Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jesus + Genesis

There's a scene in the gospels where Jesus asks his disciples who people think he is. They respond that most people think that Jesus is a mere prophet, like John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah. Jesus then asks the disciples, “who do YOU think I am?” Peter responds, “you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Ok, we know this, we tell ourselves, but listen to what Jesus says to Peter in Matthew 16: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” We can't reach the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God on our own. The Father reveals this to us, and when we look around today and see who the current inhabitants of our planet think Jesus is, we realize that things have not changed.

In order to understand who Jesus really is, we have to read the gospels through Genesis 1. Jesus is eternally connected with the creator God, the only living God. And what the world does is it separates the two, and we end up with a false representation of both the Father and the Son.

As it says in John 1: Jesus was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. Jesus is connected to creation, he was there at the beginning, and everything we read about Jesus needs to be seen through that context.

If we strip Genesis 1 from Jesus, Jesus ends up like a crazy Buddha: someone who has some wise things to say about life, but ultimately is nuts, because he kept saying insane things about himself being God.

Or the world turns Jesus into a magician, a trickster. Someone who is deceiving everyone. When we look at our Gospel reading, and see all the things he did in that one day: healing the sick and driving out demons, if we don't connect Jesus with Genesis, we have an illusionist, or a fortune teller, or an Eastern mythicist, or someone really in touch with nature.

When Jesus retires to a deserted place to pray away from everyone, we may think that he could be off planning his next round of trickery, or he's Ralph Waldo Emerson and he's communing with nature like a hippy. Indeed there are articles as recent as in the last decade that speculate that Jesus walked on water because he knew that the Sea of Galilee was icing up at that time of year. There have been many movies made that Jesus was nothing more than a sensitive hippy who was in love with mother nature.

This is what happens when we strip Genesis away from Jesus. When we keep the two together, the healings and the driving out demons are now in the proper context. Since all things were created through Jesus, his healings are not trickery, his miracles are not magic. This is the living God restoring creation. Anything that has become corrupted, he is restoring. Nature submits to him, not the other way around. He goes off alone not to worship nature, but to reconnect to the Father beneath which all nature bows. Nature worships him.

Isaiah 40 reminds us: this is the living God, the one who created everything. We have images of a massive individual who holds the whole world in his hands. People are like grasshoppers—probably more like ants. The rulers of the earth are nothing. Remember the term “living God.” When we uses the term “true God,” which I have in the past, there is an implication that there are false gods, but they are gods nonetheless. The term “living God” is more powerful, because the implication is that the other Gods are “dead” gods—non-existent. This is the true image of the creator God that we should have in our heads, and Isaiah 40 puts that image there.

But what happens when we go the other way? What happens when we strip Jesus from Genesis, and have the powerful God of Isaiah 40 without the personal nature of Jesus Christ attached? We get an aloof, old man in the sky. Have you heard that before. Unbelievers think we see God as an old man in the sky, looking down on us, just watching, not interfering, maybe taking a tally of our good and bad deeds from afar. You usually see this in comedy, like comic strips or stand-up comedians.

The goofy vision of an old man with a white beard in the sky is what unbelievers see and laugh about. What about believers? With believers, Genesis without Jesus gets you deism, a God that is so powerful that he doesn't have time to care. The Muslim idea of God is like this—Inshah Allah: the will of God. Whatever he arbitrarily decides is so. Even the Jewish version of God is like this, because theirs is a Father without a Son, and a Father without a Son is not a Father at all. Even the Greek and Roman Gods, along with the Hindu Gods, are powerful without the compassion, so they are mischievous and rude but not personal.

A few verses after Peter professed the true nature of Christ—that he was the Son of the living God—the transfiguration happens, when Jesus is transformed and he begins talking across time and space to Moses and Elijah. Peter suggests that they build three tabernacles for the three “gods.” Peter disconnected Jesus from Genesis and the result was becoming temporarily a pagan, wishing to begin a pantheon. It wasn't that he took the power away from Jesus, but he took the personality away from God. When we take away God's personality, we get detached from the living God, and we begin to worship any sort of human vision of what God is, and the world does not get God right.

And like I said before, these aren't Gods. There is only one living God, and that means that these others are dead, non-existent. Only the Jewish God Yahweh as a Father with a Son named Jesus Christ, in a relationship with each other, make a living God possible. Only a powerful God, like we read about in Isaiah 40, and a compassionate and personal God, like we read about in Mark 1, is the only possible living God. All other visions of God are dead.

Only a powerful but merciful God could love the world so much that he gave his only begotten son on our behalf, to die in our places, so that we would not perish but have everlasting life, everlasting life in the presence of that same, living God, who restores creation, healing everything, because that was how he envisioned it and implemented it and rejoiced in it from the beginning.