As God unfolds, emerges within us, we begin to exhibit more and more the signs of what the New Testament writers call “the kingdom of God,” but which we might think of simply as “the way of God.” The way of God is the unveiling of God, the incarnation of God, in the world. As we develop our affinity for God, align ourselves with God, and live out the way of God, we will become increasingly “as God is.”
This is the very thing Jesus was talking about when he said, “The Father and I are one,” and what the Old Testament writers described as being “holy as God is holy”; as being “perfect as God is perfect.” When we live in this way, we will be the expression of “God presence” in the world, and people will sense in us the essence of God. This will not come about by our attempting to emulate a particular idea of holiness, or perfection, or presence, by refraining from alcohol, say, or cursing, but will simply be a perceived side-effect of our being who we are in our lives. We will be us, ourselves, in a way that bespeaks of God, without our doing anything to try and “be God,” or “model God” to the people.
The sense of God Presence will be a natural result of our affinity for God, of our accession to the unfolding of God within. As we accede to the unfolding, as we voluntarily participate in the emergence of God within us, and through us, into the world, we will be less and less enamored with, and interested in, descriptions of how we are supposed to be in order to “be Godly.” We will mostly be creative. We will mostly be imaginative. We will mostly be bringing into existence that which has never been. We will mostly be ourselves being God as only we can be God.
We birth God like a baby into the world. We are the mothers of God, the fathers of God. This is the method of birth: “Here is my body, broken for you. Here is my blood, poured out for you. Do this—present your body, broken, your blood, poured out, in the service of the Good, in the birthing of God—in remembrance of me.” Or, this: “Have this mind among you which you find in Christ Jesus, who did not count equality with God as something to be exploited for his own personal gain, but, being found in human form, lived to serve the Good regardless of the implications, in spite of the outcome, and became faithful to his vision of the Good unto death, even death on a cross.” That’s it. That’s how we bring God to life in the world.
We are the bearers of God. God comes to life in our lives. God is as alive as we are. As we live out of, and toward, the best we can imagine, there is God. The better the best is that we can imagine, the more vivid and vibrant is God. No imagination of the Good, no God. Resplendent imagination of the Good, resplendent God. It’s as simple as that.
I can’t tell you how difficult it is to bring into being something that has never existed—the church as it ought to be, for instance. It’s as tough as a virgin birth. All who attempt it are the Virgin Mary. And, of course, this shifts us right over into contemplation of all the biblical images, themes, stories, and how the literal has to give way to the metaphorical. The Bible as literal depiction of how things are—with a literal judgment day, for example, and a literal Satan, and a literal hell, and a literal heaven, and a literal throne, and, a literal God-king on the throne, for other examples—is as lifeless as it gets. We have to read the Bible as metaphor if it is to be of any help to us at all.
And, here, we get into the discussion of the difference between “factual truth,” (or “literal truth”) and “poetical truth” (or “metaphorical truth”). The Garden of Eden, for instance, is not factual in any sense of the term. Yet, it is as true as it gets. There was no actual, factual, Original Sin, yet, shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best, and we are always turning our backs on ourselves and our best interest in the service of what we take to be our own, personal gain. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save us from the wrathful punishment of a vengeful God who had to be appeased with the deaths of those who deserved it. He died in the service of his own integrity and the message of the cross is “There is a price to be paid in being true to—in living in ways which are integral with and aligned with—that which is deepest, best, and truest about you, and which exhibit the best that can be imagined.”
If you are paying attention, you noticed that I’m comfortable with a literal Jesus literally dying on a literal cross. I also think there was a literal Paul, and a literal Jeremiah, and a literal King David. There is a large amount of factual, historical, literal data recorded in the Bible. The biblical interpretations of the literal facts are not literal representations of how it was/is really. When you take a fact, the establishment of Israel as a political entity, say, and explain that fact in terms of hows and whys, wherefores and therefores, and elevate the explanation to the level of fact itself, and enshrine the explanation as factual as the fact it explains, you screw up. The trick is to let the facts that are facts be facts, and to let our understanding of the facts unfold and emerge, flow and develop, in ways that deepen us, enliven us, awaken us to the truth of how it is with us and how we can best respond to that truth in ways that are truly good.
