Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Human or infused with God's presence?

By John Shelby Spong


The debate over whether Jesus was human and somehow infused with God’s presence, or a divine life simply masquerading as a human being, has been ongoing since the dawn of the Christian era. The first gospel, Mark, written in the eighth decade C.E., portrays Jesus as fully human, with no hint of a miraculous birth, who at the time of his baptism was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Fourth Gospel, John, written in the 10th decade, portrays Jesus as the pre-existent Word of God incarnated in a human form, which allowed him to do godlike things.

That debate turned on how God is to be understood. If God is a supernatural being, dwelling outside the life of this world, who periodically enters human history to split the Red Sea or to answer prayers, to meet God in Jesus is to see Jesus as a divine visitor. However, if God is conceived, as many modern theologians suggest, as the “Ground of Being,” the source of life and love, then Jesus becomes the human vessel through whom the God presence is experienced, enabling people like Paul to say: “God was in Christ.”

Through the centuries, the church has tended to see Jesus as a divine visitor. In the 21st century, the emphasis has been to look at God through the lens of humanity. At the end of the movie version of “The Da Vinci Code,” Tom Hanks raises this question poignantly when he says, “Maybe the human is the divine”--or maybe the human is the only medium through which men and women can talk about God. I think that is true, and because I hold that conviction, I think the only task facing the Christian Church in our day is to enhance the humanity of every person, so that by living fully, loving wholeheartedly, and daring to be all that they can be, they make visible all that the human word "God" means.

The Jesus I serve was understood by John’s gospel to be the one who came so that “we might have life abundantly.” The religion of Jesus can do no less. When Hanks says, “As long as there has been one true God, there has been killing,” he spoke the truth that plagues religion when it claims that its own understanding of divinity is the same thing as God--which seems always to lead to religious imperialism.

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