Talk about an instance of what seems to be the worst possible timing!
Just before the time that Easter, and the time when one of the key events in the Bible is said to have happened and believed by many Christians to have happened (the Resurrection) is formally observed by many, there is talk and much speculation occurring centered around a documentary airing on the Discovery Channel.
I am speaking of the controversy surrounding the “Jesus Tomb” and the documentary made about it which makes the bold suggestion that the physical remains of Christ could have very well have been discovered in a tomb-found underneath an apartment complex, of all places-in Jerusalem. In case you missed the recent news stories, there has been a great deal of discussion and chaos regarding the claims that the mortal remains of Christ were discovered in a tomb, along with other remains that would indicate that Jesus was in fact married to Mary Magdalene and they had a child, a son, together. If this were found to be the case, many are saying it would carry tremendous implications. I won’t delve too deeply into the details of the findings and the ensuing controversy. If you have not heard of this yet, or read about it, just do a web search for “Jesus Tomb” and you will find a plethora of articles on this entire series of events and an even greater amount of differing opinions about it.
To say that an unfaltering, literal belief in the actual and physical Resurrection and Ascension of Christ following his Crucifixion is a major tenet held devoutly and focused upon as a core doctrine, if not one of the predominant cornerstones upon which Christianity is based is a tremendous understatement to say the least. To many people, the very suggestion that the physical mortal remains of Christ were discovered, or that anyone dare state that they could exist, let alone suggest that Jesus led a more human life than we had previously thought in his being married and having a child, is nothing short of heresy and blasphemy of the highest order.
James Cameron, one of the Hollywood people behind the upcoming documentary is perhaps best known as the directorial force behind “Titanic” and “The Terminator” and many news sources-both mainstream and those who report the news slanted towards fundamentalist lines of thought have made many jabs at him. “He was the director of Titanic and The Terminator, and now he’s trying to sink and terminate Christianity” were among the many angry sentiments and accusations expressed by critics of his documentary. His cohort in this venture, Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, has not fared much better under the critical scowl of those who feel that this is a direct and deliberate attack upon their faith, rather than merely a speculative documentary intended to perhaps lend better insight into the life of Jesus, or at least, to offer another (however controversial) line of thought and point of view.
All of this sounds oddly to me like something out of the “Da Vinci Code,” and upon initially hearing about it, I lent it about as much credibility as a show about “real life encounters with Bigfoot” until I read more about it. It could merely be an instance of mistaken identity, and the remains could actually belong to someone else. It could be, as many detractors are suggesting, an elaborate hoax designed and fabricated in the interest of financial gain, benefit, notoriety, Nielsen ratings, publicity, or someone with an agenda against those who opt to maintain a literal understanding of the Resurrection as a crucial and necessary element of their faith. It could be some individuals exploiting a curious find in the interest of a profit.
And more likely than any of the above speculation, it could just be some people who have made what they feel to be an incredible and unprecedented archeological find and want to examine the possibilities and implications of such. While the details of the actual motivation to bring all of these findings to such public attention are ultimately unknown, I personally think that there is absolutely no ill will or agenda against the Christian faith, or the desire to bring about “the fall of Christianity” involved whatsoever.
There is also the possibility that these claims could turn out to have validity, if not full then partial. Truth is, after all, often stranger and more surprising than fiction in many cases.
Those who are not claiming this is an outright hoax ultimately perpetrated by a being of evil which they choose to believe in as counterpoint to God, or by the Media whom they see as either as an equal source of evil (or at least an agent of it) are rather disturbed. Many are claiming that if there were proof of the origin of these remains offered then it could spell the end of Christianity, it could mean the complete unraveling of their faith, and the beginning of total chaos in the world. It is stated that unless Christ physically rose from His tomb in the same physical body and form that he was in when placed in it, that Christianity is then a sham and their faith will completely unravel at the seams. I’m honestly surprised that no one has tried to imply that James Cameron is the Antichrist yet. Or perhaps they have, and I just haven’t heard about it yet, since I am highly unlikely to obtain news from a source that would deliberately take a biased position on the issue, one way or another.
