Tough Question; Where is Jesus?

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In one of our recent discussions about the role of spirituality in The Healing Place recovery program, one of our Unity Works participants asked the following question, “I still have questions in my mind about the “God of my understanding”.  Does AA proclaim the Gospel or is the “God” a universal ie Budah, etc…..God? When and where is Jesus? I understand the challenge of needing to be non-denominational but how is Christ proclaimed?”

I spent many years in an evangelical church that taught that the only people who knew God were those who publicly proclaimed Jesus as Lord.  I am sure most of you are like me and just never really questioned that belief.  Sounded good, must be true if the preacher says so and in the book of John, Jesus clearly says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Who could argue with this teaching?  Surely anyone who challenges this idea, must be a heretic, a non-believer, and a danger to the faith, right?

Before we all start picking up our stones and casting them at anyone who may think differently, I want to tell you a story.  It is a story that has been played out in my life over and over again.  I keep meeting wonderful people who were once caught in addiction.  Who through The Healing Place and AA groups have come to know God and who claim to have been healed of their addiction by the “God of their understanding”.  They are now bearing fruit; reaching out to other sick and suffering addicts; calling them to come to know God and helping them to be reconciled to God and their fellow man.  They are loving and generous and truly love their neighbors as themselves in ways far beyond most church going folks that I know. They are doing all this healing in the name of an unnamed God.

We know from scripture that the power to set the oppressed free is a power that Christ grants through the Holy Spirit.  I have seen that spirit of freedom break the chains of addiction; I believe only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring a healing of this nature.  So I have a problem.  Either I believe that it is all the same spirit or I believe that there is another spirit through which such freedom can be gained.

In his book “How (not) to speak of God” Peter Rollins issues a challenge to our modern ways of defining God. He writes “The emerging Church is thus able to leave aside the need for clarity and open up the way for us to accept the fact that what is important is that we are embraced by the beloved rather than finding agreement concerning how we ought to understand the beloved (as if a baby can only really love her mother if she understands her.) ”

In other words, rather than look for Jesus through our own definition of God, we should look for evidence of God’s embrace.  Without a doubt, my friends from The Healing Place, have experienced the embrace of the beloved and it has transformed their lives and through them God has transformed me.  God has gotten much bigger and far more mysterious as I have witnessed God at work through my new friends.  Some may read this and consider me a “liberal” or worse a “heretic” for believing that God could be that big; bigger than the church walls, able to work without a formula and yes, even able to free those who cry out to a God they cannot name.

Father Richard Rohr, a fellow heretic, writes in his article, “The 12-step Program as Coded Gospel”,  “Why do you often feel the very power and presence of God after listening to addicts share their stories of faith, confession, forgiveness, humiliation, and surrender?  God seems to be the one obvious and essential person in attendance at most AA meetings I have ever attended, yet there are no icons, candlesticks, vestments, stained-glass windows, or pipe organs in sight.  How can this be?  Is this perhaps what Dietrich Bonheoffer meant by the “religionless Christianity” that he saw as the future?”

Peter Rollins writes “Hence Meister Eckhart famously prays “God rid me of God”, a prayer that acknowledges how the God we are in relationship with is bigger, better and different than our understanding of that God.”

Are we willing to look for God in unexpected places and allow ourselves to be embraced by the beloved in unexpected ways?  Are we willing to accept that God is bigger than anything we ever imagined; that God has no limits?

Where is Jesus?  Only God knows.   I am learning to accept there are some things I will simply never understand.  There is tremendous freedom in letting God be God!

The Apostle Paul put it this way;

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Tough Question; Where is Jesus?

  1. Dean Miller

    It is definitley a tough question to ask. I don’t have a problem with making the God that I know and understand to be much bigger than I could ever define. In fact, God cannot be defined because God is beyond our human comprehension. We know in part but, in time, we shall know fully.

    The more complicated question is the ‘role’ of Jesus in our relationship to God. IF we believe that Jesus is/was God incarnate then to believe in Jesus is to believe in God. And to reject Jesus is to reject God. But, that depends on your definition of Jesus.

    And yet, are not you and I incarnations of God (to a lesser degree that Jesus?) That is what we call Christians to be everyday – little Christs!

    I cannot see myself preaching anything but Christ and yet, I do not feel as though I have any right nor authority to tell someone that they cannot experience God without Christ. And I cannot limit God. God will do what God will do and God will save whomever God chooses to save. I will place my faith in the path that has been set before me and will do what I can to point others toward the same path. But, I cannot, in my true heart, place a restriction on the GOd I beleive and serve. If I could, what kind of God do I serve?

