This Is The Sound Of Settling

Tom Wright is in town at the end of the week to talk about the Da Vinci Code so I thought, in the fashion of the old guy from the Fast Show, this week I will mostly be writing about the Bishop of Durham.

Over the weekend I read a lovely little book he put together to accompany a BBC series in 1996 called The Original Jesus. It is a neat little book when you consider the content. If you consider the design and layout of the book however your brain starts to bleed and you will have to spend the rest of the day with cotton wool in your ears. He asks a question at one point,

Can I, as a historian, say that Jesus is God?

This is a question he gets asked fairly often once people find out about his academic credentials. I love his answer and so I will share it here. To ask that question is to imply that we have certain knowledge about what God is like (or not like). We know an awful lot about Jesus, about when he lived and how he died, the things he taught and the big things he did. We know what he believed he was doing and we know how he thought he had to do it. But we know very little, if anything, about God that can be agreed upon. The Christian should not be preoccupied therefore with the question “Is Jesus God?” because for is “What does Jesus tell us about God?”

The first question assumed some kind of God. Maybe an old guy with a beard who watches us like a kind hearted voyuer and is very concerned with some rules and laws that he thinks matter. But that God and Jesus can’t be reconciled. When Christians say they believe Jesus is divine we can’t meant that Jesus is God in the sense that we imagine him to be. We mean he is God in the sense that God is. Our ideas about God don’t impact on the reality of God; the God revealed most fully in Jesus.

This point probably touches on the whole question of whether the God of the Old Testament is different from He of the New Testament. As a Christian I say “hell no!” But starting at Jesus might help others to see this. The God who is revealed in Jesus is big enough to create the universe and sustain it. He is big enough to take on death and defeat it. But he is tender and compassionate to everyone he meets. He is the person who meets the Samaritan woman and welcomes her back into healthy relationship with God, with herself and with her community. He is the person who saves the woman caught in adultery, respects her and frees her to live a new life. He is the person who embraces Peter, who has denied him. This might seem obvious to the Christians out there but I think it is profound: Jesus is God with a human face.

The God of the Old Testament is the same as this God, Jesus. He raises his people up to reach great heights of justice. He longs and laments for his people like a cuckolded husband. He protects his people like a Mother Hen. The God of the New and Old Testament “is most clearly recognisable as God when he dies on the cross, sharing and bearing the weight of the world’s evil and pain”.

Is there enough evidence to say that Jesus is God? Turn the question around and think on the life, death and after-afterlife of Jesus and ask what this tells us of God. This Jesus-God isn’t a prime mover who has gone off on his lunch break, or a strict disciplinarian waiting for you to mess up. He is not merely concerned with rule-following and doctrine. This God we see in Jesus is flesh and blood lit by the love of God, a human being bearing the sacrificial love of God to us. Personal, accessible and openly seeking to relate to us.

Your Correspondent, You should probably drive him home.

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