Personally, I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the saviour of
mankind. But while I believe this, it feels distant: I cannot associate
contemporary, concrete confirmation to this belief. These words “Jesus
is the Christ” are a theory for me, and I don’t know how to apply it
and live it out. Sure, I may live out moral advice from the Bible, but
that says nothing about my faith’s truth content, so does not remove
the distance. To me, believing in Jesus as the Christ would be much
easier to “do” when living in the first century: Jesus had lived only
some decades ago, I could meet and ask eye witnesses about him,
experience the miracles of the Apostles etc.. It was more direct then,
without this distance. Believing would’ve been no problem: the
justification for my faith would lay at hand, contrary to the situation
in these days.
What creates this distance?
In general, everything that was added to the life and original
message of Jesus increased the distance to him. Christian faith is
direct only when it is about Jesus and Jesus alone. The added stuff
that introduced the distance includes:
- Time. Living 2000 years
later is distance for sure. Time does not reduce truth, but visibility
of truth and hence, directness. No eye witnesses are left, large
amounts of doubts have been heaped, large numbers of Christian sects
were founded and other confusing stuff happened.
- Unexperienced content and
bookishness. Knowing about something (and believing this
knowledge to be the truth) is hard if I know this just from books and
cannot or did not try it out myself. Nuclear physics is an example for
that, and the Christian faith is another (at times).
- Formalization. In the
first century, there was no such thing as the “New Testament” as a
book. The story of Jesus was something that had happened just ago. The
Gospel was primarily a fact, a story – not a book, a collection of
words or a religion. They wouldn’t write “Gospel” with capital “G”: it
was no name, no formalization, no concept; but a good message about
something just ago. When Christianity got its holy book, it got in
danger to become a book religion instead of a real-life integrating
relationship to God. The same is true, to a lesser degree, when
Christians get a treasury of pre-made songs, song books, devotional
books and other stuff. One could experiment with removing every
pre-made worship material from a church, and grant the freedom to
develop own songs, prayers etc. for worship.
- Institutionalization. The
institution that we call “church” was not present in the three years of
Jesus service. Church simply was the collective noun for all believers.
Institutionalization, esp. where it includes a clergy, adds one full
layer of indirection to the faith in Jesus. Then, people do not believe
in Jesus or have a relationship to Jesus, but they have a relationship
to the church, and the church has one to Jesus (or at least says so).
- Tradition, liturgy, Christian
culture and religious behavior. Of course this creates distance,
as it introduces new (binding) content which belongs in no way to the
message of Jesus. One cannot use contemporary Christian culture to make
Jesus attractive to unbelievers: cultural content adds just another
layer of indirection. The best that culture can achieve is to “not get
into the way”.
- Intellectualized apologetics.
If this gets too much space, it creates distance because
intellectualizing things always introduces distance. Example:
establishing creationism as a concept. If you discuss the issue of
creation intensively, you admit that it’s not that obvious, clear and
concrete. That is, you admit that you cannot show the truth of creation
to people, you rather need to explain it.
- Intellectualized theology.
It must be possible to believe, justifiably, without western
civilization. That is, western civilization with all its emphasis on
intellectual matters creates distance. For example: thinking about the
Christian faith generates new questions continuously, and these get
more and more indirect / abstract. For example, people might discuss
theories and concepts how to build churches in the 21st century. Wow,
what a high-level question; that’s really a good distance away from the
life and words of Jesus.
- Meta books. We need to
get rid of many of these books about the Bible, as they add
one layer of indirection. Rather, a good translation (which is an
unavoidable layer of indirection) is the best explanation for nearly
- Quarrels. These create
distance, because everybody who quarrels (uses force to convince)
admits that the truth is not obvious enough to convince people.
- Insight-based faith. The
conviction that believing in God and the Bible is an intellectual
necessity creates distance because it admits that thinking is necessary
to recognize the trith about God. That is, that God is not obvious
enough to be recognized without multi-step logical deduction.
Over-emotional faith is
a phenomenon which indicates that the direct contact to content has
been lost. As “over-emotional” means there is more emotion than
content. So the songs in church service should probably be not too
emotional, they should rather express faith content straight-forward.
How to remove this distance?
If there is a
God, he’s still alive, which means that the content of Christian faith
is as concrete and as direct as it was in first century. Christian
faith is immanently concrete and direct, we just need to find a way to
justify that style of believing. Here are two contemporary approaches:
- 24/7. The effort to reach
a 24/7 direct relationship to God is a way to cope with the distance of
believing in Christ in the 21st century. However, it turns out that
such a relationship cannot exist in the sense that one’s day is filled
with direct experiences with God.
- History. As a counter
movement to the 24/7 model, people may assign special importance to the
historic facts of the Gospel. Because, there is no Christian faith
without the historical fact of Jesus life, death on the cross and
resurrection. Though the historical facts are necessary for the
Christian faith, the importance assigned to them by Christians differs.
As such, facts are a very concrete and direct basis of faith, if one
stays away from Dealing with these facts does not necessarily create a
distance if one stays away from. Sadly enough, people tend to
intellectualize history as it is very difficult or impossible to deal
another way with the complex problems of a historic proof for 2000 year
old miracles. Again, intellectualizing stuff creates a distance.
The shortcomings of these approaches are apparent: there is no
direct 24/7 contact to God, and the intellectual approach to Gospel
history creates new distance while removing it. A third way is proposed
here: Remove what creates distance, experience God today for real, and
use an unintellectual approach to history. This combines the effective
elements of the two above ways with counter-measures against the
distance-increasing mechanisms (which were mentioned at the beginning
of this article).
Arriving at proximity
My hope is directed towards the day when I will have “arrived”. A
person is “arrived” when nothing remains to be done which he or she
sees as an unavoidable necessity before leaving this world. Arrived
persons have plenty of time for others: they are free to give away the
rest of their life as a present to other people, as they don’t need it
for themselves anymore. Arrived person know that their life is
meaningful and that its purpose is fulfilled, and that this is case
independent of what will happen in the rest of their life.
In my case, one project is left before I am arrived: to find out the
truth about God. A more careful verbalization would be: to find
contemporary, experience-based confirmation of what I believe about God
and Jesus. And yes, that includes searching for real, contemporary
miracles. To me, being arrived means to have this direct, justified,
confirmed faith I wrote about above. I like that day and that it’s
coming nearer every day 🙂
Start date: 2007-12-02
Post date: 2007-12-22
Version date: 2007-12-22 (for last meaningful change)