In this episode, the (possibly) Greatest Theologians of the 21st Century attempt to take on Jesus. I say attempt as they stray way off course and talk more about the churches reaction to Jesus and how we just mess it up so much, so often. They do manage to cover what exactly we mean when we say ‘Son of God’ so there’s that… They also look at the problems with church being insular; a social club, rather than an outreach and the problem that causes when wishing to question dogma or doctrine. Not that Dangerous or Sir Tom have any issue doing so as you will hear…
I agree with you, dear fellow, in the broad outline of what you’re saying. I don’t, however, agree with the linking of Jesus to the appearances you mention in the OT. If the Bible says God sent an angel to shut the lion’s mouths then it was a lion. I also think there is a strong presence for a few archangels doing a lot of work through the OT and into the NT up until Jesus’ birth and I don’t feel the need to detract from that. Jacob had to have wrestled with God because a/ he says he did and b/ his name would make no sense if he hadn’t.
Still you paint a great picture of Jesus and I totally agree with everything you say about how He was hidden yet referenced throughout; though I am currently in a stage where I believe Jesus was hidden because He did not exist apart from God at this time.
My thing, as I’ve said, is that Jesus was the literal word of God; John states that clearly and The Apocalypse 19 v13 – 16 also make that clear, I feel. And actually thinking about it now I wonder if we can never, not even on the New Earth truly see and understand who and what God is and that Jesus takes on a mantle of being the tactile ruler of Eternity for that reason. Hmm. That is deep and needs more thought.
More to the point though, is that, though all you say is true, it does not actually deal with the moniker of ‘Son of God’. It tells us brilliantly who He is and how He is addressed through the OT, but it does not deal with the idea of whether Jesus is a son or not. And this was what I wanted to deal with.
Again I feel that the Daniel verses put a spanner in the works for what you said before as again they talk about, let’s face it, Jesus as being “given authority, glory and sovereign power”, not had it already because He was God. When it comes to Jesus we seem to happily see-saw between theologies on Him. This is Mannish Boy Theology because it really questions our accepted wisdom of who Jesus is, or more accurately questions whether we have a true doctrine of Him.
Still I think you have nailed it in many ways with your window analogy. I guess that links to what I said above about whether He is a tactile ruler of Heaven, i.e. God in a form we can mentally understand. I also totes agree that we need to talk Revelation Jesus, though we should call the book The Apocalypse as it sounds waaaaay cooler. Apocalypse Jesus should be our band name!
I would love to hear your further thoughts on this, but if we run out of time before recording I think we can agree with this. Jesus was somehow God and that through His death and resurrection He somehow bridged the gap between us and God. We won’t talk about how that might have happened as that will be another podcast, one that also includes a lot of doctrine that I find iffy.
What a surprise!
Peace and SMASHY
Dangerous, my dear old thing,
The most reverent and humble SMASH to you, sir.
My own understanding of how Jesus’ ‘Son of God,’ status fits in is as follows: the people of Israel knew their God as ‘One’ and worshipped him in awe and wonder (and even sheer fear), largely from a distance. Sure, certain people were called into a closer, more intimate relationship with the Lord (Abraham, Moses, David) and the people knew that God loved them and provided for them, but their understanding of and relationship to God was far more detached than what we now enjoy in Christ. And throughout that whole period, God always seems to be hinting at something else: there’s something further, something deeper, something hidden and secret that is going on in the background. And that ‘something else’ is definitely a person. Think about it: remember the episode where Daniel’s unpronounceable friends get thrown into the fiery furnace? The King looks into the fire and sees a ‘fourth person’ walking about and talking with them, one who ‘looked like a son of God.’ Who is that? An angel? For me, that is too simple. There’s someone else. Or how about Daniel himself when he’s rescued from the Lion’s Den? He tells the king, “God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths.” Angel? Maybe? Or maybe there’s someone else here, who keeps popping up in the story. There are other examples: the man who comes to visit Abraham and Sarah in the desert; the ‘man’ with the drawn sword who appears to Joshua; the man who wrestles with Jacob until daybreak. There are countless other examples. The veiled truth that keeps popping up is that there is ‘someone else’ in the story, another player in the saga. And I’m quite happy to believe that this someone else is Jesus. The hidden truth that Israel isn’t shown is that God has a Son. Now, just how this ‘Son’ came about and how this idea fits with God being ‘One’ I do not know. Maybe we’re not meant to: Paul says that even we ‘see through the glass darkly’ and all that. But there does seem to be that sense in which all the Old Testament dudes are straining to find out this hidden truth. Many of the prophets seem to be foretelling that God will send this person and he will sort things (Isaiah’s ‘Suffering Servant’) and alongside all these prophecies about this mysterious saviour is the truth that ‘God himself will come and deliver Israel,’ so the OT prophets seem quite happy to hold together Jesus and God. Also, in that brilliant passage in John 8 (which I know you love), when Jesus is taking apart the Pharisees, he tells them “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my coming…” which suggests to me that perhaps the likes of Abraham/Moses/David were ‘in on the secret,’ and sensed that God had a Son and that he was going to be sent to Israel and to the world. Who knows?
