There’s a challenge for those who try to link traditional Christianity with its more progressive successor isn’t there?
It’s difficult to move the language to its deeper metaphorical meaning when it’s been interpreted literally for so long. There’s an inertia to the usage that both literalists and atheists have a vested interest in fostering.
However, if we’re to be true to both the Message of the Christ and to our heritage, we also can’t simply abandon the language altogether as some progressive Christians have done. That can render us unrecognizable.
As John said in his reflection for Transfiguration Sunday, which I used in The Face of Jesus Christ:
In our post-enlightenment and post-Christendom age, we still need to make a credible interpretation of biblical terms, metaphors and mythology. We may no longer believe in a personal Satan, but as a wise professor of mine who had been a stretcher bearer in the brutal trench warfare in World War I once said, “It looks mighty like it.”
He was talking about this passage – 2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-6 (NRSV):
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“… if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing…
If we believe that it’s impossible to be separated from God (and I do), what do we do with texts like this? And what do we do with a world where, if God is not absent, it often certainly “looks mighty like it”?
The “god of this world” that Paul refers to isn’t a “personal Satan” with forked tail and horns. It is, as John alludes to, a much more insidious evil. It may manifest itself as a desire for excessive personal material gain, or a thirst for power, or even a literal belief in an exclusive doctrine or creed. The result is the same.
Those who are blinded by it fail to see the interconnectedness – the unity – of Creation.
When that happens, we truly are apollumi – “perishing.” Not in some abstract, ethereal way, linked to an eventual eternity in “heaven” or “hell.” In a real and profound way, here and now; in each day of our lives. It’s a way that truly does injure our souls; it renders us incapable of responding to God’s call to “let light shine out of darkness.”
We can, however, change that. Any time we choose.
Not by professing a creed or seeking some future salvation, but by living the message of our inseverable agapé relationship with Theos each and every day.
By engaging in the world in order to transform it.
God doesn’t require us to be perfect -
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
Our “clay jars” have lots of cracks. At least, mine does. That’s okay. We are acceptable just as we are.
But no one says it’ll be easy -
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
It’s difficult to attempt to live the life that the gospel writers depict Jesus, the “image of God”, as having lived. To be radically inclusive of all, and yet to be passionately opposed to those who would exploit the weak, or the powerless, or the earth.
For Lent, we may give up chocolate, or smoking, or increase our charitable giving. There’s nothing wrong with that. But those things are easy. Can we give up our way of looking at the world? Can we increase our emotional and spiritual giving?
Can we recognize every living thing, and everything non-living as well, as being part of Creation? As having innate value and worth? Can we see the world as one interconnected whole, all of which needs our acknowledgment and respect?
Can we, each and every day, work toward bringing the kingdom of heaven, that agapé-centered relationship of love that transforms each of us and everything around us, just a little closer to realization?
Or we can continue to perish.
We can refuse to let the language of the past hold us back from creating the future.
We can let the light that shines in our hearts shine in the world as well.
We can, in ways large and small, push the god of this world and the darkness that accompanies it back.
And we can celebrate that we find the Presence of God, and the face of Jesus Christ, in everyone we see and everything we do.
If you find something of value in this reflection, I hope that you’ll take a moment and use the buttons below to pass it on. You can also start a conversation in the comment section and invite others to participate. Together, we can transform the world. David