Jesus doesn’t exist

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5: 7-10).

***

“‘If you are the Christ,’ they said, ‘tell us’

Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer.  But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God'” (Luke 22: 67-69).

***

Paul interprets Jesus’ life as a man who became perfect.  Jesus started out imperfect, experienced temptation, weakness, and ignorance.  He had to gain strength, wisdom, and ultimately perfection.  If Jesus was “God the Son”, then it appears that “God the Son” did not exist until Jesus the “Son of Man” became perfect.  A thing cannot be both coming into being and being at the same time.  So if Jesus the man was imperfect then he could not have also been perfect at the same time.  And if he was not perfect then he could not have been from the beginning what he was to become, the Word of God, “God the Son.”

Consider also what it means to be “seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”  When one is seated, one is not as active as one could be.  The distinction between seated and not seated represents first and foremost the distinction between acting and resting.  The image of being seated is static, passive, and at rest.  If Jesus is seated at the right hand of the mighty God, it sounds like Jesus is more dead than alive, though experiencing his death near to God, kept close by God, and supremely valued.

If Jesus is to come back, he will likely come into being the same way he did the first time.  Interestingly, though we are reminded by Paul that Jesus appealed to the Father to save him from death, it appears to be only possible to give him a second life if human beings allow one that has to the potential to become “God the Son” to do so.  That is, there will have to be not just another Jesus, but another Mary and another John the Baptist at a minimum.

In sum, these three things suggest that “God the Son,” or what we typically mean by “Jesus,” at the moment does not exist.  1.  Jesus as God the Son did not exist in his human form until he reached his full development.  Before that, he was becoming the Son, but was not yet in his full perfection and therefore in the beginning could not offer salvation to mankind.  2.  Jesus told us that he would be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.  The image here strongly evokes a sense of death, and Jesus showed in his subsequent petitions to the Father that he expected to die.  3.  We are told that Jesus will come again, but if he is to come again, it would seem that he would have to come by the same route that he did the first time.  So, in the same manner that he did not exist initially as the Son during his first coming, he will not have existed as the Son prior to his second coming.

The potential to exist, though, does indicate some underlying continuous existential form.  So we have to distinguish between existing as a potentiality and a form on the one hand and existing as an active and conscious entity in the material world on the other.

Puzzling over Genesis and the Fall

Every discipline has it’s puzzles.  As an analyzer of theoretical texts, I consider the story of the Fall of Man from the Bible to be one of the big puzzles.  I started playing around with it (again) yesterday, and after failing (again), am going to give it another shot today.

The key positions I want to stake out are as follows:

  1. God is not well understood by Adam or Eve, Cain or Abel, or just about any human being.  Noah is better than most, but still, there’s a lot that seems to be missing.
  2. The tree of knowledge of good and evil does not provide fruit that is very informative.  After eating it, Adam and Eve merely become aware of their nakedness.
  3. The serpent is more concerned with getting Adam and Eve in trouble than with challenging God by itself.  Rather than eat the forbidden fruit itself, it baits Eve into doing it.  Either it knows the fruit isn’t that informative, or it lacks the ambition to become like God.  Also, it seems to be aware of Eve’s ignorance, otherwise it wouldn’t have tried to manipulate her.

So, I think these are some safe positions.  Now, what to do with them?

Eve’s mistake is brought about because she is ignorant of God’s power and is desirous of being like God herself.  She doesn’t expect to be caught, evidently, or doesn’t expect much bad to happen even if she is caught.  She also finds being like God appealing.  She doesn’t understand God very well, yet she still wants to be like him.  This suggests something about Eve not wanting to be ruled over.  The serpent, likewise, seems to not want to be ruled over, because it is conspiring against the humans, which are appointed over it.  The serpent isn’t very smart either, though, in that its manipulation quickly backfires and results in its being placed even lower than it was before.

After Adam and Eve are banished from Eden, we get the story of Cain slaying Abel out of jealousy for God’s favor.  God had preferred Abel’s sacrifice of an animal to Cain’s sacrifice of his garden produce.  Rather than trying to be like God, the sin here is getting too jealous over gaining God’s favor.  God no longer has a rising rebellion on his hands, but his subjects are now fighting amongst themselves over his approval.  Adam and Eve are still around, but play no part in bringing peace between Cain and Abel.  God confronts Cain directly, tells him to do what is right, and Cain turns around and slays Abel.  Again, God is misunderstood.  Cain should not expect to get away with slaying his brother.  His parents had done a much less violent act, and had been discovered and punished.

God also seems to be a bad teacher.  He commands, but his commands to his new and apparently highly ignorant creation are ineffectual.  Still, God seems to care quite a bit.  He wants his creation to be righteous and obedient — obedient for their own good.  He warns Eve that she shouldn’t eat the fruit because she will die if she does.  He marks Cain for his crime, but protects him from being murdered himself.  All the way down to Noah, God is dismayed at the sinfulness of his creation.  Man is generally not obedient to commands.  He has been placed above all other living creatures, has been allowed to name them, but still lacks gratitude for or understanding of his creator.

Paul of Tarsus in his letter to the Romans provides another position to work off of to go further with this.  He states that: “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and though the commandment put me to death” (Rom. 7:9-11).  A little further down, he states that: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their mind set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Rom. 8:5).  And still further, he states that: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him [Jesus] we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'” (Rom. 8:15).

Paul suggests that the transition from a ruler-subject relationship with God to a father-son relationship is the way sin can be conquered.  Why wasn’t it like this from the beginning?  Well, if Jesus is co-eternal with God the Father, then God the Father did have a father-son experience to learn from and apply to his new creation.  Jesus of course, would be the perfect son, though.  The opposite of ignorant man, Jesus is said to be “the Word”, or knowledge itself.  God would not have had experience with ignorant man.  So why didn’t God send Jesus right away from the beginning?  It seems to have been impossible.  Jesus needs to be educated and received by faithful human beings.  Why doesn’t God the Father teach human beings himself?  Apparently sin doesn’t become recognized as sin until it produces sufficient death in the world, so he can only command at first in order to spring sin to life.  (This may be why the tree of knowledge of good and evil produces fruit that teaches so little in the garden of Eden story.)

Paul defends the manner in which God the Father proceeds.  He states earlier in the same letter to the Romans that: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26).

With this view, it seems that God knew from the beginning that man was going to fall, and that he was going to have to send Jesus to save man.  As a sacrifice to man, to atone for God’s allowing man to live, sin, and die unjustified, he accepted that Jesus, whose blood God the Father had faith in, would have to suffer and die at the appropriate time.  Jesus established the father-son linkage between God and man, a linkage that previously had been too challenging for most.  Man’s eyes (generally now) were opened to his status as son of God only by witnessing the fate of the ideal Son.  If such is the fate of the ideal Son, and this fate leads to glory and everlasting life, then man generally, who sees his own fate also culminating in death, can also now believe for the first time that he too is loved by God rather than merely ruled over by him.  Man can also see God’s purpose in allowing him to struggle with sin, namely that the struggle makes the glory of an ideal Son possible, the glory of overcoming evil, the glory that is expected of a holy God and that characterizes him, the glory that since Adam and Eve has evaded man’s understanding.  To have faith in Jesus is to have faith in the value of this glory, and to value this glory is to be like God and positioned for a loving relationship with God.  It is to be able to acquire what was sought in the garden of Eden, what God allowed the serpent to help entice, knowledge of good and evil, now with the capacity to learn that knowledge, and with the newly attractive but always necessary desire to act on that knowledge, to do good and not evil.

When God puts Adam into the garden of Eden, it is for him “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15).  The only plants in the garden that we hear of have impressive names:  the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” and the “tree of life.”  It is likely that in this garden all of the plants would potentially have impressive names, and represent things that man desires.  It is apparently up to man to develop the garden, to try to perfect it and preserve it.  It would appear that the story of man from the Bible is a story of discovering what was originally missing from the garden of Eden, and God sending him out into a world where he could find out for himself in order to recreate it in a manner more fitting to his needs.  Eventually, when enough people were looking and interested, the missing plant, tree, or vine was found in the character of Jesus, in all he taught, did, and represented.

