Hamilton on religion: Belief in God as moral authority

One in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. On July 18, we discussed his views on central government vs. states’ rights:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/hamilton-early-lessons-still-apply/

Today, we see his views on religion.

 

At the end of his life, Hamilton sought out a religious experience more deeply than he did earlier on. As he lay dying after Aaron Burr shot him in a duel, “he made it a matter of urgent concern to receive last rites from the Episcopal Church.” (p. 706)

Hamilton asked for the Rev. Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity Church in New York City and the Episcopal bishop of New York. Moore balked at giving Hamilton holy communion for two reasons: “He thought dueling an impious practice and did not wish to sanction the confrontation with Burr. He also knew that Hamilton had not been a regular churchgoer.” (p. 707)

hamilton mug

Hamilton then turned to a close friend, the Rev. John M. Mason, pastor of Scotch Presbyterian Church, near Hamilton’s home in New York City. Mason said he could not administer communion to Hamilton because “it is a principle in our churches never to administer the Lord’s Supper privately to any person under any circumstances.” (p. 707)

Hamilton then returned to Moore. Hamilton’s friends pressured the bishop to grant the dying man’s last wish. Moore eventually agreed, and gave holy communion to Hamilton. (p. 708)

 

Hamilton repeated to Bishop Moore that he bore no malice toward Burr, that he was dying in a peaceful state, and that he was reconciled to his God and his fate. (p. 708)

 

While he professed faith throughout his life, it wasn’t a deep-seated tenet of everything he said and did.

 

Like Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, Hamilton had probably fallen under the sway of deism, which sought to substitute reason for revelation and dropped the notion of an active God who intervened in human affairs. At the same time, he never doubted God’s existence, embracing Christianity as a system of morality and cosmic justice. (p. 205)

 

Deism, according to an online dictionary, is “belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.”

https://www.google.com/search?q=deism&oq=deism&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1471j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

I see a similar thread across the United States today. According to Gallup, 89 percent of Americans say they believe in God, although that number is declining. http://www.gallup.com/poll/193271/americans-believe-god.aspx At the same time, also according to Gallup, 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian, a number that also is declining. http://www.gallup.com/poll/187955/percentage-christians-drifting-down-high.aspx

A vast majority of us today believe in God’s existence, as Hamilton did. Do we believe He intervenes in human affairs? Many say yes but wish He wouldn’t, saying things, for example, like: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Hamilton, however, believed in an impersonal God who just lets life happen. He saw the Bible “as a system of morality and cosmic justice” that transcends humankind.

 

For Hamilton, the French Revolution had become a compendium of heretical doctrines, including the notion that morality could exist without religion … (p. 463)

 

Yet for most of his life, religion could go only so far, in his view.

 

Like other founders and thinkers of the Enlightenment, (Hamilton) was disturbed by religious fanaticism and tended to associate organized religion with superstition. … Like Washington, he never talked about Christ and took refuge in vague references to “providence” or “heaven.” (p. 659)

 

His wife, Eliza, on the other hand, had a very strong Christian faith throughout her life. She rented a pew at Trinity Church, “increasingly spoke the language of evangelical Christianity,” (p. 659) and likely would not have married a man who did not share her faith to some degree (p. 660).

 

(Eliza) was a woman of towering strength and integrity who consecrated much of her extended widowhood to serving widows, orphans and poor children. (p. 728)

 

Alexander Hamilton also doted on his children – he and Eliza had eight – when he had the time, which wasn’t often because of his extremely busy public life. And he and Eliza off and on also hosted orphans and other non-family members in their home, a sensitivity that Alexander had because he was an orphan while growing up in the West Indies.

 

But Alexander Hamilton “lived in a world of moral absolutes and was not especially prone to compromise or consensus building.” (p. 509)

 

This hurt him politically many times throughout his life. As we mentioned last week, he did not value the opinions of common people, but felt the federal government should dictate right and wrong to them. “This may have been why (James) Madison was so adamant that ‘Hamilton never could have got in’ as president.” (p. 509)

Hamilton wore his emotions on his sleeve. Often without decorum, he shared his opinions – in private letters or public pamphlets – that garnered plenty of attention. He had many detractors because of this.

 

“Hamilton was incapable of a wise silence.” (p. 534)

 

He frequently felt the need to defend his honor, even when his closest friends told him he didn’t need to do that. He wrote two pamphlets that severely damaged his reputation while he lived, one defending himself over a one-year affair he had with a married woman who was blackmailing him while he was treasury secretary, and the other criticizing then-president John Adams over their political differences (even though they were both members of the Federalist party).

 

“Rather than make peace with John Adams, he was ready, if necessary, to blow up the Federalist party and let Jefferson become president.” (p. 615)

 

While Hamilton held strong opinions on many subjects, including moral judgments, often to his own detriment, his views on religion softened in his later years, as evidenced by his deathbed pleas for holy communion.

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Overcoming the Great Sadness

I think deeply, but I do not feel. I buried my feelings deep inside my heart a long time ago.

This is my escape, my way to conceal pain. I can’t remember the last time I cried. Seriously. I rarely laugh. I’ll share my thoughts, but rarely my longings and deep desires. It’s too much to expect that my deep desires might ever come true.

This is my Great Sadness.

And this is why I was moved by The Shack, showing in theaters now, based on the book by the same name (which I own).

Some Christians are bothered by the theology presented in the film. I think that misses the point. The main character in the movie suffers a horrible tragedy not of his doing. There’s a bad guy to blame. It’s totally unfair. The main character, Mack, has a right to be angry. Doesn’t he? Let the bad guy burn in hell!

The author calls the tragedy a Great Sadness.

Do you have a Great Sadness? The Shack is for you.

Returning to the scene of the crime

Mack’s Great Sadness is a dramatic event that most of us cannot relate to personally. But I’m sure each of us can point to “unfair” events in our lives.

Mack is drawn back to the shack, where the horrible crime was committed. He had to face his anger and bitterness head-on, in the very place where the anger began. Author John Eldredge, who wrote “Wild At Heart,” calls this re-entering your wound. Every man (and woman) has a deep wound in his life. To overcome that wound, we must re-enter it and let God heal it, Eldredge writes.

This is difficult. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet in my own life.

God as a woman?

While at the shack, Mack meets God. This is where the theology gets interesting. God is portrayed as a black woman. Jesus is a Middle Eastern-looking guy, an accurate representation, actually. The Holy Spirit is a tall, thin Asian woman.

Is representing God as a woman sacrilegious? I don’t think so. The Bible says “God created humankind in his image … male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, emphasis added)

God has femaleness in Him. Otherwise, He could not have created women. We rarely acknowledge that.

For most of the movie, Mack needed a mother’s touch to face his deep wound. This is why God appeared to him as a woman. There’s one scene where God appears as a white man, because the lesson Mack needed to learn at that point required a man’s point of view. In the movie, then, God appears as a woman and a man, depending on the circumstances and the lesson Mack was being taught.

Can God not do this for us as well? The Bible calls God Father many times, but never specifically calls God “mother.” Does God have maternal qualities? Certainly. There’s no doubt.

As a man, it’s easy for me to bury my feelings deep in my heart. I’d rather do something than speak it. It’s the way I’m wired. Do I need maternal leadership to help me discover my feelings and share them? I’m sure I do.

Jesus did things in the movie that He would have done in real life as well. In the movie as in the Bible, He was a carpenter. He had a shed and built something (you’ll have to see the movie to find out what it was). He walked on water – there’s a pond behind the shack. Mack walked on water, too. Except when he tried to do it on his own; then he sank. “It works better if we do it together,” Jesus told him. Um, yes. The real Jesus would say something like that, too.

Finding justice

Jesus led Mack across the pond to meet another person, called Wisdom. This is a powerful scene that describes justice – real justice – better than I’ve seen or heard it described anywhere else. Life is not fair. How do we deal with the Great Sadness in our lives when it shows up unexpectedly? Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering? Why does God allow awful things to happen to us?

God hears us when we ask these deep questions, even if we ask in anger, sorrow and/or frustration. And we must re-enter the wound at its source to get the full answer.

The Holy Spirit tended a garden, which was a beautiful mess. Mack agreed with that assessment as he walked through it. The Spirit told Mack the garden represented his heart. You’ll have to watch the movie to see what the Holy Spirit does with that garden.

Finding forgiveness

When God appears to Mack as a man, He helps Mack forgive the evil man who caused the Great Sadness in his life. Whether the evil man deserves forgiveness or not is irrelevant. Whether the evil man accepts Mack’s forgiveness also is irrelevant.

Forgiveness is a decision Mack must make on his own.

Which he can’t, of course. That’s why God had to meet him at the shack and show him how to forgive.

Forgiveness does not reverse tragedy. It acknowledges that the Great Sadness is very real, but that the Great Sadness does not have to define who we are. By the hand of God, we can overcome it.

This takes time. It’s not a one-time deal, and the movie makes this clear. God gets it. He is patient, and helps us along this journey.

This message is so timely today. I see so much anger around me. I daresay many of us have a Great Sadness in our hearts, something unfair that happened that angers us and that it’s easy to blame God for. Even if He didn’t cause it, He allowed it, right?

See the movie. Take that question directly to God.

The God of the Bible will answer it. You and I both will find healing as we talk honestly with God, and follow His lead.

I haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m still a work in progress.

Finding healing

There’s hope. There is healing. It happens all the time. But our hearts have to be ready for it. God will not force His hand. He gave us free will; we can push Him away if we want to.

There are consequences for that, one of which is that we will miss out on so many blessings that God wants to give us.

One of His biggest blessings is joy, which comes when the Great Sadness is defeated in our hearts.

This is what I saw in The Shack. If you are analyzing the movie with your head only and not your heart, you’ll miss the big picture. Just as you’ll miss the big picture of life itself.

It’s not about judgment. It’s about forgiveness.

That’s the only way the Great Sadness disappears.

Doing what Jesus would do …

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh in 2017, where would He go? What would He do? Who would He spend His time with?

I wonder about that every so often.

In response, I turn to the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which describe the life He lived among us. There isn’t much in the Bible about the first 30 years of His life, but His three-year ministry offers plenty of evidence about what and who were important to Him.

Inside the church

Jesus spent some time in the synagogue, the church of His day. He spoke there on occasion as a visiting preacher. He did a healing or two there. He overturned the money changers’ tables there when He discovered they were overcharging the parishioners who needed to buy sacrificial animals.

Most often when He visited the synagogue, He was not there to worship. He was there to confront the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who ran the synagogue and knew the Old Testament Scriptures inside and out, but still didn’t understand them. The leaders missed the prophesies about Jesus in the Scriptures. They also added a whole lot of rules to the Books of the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe in detail how a follower of the living God was supposed to live.

Jesus called them blind guides and hypocrites. When He claimed to be God and to have an intimate relationship with His Father, they went berserk. They killed him for that.

Christians, beware. Jesus attacked religious leaders hard. They didn’t take it well.

Should Jesus visit the United States in the flesh in 2017, I fear He would give a similar message to the church today. And we would give Him a similar fate. Not every local church would reject Him, but many would. This scares me.

Does it scare you?

Outside the church

However, my reading of the Gospels tells me that Jesus spent most of His time outside the synagogue, with tax collectors and sinners. He gave them the benefit of the doubt every time. He was all compassion:

  • The woman caught in adultery.
  • A Samaritan woman at a well. (The religious leaders of His day treated women like second-class citizens. Jesus treated them like the daughters of God they were – and are. Jesus could be considered a radical feminist, if you read the Bible that way.)
  • Matthew, a hated tax collector, one of the 12 in His inner circle.
  • Zacchaeus, a religious leader who asked the right questions.
  • All kinds of people who came to Him for healing, both physical and demonic.
  • Hungry people. (He fed 5,000 of them with five loaves of bread and two fish.)
  • A couple getting married who ran out of wine. (Jesus liked to party, by the way.)
  • And on, and on.

Doing time

As Christians, we so often spend most of our free time inside the walls of our churches. We worship there, we study the Bible there, we offer social programs there and invite the community in.

That’s not what Jesus did.

  • He prayed on mountainsides.
  • He healed people in their own homes.
  • He ate at their homes, too. Matthew is a great example. He wanted his friends to meet Jesus, so he invited them to dinner, then invited Jesus to join them.
  • He traveled the countryside, visiting cities and towns along the way. He counseled his 12 disciples as they walked and as they served those they met.

I think this should be our pattern, too. We need to worship; Jesus did not avoid the synagogue, even though He wasn’t very happy with most of the leaders He met there.

But Jesus spent most of His time mingling with unbelievers on their turf. He was comfortable in crowds; He was comfortable in one-on-one settings, and in groups of just a few people. He traveled. He had a hometown, but He didn’t claim it. He knew Jerusalem was important, and He did spend time there (and died there), but He visited other places as well.

WWJD

A few years ago there was a bracelet in Christian circles that was all the rage: WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? It was a fad question that most Christians didn’t take seriously, but that’s the question I’m asking. What would Jesus do? Really?

Are we prepared to do the same? He said we should.

Perhaps big fancy church buildings aren’t a good witness. I’m not sure Jesus would be impressed with them. He’d rather those resources – money and human time – be spent elsewhere.

Jesus said full-time Christian workers should be paid a fair wage. This is important.

Taking the job home

But our leaders should be equipping the rest of us to do the work of the church – outside the church, in our spheres of influence. That’s what Jesus did with His 12 disciples. He gave them His heart, then told them to go make disciples of all nations.

I meet people every day who would never set foot inside a church. If I call myself a Christian, I am Jesus to them. How do I wear that “job title?” Do I represent Christ well?

Do you?

Is your church equipping you to be the church to those outside the church? If not, what’s the point of church?

Yes, we worship God and praise Him for what He’s done for us.

So what? Do we leave our praise on the altar? Or do we take it home with us?

That’s what Jesus did.

And what He’d continue to do in 2017.

 

Faith and America: Judge others carefully

Is President Trump a Christian, or should he be? Is he attacking Muslims as a religion with his travel ban on people from certain countries? Can Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully?

Many Americans say church and state should remain separate, and they offer some good reasons. As a Christian, my faith is a lifestyle, a major part of who I am. My faith affects the way I think and the way I live. In that vein, “church” and “state” cannot be separated, unless I don’t participate in our democracy in any way, including voting.

So, where to draw the line?

Co-exist: Yes and no

Can Christians and Muslims co-exist? Let’s start there.

The answer depends on what you mean by co-exist.

If we mean that we can respect each other’s views and beliefs even if we disagree, then yes, we can co-exist peacefully. Our co-workers, parents we meet at our children’s schools, people we meet at athletic contests, people we volunteer with, the waitress at the restaurant … we meet people outside of our religious boundaries all the time. Can we get along?

We certainly should.

But if co-exist means Christians and Muslims (and people of other faiths) worship the same God, then no – we do not and cannot co-exist. The sacred writings of both faiths prove this.

More on that in a minute.

Church and state

But first, let’s discuss whether “church” and “state” should co-exist.

 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

Amendment I, The Constitution of the United States of America

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted …

Declaration of Independence

 

I had a lengthy Facebook discussion with a former co-worker awhile ago about this. We did not agree, because he and I do not have the same “supreme authority” in our lives. His primary focus is on the United States. Mine is on God. They are not the same.

Congress – and by extension, in my opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court also – are not allowed to restrict any religion in any way. So, if President Trump is trying to restrict Muslims as a faith-based people from entering this country, the First Amendment does not allow him to do that.

The Declaration of Independence does assume a Creator. But different faiths worship different Creators, so we need to keep this discussion general, politically speaking.

Faith and violence

Trump says he is targeting terrorists, not an entire religion. Terrorists around the world and in the United States have claimed allegiance to the Islamic God during their terrorist acts. Is Trump’s response a knee-jerk reaction that goes too far?

 

Therefore, when you meet the Unbelievers (in fight), strike at their necks; at length, when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them); thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom; until the war lays down its burdens.

Qur’an, 47:4a

 

I imagine not all Muslims read the Qur’an literally, just as not all Christians read the Bible literally. And yet, these words are in the Qur’an. Fighting words against any who oppose “God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.”

Are there such fighting words in the Christian Bible? Yes, there are. Here’s an example:

 

As soon as (Joshua) stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward. They entered the city, took it, and at once set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, the smoke of the city was rising to the sky … When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai … until no one was left who survived or escaped.

The Bible, Joshua 8:19-22

 

Why would the Christian God order Joshua and his troops to obliterate an entire city – men, women and children? Because they worshiped pagan gods, and the God of Israel did not want his people to get distracted by teachings of false gods.

This is what the book of Joshua is all about. Israel did not follow directions, and the book of Judges describes the consequences in detail.

Incompatible faiths

According to the Qur’an and the Bible, then, these religions cannot co-exist. Both worship a jealous God.

 

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary …

Qur’an, 5:17

 

They say: “(God) Most Gracious has begotten a son!”

Indeed you have put forth a thing most monstrous! …

That they should invoke a son for (God) Most Gracious.

For it is not consonant with the majesty of (God) Most Gracious that He should beget a son.

Qur’an, 19:88-89, 91-92

 

 

Jesus said to (Thomas), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The Bible, John 14:6-7

 

Muslims and Christians cannot worship together, obviously.

Can they live together peacefully?

That depends on how passionate we are about our faiths – and also how passionate we are as Americans. Do we serve the U.S. Constitution, which allows for free expression of all faiths, or do we serve our God, who is a jealous God and who ultimately will judge everyone – everyone – outside the faith?

This is why the current debate is so hot, with no resolution in sight.

Cultures and faith clash. Do our faiths allow us to get along with each other?

Faith and America

This is why many Americans reject Christianity (and Islam as well, I imagine). God forces us to take sides.

Both faiths have a peaceful side as well. After all, no one can “convert” dead people. Both faiths have to give others a reason to follow their God.

The U.S. Constitution is a wonderful document. One of the reasons the Pilgrims reached our shores was to worship freely the way they wanted to.

Are we at a crossroads now? Are we truly willing to accept “Congress shall make no law …” or has that been eroding over time, and Trump has brought the debate front and center?

Should God provide justice, or should we do it for Him?

I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt the other day that said, “No one is my judge.” Again, it depends. I cannot judge your faith. That’s God’s job. But if you molest a child or run a red light, we have laws in this country about those things, and the U.S. court system very much can judge you for them.

I wish we could leave it at that.

 

A couple of other perspectives:

The Qur’an and U.S. Constitution cannot co-exist:

http://louderwithcrowder.com/5-reasons-the-quran-can-never-coexist-with-the-constitution-ever/

Christians and Muslims can get along:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/nov/18/christians-muslims-co-existed-general-synod-religions-allies

 

The journey and the destination

Is it about the journey or the destination?

A friend posted this scenic saying the other day about the journey, and I questioned it. I said life is about both – the journey and the destination. If there’s no destination, what’s the point of the journey?

My friend’s response:

 

So can you tell me what your destination is? And once you get there, then what? I know I have goals set to get me places, but the goals will never stop; otherwise I wouldn’t feel like I was growing as a person. Therefore, I don’t really have a destination because it’s so much bigger than that.

 

I see what she’s getting at. I have goals as well that will never stop. Even if I achieve a goal, others will remain. That’s how we grow as individuals. I’m with her 100 percent on that.

But the destination is the big picture. We need to think big thoughts sometimes. What is our purpose? What are we doing on this Earth, anyway?

A goal is a desired outcome. A destination is a place where someone is going.

We can have many goals. But where are we going?

John Maxwell, a leadership expert I respect greatly, offers this perspective:

 

What matters more, the journey, or the destination? If you only focus on the journey, you lack direction and motivation, and if you focus solely on your destination, you can miss the life lessons and memories along the way. Plus, you often discover through your journey that your final destination isn’t exactly the same as it was when you started.

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-journey-you-john-c-maxwell?trk=v-feed&lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_feed%3Bhg6PJcNa16FIVgVp5FKDOQ%3D%3D

Interesting. The destination of our lives may change as we continue the journey, Maxwell claims. As we experience life, we discover new paths and journeys – and perhaps a new place where we want to go.

For most of my adult life, my journey was smooth and relatively easy. I had a secure job that paid the bills with money left over, my wife and I raised three healthy and active sons, we all were involved in a few extracurricular activities – life was full, fun and worth living.

Then, as our boys were heading off to college, my job was eliminated. Since then, I’ve held six jobs in seven years in three states.

The journey got bumpy.

god's plan

I never would have met the friend I quoted at the start of this article if my life had not taken those unexpected twists and turns.

 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24)

 

Every runner runs to win the race (unless you’re in the Boston Marathon, in which case you’re just trying to finish – when the finish line becomes the destination).

My friend poses an interesting question: Once I get to my destination, then what? When I reach the finish line, what comes next?

Her first question gets to the heart of the matter: Can you tell me what your destination is?

I can.

My destination is heaven. As long as I am alive on Planet Earth, I won’t get there. So there’s no chance of reaching my destination while I’m still on this journey.

Why, then, pursue an unattainable place?

Because the destination is attainable. Just not in this life. And if I don’t pursue heaven, I won’t get there.

 

Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

 

This doesn’t mean I have to earn salvation. No, salvation is a gift from God. But if I am “saved,” then my life will reflect it. My goals will change. My journey will take a different – and better and more meaningful – course.

I have to pursue God continually.

 

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? (Romans 6:1)

 

This earthly life is not about me. I’ve written about that previously in this blog. I am a tiny piece of the puzzle that God is putting together. But God thinks I’m an important piece, worth having around.

This is true for you too.

The least we can do in response to God’s love – even when those closest to us hurt us, or even when we don’t feel worthy of God’s love – is to say thanks and try to do things He would enjoy. That’s the way we treat those we love on this Earth, isn’t it? We try to do things they enjoy.

This is the journey.

The destination is to live not only for God, but with God.

The alternative?

To live without God. Ever.

There’s no middle ground. We might think there’s a purgatory or something like that, but there isn’t. God is tapping on our hearts. We say yes or no.

That determines our ultimate destination.

We can’t pursue anything bigger than that. Destinations we pursue here on Earth will end someday. Each of us will die one day. That’s a guarantee.

We don’t like to think about that, but the end is coming. Hopefully later rather than sooner, but …

Maxwell profiled a husband and wife who spent a lot of time studying their purpose in life. They offer this conclusion:

 

To those starting out on their own personal journey to find their purpose, the couple gave this advice: “Know that this is your journey. It’s a path to follow, not a destination. Once you realize that you are on a journey of your own, you can stop comparing yourself to others and celebrate their wins, knowing that yours are coming. Someone else winning helps you, it doesn’t take away from you. There is more than enough for all of us to win.” Are you winning in your life right now? Or are you too busy comparing your life to others and feeling let down? The journey, and the destination, are yours to choose.

 

Enjoy the ride. Pursue your destination. See you at the finish line.

The most controversial man who ever lived

jesusthe-passion-of-the-christ

Who is Jesus Christ, really?

Everyone has an opinion about him. He lived, he didn’t live, he died, he was resurrected, he did not get resurrected. He was a good guy. He was a liar. He was the promised Messiah.

Our pastor just preached an excellent (although long) sermon on this topic.

https://www.opendoor.tv/sermons/misunderstood/

It matters what we think on this issue. As our pastor said, Jesus is the most polarizing figure who ever lived. And our answer is literally a decision of life and death.

Jesus’ message was (and still is) love. He wants the best for us. He wants us to care for each other.

What’s so controversial about that?

Love has limitations. We can do whatever we want, but that doesn’t mean everything is good for us.

That’s where we often disagree with Jesus. Who does Jesus think he is that he can tell us what to do, or not to do?

                                                                         

Two sides of Jesus

Let me explain the two photos I chose to illustrate this blog. The one on the left is typical of Jesus photos you’ll see. He is calm, compassionate, loving, gentle, beautiful, patient, kind … yes, Jesus was all those things.

But that Jesus wasn’t crucified.

