Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Finding Jesus Christ: "I have come down from heaven"

Click here for an explanation about this series: "Finding Jesus Christ."

One sitting through the movie The Gospel of John should have made it obvious to you that Jesus continually exhorted his followers to believe that he was who he claimed to be. That wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't that Jesus made so many radical claims about himself.

Now, any religious charlatan knows that when you're trying to gain a following, you should make claims that at least sound plausible. Say that you're a prophet, or a wise teacher. Say that you saw a vision, or that you once healed a man. Don't aim too high, and for heaven's sake make sure nothing that you say can be verified one way or another. You certainly don't go around claiming that you're the Son of God, that you came down from heaven, that your own flesh and blood are the true food and drink of the world, that you will resurrect all believers from their graves on the last day, and then back up your words by publicly healing people, raising the dead in broad daylight and finally raising yourself from the dead too. Yet according to John's gospel Jesus did all that. He wasn't exactly playing it safe, and neither was John by reporting these things.

If Jesus really was the Son of God who came down from heaven, it would all make sense. But what about this claim, and what did he mean by it? He didn't mean he dropped bodily out of the sky, did he? He wouldn't have gotten away with it anyhow, since a lot of the time he was talking to people from his home town with whom he grew up. You might recall one scene where Jesus was teaching a crowd at a lakeshore and a man stood atop a boulder and said, "This man is Jesus, son of Joseph isn't he? We know his father and mother. How then does he now say that he 'came down from heaven'?"

Point taken. What Jesus actually meant was that he existed in heaven before his birth as a human being. He existed the way God has always existed, which means he was claiming to be equal with God--which, by the way, is the same as claiming to be God. And yet he came down from heaven to take to himself a human body and a human soul, and to be born into this world as an infant through a regular human mother. In other words: the Christmas story. The Son of God became the son of man so that he could live among the creatures that he himself made.

The question is whether this claim is true.

How can you know? It's impossible to have absolute, scientific proof about whether someone really has come from heaven, mainly because you are on the earth. You've never been to heaven. You don't know what heavenliness is like. You can't travel up there to investigate, to interview the beings who live there. The one claiming to be from heaven can only come down and try to convince you. He will try to reason with your earth-bound mind, give modest displays of his heavenly abilities without freaking you out too much, and demonstrate that no earthly powers--not evil, not suffering, not even death--can defeat him.

If that much credibility can be established, then the rest--the part that is beyond your mind to comprehend--can be taken on faith. Not a blind, wishful-thinking, stab-in-the-dark type faith, but a faith that is the natural trajectory of what reason, love, morality, sanity, gut and need are already telling you about the one who is making this claim.

Whether such faith can be demanded of us is something I'll talk about next time.