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The Jesus of History

Page 24

Chapter V

The Teaching Of Jesus Upon God

It is worth taking some trouble to realize how profoundly Jesus has changed the thinking of mankind about God. "Since Jesus lived," Dr. Fairbairn wrote, "God has been another and nearer Being to man." "Jesus," writes Dr. Fosdick, "had the most joyous idea of God that ever was thought of." That joyous sense of God he has given to his followers, and it stands in vivid contrast with the feelings men have toward God in the other religions. Christianity is the religion of joy. The New Testament is full of it.

We know the general character of Jesus' attitude to God, his feeling for God, his sense of God's nearness. How immediate his knowledge of God is, how intimate! Of course, here, as everywhere, his teaching has such an occasional character—or else the records of it are so fragmentary—that we must not press the absence of system in it; and yet, I think, it would be right to say that Jesus puts before us no system of God, but rather suggests a great exploration, an intimacy with the slow and sure knowledge that intimacy gives. He has no definition of God,[21] but he assumes God, lives on the basis of God, interprets God; and God is discovered in his acts and his relations. He said to Peter, in effect—for the familiar phrase comes to this in modern English: "You think like a man; you don't think like God" (Mark 8:33). Elsewhere he contrasts God's thoughts with man's—their outlooks are so different "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15; the Greek words are very interesting). In other words, he would have men see all things as God sees them. That we do not so see them, remains the weak spot in our thinking. What Luther said to Erasmus is true of most of us: "Your thoughts concerning God are too human." "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," said Jesus (Matt. 5:8), and throughout he emphasizes that the vision of God depends on likeness to God—it is love and a glowing purity that give that faculty, rather than any power of intellect apart from them. Jesus brings men back to the ultimate fact. Our views are too short and too narrow. He would have us face God, see him and realize him—think in the terms of God, look at things from God's point of view, live in God and with God. In modern phrase, he breaks up our dogmatism and puts us at a universal point of view to see things over again in a new and true perspective.

How and where did he begin himself? Whence came his consciousness of God, his gift for recognizing God? We do not know. The story of his growth, his inward growth, is almost unrevealed to us. We are told that he learnt "by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8), and that he "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52). Where does anyone begin, who takes us any great distance? It is very hard to know. Where did our own thoughts of God begin? What made them? How did they come? There is an inherited element in them, but how much else? Whence came the inherited element? How is it that to another man, with the same upbringing as ours, everything is different, everything means more? Remark, at any rate, in the teaching of Jesus, that there is no mysticism of the type so much studied to-day. There is nothing in the least "psychopathic" about him, nothing abnormal—no mystical vision of God, no mystical absorption in God, no mystical union with God, no abstraction, nothing that is the mark of the professed mystic. Yet he speaks freely of "seeing God"; he lives a life of the closest union with God; and God is in all his thoughts. A phrase like that of Clement of Alexandria, "deifying into apathy we become monadic," is seas away from anything we find in the speech of Jesus. That is not the way he preaches God. He is far more natural; and that his followers accepted this naturalness, and drew him so, and gave his teaching as he gave it, is a fresh pledge of the truthfulness of the Gospels.