Whatever the outcome or determination the research done on the DNA from the remains yields (yes, you heard that correctly, there is actually DNA research involved-The Tomb itself has since been sealed but the filmmakers are researching DNA) one thing remains absolutely certain to me; while it may leave a great many Christians-conservative, liberal and moderate very concerned, in the long run it is not problematic for me, and is not a threat whatsoever to my faith in God. It got me wondering though, and thinking about a lot of things. What exactly are the implications of this “find”?
On a humorous note, I have to wonder if it were to come to light that this turned out not to be a hoax if perhaps God wanted us to find this, as if to say, “I’m really hurt by the fact that some continue to use My Name to justify all matter of hate, prejudice, selfishness, anger and violence. You guys wrote the Bible, I didn’t. Yes, you got a lot of things right…..but you decided to close the book you ascribe to Me when you had it just as you wanted it-to suit what YOU thought I should be like-and then dared anyone to add or challenge anything in it. Well, enough is enough. I want you to see that you were never supposed to have ONE idea about Me and take things so literally at the expense of the well being of yourselves, of one another and of Creation. I want you to stop worrying about what really happened and what didn’t. And please, please stop all of the fighting over who has the “right” interpretation, and focus on the message of Love for one another, because in all of your efforts to prove that your ideas about Me are better than your neighbors, you have completely forgotten that message and turned Me into a brand name and a club rather than a Source of Unity. Among My Creation, you might want uniformity-everyone thinking and feeling exactly alike all the time-but I am about Unity and not uniformity.”
In all seriousness, on one hand, if this does in fact turn out to be real, then it would lend further support something that I believe, and know in my heart to be true-that Jesus was a real person who walked the Earth and brought us the most powerful teachings about the Nature of God and the best way to live ever known. I don’t have to have assurance that there was a literal and physical Resurrection in order to know that what He taught is the key to life, and that God spoke through Him, that God was in Him. I have witnessed the power of what He taught firsthand, in my own life and in the lives of others around me.
One thing is for certain: it will create more questions than answers for many. And as one who has been through times of turbulence in my own faith when elements of it were called into question, having questions rather than pat, specific and concise answers, and then honestly seeking the answers to those questions is not always necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a faith disassembled and then rebuilt upon a stronger and more solid foundation can offer an even deeper sense of reassurance and feeling of closeness to God than a faith which we merely inherit from those before us, or that we develop through simply parroting things which have been taught to us by others before us.
And although I will elaborate further on the possible implications and outcome of these events shortly, considering all of these matters prompted me to examine a question which I have not for some time: what exactly is it that I personally believe about the Resurrection? Was it real? What meaning does it carry?
One might assert that if it were somehow “proven” that the literal Resurrection did not happen that those responsible for bringing these findings to light would be doing so in an attempt to undermine faith by excising all of the miracles from the Bible. Miracles are something that are often much less dramatic than some people might expect, often concealed in the ordinary, but on occasion they are of the spectacular variety. As I like to say, “faith does not require miracles, but often accomplishes them.” So having “proof” of a body coming back to life after passing away is not a requirement for me to believe that the Spirit of Christ lives on forever, or to discount what Christ taught, or question the existence of God or of miracles. I have seen plenty or miracles in my lifetime-okay, maybe nothing as dramatic as the parting of the Red Sea or other miracles alluded to in the Scriptures but still events which transcended the everyday to be something more. And even if it were not for those, to me, life in and of itself is a miracle to begin with.
On one hand, I have for some time accepted that the story of the Resurrection need not be taken literally in order for it to have deep meaning and significance. It may not necessarily be something that we were ever intended to interpret as literally as we have always been inclined to. It could be, as many stories in the Bible are, a parable or a metaphor pointing to a greater Spiritual Truth.
