Saturday, August 17, 2013

Where is Jesus? The Left and Right Brained “Answers” about Finding the Heart of Jesus

In the previous post, I noted Rachel Held Evans' comment concerning why churches can't retain young people in their membership. Here is a quote from her article at CNN article, Why Millennials are Leaving the Church on the Belief Blog:
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances. 
In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular. . .

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

In pondering the banter of rhetorical questions concerning this subject, I could not help but to answer the next obvious question about where Jesus really is and where we can find Him. I think that my answer is two fold: one is left-brained and the other one is a right-brained answer of narrative.

The Left Brained Answer: Whose Gospel are They Preaching?

I already talked about the “gospel of discipline” and the hatred of sinners, and that concept brings an interesting study I read some time ago about how we perceive God, His character, and how closely He interacts with us. The USA Today article cites a study that postulates that these considerations profoundly affect how we behave when it comes to religious matters.

*Take the God Test HERE*

The article broke down our perceptions of God into four classifications:
  • Authoritative God
    • Sinners are nails, and God is a big, angry hammer
    • High judgment/high engagement
  • Critical God
    • Tough love and criticism now, and maybe comfort later
    • High judgment/low engagement
  • Benevolent God
    • God might be tough, but He's trustworthy and a lover
    • Low judgment/high engagement
  • Distant God
    • God was the watchmaker and winder who sits back and watches now
    • Low judgement/low engagement
I clearly identify strongly with the Benevolent God that the article identifies, and I see the disparagements between my concept of God and what I suspect is that of the Calvinistas who follow the Authoritative God. From the article:
The issue of tragedy clearly reveals an important distinction between the Authoritative and Benevolent Gods. Two people with different images of God may see signs of divine intervention in the midst of the same event, yet interpret God's actions and motivations differently. Someone with an Authoritative view of God is more likely to believe that God either caused a bad event to happen or allowed it to happen to teach someone a lesson. Someone with a Benevolent image of God is unlikely to see God's hand in the tragedy itself, but does see evidence of God's presence in stories of amazing coincidences or apparent miracles that saved people from disaster.

What bothers me about those who tend to see God as more authoritative (or authoritarian), is that the black and white thinking that tends to follow the groups that manifest it will claim that because I see so much mercy in God that this automatically means that I do not find God's holiness to be about the most sobering concept I can imagine or that I have no regard for God's rules. I follow them out of love because of the high price that Jesus paid for me and because of the great love and mercy that I am always shown – or at least that I see in what happens to me and others. I find meaning and transcendence in the Benevolent God, but I don't see it in what this article calls the Authoritative God, though I think that He defines the very meaning of the word. I'd also note that I don't have all the answers, but I see more of a push to have a trite answer for every complex problem and mystery in those that follow the Authoritative option.

Jesus may be in there somewhere in that Authoritative God concept, but people don't see Him often enough. I see Jesus in the Benevolent God.

The Left Brained Answer: A Tale of Two Narratives

For me, the question of “Where is Jesus?” is best summed up by things that aren't necessarily Biblical, so I don't want to assert that they are. They are a way of communicating what I think of as my Benevolent Jesus, and what I feel about Him. The ways in which people behave send a message that is like this when they do the things that I think that Jesus would do if He were present – if He were living through the people who play the parts of the events in my life. I've got two narratives that speak this to me very powerfully.

His Attitude. I once met a stranger on a plane, and as so many if not most of my conversations end up wrapped around my faith, we started talking about the love of Jesus for us. This woman said something beautiful to me about Jesus' attitude of love for us.

One day, we will be sitting at the greatest banquet that anyone has ever known – at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We will be thrilled to be there, and it will be more wonderful and fine than anything we can imagine. We will hear a voice from behind us, asking us if there is anything that we want or need, calm and gentle and sweet in tone. When we turn to look, expecting to see an angel, instead, we see our Savior, serving us. At the marriage supper, at His own and our own, His heart for us is still the same. He wants to care for us.

I wept when I heard this and I weep every time I think about it. Despite my sins and my shortcomings, the Ancient of Days and the Mind of the Ages loves me and cares for me, even when you'd think that protocol would give Him the day off. When I see this love and care in the people around me in the spirit of benevolence, I see Jesus. This is where He is.

His Time and Attention. I heard a minister that I love tell a little story before he preached once, and it had nothing to do with the sermon. Sometimes I think that the Holy Spirit had him say it just for me.

The man was an evangelist and often travelled to the Holy Land, and he'd just come back from a trip there. On the tours there, many places that you visit will impress upon you that Jesus was known to have been right there, back when He walked the earth, and so many pictures will show you one site or another. I remember being very disappointed when I saw the alleged birthplace of Jesus. It didn't glow or fill me with any special feeling. It was just a picture. I always figured that you had to go for yourself to stand there to have the special feeling of greater connection to the events that took place there.

Having been there so many times before, he prayed on the long flight over from the US for God to give him a powerful witness if Jesus had really been exactly where the tourist spots claimed. He said that on the first few places, he didn't feel a thing – almost less emotion than he would normally feel just from thinking about the historical events that were said to have taken place at these places. Near the end of the trip, he'd almost forgotten his special request in prayer on the trip. 

On the last day there, he was getting ready to return to the airport, and a group of very poor, sad, destitute people were gathered together at a roadside caught his attention, picking through what looked like trash. He saw people representing all ages, from the very young to the very old. Suddenly, he felt like the world had stopped turning on its axis for a moment as the scene caught his attention, as if there was no one else there in the City of Jerusalem save for himself and the members of this sad lot. He started to weep as He heard in every part of his being the words, “I spent a lot of time here.”

Finding Jesus

We are called as Christians to make sure that our thoughts are captive to the Word of God, and that our doctrine is right. We are told to study it until it changes us and conforms us, and God then transforms us into His image through the power of the Holy Spirit. As God does that, what others see in our behavior and our conduct should become more and more like that of Jesus. As Walter Martin said, we must have both fruits: that of the doctrine taught as well as that of the life lived. Here are two iconic examples of where I see Jesus in “the life lived.”

When I think of where Jesus is, these are two of the first “places” that pop into my my mind, and I cannot even think of them without tears rolling down my face. When I see tenderness and compassion, care without pretense, true humility, love in action in the lives of others – I see Jesus. And these things challenge me and resonate with that hope in me that people can see some of these things in me every now and then, and hopefully, more and more.

I know that I can find forgiveness and understanding in the arms of that Benevolent God – even when I fail, no matter how often. He's the God, the One who made the very stars to shine, whose lap I crawl into in prayer and can dwell in that place even after the prayer ends, where I am honest and helpless and restored and loved.