Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Was It?

I have been pondering this question for weeks, since attending the Living Proof LIVE event:
in the days when Jesus was on earth, what would make a Jewish person turn aside from centuries of tradition, culture and teaching to embrace the idea that the much longed-for Messiah had actually arrived? What would make them agree that Jesus was the One, and change their lives, being baptised into faith in him? What was so compelling about him, and about his message, that they just knew - or, at least, believed?

And what would make a pagan, an idol-worshiper, a member of the ruling class, not a Jew, turn from idols and believe that Jesus was the One, and that his way was The Way - that, in fact, he himself was The Way, the Truth and the Life? What would re-orient a person's life that much? What did they hear? What did they see, that made it worth turning their lives around, and over to God, through Jesus?
I remember the first time I heard about God; I was about four years old, and a brand-new student in Sunday School. My father had decided that our family needed to start going to church, and my mother agreed, so they took us to the only church he knew: the First Church of Christ, Scientist. On the wall of our Sunday School were the words "GOD IS LOVE," written in gold letters, all capitals. I recall thinking, "Of course!" It was the most natural thing to my four-year old mind; it just made sense.

Though I am no longer a Christian Scientist, I still see Christianity as primarily an experience of LOVE - the love of God - showed to us in various ways, times and places, but totally illustrated in the life of Jesus. Perhaps belief or faith is the gate, but the experience, the message and the only kernel of truth worth taking with me to my grave, whatever happens - is love. What else could cross all cultural, intellectual, emotional, practical, time/space and spiritual boundaries with such a powerful and lasting attraction? Faith, in my experience, is not something that everyone possesses, desires, understands or receives willingly. But love - that's a different thing. Everyone can give love, and everyone desires it.

Perhaps before we can receive faith, move beyond skepticism or even belief, we need to be touched by love. Perhaps love is the activator of dormant faith - faith which exists as potential within us all.

"Jesus said to his disciples:
'I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
...Everything that the Father has is mine...
the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me
and have come to believe that I came from God.

I came from the Father and have come into the world.
Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father...
Father, the hour has come...that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ
I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world...
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.' " - John 16, 17

Those who didn't hear Jesus himself had an opportunity to hear about him from Paul (previously known as Saul, a former deadly persecuter of those who believed that Jesus was the One). When speaking to the gentiles, Paul showed his understanding of their background, and made a beautiful, clear statement to them in Athens:
" 'You Athenians, I see that in every respect
you are very religious.
For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines,
I even discovered an altar inscribed, "To an Unknown God."
What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.
The God who made the world and all that is in it,
the Lord of heaven and earth,
does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,
nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything.
Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.
He made from one the whole human race
to dwell on the entire surface of the earth,
and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions,
so that people might seek God,
even perhaps grope for him and find him,
though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
For "In him we live and move and have our being,"
as even some of your poets have said,
"For we too are his offspring."
Since therefore we are the offspring of God,
we ought not to think that the divinity is like an image
fashioned from gold, silver, or stone by human art and imagination.
God has overlooked the times of ignorance,
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent
because he has established a day on which he will 'judge the world
with justice' through a man he has appointed,
and he has provided confirmation for all
by raising him from the dead.' "    - Acts 17

Paul told them the good news of the love of God, declaring His nature and will, in words that they understood (using their own poetry to illustrate his point). What a bold witness he was!
"The essence of Christianity, and what makes it distinct from...other religions, is the knowledge of God as our Father. Jesus makes it possible for each of us to personally know God as our Father. To see Jesus is to see what God is like. In Jesus we see the perfect love of God – a God who cares intensely and who yearns over men and women, loving them to the point of laying down his life for them upon the Cross. Jesus is the revelation of God – a God who loves us completely, unconditionally and perfectly."  - from

I'm starting to believe that this love is the "good news" that made people, Jews and gentiles alike, turn from what they knew to an entirely new way of living, when they heard Jesus, his disciples and Paul speak. And it is still good news today, and needed as much as ever. I'm not talking about religion, but the Word of Love.

If we could receive that Word afresh, with ears like those hearing His message for the first time, perhaps we would find that Love activates faith. Faith leads to experience. Experience confirms faith, which increases faith, and leads to gratitude, praise and more love.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God,
because God is love.
This is how God showed his love among us:
he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
This is love:
not that we loved God,
but that he loved us
and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Dear friends, since God so loved us,
we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God;
but if we love one another,
God lives in us
and his love is made complete in us.."   - 1 John 4

This I believe.


Anonymous said...

You amazement all the time. The ability to articulate is a gift.......from God;). I found this very interesting. My theology husband will love. We both are finally ready to spread our wings and visit, when you will have us. For three yrs, we have been dormant. The pain of losing Henry. Then, the pain of George's illness. But, we made it - we made it with love. And, yes. That came from my knowledge that faith is real. And, that came from mainly, Henry's illness experience. I think the reason I love to hate children cancer wards is because it's most clos I've eve felt to God. Hmmmm. Maybe , besides having my children, sending of Henry before the rest of us and mourning the death of Mikes mother - whom, I considered to be a modern day Mother Teresa, in her own right. Being around the non judgmental services my heart, the way I feel when I drop the car off for a tune up. I miss them. But, know deep in my being THERE IS MORE. And, God is LOVE. In our darkest hours, God shines a light. We can look towards it or as some do, look away. I know myself, I believe and I love you. Everything about you, x. Mother tucker

HWHL said...

Absolutely beautiful and profound Karen... loved this... SO much.

Kimberly Barillas-Tilley said...

Perfect. Like God's love for us.

Kay said...

Beautifully written! Love this post.

Anonymous said...

I believe. Beautiful. Renee arcement