Magical Jesus

 

“I don’t have time or energy for friends, only for my church and my family.”

A good friend and pastor recently said this to me, and then noted that emotional support from his church has been nearly nonexistent this past year.  I remarked that it is unhealthy and dangerous to expect that much support from his spouse—that marriages don’t work that way.

“But I don’t get my support from my family,” he said.

“Then if not your family or your church (nor your friends), then from whom?” I asked.

“I get my support from Jesus.”

Hmmmn.  Really?

How?

Enter “Magical Jesus.”  Magical Jesus is, well, magical!  For example, Magical Jesus can do anything (“For God all things are possible.”  Mt 19:26) and helps me do anything (“I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”  Phil 4:13).

Now I have two problems with Magical Jesus.

First, contact with Magical Jesus is entirely personal (and thus no one can challenge my view of the matter) and divine (and thus it defies explanation).  As such, when Magical Jesus is the reason for an action, then that action is beyond critique.

Now if people were perfect, maybe Magical Jesus would be too.  But because Christians believe in (and perpetuate!) wrong-doing and self-deception, anything impervious to criticism is also a great place to hide one’s true intentions and motives, especially from oneself.  In short, Magical Jesus conveniently sidesteps the requirement of providing truth values in order to substantiate our truth claims.

Second, biblical and historical evidence show that Jesus doesn’t work this way.  Against general notions that “everything is possible” for God and I can “do anything” through God, the Bible shows that what God ‘empowers people to do’ is to communicate the good news concerning Jesus despite the most daunting of circumstances.1  In turn, what is “possible for God” is for this good news to find purchase (and so restore right relationship with God) with the most unlikely of people.2

Thus we (its messengers) are strengthened to bring the good news and God (whose message it is) is capable of fructifying that message for all.

History too shows the matter differently.  Take Blaise Pascal and Thomas Aquinas.  Both claimed direct, personal encounters with God.  The results were staggering.  After his encounter Aquinas, author of some of Christianity’s most esteemed theological writings to that point, viewed all his writing “as straw.”  Pascal, a philosopher and mathematician, saw his life’s work as nothing in comparison to the God he encountered, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—not of philosophers or scientists.”

When I challenged this pastor he seemed dumbstruck, like I wasn’t allowed to question what was between him and Jesus.  The problem for me, as his friend, is that Magical Jesus was coming between us—making my relationship with him unnecessary.

In fact, Magical Jesus actually opposes truth and deters love.  So by appealing to Magical Jesus my friend all but sidestepped the hard questions about truth (i.e., why he’s acting this way) and, because such appeals cut off critique, the only valid response is acceptance.  This in turn withers any relationship, such as caring friendship, that will not be so constrained.

But where Magical Jesus opposes truth and deters love, the real Jesus does just the opposite.  Pascal’s perspective adds a finer point on the matter.

It was not that Pascal’s profession (as mathematician and philosopher) was unimportant.  Rather, God’s interest is in people—Abraham and Isaac; you and me.  Thus Jesus came to renew right relationship (person to person, person to world, and person to God).  In this context, God’s truth that is quintessentially “for me” is the claim that I am deeply beloved by one whom I may love / by whom I would most desire to be loved.

And while this truth may remain incomprehensible for many, surely understanding it begins with parallels in our real-life relationships: sometimes with parents and siblings, sometimes with spouses and children.  And sometimes, too, with friends.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Mt 19:26, Mk 10:27, Lk 18:27 all refer to it being possible for a rich person to be saved (“Then who can be saved? . . . For God all things are possible”).  Mk 14:36 is conditioned by Mk 14:35, with similar notions in Mt 26:39.
  2. Likewise the context of Phil 4:13 is set by Paul’s comments about not worrying (4:6) and about being able to go with or without food (4:12), and is conditioned by similar notions in Rom 16:25, Eph 3:16, 1Th 3:13, 2Th 3:3, 1 Pet 4:11 & 5:10 .