Maybe you’ll think this too simple, but I believe Jesus’ references to himself as ‘the Son of Man,’ to be to Daniel’s vision when he sees: ‘one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’ I know you know of these verses, but to me, it’s the same picture as what I’ve been describing above. Daniel sees a vision and realises there is ‘someone else’ in the picture who is given ‘all authority’ by God to rule. So when Jesus calls himself ‘Son of Man,’ he is claiming to be that man.
In the spirit of ‘Mean Manish Boy Theology,’ I fear I have muddied the waters even further. Let me return to developing this idea of a ‘Window into God.’ I loved your point about the calming of the storm. And the disciples had the same reaction: “Who is this man?!” They’re starting to ‘get it’ for the first time: the man in their midst is God. And as I said in my last post, we should probably look into the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1-3. Very different from the Gospel picture. There we have the glorified Jesus, with scary apocalyptic features and a loving, but uncompromisingly righteous view of his churches throughout Asia Minor at the time. It flies nicely in the face of the traditional ‘Jesus, meek and mild’ artistic portrayals we have in pop culture. Another interesting tidbit is the fact that Jesus’ beloved friends didn’t recognise him ‘at first’ when he was resurrected. On more than one occasion, there is this kind of ‘ahhhh it’s really you,’ moment. Is this because Jesus’ identity while he lived on earth as a man was very different, do you think?
SMASH to you, dear boy.
Absolutely agree with everything you said. Feel I should qualify my position on the ‘Son of God’. I do agree with everything you say, but even in what you said, the waters begin to be muddied.
You see the Son of God really has the connotation of being a separate being, this becomes worse when we start to think of quotes such as the one you provided from Romans. This is because for such a verse to hold weight then Jesus must be someone separate from God in the way a son is truly separate from his father. Obviously this is an issue because it clashes with the doctrine of the Trinity.
And now we fly close to the Sun, if that Sun is heresy.
If we are to say that, according to the Bible, Jesus is in some way enough of a separate person from God to be like a son, a son that it would pain Him to sacrifice (and was it sacrifice if they all knew he’d just raise from the dead and head back to Heaven?) AND we wish not to stray into semi-Arianism (or even full blown) we need to find a new doctrine of Jesus.
Would you be surprised to find I have one?
This is my (not yet fully tested) thesis: Jesus doesn’t exist prior to the incarnation. Beforehand He is something else, most probably the Word of God (as in actual words) and only after the resurrection does He ascend to Heaven in a body to sit on His throne. I feel that this ties both strands of Christology together in an actual working doctrine.
But let us ignore that for now; or hammer it out in more private messages.
The point being that we quickly, if we are to think of it fully, find ourselves in deep theological waters when we talk about the Son of God. It is difficult to tie together the idea that it is only a moniker (God did not have sex and his partner did not give birth to a son) and the idea that God acted sacrificially in sending His Son because He actually is.
