Note: I am claiming a sort of personal revelation here, one of those glimpses into the deeper reality that is open to everyone, but the kind that always requires reflection and decoding. For reasons that will be soon evident to the reader, these insights are to be part of the larger dialogue.
The Birth of Optimism, Incarnated,
Took Place in
First Century, Palestine.
THE ECUMENICAL MESSIAH
A Unifying Paradigm
Whatever else the world’s non-Christians tend to make of the “Jesus Events”, it is hard to escape the insight that Christianity, in almost all of its forms, represents a distinctly (and almost uniquely) optimistic take on “life, the universe and everything”….
UltimateBeing – the one we humans sometimes call G-d (the One whom we know or know of but in many traditions decline to name) is both emergent in real time and eternal. For most of this short discussion, I’ll be using the term UltimateBeing as inadequate shorthand.
Ultimate*Being has been and will always be in a dialogue with all living creatures in space time. This is an often One-sided dialogue that began with a creative brooding over the deep and led to the eventual emergence of life, then intelligent life, then morally aware creative intelligence. The entire developmental drama by which life came into the universe was mediated by the same pseudo-random processes that engendered the emergence of the architecture of space-time, the forms and inherent relationships of matter and energy from a singularity. This “starting point” was not G-d; perhaps it is best thought of as the holy locus of infinite potential, a trans-infinite data base contained in an infinitesimally tiny, powerfully pregnant point – G-d’s Hard Drive, if you will.
The emergence of morally aware, creative intelligence in space-time was a big deal. Ultimate*Being finally engendered the emergence (AKA, the creation) of sufficient persons – that is intelligent living beings who were sufficient in the sense that they / we are at least nominally capable of actual engagement with the divine dialogue.
Our species’ main problem with all dialogue, including the Primary One, was and remains:
We are poor listeners. If there is a distinct condition that amounts to the original sin, I suspect this is it.
The divine messages that were intended to be a dialogue are encoded in the very structure of things, the architecture of consciousness and in the innate relationship between human conscious intelligence and Ultimate*Being – who designed “backdoor” software just for this purpose.
These were the thoughts running through my mind several years ago when I wrote in my “private thoughts file” that:
Maybe it is all about tuning: Tuning yourself to the universe, to G-d, to your own body, to others, (in their “selfness”.)
Buddhists tune to the benign center.
Jews tune to the Torah-God.
Christians tune to the awakened Tora-God in Jesus.
Artists tune to the creative narrative.
And this is what formed the unstated context when I wrote to myself several years ago, that:
For my part, I believe that —
We humans are inherently like the deity in whose image our consciousness was shaped (i.e., not wicked, not evil); and that our resemblance is both incomplete and complicated by our freedom to be evil.
Therefore I am able to understand “original” sin simply as an inherent and original human condition, an incapacity shared by any conscious being born into space-time, needing but lacking moral knowledge and spiritual development. In this sense, original sin describes an initial, i.e., original but curable, separation from the divine spirit.
I much prefer the understanding of Jesus’ life message as an invitation to a moral and spiritual rebirth that refutes any notion of original sin (in the sense of inherited or collective guilt). We are invited us to free ourselves from the weight of transactional sins without vitiating the obligation to make amends.
I suspect that the essence, if not the impact, of this part of the message would have been the same with or without the Roman execution.
So what was added? Jesus’ post-execution triumph carried a special message of ongoing history-changing power. If he was, as I now believe, the Ecumenical Messiah, his crucifixion by the occupying Roam Imperial authorities was the most spectacularly failed execution in history. His resurrection to his followers would inspire all later generations to overcome evil tyrants, even by laying down their very lives.
This could not have been an accidental or incidental effect.
Because Jesus’ life was historically real and historically transformative, the Jesus Events are well beyond the simple myth stories of ancient human provenance.
But please note: I would never suggest we marginalize the formative myths of any authentic religious experience. The myths that stubbornly endure in human history are really archetypal, formative structures of consciousness which have emerged as part of the dialogue between human nature and the divine nature. In this sense, they transcend mere story. Most of them represent instantiated formative metaphors of great significance, capturing and explaining our understanding of some of the core truths of existence. Even as a formative myth, the Jesus Events would be an irreplaceably valuable part of the human wisdom “data base.”
But the Jesus Events were actual, multi-level, real-world occurrences. On one level, they worked a major historical transformation: We were given a magnificent example of single holy man who lived out (and ultimately universalized) the deep Jewish religious traditions and expectations about the Son of God / Liberating Savior / Messiah. [I note that the first two titles had been arrogated to Caesar Augustus.]
The Jesus Events confirmed the moral order as supreme over regents and the “common” people alike. The Jesus Events so altered the human experience, that social organization, human relationships and the conduct and development vector of civilization were thereafter never again to be seen in the same light. On another level: In Jesus’ ministry, the divine consciousness was displayed as awake (incarnated) in one human consciousness, and through a single holy life, the fact of divine loving attention entered history as an active, palpable, leavening presence.
On still another level:
The Easter transformation of Jesus’ execution into a resurrected non-mortal life became the defining Event through which the Ruach, the Holy Spirit (as loving, divine attention), became fully accessible to the “common” people. Millions and millions of individuals have been profoundly affected by this ongoing presence. Moreover, the Easter transformation vividly modeled the possibility of individual recovery, renewal, and rebirth. An engine of immense social change had been released into the world. It was, above all, an engine of recovery and liberation.
And when I later mused about this, I wondered:
Just how “real” was the Resurrection?
For spiritually receptive minds, i.e., those of us capable of recovering our relationship to the Universal*Being, there is a different and more important question:
How real is the resurrection?
Here is my personal take, the product of a hard won “reasonable faith”:
“Resurrection” must be distinguished from “apocalypse”. The key is in how we define and relate these two terms within the broad framework of a 21st century theistic world view.
I define “resurrection” as the re-instantiation of Universal Being in the context of moral renewal. It is necessarily a continuing process. It does not violate the ordering principles that govern creation. Resurrection, in this sense, is fully consonant with the laws of an integrated natural order. It is sharply distinguished from a fracture or break in the natural order. In my personal theology, such a fracture would be an “apocalypse”, something that would never occur except by a direct, profound intervention of Ultimate Being, breaking the very fabric of creation. Resurrection is an ongoing process. Apocalypse is a one time event.
We live out our lives in this “fabric of creation”, a realm that integrates spiritual being with the merely physical in a comprehensively rational and beautiful order of all that is. This is a created order that allows for our universe’s perpetual incompleteness, perpetually filled with ongoing creation processes, a “becoming state” that is in permanent relationship with the Ultimate*Being, who also contains Ultimate Beauty, Ultimate Creation and Ultimate Goodness. Within this context, miracles are those profound benign and creative “warps” in the fabric of probability that suggest, but do not really amount to breaches in the integrity of the created order.
We detect them as highly improbable (but not impossible) wonders. They are the in-breaking of Universal Being’s benign attention. Christ’s resurrection belongs to the category of the miraculous, not that of apocalypse.
Within this framework, I find I can happily repeat the litany spoken in reasonable faith by my fellow Christians several millions of times a week.
In this chaotic world, these are words of reasonable hope and power beyond reason:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
As Hillel the Elder said: All the rest) is commentary. Go and study.
Footnotes about Hillel and Jesus
Hillel the Elder, possibly the most revered and famous sage within the Jewish tradition, lived about one generation before Jesus. Whether Hillel’s life overlapped that of Jesus, his core teachings as a teacher of great ethical wisdom, most certainly reached Jesus’ ears. Among Hillel’s aphorisms (which are generally recorded in Pirkei Avot) was:
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
We also have this delightful story. One day, a gentile seeking to know the Torah (apparently he wanted the first century Cliff Notes version) approached Hillel, after his request had been harshly rejected by another scholar. The gentile impertinently asked Hillel the Elder whether he could recite the entire Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel gracefully complied. “Do not do to your neighbor that which is hateful if done to you. This is the whole of the Torah. All the rest is commentary. Go and study. ” According to the legend, the gentile did enter a course of Torah study and was converted.
A similar encounter with Jesus is captured in the Gospel accounts.
The Shema (Love God) and the obligation to love one’s neighbor (The love one’s neighbor rule first occurs in Leviticus 19/18.) are common to both traditions. TheShema is set out in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “And you shall love the lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might.” [V-ahavta et Adonai Elohecha b-chol l’vavcha u-v-chol m’odecha.]
In Mark 12:28-30 28 we find Jesus quoting the Shema: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ 29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” And in Luke 10:25-37: 25 – “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ 27 He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 28 ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied.”