“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
– George Bernard
Did you not hear? Have you not been told? What was it in the testimony of Jesus Christ that the apostle Paul persecuted before he was the apostle? For what, exactly, did the Sanhedrin pronounce judgment on our Lord, that he himself supposedly admitted to? You know, you hear the story of Jesus Christ, and at least some of us we think, how gullible were the populace back then, believing in virgin births and people coming back to life. How quaint. But really, those two things were hard sells, back then. Most people were quite practical and pragmatic. Eratosthenes, back in 240 BC, he estimated the circumference of the earth: they knew that the earth was round even that far back. One imagines that people did not take stories about a virgin giving birth too seriously… but that, of course, was not the great blasphemy. You weren’t put to death for something like that.
We find in scholarship that the great blasphemy of old, the reason why Paul, then Saul, so enthusiastic did he persecute, was the idea that God came in the form of a man. Our own Jesus Christ: when he said to the crippled man, “Your sins are forgiven you,” some religious officials took offense, saying that only God can forgive sins. Indeed, our Lord was put to death supposedly for this blasphemy: “This man says he is God.” That he was literally the Son of God, and since there is only one God, the Son shares His nature—he is God in the form of a man. It is for this reason, among others, that practicing Jews deny Jesus is the Messiah, for they expected not a demigod, but a man like you or me. Certainly not Divinity itself. And anyone who now says, “But of course Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” these would undoubtedly have sided with the Pharisees, for they both are clinging to established doctrine. One might predict how they react to the great blasphemy of today, instead.
“The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore. He changes them into ‘nice people’.”
– Mike Yaconelli
We have the Bible, these days. Notably, we have the New Testament. This is generally where Christians come from, but it wasn’t always like that. The earliest Christians really only had word of mouth, and two questions: “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, risen from death?” and “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” That’s it. No written material of any kind, not even a pamphlet. And note that nobody seems to ask the second question anymore, and it relates to the quote previous to this paragraph. “Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing.” Did you know that you can make an idol, a graven image, out of a book? You know, the thing they made a commandment of, not to do. We have the Bible, these days. And it has taken the place of the Holy Spirit in many of our lives, we believers.
Where has the Holy Spirit gone, then? You can still see it in people when it is there, I think: those who show uncommon kindness, seemingly even in the most difficult of circumstances. And I’m thinking more Doctors Without Borders, not some Christian missionary work. If Jesus Christ is indeed the universal Savior, why would he not have been with all of us, from our womb, to stay with us till we leave this place? Is he not, indeed, God? When the Lord struck Saul on the road to Damascus, was he not instantly converted, by divine fiat? Could not Jesus Christ instantly convert someone the instant before death, if he is indeed God, omnipresent? This then is the next great blasphemy. We don’t need to have found Jesus to be saved. Because if he can save us, we already have him with us. Think of it like the reverse of original sin. It is blasphemy because of what is in the Bible—where Jesus himself is told to say you need to believe in him to be saved.
What if we don’t believe in the literal Bible? That we regard it, yes, as holy, but not the ultimate decision maker in our lives? “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” How would we know? Maybe take this one phrase from it at face value, when the Scripture says, “God is love.” It says that if one does not love, one does not know God. But what about the inverse? That if one does love, then one does know God. And that means anyone. The spirit of love is the Spirit of God. But not just to claim it, but to believe in love, to put some stake in it, to stand up for it. Not just to feel some warm fuzzies. And so would they be known as children of God, for they have the same nature as God, which is love. Jesus gives us the prime example of what it means to love: to be able to surrender (all) for the good (of all). And to need to literally believe in some doctrine or else that God who is love will not save you? God is not an accountant. On the contrary: if we truly love, we are free from the rules.
If someone tells you that what you do is not according to the Bible, but you are going by what is deeply held by the dictates of your heart, as best as you know, ask them, “Which part of the Bible?” For we who declare that we don’t follow every part are accused by the fundamentalists as “cherry picking” this and that from it—but actually everyone does so, you see. Do we stone to death a child who curses their parents? No? Have you ever worn a garment made of two fabrics? The Bible says not to. The fundamentalist might say we should just follow what is common sense. But whose? Yours? Perhaps, as Walt Whitman said, “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.” Even if it is from the Bible. Especially if it’s from the Bible. For that book is like a sledgehammer, and we would be well to make sure to swing it true, not by blind directive, not because some authority told us to. We do not want to lose ourselves to what is ultimately some words on some paper: it is not God, it is not God’s temple… Love, and be free. This is wisdom.
And now, we see that the first great blasphemy is now commonplace among the righteous, accepted sincerely by the masses. Now, as the world becomes one place instead of disconnected, far off lands, of different and strange faiths, the second great blasphemy we shall entertain, too, as the prevailing thought. Indeed, it is beginning to happen now. And actually, the second is the same as the first. If Jesus Christ is the universal God, God sovereign over all the earth, and therefore all the faiths in it, it is not just those who profess themselves to be “Christian” who are part of his flock. Like perhaps Saul, they just don’t know it yet. Jesus said that his followers would do greater things than he did, and these three words written after he was gone bear this out: “God is love.” If this is true, if the Most High is truly love (if a transcendent love), this is a third great blasphemy: that love is God.
C. S. Lewis said of that thought, “If Affection is made the absolute sovereign of a human life the seeds will germinate. Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” I have read someone say that breaking the rules out of love, like in committing adultery, is certainly not the will of God. This is not what I mean at all. Love is not what we might say is only a great affection for someone or something, love is not the glow of feeling you have. In the context of this text, let us say that love is the Cross. Love is the Resurrection. It is sacrifice and resolve. Love is work! It is also transcendent: you can say it is one thing and then another and be right on all counts, and then you find that you have not captured its true essence at all. What is love? I don’t know what love is. God is love. And if it is not the love that transforms you into a “wild-eyed radical”, but merely one of the “nice people”, you have not received the Holy Spirit. You are not really a Christian. (Which is OK, though, as I have written above.)
Did you not hear? Have you not been told? Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, who saves all those who dare to love, whether they’ve heard of him or not. And do you know what love is? It is so simple we’ll never understand it. Do what is right because it is right—he told us that God will see every action. He will know whom to save in peering through your soul, every one of us. There is no outside beyond his sphere, no rule that prevents him from acting on anyone, for anyone. Did you not know? We are free! Not to be a slave to our animal appetites, but to live as an image of love, as God is love, and we are made in the image of God. Go ahead, you heathens, curse your maker because you do not understand. The Lord knows your secret light nonetheless. That no one knows. He will show us all the dreams we have forgotten, and the secret hope we once had and lost. For God so loved the world.