The Path to Progress: Part Two

Jesus was the most radical, countercultural person in the history of humankind. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world and much of the church view him. Too many times Christians have done their best to domesticate him or (in the words of one of my New Testament professors) to put “the genie back into the bottle.” Three ways the church has tried to play down or dismiss the radicality of Jesus are a focus on doctrine rather than following Jesus; fighting among themselves over trivial issues; and substituting worshipping Jesus for authentic and costly discipleship. As Clarence Jordan said, “We’ll worship the hindlegs off of Jesus but won’t do a thing he says!” Worship without discipleship is a form of hypocrisy and blasphemy. 

But what does the radicality of Jesus have to do with the wisdom we must rediscover if we are to survive and thrive as beings created in the image of God? The etymology of the word “radical” goes back to the Latin word for “root.” (A radish is a root vegetable.) Throughout his ministry Jesus never wasted his time with the periphery of any issue or concern. He always went to the root or heart of the problem, dilemma, or question. As the Revealer of the nature of the one he called Abba, he was grounded in the Source of all being. (“Source” can serve as a synonym of “radical” when God is the Source.) 

One of the unique aspects of the Christian faith is the Incarnation. This theological concept claims that the Creator of this massive and exquisite universe has come into time and space in a Jew named Jesus and has come to reveal and give Herself for the sake of Her beloved creation. In other words, when we see Jesus, we see the eternal character and nature of God. God in Christ becomes for us the Source of our being and the Destiny of our becoming. Once we choose Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the totality of our lives is oriented to his wisdom, example, and person. In the words of Paul, he is the “mystery” which explains everything and which ultimately holds all things together through cosmic shalom—the indispensable key, the ultimate clue regarding the purpose and goal of every part of this universe. He is our source, our wisdom, and our destiny. 

In this article, I want to focus on the one part of the revelation he brings which serves as the basis for everything else he said and did. The church and individual Christians go astray when they forget this foundation. Above all else, Jesus reveals that God is love, but the divine love he unveils and fleshes out in his own time and space is radical to the core. Before looking at certain passages in the Gospels, I want to emphasize five characteristics of the love Jesus proclaimed, lived, and required of his followers. I have presented these characteristics elsewhere, but I return to them now because it’s so easy for all of us who claim to be his followers to omit some, if not all, of these characteristics in the love we offer to the world.

  1. Unconditional: God loves us (each and all of us) unconditionally. Nothing we will ever do or not do can cause God to stop loving us. God cannot not love because that is Her eternal and unchanging nature. When the author of I John chooses to express the essence of God, he says, “God is love.”  Every other characteristic of God is a facet of Her love including justice, holiness, righteousness, and even wrath. (Wrath is God’s refusal to let us destroy ourselves.) There is stubbornness and a ferocity to God’s love which does not allow for sentimentality or ultimate, self-destructive license. One might wonder how many sermons have violated the very essence of God’s character when preachers forget that God’s love is unconditional. “God loves you, but if you don’t love him back, he will torture you forever in the fires of hell with no hope of release.” (How could we ever have believed such cruel nonsense?)
  2. Indiscriminate: God does not love anyone in the world more than God loves you. And God does not love you any more than God loves anyone else. The way God may show that love may vary depending on the person. (Parents with more than one child understand that although they love all their children equally, they need to love them in ways that correspond to their children’s unique natures.) This aspect of God’s love abolishes any basis for assumed superiority, exclusion, and prejudice—three attitudes and practices we Christians have too often embraced when we forget that God’s love is indiscriminate.
  3. Self-giving: (I used to say “sacrificial” but abandoned that term because of the distorted and cruel ideas regarding atonement in the history of the church.) If love is genuine, it is costly. Love requires us to give of ourselves. I Corinthians 13 is a wonderful description of the nature of the love God has revealed through Christ and which we are called to emulate. To love unconditionally and indiscriminately requires patience, empathy, faithfulness, forbearance, trust, and hope. The cross is not about Jesus paying a price to assuage the wrath of God. The cross reveals the eternal nature of God as unconditional and indiscriminate love. Jesus’ prayer, “Abba, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing,” offered while he endured unspeakable torment shows us the very heart of God. We crucify God through those acts and attitudes which harm others because God’s solidarity with each part of Her creation is so deep and complete that when Her children hurt, She hurts. (See Matthew 25:40, 45.)
  4. Nonviolent: This aspect of God’s love is also revealed on the cross. Jesus came into a world where people offered sacrifices to their gods to appease them or to persuade them to grant blessings. God in Christ came to offer Herself for the healing and salvation of the whole universe. This “reversed sacrifice” is as radical as any religion can be. Defined by the Christ Event, love can never be violent—another lesson we too often have chosen to forget.
  5. Everlasting: God’s love for each and all of us (and for all creation) will never end. When the last star has flickered into oblivion, God’s love shall still endure. That love is God’s eternal “YES” to all She has made, and God will never rest until every chair at Her bounteous table of grace and joy is filled—even if such a universal homecoming can become a reality only in dimensions beyond our own. As Paul says, “Love never gives up.” Such is our Mother’s stubborn and relentless love.

In the next article, I will refer to those parts of the Christ Event which focus on this love and the implications of such love for those areas in life where we today need wisdom and guidance. But for now, I invite you to meditate on these five aspects of God’s love and to imagine how this divine revelation could impact us and our world as we face the metacrisis which looms ever closer on the horizon of this planet. In such love we will discover the wisdom we, our descendants, and this planet need. 

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