The second area of Muddy Waters (known now as Mannish Boy Theology) is with the New Testament understanding of the Trinity. Though the writers seem happy to acknowledge Jesus as God (to fuller or lesser extent) there is no reference to Him being so as part of a Triune God. In fact the NT writers seem quite happy with Jesus being God without some form of doctrine. It is only later that people need to try and put something together.
I realise you may throw in some objections and point to verses that suggest the trinity, but it still seems very out of place not to explain it outright. I mean the Disciples were incredibly thick and had to have things explained in Primary school language. There’s that passage where Jesus talks about the yeast of the Pharisees and the Disciples think Jesus is talking about actual bread and He has to explain again and then they’re like “ohhhh, right, ‘yeast’. Like teachings, huh, Jesus? It’s a metaphor… Good one…”
And yet they understand the Trinity with no recording teaching on it?
Third Mannish Boy Theological point is that according to my (not yet complete research) Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man more than Son of God and yet there is still no agreement on what that title means. Honestly, Jesus tells us to build our house upon the rock, but our whole theology and doctrine is built on sand. We know almost nothing about anything!
If Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man more than anything else then this should be a big part of our theology, but it isn’t. If that’s who Jesus identified as then we should follow His lead.
(But does it suit our doctrine? Ooh…)
So. All of this just to say. Hey. Let’s leave Son of God out of this for now.
And your final paragraph nails it. “Window into God”, love it. Absolutely. We can know God by looking at Jesus. We can see a perfect example of what the Bible calls us to be in Him.
I’m reminded of when Jesus calmed the storm; when He was asleep and they Disciples wake him up, terrified. His response? “Seriously? You really think we’re going to sink when God is right here in the boat with you? Come on, guys.”
If only we could nap through the storms, what a difference to the world we could make…
My Dear Dangerous
I agree with your point that ‘Son of God,’ is only one of many titles used by and given to Jesus in the Scriptures. But I still think it deserves its place in the picture and I would myself nudge it forward as of particular importance. There are a few reasons for this. First, it shapes Peter’s confession of Jesus in the Gospels (“Who do you say I am?” – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”). This episode was crucial and Jesus affirms Peter in his conviction. Second, the ‘Father-Son’ image is used by Jesus throughout his parables to explain his own mission and calling. The main example I have in mind is the Parable of the Tenants, where the landowner keeps sending his servants to the tenants to collect the harvest and they keep killing them. Then he sends his son thinking that the tenants will give him greater respect but they kill him too. Now I know that a.) this is a parable, not a theological grid and b.) the context is Israel’s rejection of God, but in the parable, Jesus definitely sets himself apart from the prophets who have come before him by framing himself as the ‘son’ of the landowner. This to me is a strong hint that Jesus has a way more intimate and prominent relationship with God than all the other seers/prophets/teachers who have been sent. Third, God ‘giving us’ his Son provides the context for many of the Apostle Paul’s most inspiring descriptions of God’s generous love. For example: ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ In other words, there was a sacrificial element to God’s mission to save us and it has something to do with giving up his Son, his most precious possession.
OK, let me take a step back here. Having defended the ‘Son of God’ moniker, I want to say two things in qualification. First, as you rightly point out, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.’ So it might actually be more helpful, as you put it, to ‘say that He Himself came to Earth and took our place.’ This truth certainly helps clarify all the messy models of atonement we have inherited where you have ‘an angry God upstairs sending his poor innocent son to do his dirty work for him.’ Second, I’m reminded that we are meant to be approaching this through the perspective of someone completely new to Christianity, so let me have another punt below.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the perfect embodiment of the God who made us, calls us and loves us. We spoke before about how God’s ways are ‘high above’ our own. Jesus makes him knowable. The character of Jesus gives us an insight into God’s character (and we should never neglect the Risen Jesus who teaches throughout the first three chapters of Revelation: he is just as awesome, mighty and scary as he is gracious, loving and tender). The work of Jesus gives us an insight into God’s love for us (because he sacrificed himself for us). And the teaching of Jesus gives us a moral framework for what pleases God. So, leaving aside all established theological titles, Jesus is a window into God.