If this is in fact the case, then I would personally imagine it to be threefold: First, the Empty Tomb representing that although Christ’s physical body had passed away, His Spirit would never die and somehow literally continues to exist (somewhat akin to what we often state when a loved one has passed; we do not think of them as being in a grave, or any “place” but rather that they did not actually “die”). Second, it would represent that the Teachings which Jesus brought us were eternal-that regardless of whether He had ceased to exist in a physical human form, nothing could ever destroy the good-the God-that He brought to us in this world and continues to bring forth through the loving actions of those who truly follow His Guidance. And finally, it represents the power of faith in God; helping those who believe to do what at first glance might seem utterly impossible.
But did something more happen, and is there more to it than that? Could it be that perhaps the Resurrection was a very real event, not merely intended as a parable, and that Jesus was in fact seen by others once his mortal remains had been laid to rest? Could it be that Christ actually rose again in the same physical body? While the latter is the accepted belief among multitudes, and I believe that anything is possible with God, I have some other thoughts and have considered some other possibilities. I do feel that something of significance certainly could have transpired, although the exact form it took I am unsure about. I have thought of some possibilities.
One possibility which I strongly believe in is that those who witnessed Jesus in person after His physical death saw Him in a spiritual form rather than in His actual body, and if any of us place any validity upon the thousands upon thousands of reported sightings of ghosts and spirits or remain open to the possibility that those can and do occur (which I also do), then it definitely makes sense to consider the possibility that this was the nature of the reports of those who claimed to see Christ living after His life in a physical body had ceased.
When a loved one very dear to us passes on, do we expect them to regain consciousness and walk in ambulatory fashion? No, certainly not, and if they did, we would most likely react in shock and horror as opposed to awe. But we do have faith in our hearts that their soul and spirit lives on and carries on; some of us feel their presence like “angels watching over us”, some of us feel as if they are still with us in Spirit, and others have even had what they feel to be actual encounters with their spirit in soul form. And if there is any real meaning to the events recorded in the Gospel involving those who encountered Christ in some form after His death, this is what I think they were alluding to. I have always felt that if there were literal and not metaphorical encounters with Christ after his Crucifixion as mentioned in the Gospels, this was the nature in which they happened. So yes, while I can accept that the events of the Resurrection could be all metaphor and parable, I am also very open to the possibility that He did in fact appear to others in a Spiritual form after His life in a physical body had ceased.
But the harsh reality is that we don’t have any “proof” that He walked right out of the Tomb in either his physical body or a spiritual form any more that one can have “proof” that these are His actual physical remains which were recently discovered. And that is where the concept of Faith comes in.
For the record, even though I do not see the Resurrection as necessarily being as spectacular as it was alluded to by those who offered their account when they penned the Gospels I am not stating that I think that Jesus was nothing more than a regular human being; nor am I saying that he was not Resurrected. I do believe that God was in Him, so anything is possible. I’m saying those three scary words that so many are afraid to say, terrified to admit: “I don’t know”. I don’t know exactly what happened any more than I or anyone else knows what exactly awaits when our own lives in a physical body come to an end.
I can say that I feel that His Spirit did survive a physical death as I think that we all do; I feel that the accounts of those who claim to have seen and encountered that Spirit, both in Biblical times and beyond very well might have been witness to His coming to them in a Spiritual form, be that one that can be seen or merely felt. As far as his actual physical body rising from the tomb and then ascending to the skies, I don’t feel that it happened exactly that way…..but I have to go back to the three words again: I don’t know. And then I would add to that statement that in the long run, that the exact logistics or specifics are immaterial; it doesn’t really matter. I don’t really need to know in order to take His Message and the reality of God He taught us all to heart and put it into practical application.
Even if I still held a firm belief in a literal take on the Resurrection, it honestly still would not matter to me if it were to be somehow proven or determined that Jesus did not rise in a physical form from the grave. I would still have faith that His Spirit lives on forever beyond the body, but even in that instance, I cannot physically “prove” that belief to anyone any more than I can “prove” the existence of God to a devout Atheist, anymore than I can “prove” that same gender intimacy is not a sin to a fundamentalist, or anymore than I can “prove” that bisexuality exists to someone who is certain one is born either exclusively homo or heterosexual.
Solid faith never really requires physical “proof.” As a bisexual man who was told constantly by many who claimed to speak for God and hold a monopoly on the truth themselves that God would never love me as I am or that I “didn’t exist”, I learned that lesson long ago. Some things a person just has to come to accept on faith-without knowing a certain, solid, black and white answer. Faith is also crucial to developing a healthy spirituality and relationship with God; I can look around at the world and know that God exists, but being able to know what God is like and how I can relate to God on a personal level is all predominantly a product of my faith and experience.
Regardless of the findings of the research still being done, or the eventual outcome-even if these are proven to be the physical remains of Jesus of Nazareth, even if it proves that the Resurrection may not have in fact taken place the way we had imagined, even if Jesus Himself was married and had a son-it does not change my faith, or my beliefs one bit.
Christianity to me has never been about a literal reading of the Bible, nor specific events, nor expecting God the Creator to have every little piece of information I would need in this wonderful, crazy miracle and gift called Life written down in one Universal book (one that is “never to be added to or subtracted from” over thousands of years), nor a literal reading and understanding of Genesis, Revelation, or even necessarily every word of the Gospels as they are written to the letter. It is about one thing: embracing the teachings of Christ, and taking them to heart and applying them in life. I don’t need to do anything other than embrace, believe and have faith in them to know that they are, in fact very real and work in real life.
The conclusion I arrived at as a result of my own reflection about how I see the Resurrection story is that whatever the case with the Resurrection, whether it happened as an actual physical manifestation of Christ after His death, or whether it is written as parable, none of that is as nearly as important or crucial to Christian faith as what the story represents. I do feel that what the empty tomb represents is that His Spirit does live on forever, and what He taught-which passed from God, through His body to all of us is truly eternal…..No matter what, I do believe that, and I feel that His Spirit is there in the hearts of all those who invite Him. I also feel that it is intended to metaphorically illustrate the assertion that God is eternal, and ultimately so are we, in a spiritual sense. As far as what the something was that happened beyond that, I don’t know and don’t have to and for that, I remain grateful.
Jesus taught the Truth about God, and about the best way for us each individually to be closer to God and one another. I believe that to think that we are required to believe in a literal telling of the Bible and that every event occurred exactly as it is written down in order to know this is to are tragically missing the entire point of His Ministry. If certain events did not take place, or happened differently than many may have assumed, I still believe in a Loving God, Who Created me, and all that I know in life. Sure, the exact details about God are definitely a mystery at times, but one that I view and seek to learn and discover more about with excitement and enthusiasm rather than fear and terror.
I am not alone in the assumption that if someone were to present irrefutable, conclusive evidence or to determine that these were in fact the physical remains of Christ that it would do absolutely nothing to deter or destroy the Christian faith as a whole. It might cause some to see their beliefs in a slightly different hue, and might cause many of those who continue to insist, even in the face of decades and centuries of contrary evidence, that the Bible is inerrant, infallible and meant to be taken in a wholly literal fashion. Famous theologian and professor John Dominic Crossan has said that it would “definitely not destroy his Christian faith” as he “leaves what happens to bodies up to God”. Liberal theologian John Shelby Spong has not weighed in with his opinion on this issue yet (at least, not that I am aware of) but I would anticipate that his response and reflection on the subject will be strikingly similar.
Many other liberal Christians I know have echoed the exact same sentiment, and I have to completely agree with them. If it were to be that the events following Christ dying upon the cross did not match up exactly with Biblical accounts, it would not change my faith one iota, not one jot, and not one tittle. God would still be the same God I believed in before I became aware of this information, and the teachings of Christ would still be the exact same as they always have been to me-the greatest spiritual gift humankind has ever been blessed by God with.
But what of those who still believe in the literal understanding of the Resurrection? How would they respond to evidence that it did not occur in the manner they have always believed that it has?
