Deeper Hope:

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Jesus is not a System

It’s so much easier to study about about Jesus than to be a student of Jesus. We face the constant temptation to fill our heads with the details of his life and ministry. Pastors and college professors emphasize the need to memorize Bible verses or learn Greek and Hebrew. Publishers produce massive volumes of systematic theology. Popular Christian books suggest Biblical keys to success for our finances, healing, or any other human need. But Jesus is not a system, he is a person.

Perhaps we should give ourselves first to filling our hearts and lives with his presence. An omniscient God is not impressed with the size of our intellect, but he is impressed with the size of our heart. How can a finite human mind grasp an infinite God? St. Augustine, one of the greatest intellectuals in history, lamented that the “mansion of his heart” was too small and asked God to graciously enlarge his heart, not his mind. The Holy Spirit, who breathed out every word of the scripture, is not impressed with how many verses we have committed to memory, but he is impressed with how many verses have found their way into our everyday lives. Jesus didn't care much for religious knowledge, but he was astonished by the faith of simple people like widows and gentile soldiers.

Even though the Scripture encourages us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” we are constantly tempted to pursue human understanding regarding the words of Jesus when we should pursue his living presence. Trust is about relationship, understanding is about intellect. In Jesus, God chose to become a man. The infinite stooped down and clothed himself in humanity. In his earthly ministry Jesus did not reveal all the secrets of knowledge and learning in human history. He chose instead to reveal how it was possible to enter into relationship with the creator. Jesus chose to reveal the Kingdom of God. By his actions, Jesus taught relationship is more important than understanding. We know this intuitively. We tend to forget it when it comes to our faith.

Faith does not require us to throw our brains into the trash. It does, however, require us to order our lives around what is most important, and relationship comes first. Jesus opened the way back to relationship with the creator. The good news of the gospel is that the Father has gone after the very children who have rejected him. He refuses to leave us alone. He will pay any price--even the life of son--in order to win us back again. That's a committed relationship in action.

Some of us have busied ourselves with developing human descriptions of God’s action. We discuss words like justification or sanctification. We try to present the legal reasons Christians can expect to go to heaven when they die. When Jesus paid the price for reconciliation, he wasn’t thinking about theology: he demonstrated God’s irrepressible love. Jesus described eternal life in terms of relationship with God: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

In Jesus are "hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:3) We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, mind, and strength, so we can confidently apply our intellect in the love of God. We should also remember that the countless of number of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will worship him in heaven will certainly include the unlearned and the illiterate--and they may have a thing or two to teach us about a loving relationship with Jesus.

The challenge for us as Students of Jesus, then, is to know him, and not settle for knowing about him.

Reader Comments (13)

Amen and amen. Well said, Ray.

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Scott

Brilliant. Spot on.

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Bessey

Brother Ray, Brother Kevin and Sister Sarah you've been talking to Dad. ALL each of us have to do to have that eternal life spoken of in John 17:3 is summed completely up in Luke 10:25-37 ... and no more is necessary ... and each of us is capable today to make that commitment ... no church ... no doctrine ... no theology ... no ritual ... no need for “where two or more are gathered” (but it is nice we are gathered here) ... just a sincere reciprocal loving relationship with our Lord God and our neighbor who shows us mercy. Jesus raised up in the eye of a Jewish law student a Samaritan to be an equally qualified neighbor who could, also, pass into an eternal life to learn fully in relationship with the Father. Jesus was within the system of Jewish speaking to an authority of the law who was, also, within the system of Jewish which is the very same system who could not recognize God enough so that they lorded over Him and killed God to fulfill their system and not God’s system. Am I excited that you commandingly just wrote this piece? YOU BETCHA!

Personally I don’t need anyone else writing the law in my heart and mind because the Holy Spirit has already done that as Jesus promised. I am no more special than anyone else. The same working relationship I have with our Lord God is readily available to every member of man who was created in the Creators’ image (refer to Genesis 1:26 and note the “our image”).

Our God is perfectly capable of taking care of himself without our childish efforts to coordinate and organize His defense. Our God is perfectly capable of taking care of each of us according to our needs if we choose to accept His system only.

I once question how I could be sure I was petitioning the right god and the right spirit. The answer was nearly too simple; address what I send from my heart and mind to the only omnipresent and omnipotent source for the nurture I yearn, “Our Father who is in Heaven …”. He is real, Jesus is real and the Holy Spirit is real and it will take an eternity of relationship to know just how real and how many more personas (male and female) of one mind and one heart God truly is. Today He answered a query I have had for a week, or so, and had just begun a study on doctrine; before reading your offering. My query is answered, thank you. Herm

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Greetings to you each, Kevin, Sarah, and Herm. Thanks so much for your encouragement.

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

At the risk of being labeled too intellectual to have a real relationship with Jesus, I would like to note that this post and the responses, both of which I like a lot, are early steps on the road to apophatic mysticism. That's a pretty good road.

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I should probably clarify by saying I mean, Christian apophatic mysticism. Revelations of Divine Love and The Cloud of Unknowing are representative texts.

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Rebecca, I appreciate your appreciation but I do disagree with labeling the direction of this thread as being toward apophatic mysticism. I just have to say that God relates with me at my level and our relationship is mutually welcomed by both me and He. I could not share sufficiently how mysterious but very real it is that God answered a question I asked in my language through Ray’s offering. This is not a theology or a logically explained happenstance but is a relationship very real and very nurturing to me at my level of understanding.

If I was two years old with a pressing question I needed an answer to and my father gave me the answer I would not, nor could not, define how he knew the answer or how the answer was understandable at my two old level of understanding. I faithfully know the answer is correct and I go on to apply the answer because I know my father loves me and I love my father. There is no definable system to why or how the relationship with my father/Father works because the science is so far beyond my capabilities. I pray that this makes some kind of sense because I want you to have the same indefinable relationship with our Father in Heaven that has made my problem riddled childhood so much fun (I am 68 years old). Herm

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Rebeeca, thanks for sending me to the dictionary, it was a good time. Thanks, too, for clarifying your phrase with "Christian." I would be so pleased to be in the company of Revelations of Divine Love and The Cloud of Unknowing. (I'd be the beggar at their curbside).

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Ray, such a great truth, and well written! I am reminded of Phil. 3:10 - "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection..."

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill Budai

Thanks, Bill: Great point as well. I love that passage from Philippians.

June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

I thank you for this, Ray. The basic reality of life and faith - that's it - relationship. Not doctrine or any of the fine 'ologies' that we have constructed to fill our minds with facts. Time to head to the beach today and sit with my Friend, my Father, my Counselor.

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Trautwein

Herm, what you are describing -- an intimate relationship with the Father without the need to understand -- is the definition of Christian apophatic mysticism. The authors of medieval texts on the subject provided guidance in how a person steeped in intellectualism could begin to have such a relationship, but they did not define a system. They had and developed a relationship. So, as I said, I believe you are on that happy road to contentment and joy through realizing God is far greater and far more than we can ever understand but is also willing to completely indwell us and allow us to revel in His love and presence.

Blessings to you sir.

June 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Rebecca, It is you who are blessing to me, thank you. I am having strong knee jerk reactions to anything that resembles a definitive judgement of a very real relationship with our Father; even when (and I too looked up the definition for Christian apophatic mysticism) the definition is pretty much right on. What Ray has offered is a meeting ground for conversation among those who desire to be students of Christ Jesus and that is the equal definition we share; disciples. We have each as full a relationship as we are capable of growing from such a relationship with the Teacher. I can't judge or define your relationship relative to mine but am overjoyed that you have recognized yours. I am flawed and need an eternity of relationship to overcome my flaws, ever so slowly but I now know ever so certainly. I will share with you, please don't tell anyone else, I am truly embarrassed when I am defined as being a Christian. I am proud to be a child of our God in Heaven, our mind and our heart. I am proud to be a full-time student of our Divine Brother who now shares dual citizenship as Son of man and Son of God. It is through these defined relationships that I can intellectually described how I have so much love and mercy to share with my neighbor. You have graciously shared mercy and love with me through your studies and I value your time and effort you have directed to me, thank you very much for your knowledge, mercy and most especially love. Herm

June 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

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