16 thoughts on “Magical Jesus

  1. Magical Jesus sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe he could get me that house I have been waiting for or find me the perfect partner. Hmm… Magical Jesus almost sounds like a current day movie star! I need his autograph and maybe a lock of his hair…

    Seems to me what I sense here is the challenge you are experiencing as a result of being ostracized by your friend. And I empathize with you on that one. It sounds pretty rotten and I don’t really get if Magical Jesus is giving this Pastor all of his support, why does he not have anything left at the end of the day for friends, family and well, for himself… Hmm…

    I dunno. I suppose anything is possible. Jesus can be a bit of a mystery man… I imagine he can dole out energy to whomever he pleases. However, it seems to me this whole show would require a great deal of inner work… like a load of prayers and meditation for like days… maybe weeks… maybe months…

    I guess I shouldn’t knock it, really, just because I haven’t been blessed with boundless energy ‘grace à’ Jesus’ selfless hand outs but something in this equation doesn’t add up… no really… it doesn’t…

    I wonder how close this Pastor is to burn out… I wonder how deeply he is struggling… I wonder if he is feeling peaceful and full of divine love and light… I wonder where the truth lies in all of this… (ha ha ha… that’s a good one!)

    • Hi Mama,

      I appreciate your comments. Yes, you’re right–it hurts to be devalued and removed from someone’s life like that. And I hope that he adopts better ways of coping and doesn’t burn out (or ostracize more people). But it’s hard to speak into situations like that: at some level this is meeting a need for him, dysfunctional as that need may be.

  2. So, to be clear, which truth claims are you making? That Jesus isn’t magical? That He isn’t sufficient for us – unless it is in the context of sharing the gospel in difficult situations? That we are deeply beloved, but our personal relationship with God can’t be put above other personal relationships? Maybe you could make an absolute truth claim .i don’t mean for that to sound mean or anything, just an honest comment. Nathan

    • Hi Nathan,

      Sorry not to have got back to you sooner: I didn’t get a notice that your comment was posted (and only saw it as I was adding a new post today).

      So what am I claiming? Jesus is not magical (in the sense that mentioning Jesus’ name or claiming Jesus’ involvement does not make my views correct, sanction my actions as valid, or indicate in any way that God actually endorses either). This is based on two things.

      On the one hand, a correct understanding of the Bible must be based on both its textual / linguistic and cultural / historical contexts. Now I’m not sure where your comment about Jesus’ “sufficiency” comes from (nor am I entirely sure what you mean by this: it would be good if you could explain this): the comments in this post directly relate to the two verses that I quoted at the beginning–Mt 19:26 and Phil 4:13–did you see / read the two footnotes?

      Contexts both provide and restrict meanings. In these cases, the contexts indicates that God can (and will) further the good news about Jesus, for the most unlikely of people and despite the most adverse of situations. The problem is that so many Christians use these verses (and others like them) to claim something (about God, themselves, etc.) that the verses do not mean!

      In other words, I am claiming that the only possible way for people to read, understand, and apply the Bible’s content correctly is according to its context. To do otherwise both i) does violence to the text and ii) results in us making God “as we think God should be,” not as the Bible describes / portrays God to be. This amounts to making God in (or according to) our own image, which is idolatry.

      On the other hand, human claims (about ourselves, God, etc.) are never beyond critique. So your concern about how to integrate personal relationships and our relationship with God is important, but it is not the point. The point is that this pastor, like so many Christians, tried to shield his actions from critique by claiming that “Jesus was doing it all.” And I had excellent reasons to think that this was not true.

      It would not be proper to share those reasons here (though I have shared them with him). The problem is that Christians regularly try to shield their actions, motives, the validity of their Bible readings, etc., from others. And this is precisely NOT what Jesus, nor any of the NT writers, did. Quite the opposite. They offered full argumentation as to why their perspectives were more truthful–in other words, why their truth claims had greater truth value.

      As to the idea that we are deeply beloved of God, I agree. As to my making absolute truth claims, how can I be? In other words, my post offers argumentation to support my view and I am responding to your objections the very same way. If anything it is Christians, such as this pastor and others, who “claim Jesus” without any proof that their claims are justified or even biblical, who are making absolute (or ultimate) truth claims. And this too is idolatrous, because it puts them on par with God.

      Simply claiming something to be true, as I am, does not make the claim “absolute” (or better, ultimate): your comment makes me think that I need to clarify and further explain this point. I will aim to do this.

      Thanks for interacting and I would be glad to discuss more with you.

