One of my friends put up the picture at the left on Facebook, so here I am forwarding it and expanding its pernicious reach. Go figure. If it brings you down, I apologize. No matter how painful the dialogue, it is better to have it than to hide, I think.
I couldn’t resist responding to my friend, so I almost got in to one of those email exchanges in which young men, usually, can argue a point for a few weeks and feel hurt when they don’t feel heard but act righteously self-reliant when confronted. I am not very adept at those, but I don’t mind blogging.
I have been suffering a little about this poster. It is painfully accurate. I wish it had shown a picture of Christians and not Jesus, but then it would not have been nearly as effective. I think most people leave faith in Jesus behind because of the Christians, not Jesus. They end up thinking that Christians are just as self-interested as unbelievers, only they have an overlay of religion in the way of being as real as unbelievers. I think a lot of former believers might admit they first thought Christians might be “full of shit” when their relationship with a believer could not fulfill their needs any better than the others who didn’t. Jesus, prayer, the Christians – everything was so disappointing!
My rather small response to the poster was, “Yes, people do pray like that. BUT — if Jesus’ prayer was doing jack shit, people would not STILL be tying to take him down.” That’s more of a confession than a recommendation. I got kind of personal with whoever made that pernicious and effective poster. I had to admit that my fellow-believers often use prayer as a retreat from living and an excuse for inaction. But I had to state the obvious, as well, that when Jesus prays, “Not my will but yours be done” in the garden, there are world-changing results that changed me, too!
I won’t repeat my whole reply, since friends need space to work with all the relational issues and understandings that probably need to get on the table along with the arguments. But there were two questions brought up in the exchange that I think I run into quite often. So I want to take a shot at speaking to everyone about them.
If Jesus is God, why is it that he struggles with humans taking him down? Why is God in a struggle with things he has all power over?
Are all cultures preoccupied with power, or is it mainly the empire-building Americans? The Christians seem to be zoomed in on God being “in control.” The more disempowered they are socially, the more dramatic the lust for power seems to be.
God is in a struggle with things he has power over because of his great love. He wants the relationship, not just the fruit of his power. God created beings with whom there could be a struggle in order to expand love in the universe. I think that is the usual and best response to the age-old question. God, in the person of Jesus (and alive in His Spirit, stumbling around in the body of Christ, the church) is the ultimate expression of this struggle. Jesus is so identified with humans, he is tempted to “take God down” by not fulfilling his destiny when he is praying in the garden. God has the same internal struggle we do – to not merely be “in control.”
Hasn’t humankind created God and all other gods, and that’s why ascendant cultures replace them over time?
My friend is “post-Christian” right now. I haven’t asked him if that’s his way of looking at it. But he is insightful, intelligent and can see that the culturally-subsumed Christianity of his childhood is breaking down and being replaced by a multicultural religion of tolerance and general unbelief in all “gods.” A new culture appears to be ascendant; it is certainly taught by all our schools and is the main propaganda of our media! If twentysomethings are not skeptical when someone thinks an old picture of a white Jesus antiseptically praying in the garden might mean something, I don’t know why they aren’t. I am skeptical, too!
My answer (for now): Humankind has created gods. Cultures often march into battle with the god-emblem of their society at the front of the troops. Supposedly-Christian Americans are in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect “our way of life,” often symbolized by the constitution which enshrines individual rights. So the point is well-taken. Jesus is God right in the middle of that mess offering a true way out of the redundant cycle of ascendancy and fall. Jesus is restoring our true image, lest we create another monster-god in our own.
People answer these questions much better, of course. They often take whole books to do it well. N.T. Wright is making a whole prophetic career on trying to speak to our era about all these things – and quite successfully. I am writing a blog-entry in my PJs. I just wanted to speak back to the poster. I have a lot of affection for the friend who posted it. I wish I could talk to the person who made it originally. I’d like to know if he’s making the implications about my friend, Jesus, that he or she appears to be making.
6 thoughts on “Good Questions about Jesus”
I’m curious if the poster wielders need help with something and this is the way they’re asking.
This blog post is really similar to your talking back to those who challenge Christian Peacemakers, and I also wonder if the poster maker/wielders are implying that “doing something” means effectively destroying others who are perceived as dangerous. To that I would say, “you’re right, we’re not gonna do that ‘jack shit’, we just might pray instead.”
When we begin to think that what we “feel,” as the poster implies, is the center of prayer–we have a problem. Naturally, prayer is about some variety of submission, but also stillness, and in some cases, “nothingness.” The ability to be still and contemplative, in God’s presence, without being distracted by our lives or our feelings is world-changing, in fact. I guess my point is that if you are preoccupied with how you feel, then you are indeed doing much more than “jack shit.”
I think if you believe that Jesus = Santa Claus or a Magic Jeanie lamp then yeah, prayer is going to let you down hard. If you’re banking on God magically doing whatever comes out of your mouth without you putting in some hard work and having some tough conversations…then you’re probably delusional. Pray doesn’t do “jack shit” without work. If we just pray, weep and do nothing in response to God’s voice that we can hear when we deeply listen and remove the chaos around us then prayer will fail you miserably. Embrace Christ’s light within you and do something! Look at prayer as a constant conversation with God and notice His beauty everywhere and in everyone. Then, you’ll see your prayers really coming to life with God’s help and then you won’t be doing “jack shit” and being those hypocritical Christians we all seem to loathe so much.
Wow! I have to admit, to my own disappointment, that I chuckled when I read the poster. Thankfully, that chuckle was immediately followed by conviction in which God helped me to realize my own “lack of expectation” in the power of “prayer.” In times when I am truly “unable, incapable, without capacity” I pray and trust God because I know I have no other recourse. However, there are also times when I just don’t want to engage and I am tempted to use prayer as an “out” of having to really do anything. I realized that if that statement were true about “those Christians” then I must also consider it to be true of myself. I didn’t like that and don’t want that to be true. I pray God forgives me for being cynical, for using prayer as a way to hide from some things instead of engaging and confronting them as He leads. I’m sorry to have learned this about myself, but am thankful for the revelation because I can give it to God who can change it. Thanks for accountability.
While I risk seeming nieve or overly optimistic to think that a post-Christian might have regarded the poster in a positive light, I think my first impression of the poster (which is, of course, influenced by my love for Jesus) is an interpretation to consider, too, whether or not it was meant this way: “yeah, i didn’t do jack shit for God to love me or for Jesus to die on the cross; but He loves me anyway and that’s why he sent his Son”. Because it is written “for it is grace by which you have been saved through faith- and that not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
I’m going with you, Michelle.