Many would still go on believing, even if presented with contrary evidence. This is common sense, given that there are a great many out there who hold steadfastly to the idea that the Bible is inerrant when science has proven in many instances that while God may have Created all life, it did not happen in the same time frame or exact manner as the Bible illustrates. In addition, there are still those who insist that End Times theology-a human invention based on cherry picking the book of Revelation and attempting to play an association game with it based upon current events-is spelled out verbatim in Scripture. (I am often shocked at how many people have read the entire “Left Behind” series, yet when I ask them if they have ever read the Bible cover to cover, they look at me like I’m crazy!). I am convinced that if there were a literal Second Coming, and Jesus came back and admonished these people for being so judgmental of others not like them that they would refuse to believe it was really Him and call for his Crucifixion all over again. So some, no matter what evidence they might be asked to consider, will never reexamine their beliefs.
Those of us who have learned over time that true faith can involve some amount of questioning and rethinking our beliefs would fare better in such a situation; while there are certain things we may not wish to spend too much time in thought upon, occasionally it does not hurt to respectfully listen to alternative and differing ideas, if for no other reason than to serve to further strengthen our deeply held faith and convictions. There are several instances I can think of where this has happened-I recall a lengthy debate with someone over topics that don’t come up that much in traditional theology discussions such as “Was Jesus married?” or “Do you think He had an intimate life?” or “Is reincarnation alluded to in the Bible?” and so forth. Some Christians might find these conversations threatening, I have always found them illuminating and insightful and learned ideas I might never have thought of.
It is only the people who are trapped in a pattern of Biblical literalism but who secretly and fearfully long for something of more substance who might discover their faith undergoing a radical transformation faced with evidence that runs contrary to these beliefs-one that might be a terrifying and painful one initially, but which could blossom into a more solid, powerful and affirming faith than before.
And as I was thinking about all of this, another key question popped into my head. It is one that I and I know many others have asked, struggled with, and at times, struggled to embrace. It is the question that a great many are too terrified to ask, afraid that to do so would cause all of their deeply held beliefs to crumble like dust and blow away in a wind of doubt, leaving nothing. It is the question that had ensured for many years past and to come that there will always be those who cling blindly to literalistic beliefs and make every effort to frighten or force others into adopting their views, in an attempt to strengthen their own fight to hold on to views which deep down, they fear could shatter.
The question is this: If we suddenly had to view what it is that we know as Christianity differently, if we were to have to rethink our understanding of all of the “untouchable” doctrines and teachings, when we strip away that which cannot be explained with our level of knowledge and accept that the Bible is not always the last word on everything, and is in fact not the last word of God at all then what remains?
I am familiar with this type of question from my own spiritual journey. As LGBT Christians, or more open minded Christians who have let go of the dogmatic thinking ingrained into many of us by what has come to be known as “Christianity” in modern society, I think this is a very relevant question. We constantly find ourselves revisiting old Bible passages or ideas about God which at one time may have terrified us, seeking to infuse them with new and more relevant meaning based upon the concept of a God of Love rather than one of judgment. And in doing that sometimes, we find more questions rather than answers.
What exactly happens to our faith when we strip away the literalism, catechisms, and dogma? When some of the core tenets of what it is that we say we believe as Christians are called into question by others, by new knowledge, or even by ourselves and we find ourselves having to reexamine deeply held aspects of our faith and find them lacking or misguided in some way, what is it that is left in the aftermath? Is our faith built upon a strong enough foundation that if we have to revisit issues upon new life experiences or discoveries that it will weather the storm?
I know someone who went through Seminary who told me that this is a core part of going through the experience. They described it as “having everything about your faith completely taken apart and put back together again, although it didn’t quite look the same. It was like they rebuilt it stronger. Or having it put through the refining fire.” When I asked what they meant, they said that a lot of sacred beliefs and doctrines do get called into question. Not only that, learning of the history and culture that led to Christianity developing as it has creates even more cause for questioning previously unquestioned matters. Fortunately, they survived the experience and were able to develop an even closer relationship with God and a deeper sense of spirituality to share with others rather than find themselves spiritually empty. They were only able to do so as a result of entering into the process with a completely open heart and mind. I could relate in that I had to approach the Bible this way; clearing the slate and beginning from a point of “God is Love, and God was in Christ” and moving forward from there as a starting point.