SMASH, old chap!
In this episode, “A Despicable Human Being”, ‘Dangerous’ and Sir Tom talk about God and who He is. Or at least they try to, but they veer off into cricket and The Kinks back catalogue a fair bit. Still they make some good points about what, if anything we can understand about the Big Man and the proof that He really does exist…
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SMASHY, Old Boy,
Soooo, tough subject. I think we need to agree on what our theological basis for Jesus is. A basis that we can pin our discussion on (as I’m well aware we will meander around the topic, if not get off it completely!). But here’s the twist, it can’t be the Son of God.
Here’s my issue with the whole Son of God thing. He’s not, we know He’s not, it’s just a moniker. That being said we hear (an awful lot) in church people talk about God’s sacrifice in sending His only son to die. Like if I sent my daughter to die. But it’s not like that is it? It’s closer to say that He Himself came to Earth and took our place.
It’s one of those examples where we as Christians take an idea that we all know is not theologically sound and bump it up to prime of place. It’s like when people say ‘Jesus defeated death’. What does that even mean? In order to believe or even understand that phrase requires a lot of theology that most church goers don’t have. But they still bandy it about.
We don’t theologically believe Jesus to be God’s son, but in our working, day to day theology, we basically do. And in fact, I think we do Jesus a disservice by focusing on that particular title (he uses Son of Man just as much, if not more) as we tend then to focus less on the other things He may be.
So that is the question. Who do you think Jesus is?
Dangerous, old fruit!
You make an excellent point that the formal, established doctrine of ‘The Trinity,’ is unhelpful at the outset. We are meaning, after all, to present the Biblical God to those who have little or no interest in the church; so we should start from the ‘ground up,’ so to speak. However, even if you disregard the dogma of the historical Church at this point, the Biblical data does seem to hint that God is multi-faceted or even living in community. For example, I reference God’s words in Genesis when he resolves to make man ‘in our image.’ But I concede to you that this is perhaps, overall, a subject for another time.
When it comes to defining and understanding God philosophically, there is so much in the Bible narrative about God declaring, ‘My ways are far above yours…you only see in part, one day in full,’ and so on, that a certain amount needs to be taken by faith, or in other words, at face value, with the attitude of a child, as Jesus taught. I am not seeking to devalue asking the deeper questions, only to remind us that we can only know God by faith, which is when we in effect say, “I don’t know all the details and perhaps never will, but I think this is real, so let’s go for it!”
Turning to our big question, yes I think that God is innately loving, or to use more helpful synonyms, innately giving, sacrificial and servant-hearted. As you say, it is tough one to call, but as we have discussed, our creation might not be the first or only ‘world,’ through which and into which God has expressed this love of his. The Old Testament poets certainly hint at other ‘spheres,’ and this is the fascinating premise for C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales: he wrote that, rather than a straight Christian allegory, Narnia was the answer to a hypothetical question of ‘what would Christ look like if he showed up in another world?’ As you rightly outlined, the other qualities flow from his love. Also, remember that the same apostle who defines God as ‘love,’ also defines him as ‘light,’ which I take to mean truth, clarity and without any hint of double-mindedness.
I really strongly agree with your point that systematic doctrine has to come second to Biblical data: too often the Evangelical Church has sought to ‘straighten out’ God and so neglected key Biblical themes. The one value I think doctrine does have in the Christian life is to ground the likes of me: as a serial doubter, ‘blown about on the waves,’ and never trusting God or taking him at his word, it helps me to rest in key, objective truths I believe God to have shown me (to take a slightly silly but safely uncontroversial example, God has promised always to be with me, so any Biblical story or life experience that seems to suggest the opposite needn’t worry me).
You rightly challenge my explanation of evil with the Genesis story. Could it be that Satan had already fallen from heaven at this point (which is outlined in the OT and NT), so setting himself up as God’s enemy? And then Adam is subsequently created into a universe which already features God’s adversary?
SMASHY, my dear friend,
Sir Tom, Old Bean,
Let us clear a few things up before we go on.
