I pulled the Bible off the shelf a few months ago, with the goal of finding all the awesome Jesus stuff that led Neem Karolyi Baba to weep when asked about him, the stuff the Buddhists and Hindus and, yep, even some Christians, talk about that actually speaks to me. I haven’t entirely given up yet, but Jesus, that book’s a slog. “It’s just so poorly written,” says B. Maybe that’s why the Catholics went the authoritative interpretation route: if they let too many people try to read the Bible themselves, they’d bore them out of the religion. I haven’t entirely sworn off it yet, but for now I will let wiser, more patient interpreters call my attention to worthwhile passages. It’s not like I don’t have enough to read.
For example, I’m halfway through a collection of Dr. King’s writings. In the piece Love in Action, he begins with Luke 23:34.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
The Reverend is most impressed with the Then. That after he was condemned, tortured, mocked, and left to die, he begged for God’s forgiveness when he could have asked for revenge, for obliteration; for anything, really. I mean, it’s his dad, and he’s dying, for Christ’s sake.
But Jesus doesn’t do that, because he’s not like his dad. There are so many times in the Bible when that God took the low road, when he destroyed his own people for disobeying him, or others for inflicting harm upon his chosen ones.
If I look at the Bible as a work of literature (focusing on the content, not the godawful style), a noteworthy difference between Father and Son is the difference between Judgment and Empathy.
And I thought, if there were a distinct entity that were the God of the Bible, and Jesus was his son, that father had a fuck of a lot to learn from his kid. And why? What was the ultimate difference between God and Jesus? Jesus was human. God may have loved his people, in a way. He may have pitied them, and occasionally others. But he had no empathy, because he had no idea how hard it was to be human.
Jesus lived as a man. I find it so odd that some Christians honor the divinity of Christ at the expense of his humanity, because it’s his humanity that makes him exceptional. I assume most Gods could endure torture and opprobrium and temptation pretty easily if they really wanted to, because they’re Gods. Certainly there are Greek & Roman & Hindu and other gods who exhibit human frailties, but the Biblical Judeo-Christian God, omniscient and omnipotent, doesn’t have those problems. So how could it have real compassion, real understanding, for its people? How could it forgive them, when it had no idea what they were going through?
The more simplistic Christian evangelists who’ve testified to me over the decades love to pull out John 3:16 as if it will make me fall out in tears and praise: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. I never understood why this was such a big deal. Again, God doesn’t connect with other humans the way we do, doesn’t feel pain the way we do, doesn’t suffer the way we do, so watching his son die doesn’t seem nearly as bad as it would be for us, especially since God knows he’s not really gone, and is quickly reunited with him. Maybe the big change here is that he now loves the world, and not just the Jews? That eternal life is now open to all, not just those who lucked out through culture or heritage? I guess that’s nice, though “believes in him” is sooooo ill-defined that it could mean almost anything, and does.
It seems to me that the exceptional part of God giving his son to humanity is that God now has to learn from his son’s experience and play by his rules going forward, or even step aside to let the youth assume power. Jesus is so different from the God of the Old Testament that it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re related. And they’re really not: less than the relationship between an absent biological father and the son raised in an entirely different family and culture. Jesus’ culture is largely material, his dad’s is strictly spiritual. So it’s not that the Biblical God changed his mind about how people should act & treat each other & how he would treat them in return and decided to plant a kid on Earth to impart his new message. It’s that living in his adopted family, the family of humans, Jesus gained a completely different understanding of the world, which led him to the philosophy of universal love and forgiveness and interdependence and generosity. Living as a person and with people guided Jesus to a kind of wisdom that the immortal God could never achieve on its own. Christians believe that this newfound grace then became the spiritual law, which would mean that Jesus either changed his father’s perspective, or his dad stepped down and ceded power. Either way, the Biblical God then recognizes the limits of his knowledge or power or both, and must have operated with some level of humility.
It’s not dissimilar to Buddha’s story. While Siddhartha Gautama was not the son of a God, he was a prince, and with his rich and powerful father blocking his exposure to any suffering, the future Buddha lives much like a god. Once he is exposed to death, illness, and aging, his curiosity leads him to escape his confinement of comfort. Only then, living among regular people, experiencing their suffering and their attempts to cope with it, does he come to his understanding of how to live in the world.
Of course, one thing that Gautama’s and Jesus’ humanity implies is that we, fellow humans, could be as good as them. This is a hell of a weight for the true acolyte to carry, even if it is occasionally fortifying. I prefer viewing it from the flip side, knowing that without the hell that being human can be, those dudes would never have cultivated the wisdom they did. They knew how hard it was not to cling to the beautiful and terrible things of this world, which was how they could offer parables and paths to help us out of that attachment. It helps me better understand why we meditators use the body, the breath, sounds, all the things offered only to to the creatures of this earth, as a way to connect with the eternal, the infinite, the entities not of this earth. This fucked up, breathtakingly gorgeous, heartrending, boring, overwhelming life is not a pit stop on the way to enlightenment, it is the only vehicle that will get us there.