It’s become fixed in our culture that God all about love and nothing else. We focus on the stories that talks about God loving sinners, like the parable of the Prodigal Son. We want God to be the Big Daddy that loves us no matter what we do.
But there’s something about that which bothers me. It’s not that none of this is true- it is. But I always feel that what we are getting in Mainline and probably other parts of Christianity in America is only part of a picture of God, a part that we agree with. I feel that we tend to ignore or explain away the other half that is not so nice to see. We are as good with cherry-picking Scripture as our more conservative sisters and brothers are.
Alan Bevere has a great post up today that explains how people tend to pull Jesus out of the context that’s found in the Bible and reimagine him to suit our own purposes. Here’s a sample:
Now before I get all the comments and emails reminding me of how much Jesus and the New Testament writers mention love, let me respond by saying that I know such is the case. I am not exactly ignorant when it comes to Scripture. The problem is that the modern tendency to dehistoricize and detheologize Jesus and his ministry into principles and concepts robs us of the context which makes the biblical notion of love intelligible. Without it we lose what it truly means for Jesus to tell his followers to love one another. The great sacrifice of cross and the wonderful victory of resurrection by which Christian love is understood is replaced by the modern romanticism of love as primarily a feeling, as the justification for behavior without consequences, and living a life devoid of transformation. We move from Jesus’ statement that no greater love can be displayed in laying down one’s life to it doesn’t matter how we behave because God loves us no matter what.
It doesn’t take a profound thinker to know that the primary motivation for this dehistorizing and detheologizing of Jesus is to domesticate his life and work into something more palatable to modern sensibilities. The Jesus who comes to us from the pages of the New Testament demands too much from us. Moreover, in our modern cosmological reductionist assumptions, we simply cannot have a Jesus running around doing miraculous things. So in Bishop Spong and John Crossan fashion we first demythologize Jesus and then we remythologize him after our own image and our own expectations. Jesus now becomes safe to follow. Yes, Jesus is still presented as a radical, but he is a domesticated revolutionary. He is one who looks like a hippie from the 1960s or a political activist whose methods of power and coercion look no different from the politics of the nations.
But a domesticated revolutionary will not bring about serious change; he will just reinforce the agendas of those who are frankly doing nothing more than using Jesus as a prop to get what they want. Jesus was crucified because he presented a true alternative to the ways of the world that could not and will not be displayed in the politics of the current age. Jesus was not killed for promoting right-wing violence on behalf of the state, and he was not crucified for advocating a progressive social agenda. Jesus was crucified because he presented a serious threat to the status quo in all forms; and it will not do just to present his life and ministry as supporting any modern political and social agenda. And those Christians who attempt to do so are domesticating Jesus into doing their bidding.
We all want a Jesus that is more to our own liking. That was what Andrew Sullivan was getting at in his essay last week. So, we do just what Thomas Jefferson did, just without the scissors; taking out bits and pieces that don’t fit our own agenda and come up with a Jesus we can stomach.
But I don’t think we are supposed to be comfortable with Jesus. I think Jesus is supposed to make us uncomfortable in how he lived his life and in what he did. I think more and more we have to live with this Jesus that we don’t want to hang out with and be open to how we will change in meeting with Jesus and not try to make Jesus fit our own life.
I’ve said before that there is a reason why C.S. Lewis portrayed Aslan, his God-figure in the Chronicles of Narnia, as a Lion- a wild creature that can’t be easily tamed.
We all want Jesus to be like a dog, someone that’s lovable and faithful to us and is always there when we need them. They expect nothing more than love from us.
But Jesus is more like a cat; pushy, demanding, intrusive and is sometimes just a jerk. But there are also times when Jesus can cuddle up to us and just be present at the end of nice day.
Mr. Beaver in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, says this when asked about Aslan the Lion: he is good, but he isn’t safe.
Jesus is a cat; and cats are never safe.