Firstly I think we should steer clear of the Trinity for now so as not to muddy the waters (and that doctrine has some muddy waters to explore!) and I think it is something none of us have a clear understanding of and therefore not a good way of explaining God at this point.
Secondly, you say that you have not considered your faith philosophically, but all doctrine is philosophical. If you can even a quick squizz about the Nicene Creed you’ll see ‘Neoplatonism’ and ‘Stoicism’ bandied about. Ultimately for us to understand the things of God we have to think philosophically. What I’m saying is, I think you have without realising.
So, back to the big question: What are God’s characteristics that do not have to exist simply in relation to us?
Well what are some of his characteristics?
Love, justice, mercy, anger, wrath, compassion, righteousness, jealousy; what of these would we say are innate and which are dependent?
If one was stranded on a desert island could you be called compassionate? Or righteous? Do these qualities only exist when there is someone to be compassionate or righteous to? If you are alone then the only just thing to do is whatever you want. Whatever you do will be just because you are the definition of Justice.
It is a tough call because we can never see ourselves outside of a society to know whether justice or jealousy etc are innate characteristics.
Love is innate, I believe. I think you can trace back a lot of your attributes to whether you are, at heart, a loving person. The Bible says that God is love and I believe that that is a characteristic one can have whether alone or in community. I think it is possible for God to be a loving entity whether creation exists or not. An innately loving being is going to be a just and compassionate being when confronted with society.
So why is this important?
- it doesn’t exist and that’s madness.
- Our current understanding of God comes from the Early Church Fathers who were both Catholic (we wouldn’t accept their teachings on Apostolic succession today, why should we accept their other doctrines?) and Neoplatonists.
- I think it affects our understanding of other doctrines such as the Trinity and the existence of evil. For too long we have placed doctrine as our blueprint and twisted and stretched the Bible to fit over it, rather than the other way around.
Finally to address two other points of yours; I agree with your explanation of the existence of evil, though I feel the matter is complicated with God’s admission to a knowledge of good and evil in Genesis. The idea that God could exist in a space with other similar beings that are promised not to interfere in this Universe (thus making God true when He says there are no other Gods) is something I considered for the last letter, but left it out as I thought it was hardcore philosophy enough already.
Dangerous old chap,
Apologies for my tardy response. This is mainly down to the fact that I am certainly no philosopher and in fact, have never really interacted with ‘God’ or ‘faith’ from a philosophical standpoint. Although I experienced a definite, ‘one-minute-I-thought-it-was-a-load-of-rubbish-the-next-I-believed,’ conversion to Christianity, I guess my Christian upbringing had prepared me to accept the Christian God unthinkingly in a sense and I was used to a kind of authoritarian, top-down belief in an afterlife and a deity. That said, many many people do ask questions about faith in a philosophical manner, so you raise some very worthy questions, which I will attempt to tackle.
I think God certainly exists and flourishes independent of anything around him, whether that be his creation or his dwelling place (wherever or whatever that may be). He is the pure essence of goodness, graciousness and so on and much of these attributes are expressed within the Trinity, towards the other parts of the Godhead (as a British preacher has clumsily put it: ‘God’s a community’).
So I see it that everything within God’s creation is an expression of these attributes. Of course this raises the question of how evil (or at least the choice to do evil) could have been created by a good God, but my answer to this would go something like this: true, free love involves the possibility to choose not to love. So God created beings with the freedom to walk away from him, which they duly did and God already had a rescue plan up his sleeve.
Aside from Trinitarian theology (the argument that God exists as three, so that love and grace can exist within him, as the three members of the Godhead express their love for one another), there has to also be the possibility that ‘there are others.’ In the Bible, we have the story of how God made and reached out to the inhabitants of our world. But what if there are other worlds, other spheres, other beings we know nothing of and within which God existed and exists quite separate from us? So much of the Bible is God saying to us, “my ways are above yours…now you see dimly, one day you’ll see in full.” What if there are other modes of operation, other levels of the universe which we have yet to discover and perhaps never will, til the end?