Christ, Unknown

1 02 2010

What is “the Christ”?

I feel comfortable stating that if the average United States citizen were to be asked that question, the response would be twofold:

  • “Um, don’t you mean ‘who’?”
  • “Jesus.”

I was startled to read a correct usage of the word “Christ” in a book called The Creed of Violence by Boston Teran. Without giving any spoilers away, one of the characters says, paraphrased as I returned the book to the library already, “the Christ in me compels me to forgive you.”

But what is “the Christ”?

In a former place of employment, semantics were a large part of my job. Passing along incoherent or incomplete information was the same as passing along incorrect information. When supporting a team that relied on accurate, timely information to in turn support our customers, incoherent, incomplete, or inaccurate were qualities to be avoided.

It is perhaps this concern with semantics that brings me around from time to time to the subject of such things as God and the Christ. Before one can contemplate God, using the lens of contemporary Christianity, one must ostensibly understand the nature of the Christ.

Unfortunately, and I do use that word deliberately, “Christ” has become synonymous with “Jesus”, which in turn has become (to some) synonymous with “God”.

Incoherent, incomplete, inaccurate… and unfortunate.

“Incoherent” because the focus is put on Jesus (the man) rather than the Christ (as yet undefined). “Incomplete” because Jesus or the Christ are not God, though it can be argued that either or both are a part of God while not being interchangeable. “Inaccurate” because, again, boiling the Christ down to simple human terms (Jesus is called the Christ, therefore he is, even though little effort is made to define the Christ otherwise) does a grave disservice to those who would wish to “know” the Christ but have been led down something of a blind alley.

Now: This is not an anti-religious diatribe nor am I trashing Jesus, the Christ, or God. If you have reached that conclusion up to this point, this article is probably not going to be of much service to you.

The following passage (taken from here) should illustrate the semantic argument I am constructing above, and will in turn be explained in further detail below:

Jesus came for a relationship with people, and so that we could experience a more abundant life in him. If you embody that truth in the way you live, people will want to come to know him. Begin to get excited about Jesus, and maybe instead of having buildings full of church spectators, we will begin to see people transform into passionate followers of Christ.

My rebuttal:

1. Unfortunately, Jesus’s biographers (and ostensibly Jesus himself) had a tendency to blur the line as to where Jesus the man ended and the Christ began. Let’s put it this way: Let’s say that I, Ethan Johnson, become synonymous with the clean living that can only come from living in Plano Texas. Eventually, I die. It would be accurate to call Plano Texas “Ethan’s favorite place” or similar (in this example), but to say “move to Plano Texas so you can live a richer life in Ethan Johnson” is unhelpful.

2. If one were to canonize me as “Mister Plano Texas” and write books, poems, plays, and various homages to my association with Plano Texas, the focus would be squarely on me and all one could surmise is that Plano Texas must be some amazing place if I became so inseparable from it even in death. Put another way, stories would be told about me rather than investigations of one’s own into what made Plano Texas such a large piece in the mosaic of my greater existence.

I did not attend seminary, have no plans to, and fully expect to be rebuked, rebuffed, and plain ignored by religious folk of all stripes. It’s my article and I can write what I want to, is all I have to say to that, presently.

If I dare claim to “know” the Christ, let alone define it, then I will frame it like so: The Christ, as I understand it to be, is Love. Not lust, not syrupy sweet greeting card sentiments, or even altruism, but the eternal Love that we all can, at our choosing, tap into. It existed before us, and will persist after our passing.

Jesus, then, is the human embodiment of the Christ consciousness, which even Jesus himself says (per his biographers) anyone can tap into freely, and was not his alone. Jesus could have never come into being, however one chooses to define that point of origin, and that would not negate the existence of the Christ. Put another way, musical instruments could have never been invented but that unmade discovery would not negate the qualities of the musical scale. We just would not have a method (artificially) to express the notes.

Thus, when I read talk of Jesus as “product“, not that this is a new development by any means, it compelled me to put finger to keyboard and speak my peace.

I have a saying, at times like this, “these Christians do not know their Christ.”

Speaking solely for myself, church is not my path. I’ve been to several, of various denominations, and while interesting and thought provoking at their best, a church to my understanding runs counter to Jesus’s message, life, and legacy. Jesus did not ask for worship. Jesus didn’t put churchgoing at the forefront of one’s life. Again, the blurred lines are difficult to navigate as Jesus at times will speak of acting in the capacity of a loyal Jew, not as a messiah, not as the physical embodiment of the Christ, and not as God. It was Jesus (we are told) who is tempted to make a show of immortality and replies, “I dare not tempt my God.” If Jesus were in fact, God, then this would not be a logical response.

There are people who have an interest in preventing others from defining, understanding, and knowing the Christ. They’re not all called skeptics or atheists. It is those who seek to maximize a thing that instead diminish it, and by putting the focus on Jesus the man, we cannot know the Christ, the eternal. And it is this lack of understanding that in turn leads to incredibly unhelpful characterizations of God.

If we cannot know the Christ, how will we ever know God?

That was Jesus’s message.

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