Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

Probing questions in Lent

Rev. John Zehring

March 21, 2019

On Easter Sunday, church attendance surges to overflowing. Longtime members whisper to one another how wonderful it would be if every Sunday could be like Easter. Additional services must be added in some congregations to hold all those who come to worship, to praise and to glorify God. The Easter message: “He is not here. He is risen!”

It can be an emotional Sunday. If the church were to ask and to listen to its people, it might hear that a number of its most devout members have some confusion, questions or doubt about Easter.  When do those members raise their questions and connect with others in conversation about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? Certainly not on Easter Sunday. And so, one of the best times to consider the questions of the curious is during Lent, when thinking people of faith can wonder and converse about the meaning of Easter.

One of the best times to consider the questions of the curious is during Lent, when thinking people of faith can wonder and converse about the meaning of Easter.

One of most challenging questions pondered by thinking Christians is: Was it a physical resurrection from the dead? A longtime church member told how she has a hard time with Easter because she does not really believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. The Easter message proclaims “He is not here. He is risen!” There may be devout and faithful people in your congregation who love God and follow Jesus but may question if it was a physical resurrection.  Is this question a threat? Do you think it might weaken your faith to even consider this question?  Do you think God would be upset if people question traditional or orthodox beliefs? 

What you think about Jesus is called your “Christology.” Do you think of Jesus as God or as man or as both? Was he more one than the other? Imagine it on a scale of one to ten.

At the highest end, the ten, the view of Christology holds that Jesus, the Christ, is 100% God. This is the highest Christology which believes that Jesus was not man but was God in a man’s body. “The Father and I are one,” Jesus said in John 10:30 (NRSV). Both are equally God. Later Jesus told the disciples “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9 NRSV). A ten on the scale holds that Jesus is purely divine and not human. Jesus is God.

On the other end, the one on the scale, the view of Christology holds that Jesus is 100% man.  This view believes that he was the son of God or a son of God because he told the truth about God. Jesus got it right better than anyone. He had an inspired view of who God is and what God is like. This view recognizes that in his teachings, Jesus of Nazareth did not point to himself, but he pointed to God. He did not say pray like this: “Our Jesus who art in heaven.” He did not propose that the greatest commandment was “To love the Lord your Jesus with all your heart, mind, soul, and might.” He did not encourage his followers to “Seek first the Kingdom of Jesus.”  He did not come to preach the good news of the kingdom of Jesus. It’s not about me, Jesus would have said. It’s about God. That is what is really important, is it not? So the low end of the Christology scale perceives a Christ who was the son of God, anointed by God, sent, inspired, pointing always to God. A man, teaching a way of life of love and forgiveness, the God-like way to live, the very best way for humans to live. Jesus is human.

In between, around the five on the scale, the view of Christology sees Jesus as possessing a dual nature, being both human and divine. Here Jesus is the Word become flesh: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14 NKJV) Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity. And Jesus is man, who suffered like us. He understands what we go through for he himself went through it. The reason there are two candles on many altars is to symbolize the two natures of Jesus: human and divine. Man and God. Both.

It is possible that in many congregations there exist people on every mark of that one-to-ten scale. The best gathering of God’s people is inclusive, embracing every person with all of their beliefs, doubts, warts and all. In God-like congregations, you can be a two, four, six, eight, or ten and still be a member of the Christian church. There is room for all.

It is possible that you may wake up on different days and find yourself at a different place on the scale. You might be all over the place. Some days you wake up and you are a ten, believing that Jesus is God, that he and the Father are one. Other days you wake up and perhaps you are a one, believing that what Jesus taught about God is what is important. Most days, perhaps, you fall in the four to six range. 

So which is correct? No one can tell you which number is exactly right, but anyone who insists that you must believe a certain way and be a specific number is wrong. No one can tell you where you must fall on the scale. You are just as welcome to your understanding of the nature of Christ and his resurrection. Wherever you fall on the scale, you can sing those Easter hymns however you want and still be welcome, included and valued. That kind of extravagant welcome seems downright God-like. Trying our best to be God-like is one million times more important than where a person falls on the belief-o-meter scale. God accepts and loves you as you are. Go and do likewise: accept others the same way, wherever they fall on the scale.

Our lives are rooted in belief, as Jesus taught “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29 NRSV). We are all still a work in progress, “coming” to believe. And yet, never be afraid of the quest for truth. God has nothing to fear from your search for truth or from your curiosity. And Jesus, called Rabboni or teacher by those who knew him best, could not be imagined to be insulted by a student who raises hard questions or who is curious. That is not the nature of a master teacher.

The Rev. John Zehring served in higher education leadership and them became senior pastor of United Church of Christ congregations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 40 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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