When I was in my teens, I had a somewhat unorthodox rant with God.
“Why do churches go on and on and on about Jesus?” I said. “It’s ‘Jesus this, Jesus that,’ wherever I go! Why? It’s not like he’s the be-all-and-end-all!”
As soon as I said it, I felt the Holy Spirit give what I can only describe as a polite cough next to me. “So, what do you think he meant when he said he’s the Alpha and the Omega?”
I groaned and threw my hands up in the air. God: 1, Christine: 0. There was no winning the argument, but I was still dissatisfied with how churches only ever seemed to talk about Jesus.
It’s not that I had anything against Jesus. Maybe I under appreciated his ministry precisely because I was brought up in a Christian household where much of what he said was taken as the baseline for our ethics. Because you know what? He said some really good stuff.
What probably frustrated me was how the worship and teaching in our churches focussed disproportionately on Jesus, even though we also teach that there are three co-equal persons in the Trinity. And for the record, I’m still not OK with how the Holy Spirit is routinely erased. (I’m also not OK with how the Holy Spirit is sensationalised and the Father idolised, but that’s a different story.)
Now I know, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ Spirit, so to know the Spirit is to know him, and to know him is to know the Father. And I know, the LORD our God, the LORD is a union. I can’t love one person of the Trinity with all my heart, and not also love the others at the same time. They are one.
But at the same time, there is a quality in my worship and contemplation that comes when I’m intentional about who I’m speaking to and who I’m thinking of — whether that’s one person, or more than one person, or all three together.
When I tell people about my walk with God, you’ll find me talking about the Holy Spirit way more often than Jesus. I do it partly because I reckon that the church’s routine erasure of the Holy Spirit is something that props up our widely defunct understanding of hope (and holiness, and purity, and a bundle of other topics that people don’t link with hope but should).
But I also do it because I feel like I actually do interact with the Holy Spirit way more often than Jesus himself. Which raises the question about what relationship I have with Jesus himself.
As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous posts, I feel I only really fell in love with scripture when I read the Old Testament (Ezekiel and the first five books in particular). I know that’s a pretty unusual road for a Protestant Western Christian such as myself, but it’s true and I’m done trying to hide it. I love the Old Testament law. Yes, including the priestly regulations of Leviticus and the patriarchal provisions of Deuteronomy. It doesn’t stop me from being Christian or egalitarian or feminist or affirming.
But it does mean I really, really, really care about how the texts of the Old Testament link into the New Testament and vice versa. And each time, each and every time I’ve felt my blood run cold and I’ve thought, “You know, maybe I shouldn’t think so highly of the Old Testament scriptures as much as I do, maybe I should be a bit more like other Christians,” God brings something across my path that I’d never expected. And it absolutely blows my mind and I end up more in love with these texts than I ever was before.
Oh, and it’s not like my view of the New Testament goes unchanged throughout all this. It’s pretty amazing too and I now have so much time for Paul’s writings it’s unreal.
But where am I at with Jesus?
Well, this might sound kinda weird, but the other day I feel like, for the first time, I was able to love him and enjoy him in his own right. I mean, really in his own right.
I’d been reading Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which is this weird law about a woman who’s divorced by one husband, marries another, and then can’t later go back to the first. Because the law is so complex and has so many components, no one has a good explanation for it — and trust me, rabbis and biblical scholars have had long debates. In fact, one of those debates was raging in Jesus’ day (Shammai and Hillel) and Jesus was asked about it.
You see, the only way to make sense of the full law in Deuteronomy is to analogise the re-marriage as adultery. That was the conclusion of Carolyn Pressler and Eve Levavi Feinstein in their respective works on Deuteronomy and sexual pollution. As conclusions go, this is very funky and brain-bending because logic says the re-marriage is legal and therefore sex within it is licit. Our intuition says this should have nothing to do with adultery at all.
But you know what? Jesus said it was adultery.
And oh boy! When that properly clicked inside my head, I realised this has many amazing implications. I want to unpack them in later posts because they are very brain-bending but the TLDR is this: they utterly skewer the idea that divorce is always morally wrong. Actually, the implications go way, waaaay beyond just this, but I’m mentioning that one because some people in the church still say that divorce on the grounds of marital unfaithfulness is never justified. They may be comparatively few, but they are there and some of them have prominent platforms (e.g. John Piper, Focus on the Family). [EDIT: OK, the FOTF materials say you can divorce on the grounds of adultery, and they say that abuse is serious, but their general tenor is to steer people away from divorce in all circumstances.]
Meanwhile, I know that New Testament teachings on divorce aren’t how most people gain a new appreciation for the awesomeness of Jesus, but for me it was. Because when I got to the end of Pressler’s and Feinstein’s stunning analyses of these verses and I lined them up against Jesus’ words, I had an appreciation of Jesus as a rabbi that I’d never had before. Because he totally knew the law. He understood it. And he was able to reach beyond it.
And it gave me so much joy seeing how he was marvellous with it.
I don’t think I’ve ever really had that before, at least not in this way. But it was a wonderful feeling and I wanted to share it.
I wrote more about my take on the Old Testament here: To my egalitarian friends: please don’t hate on the Old Testament law (or at least, not on my blog)
The academic works I’ve been reading are as follows:
- Carolyn Pressler, The View of Women Found in the Deuteronomic Family Laws (BZAW 216; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1993)
- Eve Levavi Feinstein, Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible: A New Perspective, (Bodies, Embodiment, and Theology in the Hebrew Bible. Ed. S. Tamar Kamionkowski and Wonil Kim. LHB/OT 465. New York: T&T Clark, 2010)
FYI, Feinstein’s paper can be downloaded for free from Academia.edu