Foundation for Faith
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth John 18:37.
In chapter 18 containing John’s account of Jesus before Pilot, he has Jesus say, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” This is a primary theme of John’s. Truth occurs 21 times in the Gospel of John, more than 3 times the number in the Synoptic Gospels combined, and more often than in any other book in the Bible.
Christian faith is often depicted as strong belief and little if any doubt about matters that in truth are unbelievable. I wish to suggest that faith should be a matter of complete trust and confidence in something. That begs the question, “Can a strong Christian faith engender doubt?” I reply with a resounded, “Yes!”
That in which one has complete trust and confidence should be the most fundamental of concepts, the “bottom line” or underpinning theme. Occam’s razor is a principle of logic attributed to mediaeval philosopher William Occam. It states that one should make no more assumptions than necessary to make a point. Yet over the centuries we have added layer after layer onto the essential message of Jesus. So, what is the essence of Christian faith, the ultimate theme when one strips away the addons?
I suggest that the basis of Christian faith should simply be Jesus is truth. It is reported that the ancient teacher Hillel once said, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Jesus is truth, the rest is commentary.
So, if Jesus as truth is the fundamental foundation of faith what comes next? Can we skip things like the virgin birth, healing miracles, resurrection, creeds and doctrines? Yes, if you take them literally to convince yourself that he should be an object of worship. But, no, if you take these episodes as a means of describing the nature of the subject for our salvation. For example, in Jesus’ time people had limited understanding of conception. The prevailing understanding was that women, like mother earth, received the seed and grew the baby. If she did it right a young male would be born. She contributed nothing other than nurturance in her womb to the process, no genetic contribution. God’s seed implanted in Mary is a metaphor for Jesus’ nature being not of human essence, but solely of God. This theme is reinforced in the metaphors of Jesus’ baptism where the voice of God says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” and at the Transfiguration where a voice from a cloud said “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”.
In Jesus’ time illness was a curse from God. His healing parables teach us of Jesus’ compassion. Illness and injury just happen. Jesus as subject or model for us is not to blame the victim, but to have compassion and provide healing for them. Resurrection is the metaphor for the continuing existence of the truth of Jesus as expressed in John 1:5 as “The light (that) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
So, what do we as Christians do? First, we stop using belief statements as litmus tests to determine who is a Christian and who fails to measure up. Second, if Jesus is truth, we must study his life. Perhaps good places to begin are the greatest commandment, parable of the Good Samaritan, and Sermon on the Mount. Third, make cultural adjustments to Scripture to determine what may be relevant for today. For example, his admonition against divorce is based on conditions in his time when most divorced woman were plunged into desperate poverty. Today that is not the case and divorce while unfortunate is not cause for enduring shame.
Let’s make Jesus the subject for our salvation and downplay him as an object of worship, for what greater worship can there be than emulation?