The cross as fact represents clearly how it is with us, how it has always been with us, how it will always be with us. We will pay a price for being true to ourselves. The cross is a real fact that has to be taken into account if we are to really bring to life that which is deepest, truest, and best in the world. “Ain’t that how it is though?”, is the message of the cross. And, “Don’t let this stop you!” We cannot let the fact of the cross stop us from living in ways that serve the Good and bring hope, and joy, and peace, and justice and life to life in the world, just like Jesus did. The message of Jesus is, “This is how it is. Don’t let it stop you! Come, follow me!” We pick up our own cross, daily, and follow Jesus when we live in light of the common good and bring the best we have to offer to life in each moment of our lives.
And, we follow the path of Adam and Eve when we put off allegiance to the Good in favor of our own personal gain. When we think life is about gathering the boon to ourselves, getting ours, having it made, socking it away, and then, with whatever time and resources are left over, giving something back to the world, we make the mistake of Adam and Eve and fail to live the life that is ours to live. And, it may well be that that’s the worst thing that ever happens to us, that we fail to live the life that is ours to live. Maybe we make a few million and sail around the world and never experience anything resembling a cross, and the only cost to us is that we fail to live the life that is ours to live; we fail to be true to that which is deepest, best, and truest about us. It’s a small price to pay, don’t you think, to have the life of our dreams? We can deal with it. A little more cocaine (or a little more of some other addiction, some other diversion, some other distraction) and we won’t even think about it.
We forsake ourselves for the sake of having it made, and that’s the story of the Garden of Eden. How do you get back the lost chance at life? How do you make it up to yourself that you exchanged life for money and a sail boat? How do you redeem your failure to be who you are? How do you make atonement? Where do you go to be forgiven, set right? How do you get back what you lost? Easy. You pick up your cross and step into your life, at any point in your life.
The cross is the cure for what ails us. And the cross is the price we pay for being true to ourselves, for living in ways that are integral with that which is deepest, best, and truest about us. It is the ever-present antidote to the poison of the Forbidden Fruit. Remember the angel with the flaming sword of death that guarded the entrance back into Eden? The way back into Eden is the way of death—death to our own ego, our own desire for personal gain—it is the way of the cross. Simple, really.
Well. If it’s so simple, how come no one every thought about it in these terms? How come the Bible misses what the Bible is all about? How come the Bible conjures up this fantastic picture of a convoluted after-life with demons and Satan and God and Jesus and angelic armed forces battling it out over the future of our souls? And, what makes us think that we have it right and the Bible has it wrong?
Each age has to understand its own story in light of its best guess regarding what the deal is and how things work. We know more than they knew in the days the Bible was being written. Our world-view is broader. Our understanding of the psyche is deeper. We can throw out more theories than they could throw out. If the Bible were being written today, it would be radically different. There is a sense in which each age has to re-write the Bible in light of its present understanding of the world and how things work, how things are. This is the work of interpretation, of homiletics, of theology—and of psychology, and philosophy, and epistemology, and linguistics, and…well, where do you draw the line? All of the disciplines are there to help us decipher who we are, what we are about, and how we can best be about it. To help us understand reality, and what is real, and how the world works, and what it means to live a good life, and what we have to do to live well upon the earth. And, we have to listen to all that is being said to us, allowing it to broaden, to deepen, to enlarge, to expand our understanding of the possibilities, and align ourselves, as well as we are able, with the highest good, one might say with the best good, we can imagine.
We cannot be limited in this work to understand the good and do it to the Bible’s understanding of the good 2,000 years ago. Jesus said, “Every scribe fit for the kingdom of heaven, takes from his treasure something old and something new.” There are aspects of the Bible that can certainly be carried forward. The Philippian Hymn, for example; the Fruits of the Spirit; the Songs of the Suffering Servant; Paul’s soliloquy on Love and on Whatever Is True, are all timelessly beautiful and spring from the heart of truth. But every word in the Bible is not equal to every other word. There is very much a “canon within the canon.” And our task is always that of determining what is scriptural and what is not, adding to, and separating out, taking “something old and something new” into the struggle to live well upon the earth every day of our lives.