  3. In your story about the pastor, he said that he was not getting much support from his congregation, you asked about his spouse, he said he wasn’t getting support from there either, he was getting support from Jesus. I don’t have a problem here. The Bible seems to support this idea. Look at Psalm 55:22 cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you. This was a Psalm of David, (a man after God’s own heart) it sheds some light on the nature of God. Earlier in the same Psalm v.16 ” as for me, i shall call upon God, and the Lord will save me. 1 peter 5: 6+7 also supports this idea of turning to God for support. ” therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. “. I asked if you are saying that Jesus is not sufficient, because you are mocking this pastor and other believers if they can’t prove to you their claims about Jesus. You called Him ‘ magical Jesus ‘. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus invites those who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him, and He will give them rest. There is nothing taken out of context and quite frankly nothing ” Magical ” or erroneous about taking Jesus at His word. I would look at you like you were from another planet too if you thought that you needed to come between me and Jesus because you didn’t believe that Jesus (REAL JESUS) could be my source of support. The Bible is the ultimate truth. What do you have from the Bible to tell this pastor that he can’t get his support from Jesus? Thanks. Nathan.

    • Hi Nathan.

      Thanks for your comment. As always, I remain glad to interact about material on my blog and appreciate your interest. Yet at this point I need to be frank.

      Honestly, I have no sense from either of your comments that have actually fully read my blog post or my reply to you, and so my perception is that you are not actually engaging with what I am presenting. Instead, I have the strong sense that you are simply reacting against an idea within the post that you find threatening.

      Did you read the post’s opening quotation? Did you then put that quotation in the context of the time frame (a year) and then of the pastor’s widespread lack of support? The issue is not whether God is a support for believers in a time of need—of course God is. This misses the point completely. The issue is that the pastor is covering up very questionable life choices (by excluding his friends and family of origin from his life) with the claim that “it’s okay” because Jesus is, essentially, taking on everyone else’s role.

      Did you read in my reply to you how “I had excellent reason to think that [the pastor’s claim] was not true”? You could choose not to take me at my word, but why? On what grounds? Doing so would not only represent a real lack of generosity but would again appear to be side-stepping the issue that I am plainly presenting: people—Christians—manipulate their Bible-reading and absolutize their claims about God in order to shield themselves from their own deceitful practices!

      The idea that Jesus “stands in” for our responsibility to engage with our closest friends and biological brothers and sisters when we are actually choosing to isolate ourselves from their care (and their criticism of our excesses, as this pastor did) is nowhere in any biblical text. Thus by claiming Jesus in this context the pastor a) does violence to the Bible and b) makes God “as the pastor wants God to be.”

      A terribly convenient idea, but untrue. “Magical” is the descriptor I used.

      Yet if my critique of Christians who read the Bible instrumentally and immunizing themselves from critique was unclear in the post itself, I took pains to make it clear in my reply.

      My question is: How did you miss this?

      How did you miss the point I was making so widely? Or did you simply choose to ignore it? Or, could it be that you are avoiding the point because the post strikes “too close to home”?

      After all, are you not using the very practices that I critique here (i.e., disregarding context in order to make of a text “what one wishes”) in order to disregard my actual point by contorting it into something that I am not saying (and then accusing me of misunderstanding the Bible on this false basis)? This too seems very convenient, but not true.

      Finally, I think that we need to be very careful: the Bible is not the ultimate truth. The Bible points to the ultimate truth, who is God. Further, we do not understand the Bible within a vacuum but within its context, both in terms of its original meaning and in terms of its application. The contexts for the original meaning are textual / linguistic and cultural / historical.

      The contexts for its application? Creation. Thus Biblical claims must both makes sense of and be made sense of by lived existence, well interpreted. The relationship here is complex but essential: creation frames salvation, while salvation refigures creation.