A faith with its foundation laid upon a literal interpretation of the Bible and precariously balanced on dogmatic thinking can be a very fragile one indeed-that’s why so many who subscribe to such an understanding of Christianity are so defensive and determined to force everyone else to share those views. Often times, “because the Bible says so” can be interpreted to mean, “it says so because I say/someone else said to me it says so”; some beliefs are not actually based on the Bible itself, but rather a narrow interpretation. Those who terrorize and use fear to intimidate others into such a fashion of faith complicate matters even further. The result is a belief system based upon a multitude of factors: beliefs which have been inherited from others and ingrained into thought processes, beliefs which are the result of deeply held personal prejudices somehow intertwined with religious convictions, and most of all, the underlying fear that upon closer examination, deeply held beliefs will collapse when subjected to scrutiny.
I can’t imagine for a moment this is what God would want or what Jesus ever began to intend. From all of Jesus’ teachings, I have gleaned the message that faith is more of a journey of discovery than something that was destined to fall out of the sky written in stone or reading like an instruction manual.
For those who would find themselves feeling as if they were suddenly treading water in a sea of uncertainty in the light of new findings of archeology, science and knowledge which caused them to call long established beliefs suddenly into question, I feel that it this resulted in their faith did suffering a deathly blow, it too would undergo its own resurrection somehow. God has this funny way of making that happen. Sometimes right when things seem hopeless and that all is lost, that’s when God always seems to step in in totally unexpected and mysterious ways, and faith seems to work the biggest miracles of all.
I cannot fully answer the question of what is left, or what remains when we reexamine or move past old beliefs or ideas about God for everyone. Everyone’s journey is different. I can only speak for myself. I know that when I was able to put away the ideas of a God of Fear and reevaluate-start over from square one, my faith actually became stronger and more real than it ever had been previously.
I may not subscribe to a literal reading and understanding of the Bible, which should be obvious given my musings and the fact that my faith is not reliant upon whether this or that happened exactly as described in the Bible. Yet I still consider myself a Christian.
What, then, is Christianity to me? Christianity to me is something very different than it once was. It is not about literalism or proving or asserting that this or that did or did not happen or basing it upon whether or not one event did or did not occur in a certain manner. To me it is about one major thing: embracing and celebrating the reality of the Living and Loving God as taught about in the Ministry of Christ, and giving thanks to God by being as loving a person as I can towards others.
I would consider myself a Christian if that means one who is a “follower of Christ and His teachings” and one who feels that God was speaking to us through those teachings, but in the traditional sense, it is not the same meaning. The very fact that I admit that my faith would go completely undamaged if it were to be revealed that these were the physical remains of Christ which had been discovered recently and that I am open to the possibility that the Resurrection may not be a literal event would cause even some of the most open minded and liberal of Christians to dismiss my faith as being, “not Christian”. Then again, it would not be the first time I have had that particular accusation thrown my way; I am about as unorthodox as they come in a lot of my spiritual beliefs.
I don’t subscribe to the concept of the Virgin Birth, nor in the idea of Christ giving His life on the cross as sort of “sacrifice” for the inherent “sin” of humankind. While I don’t believe that any of us are born perfect, and that we all make mistakes, I don’t subscribe to the idea of “original sin” and therefore I see the reasoning behind the events of the Crucifixion to be slightly different. I do believe He gave His life that we might know a better way to live and to be closer to God (He knew full well what would happen as a result of His teachings and went through with what He knew He had to do to help us all), but not in order to offer “blood atonement” to an angry patriarchal image of God for our sins. As I said, while I do not see the Resurrection as a completely literal event, I do think His Spirit lives on forever, and remains very much alive in the hearts, minds and lives of all those who are open to Him.
