Tomorrow, Sunday 27th November, is the first day of Advent in the Christian calendar. It is a time of anticipation looking forward to the season of Christmas and this time has special relevance to the nativity of Jesus. The whole question of who Jesus actually was, is central to the Christian gospel, so this question (The Jesus Question) has again, recently been on my mind.
Over the years, I suppose I have discussed this matter many times with many people, most recently, with a taxi driver who took me from the airport to a workshop event I was conducting up in Bonny Scotland. We had quite a chat during the hour or so journey and the discussion ended with this question, posed by the driver. Even the question of whether or not Jesus actually existed is still not fully agreed upon by modern scholars. So, as this is a question I believe we all need to answer for ourselves, I deliberately avoided providing him with any direct answer.
What I personally believe is not a matter for debate, I have come to realise; it is the result of reflection, faith and personal revelation. Such reasoning, whilst it may result in powerful personal conviction, simply does not translate well into any form of logical discussion. That said, I believe that just like everyone else, it is important for me to come to my own conclusions about who Jesus was and in this post, I would like to share them.
Perhaps the currently dominant Christian perspective on the matter concerns the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. The role of Jesus in the act of substitutionary atonement essentially involves a God who demands justice and sacrifices his son to satisfy his own judicial concern for the payment of sins committed by humanity. The idea does not sit well with me because the nature of the God who demands such payment is not congruent with the God I have personally come to know. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this doctrine may be directly responsible for many people rejecting Christianity because of exactly the same thoughts.
Jesus, I believe, came to deliver an important message. That message concerned God’s loving kindness and his abundant provision that is not bounded by things that are temporal, but transcends them. In the process of educating the people to whom he delivered this message directly, he knew he would become unpopular with the authorities – especially the religious authorities – and he understood that delivering this message would cost him his Earthly life. Despite this foreknowledge, he was prepared to see his mission through to its conclusion, which resulted in a violent death and that is the scale of the sacrifice he was prepared to make.
There is no question that the group that Jesus upset the most were the religious people of the time and I believe if he were to return today exactly the same thing would happen again. It would be the religious groups who would today be most upset to hear him again speak the truth. However, my hope is that those Christians who are trapped by traditional doctrinal understanding will come to see the difference between religion and spirituality and finally begin to do some of their own thinking about this important question.