  4. i don’t feel threatened by anything in your post or reply. it sounds more to me like you feel threatened when someone disagrees with you and gives you valid reasons why. i really could only react to what you wrote and not any other secret knowledge you have about the pastor and the things he did to exclude everyone else from his life. if you beleive that God is a support for believers , which i also believe , then i do miss your point about sarcastically calling him magical jesus, you wrote it and i responded with bible verses to support my position , and i didn’t have to bend anything to make a clear point which you seem to agree with. the rest of your response is just rude and argumentative , suggesting that i don’t take you at your word, or that your post hits too close to home, or that I am using the very practices that you are critiquing by disregarding contexts to make a text say what one wishes.i got more information from your reply about what the pastor was doing wrong than i got from your blogpost , so if you are going to be so vague about the details thats your own fault. i think you are subject to critique as well. its your post after all . if you expect everyone to agree with you….good luck. and whether you agree or not i will continue believing that Gods holy scripture is the ultimate truth.

    • Hi Nathan,

      Well, it’s unfortunate that all you are taking from my response is that I’m being “rude and argumentative,” or from my blog post was that I was “vague” on details (details that were not needed for my point to be valid), or that I was being “sarcastic” in calling this pastor’s Jesus magical.

      Sometimes we are confronted with new ideas for which we have no categories, which I believe is the case for you here. And when these ideas won’t go away, such as my persistence in re-iterating my point (and emphasizing how it seems to me that you continued to miss it entirely, and then questioning what that might mean) this can be extremely challenging. I respect that: I have certainly experienced this in my life.

      So maybe you’re right: maybe you’ve seen through my attempts to appear learned or knowledgeable and perceived “the truth”: that I am unnecessarily besmirching other Christians, disrespecting Jesus, and then feeling threatened when you disagree with me and “call me out on it.” Maybe you’ve seen me more truly than I see myself and you understand what my post means better than I do. In fact maybe my blog post, and my perspective, are as false as the lack of engagement that you made with them in your replies would imply.

      Maybe.

      But of course I’m not just someone who writes a blog and offers what you view as “rude and argumentative” replies to respondents (well, to one respondent: no one else has accused me of this).

      I have actually spent a lot of years of my life, over 25 years in fact, submitting myself to assessment and critique and gaining skills and resources in the area of biblical interpretation, self-awareness, and Christian practice. I spent 5 years at graduate school (with all of the intense focus and criticism that accompanies it) and produced a thesis project on the same topic as this blog post, which won some high honours. I spent 3 years at Swiss L’Abri (where I forced myself to engage daily with people with whom I disagreed and to face views that were painful and challenging). I spent over 10 years in counselling of various sorts (familial abuse, grief, marriage, sexuality, spiritual beliefs and practices, career counselling) with some skilled people. I spent 2 years training as a mediator, learning how to engage with people in conflictual situations. This does not mean that I am not, as you write, “subject to critique.” I do make mistakes. But I know–and am aware of–a few things too.

      The truth is, Nathan, I am challenging you.

      I am presenting arguments as a way of offering you something: a chance to consider a view that I think you very much need to hear and embrace based on my what I have read here in our exchanges and what I have heard during my Sunday morning discussions at our church. What you do with my challenge and my offer is up to you. I have pushed you to look at something I find at least questionable in your responses–you say there’s nothing to look at. Instead, you say that I’mI’m the one who is off topic, not you), as a Christian I don’t love my neighbour very well (my neighbour being you, based on how I’ve treated you in my response) and I’m not doing a very good job at loving God (by being sarcastic about something as important as Jesus supporting believers).

      Quite the indictments.

      You are entitled to think whatever you want, to believe whatever you want, and to read the Bible in whatever way you want. But you, like the rest of us, are not entitled to claim truthfulness. That we earn. So maybe all of the things I’ve done to try to “earn” (or better, acquire) truth have resulted in little of it, just as you seem to see no truth in what I have proposed in my post or what I have been proposing to you in my replies.

      Maybe.

      Or maybe you’re not seeing something. Maybe you don’t know quite as much as you think that you do (and maybe all of my professors, teachers, and counselors weren’t entirely deceived about me). Maybe there’s actually a problem here and you’ve developed practices of hiding that problem from yourself. This is called self-deceit which, interestingly, is the topic of the discussion that I am facilitating at our church. I guess a lot depends on how much you trust yourself (and why), and how competent you think that you are at finding and knowing truth, including the truth about yourself (and what you base this competence on).

      Quite a few maybe’s.

      But maybe that doesn’t bother you, because you believe “that Gods holy scripture is the ultimate truth,” that you understand it correctly, and that I (essentially) don’t.