I do not for one moment see God as a bearded man sitting upon a throne in the clouds, or as a woman, or as a human form at all for that matter, but rather as something beyond what mere human words can begin to describe. God cannot be physically “seen” to me save for the beauty and majesty of Creation-something which I feel took place over billions of years rather than six days, and with letting go of a literal account of how the world was made, I can look at what we are discovering about how it happened, giving a fascinating insight and further affirming my belief that this could not just “happen”. I see God’s Infinite and Wise Creativity constantly displayed in the amazing diversity in not only nature but in human life and the dazzling array of colors in the spectrum of differences and talents among us all as well God may not be able to be physically seen on a personal level, but can be felt in my heart.
When I feel love, love for others or from others, I feel God. When I see life, and experience everywhere I look, and everything I do, I see evidence of God. When I put the teachings of Christ into practice, I know that God was speaking through Him. That is all I need to know that God is real. You cannot get those things from merely reading the pages of the Bible and accepting them as literal, verbatim truth, or from blindly holding to any specific accepted doctrine, or any religious dogmatism, in fact, those factors can actually impede and interfere with our experience of God in all that I have experienced.
Without a literal belief in a physical “place” called Heaven, or its opposite, Hell, I still feel compelled to do the right thing, the loving thing over the selfish thing. I do not need to fear burning in an eternal Hell once my soul leaves this body and goes wherever it goes next in order to feel the desire to be kind and compassionate rather than selfish and inconsiderate of others, or to do things which would either carelessly or deliberately cause them harm or hurt. I do not need to have the promise of an afterlife in a city in the clouds where everything is perfect in order to want to spread happiness and joy rather than anger an animosity in this life. Quite honestly, I don’t even really think too much about what comes next after this experience of life, as I am too occupied being grateful for what I have here and now and embracing the wonders of life to concern myself with what comes after. I have faith that there is something more after this life, but whatever it is, that God is the same God of Love there that God is here, and I therefore have nothing to be worried or concerned about.
While I do think that we ultimately can face consequences for actions towards others which are unloving or uncaring, I long ago abandoned the idea of a God of Punishment. If we wrong others, we ultimately punish ourselves. Christ Knew this, and I feel sure this was His reason for stressing that it was imperative that we strive to always treat others as we would want to be treated.
Prayer to me is no longer an act of beseeching and supplication and begging a strict, angry and capricious idea of God for protection, or mercy, or special favors. It is being quiet and still and trusting that God will help me to find the strength I was given from birth to call forth the Blessings and Love in my heart that I and all of us have been granted to make the absolute best of this state of consciousness. It is imagining the Loving Spirit of God-which is vast and never ending-to flow freely into the lives of not only my loved ones and friends, but to all who need it for support, for help, for healing, for guidance and hope. Sometimes these things come in a spiritual manner, other times, angels in human disguise carry the message, but I am convinced that sincere, unselfish and loving prayers from the heart have all of the power in the Universe behind them.
Worship, too is different for me than it once was, as I was taught long ago to fear that it had to be an experience of coming to God cautiously, and only if I met certain requirements and expectations which were not possible for me. I do not show reverence to God through a state of self hatred and self denial, nor adherence to religious ritual but rather through striving to be as kind as I possibly can, being the very embodiment of the traits which I believe in my heart that the Creator possesses-being forgiving and merciful, compassionate and kind, giving and creative. Allowing myself to be a vessel and letting the Spirit of unconditional Love which I believe that God is to flow through me to others.
All of the little rules and regulations which might no longer hold relevance to our modern culture but that may have in Biblical times are superseded by the one rule Christ taught that covers everything: love thy neighbor as thyself. Just always trying to do that is difficult enough sometimes…..being unconditionally loving and forgiving with some of the curve balls life throws us is not that easy all the time. It means being forgiving when it seems nearly impossible to do, knowing that ultimately it is the right thing to do. It means letting go of any petty need for retribution, even the desire to think “what goes around comes around” when I feel I have been wronged by someone. It means that I have to strive to not just “love my enemies” but to learn that as we are all children of the same God, perhaps there is a way to cease to perceive anyone as an “enemy”. Not always easy.