 

Why Jesus Cast out Demons

The worst, most painful aspect to the gospels is not that Jesus claims to be Christ, but that Jesus casts out demons, heals the sick, raises the dead, and all the rest of the supernatural miracles we are challenged to consider.  These are next to impossible to take seriously as actual historical events, which I think often drives them into a special cupboard in our minds reserved for irrational stuff that we want to hold on to for emotional reasons.  As someone who marvels at the depth and complexity of great literature, however, the value of the gospel narrative is far more than an unconvincing argument that Jesus was Christ because he performed miracles.  The Bible is a text, after all, and the multiple authors that contributed to it are free to use every literary tool available to form a medium of communication between God and man, if that was their genuine intention.

I am focusing on the New Testament for the time being.  The accounts from the Old Testament are also of great symbolic value, but the likelihood that Moses himself never even existed presents a much higher wall for my interpretational powers to climb.  Jesus of Nazareth, in contrast, is widely believed to have existed and to have truly, with the help of John the Baptist, founded Christianity.

I recently wrote about a few of the gospel miracles and how to access their symbolic value.  Getting the symbolism correct is important, but the first step is naturally recognizing that there is indeed symbolism there rather than just a descriptive, historical record.  The impossibility of the miracles should force us to look for symbolic value.  They should force us to ask ourselves, why the hell is this in here?

The gospel authors took on many risks in writing with literary, rather than simply journalistic, tools.  If you, the audience, believe that any of the miracles didn’t actually happen, then it seems fair to assume that probably none of the miracles did.  For many people, this possibility (and extreme likelihood) is going to be a deal-breaker and discussion ender.  The text lies, and cannot be trusted — why read it?

I can’t answer that question for anyone, at least not adequately at the moment.  I have read it, though, and I have some thoughts on how to interpret the more off-putting miracles that have to do with casting out demons.

Often, the people supposedly possessed by demons are out of their minds.  They are tortured, they convulse, they scream, they ache.  Jesus is able to cast out the person’s demons when that person has faith.

The first move we need to take here is to abstract away from the details, and ask what is the structure of what’s going on here?  Someone has pain, and the person’s faith in Jesus takes the pain away.  The pain is a result of something inside that has a mind of its own (the demon), something that is self-destructive.  The demon talks, it recognizes who Jesus is, it begs for mercy.

The second move we need to take is to ask what does this structural pattern correspond to in our own personal experiences?  Have I ever had a “demon?”  Has my faith ever expelled this “demon?”  Well, if one is to recall ever acting possessed, the first place to look is at close personal relationships that have soured.  The pain brought about by love that has been mismanaged, misunderstood, mistreated is terrible.  Some call it emotional pain, I think it is emotional, but goes quite a bit deeper than that.  The pain is spiritual.  Does it have a mind of its own?  It does.  It drives us to think, to feel, and to behave in ways that are against our better judgment.  It compels us to inflict pain on those that hurt us, and to punish ourselves in cases where we view ourselves as responsible for the ruining of the relationship.  Voices inside constantly suggest this or that.  They disagree with each other, they fear, they worry, they hope, they desire.

Is this what the gospel writers have in mind?  Why not?  The ambition of the gospels is clearly aiming at laying out a moral teaching that will improve the lives of those who accept it.  They are clearly worried about the harm that people cause to themselves and to each other.  And they clearly believe that the only way to fix all of this is to flip the whole table over and persuade people to believe in a better way of life.

This probably was the message of Jesus that the gospel writers are packaging and presenting more or less on his behalf (he apparently didn’t write anything down himself).  The change has to be ambitious, it has to be radical, or the demons inside of us are going to stay active in us, and we’re going to continue to suffer.  The argument is that faith in Jesus and his teaching will cast the demons out, it will heal the sick, it will raise the dead.  It will inspire us to love each other, to support each other in such a way that is so different than our current practices that our entire world can change permanently for the better.  People will have less sickness, less poverty, less premature death.

Does it work?  That’s another key question that I can’t adequately answer right now.  What I think is worth noting is that, if you want to truly change the world for the better, and purify the motives and hearts of human beings, getting them to love each other better, then the miracles told of in the gospel might be necessary, and the language of demons might be highly appropriate.  Maybe we need to think about what our own “demons” might be to better understand the nature of human imperfection.  Maybe it helps to view others’ imperfections as alien to their true nature underneath it all, and that any hatred we have should be directed away from the person and towards those specific imperfections that we might consider inhuman.  Is there a better way?