  2. Howard P

    Wendy,

    I’ll ramble on that for a bit. As a fellow heretic, by some peoples’ standards, I certainly agree with the spirit of what you’ve shared. For me, however, what is always the most meaningful is not that a fellow “believer” believe exactly as I do, but that what I know of them evidences the signs of a Christ-inspired transformation. And Lordy be, anyone looking for greater evidence of that than what has appeared in your life in recent years is going to be hunting for a long time. Regarding your post, what I hear you saying is that among people you’ve encountered in your work, there are many whose healing from addiction, along with other changes in their lives, demonstrate the power of a living, loving God’s work in and through them in ways that absolutely embody what Christ’s love is all about for you. And yet, it seems, many such people may not know their experience of liberation and transformation as “Christ”, and may not regard themselves as “Christians”, per se. Are they “saved”? Jesus said that all who do the will of God are his brothers and sisters, and so this is the line that first comes to mind for me whenever I imagine who will be kickin’ it (hanging out) on the front porch of the New Creation’s homestead. Say, that reminds me. Considering the many thousands of different religious vows by which one may join a church, and profess themselves a Christian, I find that I now respond curiously to the question from others of “Are you a Christian?”. “You will have to tell me how you define that, and a little more about what it means to you”, I now say, “and I’ll tell you whether or not I’m that.”. It never ceases to amaze me how easily many people will define themselves with words that they then have trouble defining with any more depth than their preferred, well-rehearsed line. In saying so I’m greeted by an image of Jesus arriving on the scene of a church service and asking someone “Are you a Christian?”. “Well heck yeah I am”, the fellow responds. “And what makes you say that?”, Jesus asks. “Well, uhh, because I follow you man. I’m one of your biggest fans! Glory be your name, broh. Yeahhh.” Somehow, I just don’t think that would be the answer Jesus is looking for. For me, to call myself a Christian means that I’m presenting myself in association with both Jesus’ sacrifice as a man and Christ’s resurrected life here on earth, today, in and through those who yield our lives to God as “living sacrifices”. I, personally, would not be comfortable presenting this association if it not for my choice to yield my own life accordingly, my confidence that I be carrying my personal cross (assuming my fair share of Christ’s load), and that I experience small, ego-related deaths daily in making greater room in my life for Christ’s life to take hold. I’m on the field with him. No, I’m not scoring goals or making touchdowns every day for his team, but I’m getting dirty, not cheering from the stands. That’s my deuce cents on that but what is most significant to me about your writing is that in “sticking your neck out” as you have in this post, you create an opening for others to push the envelopes of their own spiritual journeys. As a recognized spiritual leader in our community, you invite others to enter relationships with you in which spiritual kinship is felt through shared dedication to an unfolding truth, and humble acknowledgement that where truth is concerned, nobody’s holding the single bottle that contains it all. As you have experienced and are now reporting on from your trenches, our God just ain’t that small.

    Thanks for sharing.

    “Peace”

    Howard P

  3. wmccaig

    Thanks Dean and Howard,

    Dean – I love where you say “That is what we call Christians to be everyday – little Christs!”. So, in answer to “Where is Jesus?” the true answer is that Jesus dwells in those who choose to be Christ followers and who go into dark places loving like Christ. The Healing Place program is directed by an amazing Christ filled man by the name of Al Jackson; he does not have to “proclaim Jesus” verbally because he is a living, walking, Christ like man. If Christians refuse to engage in programs and activities that are not overtly “proclaiming the Gospel” then we are removing Jesus from the equation by removing ourselves and thus Christ presence.

    So can people come to experience God without the name of Jesus being verbally proclaimed? For me the answer would be yes. However, I wonder if the power of The Healing Place lies in the spiritual power of it’s leader who through Christ-like love proclaims the gospel without words. Would the program have the same power if it were not fueled by the faithful prayers of Christ followers? Now that is a really tough question. I believe in the power of prayer and from what I have seen Al Jackson is a powerful man of prayer. I believe it is his faith and the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through him that has made THP such a spiritually transformative community.

    Howard – you raise an even more difficult question; the “whose in and whose out” question. When it comes to salvation; I honestly have to say “I don’t know”. I really do not think it is our job to figure that out but to simply be faithful in what we do know. I know Christ has transformed my life and I can testify to that through the way I live and more importantly the way I love. I will let a real theologian worry about anything beyond that. I heard a pastor once say; “We can become so “heavenly” minded that we are of no “earthly” good.” I think there is a lot of truth in that statement.