      Or maybe not.

    • As an aside, Nathan, from what I read in your reply you seem to feel angry and hurt. This was not my intention.

      In that regard, has it occurred to you to consider how I might feel (and what I might be thinking) through this process? In other words, if I really do think that you’re not seeing something important here and, when I take pains to point it out to you, you indict me as:
      a) being the real cause of the issue (how can you be on-topic if I’m so vague),
      b) not treating my neighbour as I ought,
      c) not respecting God as I ought…
      … how would you respond if you were in my shoes?

      Indeed, why would you take the time and effort to challenge me if this is not something that you normally do? How would you have been successful in examining yourself and developing your ideas only to have me see the errors in them so quickly? Finally, how would you know that you were wrong and that you should accept my views as being correct?

  5. Gregg, you seem to feel angry and hurt. It’s as if nobody is allowed to challenge something you have said without invalidating all of your counciling, scholastic endeavors, and credentials. Sorry if it was me who made you feel like that. After all of your analysis of my personal standing, I still feel that I disagree with your conclusion in blog post. But every time I mention it you read in all these unrelated things that I am supposedly saying against your personal character or your credentials. I haven’t said any of those things or implied them either. I guess no one can argue or disagree with your point. Suit yourself.

    • I read the whole post through again ( and footnotes) and your responses, and I don’t disagree with your main point at all, that those verses can be taken out of context ( harmfully) and I’m sure that there is more details supporting your observation that you couldn’t share in the post. I missed your footnotes the first couple of times through, and also thought that your main point was that this man was unreasonable to think that he could rely on Jesus solely. That’s where I was coming from, that’s why I was asking you what you were claiming. I think that after a few more times through I got what you were saying. I wouldn’t stress you out on purpose, I just didn’t get it. Sorry Gregg. I’m not trying to show you up or expose you or question your education. Jesus is special to me and it sounded to me like you were minimizing the pastors relationship with Him. That is what made me question where you were coming from. I wasn’t saying that I agree with stretching a verse to make it say what you want it to say. I think that was more what you were getting at as your main point. Nathan.

      • Hi Nathan.

        Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate you taking time to re-read the blog post and our conversation, and I’m glad that what I’ve been aiming at seems clearer on second glance. I guess my main question is, Where would we be if you had not reviewed that material? And a related question, Where would we be if I had not insisted that the main point was overlooked?

        Before assuming that you want to continue discussing I want to honour your perspective, where you wrote “It’s as if nobody is allowed to challenge something you have said without invalidating all of your counciling, scholastic endeavors, and credentials,” and ” I guess no one can argue or disagree with your point.”

        I must admit that this is not what I aim at (I wrote, “This does not mean that I am not, as you write, ‘subject to critique.’ I do make mistakes. But I know–and am aware of–a few things too”). But I would not feel comfortable engaging if I thought the other person was oriented as you say.

        So if you would feel more comfortable not discussing further, or if it’s just time to let this topic be, fair enough. If you wish to engage further then feel free to write me back and we can dig into this a bit deeper. I hope that seems fair to you.

        • It was nice to talk to you face to face for a while this weekend. I want to pick some things to discuss with you and maybe I will just keep it bite sized so that I don’t get lost in too many subjects at once. Here is my starter question : ” why do you feel that holy scripture is not the ultimate truth? , is it an issue of translation, eg. greek to english? Or is it something else? Thanks, Nathan.

          • Hi Nathan,

            It was nice to talk to you this weekend as well. Thanks for continuing the conversation here with me. I think you’ve posed an important question and, to do it the justice that it deserves, I would like to put out a blog post in response (rather than making what I think will turn into a fairly lengthy comment). I can commit to getting this posted by Friday morning, hopefully before that. I will add a link here, as my next reply, that will take you to that post. Please let me know if you have questions.

          • Hi Nathan,

            I’ve created another post that, while it does not directly address your question, puts down what I think is some of the necessary groundwork for an answer that does justice to the size and importance of the matter. The post can be found here: http://anotherxoption.com/ultimate-truth-claims/

            I would appreciate any feedback.

  6. Pingback: Recognizing Our Own Deceit (138) | Untangling Christianity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *