Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Finger Pointing

The Buddha says, "My teaching is not a dogma or a doctrine, but no doubt some people will take it as such."  The Buddha goes on to say, "I must state clearly that my teaching is a method to experience reality and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself.  A thinking person makes use of the finger to see the moon.  A person who only looks at the finger and mistakes it for the moon will never see the real moon."  *

I have been wrestling with Christianity.  Sometimes, I feel like a rather odd Christian.  Although it's a feeling that comes and goes, lately I've questioned whether I even belong in a church.  You see, I don't believe that Jesus is God.  I believe that Jesus is God's beloved son and that Jesus is God's Messiah, and that Jesus perfectly conveyed God's Way and Will.  I love Jesus.  I greatly appreciate everything Jesus did and said.  I thank God for Jesus.  I just don't believe Jesus was, or is, God.  I believe God is bigger than Jesus.  When I pray, I pray to God, not to Jesus.

My understanding mostly comes from reading the Bible, especially the Gospels.  In the New Testament, Jesus is titled variously as "God's Son," "Messiah," "Lord," and "a prophet mighty in word and deed."  Even for John, the only writer in the canon who came close to equating Jesus with God through a series of metaphors, Jesus is still called "God's Son."  But even more significantly, Jesus himself speaks of God as his Father, he prays to God, and submits his will to God.  Jesus is continually telling people about God's forgiveness and mercy, pointing people to seek God and His Kingdom.  Jesus seemed to see God as a separate entity, as separate from himself.

However, anyone familiar with church history will know that somewhere along the way this separation between Jesus and God began to blur for some followers, culminating in the compromise denoted in the Nicene Creed, in 325 C.E., in which Jesus is both God's Son and "True God from True God."  And then this creed became a universal statement of belief for all Christians.  Thus, to put it in the context of the Buddha's words above:  the finger became the moon.  The one who pointed to God, became God. 

It's problematic for me, for many reasons.  For one, it's confusing:  Jesus now fully divine, must also be fully human in order for his life and death to make sense; the Son is God, the Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but there is only one God; one plus one plus one equals one.  Does that mean that Jesus was praying to himself?  Or that God died?  Or that Jesus sits at the right hand of himself?  Although I can accept a great deal of mystery when it comes to God, and I understand paradox, such statements are just plain illogical.

Now, you may wonder... What's the big deal?  After all, it's just a belief.  And, personally, I don't believe God approves or disapproves of us based on our beliefs.  But I'm learning that how you think about God matters.  It matters because very often it translates into how you treat your neighbor.  And that, I believe, does matter to God.  Which is another reason this particular belief is problematic.  If you believe that Jesus is God, then you just might think that only Christians follow God, or that God only accepts Christians.  And that's when the finger pointing really begins!

Recently I watched the movie, "God is Not Dead," with my two older boys, a friend of theirs, and two youth from the church.  Though I liked parts of it, it brought many of my concerns to the forefront.  I liked the young protagonist sticking up for his faith in the face of great opposition.  I liked the different intersecting stories, showing the various struggles many people go through:  the pastor's desire to make a difference; the believer in relationship with an unbeliever; being loved for who we are, not for what we do; the devastation of losing a parent; the fear of one's own death.  Granted, some parts of the movie were a bit predictable:  the conversion from disbelief to belief in God for several of the characters.  However, near the end of the movie, it suddenly dawned on me that God was equated with Jesus, and only by confessing Jesus as one's Lord and Savior would you be with God in Heaven.  Unless you do this, verbally, you will be eternally separated from God.  What started out as a movie about God, became a "movement" for Jesus.  Now, even though I consider myself a Christian, this is not the message I want my kids to learn.  I was also very sorry that my son's Jewish friend had to hear this "Christian" message.

Coincidentally, just after watching this movie, I came across the following passage in the book I've been reading:  "A Church of Her Own:  What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit," by Sarah Sentilles -- which is about the sexism that is found in many churches.  I read, "My theological mentor at Harvard, Gordon Kaufman, once told me that asking whether or not there is a God is not the right question.  What interests Gordon is not whether God exists but rather what difference human words about God might make."  (pg. 244)  And I wondered... What difference did, and does, Jesus' words about God make?  What did Jesus have to say about God that is different from what others had to say?

That God Loves.  Patiently.  Mercifully.  Freely.  Unreservedly.  Eternally.  Perfectly.

That makes a huge difference to me.  I hope it does for you.

May the Peace 
which passes understanding
be with you


* from "Old Path, White Clouds," by Thich Nhat Hanh


Elizabeth Stember said...

Dear Pam,
I love how you have the absolute courage to share your questions and your doubts regardless of whether they be politically correct or provocative for some to read. I treasure that courage in you as it allows me the same opportunity and a safe place to share my questions and doubts. Thank you for being so authentic. It is priceless in this world today. Love, Elizabeth

Pamela Keane said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. Your courage, in the face of violence and opposition, also inspires me. Love you,