    Thanks guys for participating in this conversation. This question has come up many times over the past year and I think it is helpful for everyone to think it through and be comfortable in their own spirit with where and how they choose to join God at work around us.

  4. Howard P

    “If Christians refuse to engage in programs and activities that are not overtly “proclaiming the Gospel” then we are removing Jesus from the equation by removing ourselves and thus Christ presence.”

    As I read this a specific, recurring question came to mind again for me. If Jesus, the man, lived in and led by the Christ presence that his death made available to all, was alive today, do you think that he would only hang out with Christains? I don’t think so. And if not, would he insist on proclaiming the Gospel at every experience he attended, or be more likely just to live it (the Gospel).

    HP

  5. Dean Miller

    I don’t think Jesus would do anything differently today than he did while he was here. We could use some tables flipped over in a few of our houses of worship. We could use a leader that sows peace, love, compassion and community with ALL people.

    If Christians would be willing to open the box that they have put Christ in (and thereby their total faith experience) then we would be living in a totally different world. Not sure what it would look like. It wouldn’t be perfect because there will always be evil. But that evil would have a tougher opponent than it does now.

  6. Tom

    Wendy:

    Howard can check out of this post, because he has seen these words before.

    I am one of those who struggles here. So I post here humbly, ackowledging that I am less spiritually mature than others. God, through Christ, awakened me to Himself later in my life. And although my hunger for Him is great, I readily admit that I struggle with discernment, that I too often react in my own strength and understanding, and that I am still learning to hear His voice in all things. Finally, I am far less experienced than you in living out the Great Commission to the lost and hurting in our city.

    I see the work that Embrace does, I’ve been with those who have met the Risen Lord and felt His touch at the Healing Place, and I have seen Him move among those present at monthly conversations. I know that, I have smelled His Presence there (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

    So, my issue is not whether God is big enough or sovereign enough to work however and where He desires. My struggle is with how His people are called to react to His dynamic Presence. Ultimately, I do not want to be ashamed of Christ. My Savior’s words ring in my ears, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26). So, as I ache to see Jesus Christ named and exalted. And yet, to my unsophisticated heart, I feel like Jesus has been put in the back room like a kooky relative who may offend the invited guests. I have struggled with this matter for months — feeling “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16) for not raising it, and feeling like a “fundamentalist” when it rises within me.

    I know God hates a haughty and judgmental heart, and I desperately do not want that to be me and my heart. Ultimately, I want to love as Christ loves: abandoned to God, welcoming, serving, encouraging, forgiving, healing and showing mercy. I see Christ at work in you, and you are living evidence that Christ is at work in our city. Indeed, I believe that organizations like Embrace are one of the “watchmen” that God has appointed for Richmond. And as it says on the chapel wall at Richmond Hill, “Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1). And this is again where I struggle: God has given “all authority on heaven and earth” to Jesus (Matthew 28:18); and “[t]here is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Thus, according to my understanding, Embrace is anointed and empowered by Jesus Christ. If that is the case, should it not name Him?

  7. wmccaig

    I think the key here is to not judge the experiences of others and call something “non-Christian” simply because Christ name is not boldly proclaimed. Two perfect examples are The Healing Place and Machipongo. I think the same spirit you and I would name as the Holy Spirit is alive and well in both places and each has chosen to welcome people of all faiths with open arms because they take seriously our call to welcome the stranger and to love all with the love of Christ; both Christians and non-Christians.

    I think the challenge is more at a personal level. I know none of us should ever deny Christ spirit as the source of our call or the strength that allows us to do what we do. I know I would not do what I do and Howard would not do what he does and Al would not do what he does; if we were not all called to be Christ in the world. Creating safe spaces for people of all faiths and honoring other faiths does not make us any less Christian…I actually think that is what Jesus intended with the story of the good Samaritan. We are to love everyone but that love “is” how we share Christ and we must have faith that the spirit that is alive in us will bear witness to the one who works in and through us. When asked, I know all three of us will boldly acknowledge that it is Christ that is at work not our own human nature.

    I have a Healing Place grad, Ron who is in Unity Works, who says “The God of my Understanding; whom I choose to call Jesus Christ”. I like this because he achnowledges that his God is not everyone’s God which fosters hospitality toward the non-believer but clearly makes known to those around him that he has no doubt about who God is for him. Ron bears witness to his God through his life. He is a Godly man and I know those who do now know God are more interested in his character than his God but when they see God at work in him then they are ready to know the power that dwells in him and he is not bashful about who that is.

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