Miracles in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew

I have been reading the gospels lately, and have gotten through Mark, John, and yesterday finished reading Matthew.

Although I’ve read them before, this time has been especially exciting.  In particular, I have a few thoughts on how Mark stands out.

It has to be understood first something about the authorship of Mark and its relation to the other gospels.  Likely, Mark was written first, though it used to be thought that Matthew was first (and Matthew appears first in the ordering of the Bible).  Mark is shorter, and the theory is that Matthew and Luke were both based on Mark, as much of Mark appears in both of them (but not each other).  These three are called the synoptic gospels, because they all tell similar, frequently overlapping, accounts.

Mark also may have been an eyewitness as a boy.  There is mention of a boy toward the end of his gospel, with no other apparent significance or purpose other than perhaps some sort of self-identification on the part of the author.

But the substance of Mark is where things get especially interesting.  It is an open question as to whether Jesus truly was divine, or if he actually performed miracles.  Mark is the most hazy as to whether miracles were actually performed.  This even seems to include the Resurrection.  The New International Version of the Bible that I am reading notes that after the scene when Jesus’s body is discovered to be missing from its tomb, the earliest manuscripts of Mark end with Mark 16:8: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (The End.)

So, no witnessing of a resurrected Jesus in the earliest manuscripts of the earliest gospel.

As for the other miracles, the most explicitly symbolic seems to me to be the Feeding of the 5,000, followed by the Feeding of the 4,000.  In each of these events, Jesus has thousands of people gathering near him.  These people need food, and there is a question for Jesus and the disciples as to whether these people should be sent away so that they might find food for themselves.  In each case, Jesus insists to the disciples that the crowd not be sent away, and that the few loaves of bread and couple of fish they have with them should be split up and shared.  After the crowds are invited to sit down, Jesus gives thanks to heaven, and their food is passed around.  There are so many leftovers of crumbs and broken pieces that several baskets are filled (they end up with much, much more than they started with).  An apparent miracle!

But what else could explain this passage?  Well, Jesus of course is a teacher and knowledge is the type of thing that, when shared, can easily accumulate without diminishing whatsoever.  If these events are to interpreted symbolically, then that would seem to be an obvious, straight-forward explanation.  But should this be interpreted symbolically?

One clue is that this odd event occurs twice, the first time with 5,000 people and the second time with 4,000.  The numbers seems to be different, not out of empirical accuracy, but only so that the reader might see that this is not the same event being told twice, but rather is two distinct occurrences.  The reader should not disregard or skip over either of these events, but rather focus on them all the more for their emphasis by way of recurrence.

Let’s keep reading for more context.  Following the first Feeding, Jesus walks on water.  The water-walking event is explicitly connected to the Feeding, with Mark stating that “Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.  They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51-52).

Mark says that the disciples were amazed because “they had not understood about the loaves.”  But what was there to understand?  In particular, what could be understood such that seeing Jesus walking on water would not inspire their amazement?

Thankfully, we get more insight into the meaning of the Feeding events later, following the Feeding of the 4,000.  The text reads as follows:

“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus.  To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign?  I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it'” (Mark 8:11-12).

What?!  No sign?!  If the Feeding of the 4,000 (or the Feeding of the 5,000 that comes earlier) is meant to be read as a literal miracle, then it would be pretty odd to immediately follow the event with Jesus insisting that “the truth” is that no “miraculous sign . . . will be given.”

We have to therefore consider that the Feedings are not necessarily included as literal miracles in order to demonstrate Jesus’s divinity (which could not fail to always inspire amazement), but rather are representing the potential value of what Jesus has to offer (a kind of knowledge or teaching).

So is Jesus walking on water also a symbolic event?  Well, Jesus in that event is not explicitly trying to demonstrate his divinity, but is instead explicitly helping and providing the disciples with strength.  Just as the 5,000 needed food, and Jesus gave them something of symbolic meaning, a similar thing is happening here.  “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them . . . Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.  They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves” (Mark 6: 48, 51-52).  A clear connection: the loaves are symbolic, and if you understand the loaves, you understand the point of Jesus walking on water as also being symbolic.

