Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Christological Question

This week marks my return to classes, and it has already prompted some thinking! Most particularly last night when I waded my way through a most difficult bit of reading by a guy called Ogden, who really really needs to learn how to write in a way that doesn't make his reader feel like their head is being encased in fast-drying concrete... Anyways! Concrete notwithstanding he made some interesting claims.

The Christological question is normally expressed as "Who is Jesus?". Ogden showed that because Jesus is the revelation of God that the primary question is really "Who is God?". But he went on to say that this is important because it answers the existential question, "Why am I here?" (etc). So the question of who Jesus/God is, is really one of "What does God mean for

In one section he claimed that the "I am" statements in John should actually be translated "it is I". And that as such those statements are answering a different question to "Who is Jesus?". Rather the question is "Who is the bread of life?", the answer being "It is Jesus". His argument was that "who/what is the bread of life?", "who/what is the light of the world?" etc are the existential questions of life, it is how we confront "the meaning of life". As such he argued that the Christological question is not only "Who is Jesus?" and "Who is God?", but also "Who am I?".

I think this presents some opportunities and some problems. Firstly, the opportunities... Non-christians typically aren't asking the question "Who is Jesus?" they are typically asking "Why is there so much suffering?", "what will make me happy?", "why am I never satisfied?" etc. So if you take the "I am / It is I" statements in John they could be very useful evangelistically. If we convert the "I ams" into questions of "Who is the bread of life?" answer being "Jesus", then it might provide a handy list of typical questions (although metaphorical) that people are asking, for which we will readily recognise the answer as JESUS!

Where this worries me is that it removes focus from Christ and puts it on us, and makes who He is only worthy of contemplation because of how it will work out in my life. Now realistically none of us are entirely altruistic, none of us are completely disinterested in our pursuit of God, honestly none of us can give Him anything that wasn't already His by rights anyway, however! However, this seems to me to have come out of a post-Descartes way of thinking. Prior to Descartes life was reasoned from the perspective of the unchanging and permanentness of God. Descartes shifted thinking so that his starting point was himself, he reasoned that he existed because he thought, his famous line, cogito ergo sum "I think, therefore I am".

He then went on to reason that because a finite mind could not conceive on its own of the infinite that the fact we have the idea of an infinite God means that such a being must exist and have planted the idea in our minds. However, in Exodus 3:14 when Moses asks who he should say sent him, God's answer is "I am who I am". Descartian thinking flies directly in the face of this statement, only God's existence can be extrapolated from for He is the only one who is completely sufficient, and self-existant, whereas we are here today, gone tomorrow.

The danger in extrapolating from us up to God is that we end up making God in our own image. We see this happen all the time. God is revealed as 'Father' but because some people's experience of their natural fathers is negative they have difficulty in relating to God as Father. We project onto God the limitations and hurts and disappointments of our life and let that form our view of Him. This leads us to believe lies about God as our view of Him is formed out of lies we believe about ourselves.

Whereas if we start with how God has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus, and through the scriptures, we can then more accurately extrapolate from who He is BACK to who we are. In which case, the Johannine "I am" statements are more useful in the "I am" form than the "It is I" form. Given that we were never meant to live without Christ, we should never have had to ask the existential question "What is the way, the truth, the life?". The "I am" statements are the truth that always was, we just did not see it as our minds were clouded, I think Jesus was just reminding us.

Another example of this is in the case of suffering. We are prone to ask, "Why is God letting me suffer? What have I done?" And we assume that He must be angry or not love us, and therefore feel less prone to draw close to Him. However, if we start from the revelation of who He is in scripture, and are secure in His love as revealed through the person of Christ, it casts a completely different shadow on the issue of suffering. Who He is, is more definitive than what we experience. Because we know He loves us with an everlasting love we can rest peacefully, amid the suffering, that He will "work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose" (Ro 8:28), even when we do not understand how.

I think who God is, is the primary question, because its answer will cause the rearrangement of all else. It is who God is that drives everything, not the existential questions. Focussing on the existential questions is getting the cart before the horse. You can't answer them without knowing the answer to the question, "Who is Jesus?". I think "Who is Jesus?" IS the existential question of life.

Maybe I'm saying the same thing as Ogden... I just think the emphasis needs to be on God and His revelation as the starting point, not our existential questions. I fear that if we start with the existential questions we end up with the answer "42". I think in finding out who Jesus is we inevitably find out who we truly are, but I think it is a happy consequence not the point, because He deserves to be known and glorified even if benefits us nothing :-)

God bless,

No comments: