The Big Idea

A number of years ago I watched the movie “The Russia House” with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. I don’t remember much other than I didn’t enjoy it, felt Michelle’s attempt at a Russian accent was awkward, and… the scene where British Secret Intelligence Service (the “Russia House”) wanted Sean Connery’s character to contact a Russian with a list of verifying questions to determine if the document is as valuable as they hope it is. It included this dialogue:

Sir, the “shopping list”… It’s only questions, isn’t it? It wouldn’t tell anyone anything?

Everything. It would tell what we know by telling what we “don’t” know. And it would tell what we would most like to know. If the Sovs get the list, we might as well have published the notebooks…

The questions we ask betray our perspective. They reveal what we really think is important, what’s truly at stake.

Typically when I hear people discussing the topics like “salvation”, “heaven”, “hell”, “the church”, and “universalism”, it reveals what they think is “the big idea” behind it all: insuring that your destination in the afterlife is a good one.

If you’re on the wrong side of that question, you’re essentially screwed forever and ever and ever. So you don’t want to get that question wrong.

But is that really the big question? Is that what the good news Jesus proclaimed was really about?

Certainly people have packaged something they call “the gospel” as having to do with getting into heaven and avoiding hell. This is sold regularly at most corner churches. Join our crowd, believe our dogma, engage in our practices, and you’ll be certain to have an afterlife of bliss (regardless of how hard you might have it down here). The important thing (to them) is to make sure you’re escaping this planet to the right place. But this smacks more of the Greek Plato’s dualistic view of things than the good news Jesus the Jew actually proclaimed in 1st century Palestine.

The idea that the physical is bad and the mental/spiritual is good, that we need to escape our bodies… this is way more of a Greek idea than a Jewish one. The Jews were focused more on tikun olam (“repairing the world”). They still are to this day. They cared about shalom – peace, harmony, wholeness. The torah (what we call “the law”) literally means the way. In other words, if you want to know how to live in shalom with your fellow humans, follow this way. It includes not only how we should behave with God and one another, but also what to do when we misbehave.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the notion of animal sacrifices being an acceptable form of restitution for wrongs done, the focus was on the here and now. And in reality, the animal sacrifices were ultimate a giant barbecue that the priests got to eat (and in certain cases, so did the people who brought the animals). Sacrifices were a costly way to settle a score; these days it might be kind of like giving your car to your pastor/priest/bishop to show true repentance (and because he needs a car since his rustbucket-on-wheels recently died). Sacrifices were a way of sharing out of what we had so that nobody – especially those busy with “the Lord’s work” – went without their needs being met. They met a need in the here and now, not the afterlife.

When you look at the scope of Jesus’ good news and teachings for what they actually are (rather than how some Church, Inc. outpost packaged it to benefit them), you see that he is primarily concerned with the here and now. He was concerned about relationships. About restoring shalom – in our homes, villages, nations, planet. He called himself “The Way”, and the earliest disciples were called “Followers of The Way”. And remember what the word torah means?

The night Jesus was betrayed, just before his “ultimate sacrifice”, he basically said this to his disciples (John 13:34-35):

I give you a new command:
love one another as I have loved you.
By this shall all know that you are my followers.

Love. It’s the force that repairs the world, that restores shalom, that heals all wrongs. Love.

That’s the big idea.

9 thoughts on “The Big Idea

  1. So . . . the “now” but “not yet” Kingdom becomes a necessary tension at Healthy Church, Inc.

    Jesus’ message was primarily about the here and now, about Love (the Big Idea) . . . I’m also amazed at how much was about our co-reign with Him here on earth when He comes to establish His “not yet” Kingdom.

    Does our hope, grounded in future reality, allow the possibility of present faith to take on substance around the ‘abundant’ neptic life, filled with Shalom, Love, Grace etc. ?

    Note: future reality, not as in an escape out of this place, but based in never-ending growth and relationship with the King.

    • Based on Jesus’ recorded words, the kingdom of God – the “society of love & shalom” – is in our midst. It’s here, right now. Not fully-realized, of course. Eschatological views differ based on scripture passages cited and how they are interpreted; we are not concerned with these, not with the future “full realization”. Rather, we are concerned about acting right here and now as citizens (and even “ambassadors”) of this society. It crosses geographic, political, socio-economic, and religious barriers. It’s higher and better than all of them. And by “present faith” we do indeed take hold of that and dwell in that kingdom society now.

  2. Eldredge said this: “let the world feel the full weight of who you are.”

    Maybe that’s what it means to become Christlike. Not imitating His behavior, but resting in His “Finished Work” freedom to be who we’ve been created to be. And living that out . . .

    Fully.
    Passionately.
    Vulnerable, no masks.
    Dependent on Him.
    Not limited to “natural” means because we have access to “supernatural” resource.

  3. “There is a great difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him… If we only know of Jesus as a good man, a great example, it is no help to us. Those who know Him know Who He is. When we know Him everything is different and we are living in a new world — a new atmosphere. Heaven begins on earth for us. Those who know Him know that Jesus is everything to them. They can bear witness because they have been living with Him…If we live in Him He will reveal Himself to us and we shall bear witness — not for a day or a night only…” Sadhu Sundar Singh

    • This quote is an example of something that sounds very, very certain, but is in fact one person’s experience that is then offered as a “truth” for all. We take the leap of doubt on that one.

      We also disagree that is of no help to know Jesus as a good man or great example. That’s too extreme of a statement for us.

      This quote assumes that Jesus is God.. This is something that cannot be proven. It can only be “asserted” by referencing passages in the Bible that in and of themselves do not state this clearly and require inference and interpretation. We prefer to not take a stand on such things.

      However… if “Jesus” in the quote above were replaced with “God”, we would agree that an experiential, intimate knowledge of God changes everything. God is the one into whose arms we have indeed taken a leap of faith, and our experience is the proof that we need personally but cannot give to others; every person must experience God for themselves. But we do think that the way of Jesus (not religion, not Church Inc.) is the ideal way to know God.

  4. I have to add one thing for clarity’s sake…

    I said above that regarding the deity of Jesus “we prefer to not take a stand on such things.”

    1. That does NOT mean that we deny the deity of Jesus.
    2. That does NOT mean that we affirm the deity of Jesus.

    To one of us, the deity of Jesus and the dogma of the Trinity is a cherished personal belief. To the other of us these are purely theoretical matters that are not very relevant to actually DOING what Jesus says.

    So when it comes to these kinds of unproveable personal beliefs, we collectively will not take a position on them while personally we may feel persuaded one way or another.

  5. Who comprises the “we” in the Leap of Doubt? Does “we” both contribute to the conversation?

    I’m assuming that when ‘the other of us’ says these are purely theoretical, irrelevant, unproveable matters when it comes to following the Way of Jesus, the implication is that following Him is independent of whether or not He is God.

    • We = Bob (recovering Baptist) and Tom (recovering Catholic). Bob handles most of the blogging, though both are working on the book together and both discuss the blog to make sure we’re in harmony on it. Yes, there is a book in the works; these blog entries comprise some of the topics we’ll be expanding on, along with other thoughts as we seek to navigate this “new world”.

      Yes, the idea is that following the Way of Jesus does not require a belief in the divinity of Jesus; it simply requires surrender to that way of living. God is free to sort out the details and validate/invalidate dogma later on – we welcome it. But we refuse to take a stand that “everyone” should believe something that in the end comes down to personal belief and/or dogma.

    • A point of clarification in hindsight… Tom was never fully on board with The Leap of Doubt, that was just my wishful thinking. I probably need to go back and change all the “we” stuff to “I”.

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