Their faith gets the disciples through the rough waters, and Jesus appearing on water is just a laughably accommodating mechanism for inspiring their too-easily-shaken faith.  If they had understood about the loaves, they would not have needed to see Jesus on the water.  Their faith alone could have strengthened them, if they believed.  The reader is implicitly encouraged to be better than the disciples.

That’s how the events go in the Gospel of Mark.  Now, compare Matthew, which is actually far more explicit about the Feeding of the 5,000 and of the 4,000 as being symbolic: “Don’t you remember the five loaves and the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking about bread?” (Matthew 16:8-11).

Now, look and see the differences in Matthew’s telling of the walking on water event compared to Mark.  (In both gospels, the events proceed in roughly the same order, with the water walking event happening somewhere between the two Feedings.)  Matthew adds the details that while Jesus is out on the water, Peter actually gets out of the boat, walks on the water himself, and approaches Jesus.  Peter loses faith, however, and begins to sink: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’  And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”

So, catch some of the differences?  Matthew does not follow Mark in explicitly relating the water walking event to the earlier Feeding event and the miraculous loaves of bread.  Instead, for Matthew, the water walking event has as its primary purpose something different.  By having Peter fail to walk on water as well as Jesus does, the emphasis is more on showing us the type of person Peter was–his desire to be like Jesus and his relative inferiority, which he never really overcomes (remember the cock crowing).  The emphasis is not, as in Mark, simply on Jesus’s ability to strengthen all those who would have faith in what he offers.

I’m not saying the Matthew version lacks value, but it does seem to care less than the Mark version about providing the reader a means of interpreting the gospel miracles symbolically.

The Kingdom of Heaven

A man and woman were talking to each other while strolling down a peaceful road.  The man asked the woman, “What must heaven must be like?”  The woman answered:

“Well the idea of the kingdom of heaven is that of an ideal kingdom.  The laws flow from the will of the King, who is good.  The angels who reside in heaven are all pious and well-practiced in repentance and forgiveness.  The physical and biological laws there are almost exactly as they are on earth, and indeed the expectation there is that the heavenly kingdom will one day be welcomed on earth.

The ruler of the kingdom of heaven does use fear to maintain order, though many do fear him out of humility and reverence.  Order obtains naturally from the loving interactions the angels engage in with each other.  The more the angels love, the more orderly and harmonious heaven becomes.  All of the angels are aware of this, and live lives full of purpose, hope, and happiness.

The longer any angel resides in heaven, the stronger and more sophisticated that angel gets at loving.  The result is that heavenly society has been growing stronger and more sophisticated since the beginning of the world’s creation.  The angels that love the most are nearest to the King, and angels that love the least are furthest away.  The King enjoys the most intense love from his nearest angels, and in return loves them more than any others.  Heaven is consequently strongest in the areas nearest the King, weakest in the areas furthest away.

Admission into heaven is selective.  Only those that the King chooses are welcomed through the gates, and his choices are perfectly impartial, right, and just.  New arrivals, just as older residents, come to reside with those most like themselves, those that love in the most compatible style and manner.  Some make their way to the King’s throne very quickly, others become very loyal and attached to particular angels and proceed more slowly, not wanting to leave their loved ones behind.  Nevertheless, all angels in the kingdom of heaven are united in and through their love of the King, by whose will and by whose laws this society, so completely saturated with love, has been made possible.

Outside of the kingdom of heaven, proud spirits are largely paralyzed by their own self-love.  Repentance serves no benefit to them, and only promises to harm their pride and to forfeit a fragile and jealously guarded self-image of superiority.  Forgiveness is consistently withheld to justify their strategic contempt for others and to gratify themselves.

These proud spirits form kingdoms of their own making outside the gates of heaven.  Rulers and ruled are dependent on the flattery of each other, which is unstable since it can readily be traded for contempt.  The fluctuations between this thin admiration at one time and coercive contempt at another ultimately sows resentment across all of these dark kingdoms of the proud.  The resentment divides and destroys all such existing kingdoms, as new rulers rise and others fall.  The proud spirits in this state restlessly scrape after the image of greatness, which constantly escapes them.”