I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (Jesus)
The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal: nothing disembodied, nothing abstract, nothing impersonal. Incarnate, flesh and blood, relational, particular, local. (Eugene Peterson: The Jesus Way)
The Revelation of God
Christianity undergoes quite a bit of criticism. I can understand that. Church history has so many examples of violence, oppression, and scandals. Add to that a number of complicated or confusing Bible stories which some Christians try to explain with absurd interpretations. It’s as if their faith rises and falls on validating every detail of the Bible. They deify the Bible and their interpretation of it. As a young Christian I heard a dynamic preacher say proudly that he could be accused of worshiping the Bible. “To that”, he said, “I plead guilty!” This dogmatic approach has crept into some Christian communities in more subtle ways. They’ve embraced the lordship of the Bible instead of the Lordship of Christ. In doing so they’ve handed over spiritual guidance to those with rigid interpretations of scripture and misguided agendas.
God inspired the Bible. God speaks through the Bible. The Bible is important to understanding our Christian faith. But it is Jesus who is the “Word” or the “Revelation of God”. He is the one who is God and fully reveals God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us . . . No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son . . . who has made him known.” (John 1.1,14, 18). Deifying the Bible (along with our interpretation of the Bible) leads us away from Christ into a religion of our own making.
We can also slip away from Christ through abstraction. Teresa writes about the transformative power of mystical prayer. But she is quick to note that mystical prayer experiences should not lead us to abandon corporeal life. Meditation on the humanity of Jesus Christ is not a first step so we can later “occupy ourselves with matters concerning the Godhead and to flee from corporeal things”. Teresa says the devil will try to convince us to move on from meditating on the humanity of Christ. She says, “You will also think that anyone who enjoys such sublime favors will not engage in meditation on the most sacred Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, because by that time he will be wholly proficient in love.” Abstract love and lofty ideals may sound like spiritual progress, but this so-called moving on from the humanity of Jesus and corporeal life is a regressive spirituality.
Jesus Christ became flesh. In his humanity he fully revealed God. How do we know God? We study and meditate on the life of Jesus. Therefore, “meditation on the most sacred Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ” sits at the center of Christian meditation and our Christian experience. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. According to Teresa, we never grow out of the need to meditate on His life and Passion.
Teresa says, “We need to cultivate, and think upon, and seek the companionship of those who, through living on earth like ourselves, have accomplished great deeds for God; the last thing we should do is to withdraw . . . from our greatest help and blessing, which is the most sacred Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” She explains people cannot enter the last two mansions of the Interior Castle “if they lose their Guide, the good Jesus”. If this happens “they will be unable to find their way”, because He is the way, and the truth, and the life.
Thomas a’ Kempis wrote: “‘Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness,’ says the Lord. These are Christ’s own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways, if we desire to be enlightened and free of all blindness of heart. Let it then be our main concern to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.”
How do we know God? (A starting point.)
I heard Eugene Peterson, author of the Message Bible, speak at a conference a number of years ago. The conference was put on by an organization called Renovare’ and based on Peterson’s book The Jesus Way. Peterson’s first point in his message: The Jesus Way is to be Human. (I’m summarizing/condensing Peterson’s comments with some minor edits.)
Jesus is human like us. God in human form. Jesus — a historical person who walked the paths of Palestine in the 1st century just as I walk on sidewalks and trails in the 21st century. Jesus spent nine months in the womb, just as I did. He was born of a woman, just as I was. We know his name, the name of his mother, he had a family, and there are named friends. There was work to do like carpentry, masonry, and fishing. Meals were eaten. Prayers were prayed. He walked in and out of houses, synagogues, and the temple — just like we do with schools, houses, Walmarts, and churches. He died and was buried just as we will be.
This takes a great deal of guesswork out of knowing God. Do you want to know what God is like? The form in which God reveals himself? Look in the mirror. Look at your friend. Look at your spouse. Start here. A human being with eyes and ears, hands and feed, appetite and curiosity. Eating meals with your friends. Walking to the store for a bottle of milk. Hiking in the hills, picking wildflowers, catching fish and cooking them for a breakfast on the beach.
Four writers were assigned by God’s Holy Spirit the task of writing down the story of God with us – Jesus — who lived in 1st century Palestine. They all write the same story with some variations. But the one thing they totally agree upon. This Jesus, this revelation of God, was an actual human person.