The other photo, from the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, shows Jesus being crucified. We don’t like this Jesus because it represents confrontation, loss, torture, suffering and death.

Both of these photos represent the real Jesus. To grasp who he really was (and is), we need to understand both photos.

                                                                       

The Ten Commandments are written as a list of “don’t do this” – don’t put other gods before the one true God, don’t commit murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, etc. Why the limitations? Because God knows these things will hurt us.

Our experiences prove this correct. When we commit adultery, relationships die. When we covet what someone else has, people get hurt. Sometimes literally. Where’s the good in that?

When talking about murder, look at Chicago. Yet, why can’t we stop doing it?

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/06/us/chicago-homicides-visual-guide/

My life revolves around me. No one else. That’s the way each of us is wired.

Love is a choice. It’s not automatic.

Good vs. evil

There’s a huge battle going on inside each of us. Good vs. evil. Love vs. hate. Me vs. you. God vs. Satan, if you will.

If my way clashes with your way, my way is right.

Right?

We may not say that in so many words, but we live that way.

Which side do I choose?

Tomorrow, I will have to make the same choice again. It’s a never-ending battle.

Looking at the struggle this way, how can we ever get it right? How can we ever choose love, and choose it – with its freeing limitations – over and over?

Who is Jesus?

That’s where Jesus Christ comes in.

People who say he’s a good guy, a prophet perhaps, miss the point. They believe that’s all he is. Just a man who healed people and did a lot of good deeds.

He did do those things. But he did more than that.

Jesus said things like, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

He healed people because he truly cares about our needs. Why? Because his Father does, and Jesus was introducing us to a personal God who loves us. Who wants the best for us.

Become like children

As parents, we have to put limits on our children sometimes. Don’t cross the busy street. Share your toys. Listen to your teacher. Eat your veggies.

But we get upset when God tries to put limitations on us, such as the Ten Commandments. We’re adults, after all. We can make our own decisions.

Right?

Jesus also said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mat. 19:14)

Jesus was not saying that only children can become Christians. He was implying that, like children, our hearts need to be willing to learn new things, try new ideas, to realize that other people might have a better idea, that God might actually be right.

We focus on politics. Taxes. Road construction. Vacations. Cute family photos. Whether it will rain this weekend. Global warming (ie, how hot it’s been this summer).

To what end?

Is there an end?

Of course there is. All of us will die one day. That’s a guarantee. We don’t prepare for it very well. It hurts deeply when a loved one dies. Perhaps that’s why we avoid the subject until we are forced to face it.

But why wait until death, or near death, to discover what life is really all about?

Limitations

It’s because of those limitations, isn’t it? We don’t like being told what to do.

We won’t admit that right and wrong even exist, because that means we might be wrong sometimes.

Right?

Jesus is very clear that right and wrong do exist. For our own benefit.

But Jesus picks far fewer battles than we think he does. Jesus honestly does not care who becomes our next president, for example.

In Biblical times, Rome ruled Israel with an iron fist. The Jews were oppressed. They weren’t looking for a spiritual Messiah to get them to heaven; they were looking for a political Messiah to rescue them from Rome.

Jesus refused to play that game. He talked a lot about the kingdom of God, and very little about the Roman empire.

The spiritual battle

Jesus saw a bigger picture.

The United States is one of hundreds of countries in the world. Our next president will lead for only four years, maybe eight. He or she will make decisions that last longer than that, certainly, but there are checks and balances in our system of government.

There’s a spiritual battle going on here. We can’t physically see it, so many of us pretend it doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist.

Even demons know who Jesus is (James 2:19).

Most of us believe in angels. We love the idea of a heavenly being looking out for us. Why, then, are demons so hard to accept? Demons are nothing more than angels who have rejected God’s authority.

The war between angels and demons takes place in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. Every single one of us. Across the world. Across time – past, present and future.

Whose side are you on?

That’s not a political question. It’s a spiritual one.

Your answer will affect how you live today. In eternity forever, yes, but also today. Here on Earth.

No one else can answer this question for you. Or me. Others can give you advice, but the choice is yours.

Choose wisely.