I no longer need absolute proof from any other Source of the reality of God and the relevance of what Jesus taught other than that which God has taught me through the experience of life, and what I have learned from it and continue to learn from those around me and that I share my life experience with. I experience the reality of God by embracing life, including the questions. I feel closer to God and show my thanks by giving of myself to others however I can and show my thanks for the beauty of Creation by caring for the planet.
I am able to acknowledge that each and every individual has a different spiritual path and understanding of God, and I can not only respect that, but learn from their spiritual paths as they learn from mine. While I feel that what Jesus taught is applicable to every religious path, I honor the fact that others may see God differently than I do.
Without all of the human constructs which have found their way into religious dogma regarding shame about sexuality, that too is seen differently. Rather than some I have met who feel self hatred as a result of the realization that they are an LGBT individual and try to deny and eradicate that aspect of how God made them, I have embraced the fact that I am bisexual as a gift and a blessing and something to be grateful for, and encouraged others to accept themselves for who they are-whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual, metrosexual, or whatever. I have embraced the fact that I did feel the need for honest relationships with both a female and male partner in my life and remain forever grateful of the relationships that we have been blessed with.
Sexuality to me is not a sin or a curse, but a gift which can be used in a way which is life affirming rather than destructive. Sexual sharing and intimacy with both my girlfriend and my male partner is not an opportunity to be self serving and exploitative, but rather exactly what it was intended to be-a sharing of intimacy and joy. I do not see it as something to be avoided or pushed under the rug and denied, but celebrated and used wisely and with the same sense of caring and respect as any of the other gifts God has blessed me with. And it is the same as with other gifts of the Spirit: one can use a sense of humor to bring joy or pain to others; one can use creativity to inspire joy, relating to others/catharsis, or to bring inspiration itself, or they can use it to bring fear, anger, and a sense of separation. It is not our passions or who we are or how we were made that totally define who we are as a person, or determine whether we act in a kind or a selfish way, or that cause us to do right or wrong, it is how we opt or choose to embrace them and how we decide to live the truth of who God made us to be as individuals, in a loving manner or a selfish manner.
As sacred a book as it is, I feel that the Bible cannot provide ultimate, unequivocal “truth”; however, it can point to clues. Even the teachings of Christ, those words in red that mean so much, are often rather cryptic and difficult to unscramble, even in the places they seem to be so literal and simplistic. I think that the key is to take what is written and approach it with an open heart and mind, in a way that is relevant to our lives today rather than the way the lives of the Bible writers were long ago, and most of all with a sense of the same kind of love and respect for all others that Christ taught and demonstrated in His Life on Earth, and in doing so we can come closer to the way of life God wants for all of us.
I don’t base my faith upon whether or not things in the Bible happened exactly as they are written, or even if everything actually took place. I feel sure in my heart that God was speaking through Christ, and that God, however vast and mysterious God may seem at times is a reality, but I leave much else open for interpretation. So I pose the question once again, when we strip away dogmatism, literalism, and even call accepted, established and even sacred ideas about Christianity into question, what remains?
I can only speak for myself, but the answer for me is, everything I could have ever needed. God is still very, very real to me; I don’t sit around and wonder if there is or is not a God, I just know in my heart. I cannot open my eyes and look around and think that life as we know it just “happened” without some type of Creative, Loving intelligence as the Source of it all, and I honestly do not understand how some people can. Now, exactly what God is or the exact nature and form of God-that’s an entirely different story altogether. All I can say that is feel for certain is that “God Is”, and that I feel that the only attribute I can assign to God other than omnipotent Creator is the Source of Love.
I can honestly say that the knowledge that the Bible was not literally true came to me as a breath of fresh air initially; after all, I was no longer condemned to a hell for being who I was, I felt unconditionally loved, and I felt peace with the fact that God made me to be bisexual and different and it was something to be celebrated rather than ashamed of.
But later on, when I was studying, and finding out new information, I found myself questioning and examining other beliefs-unrelated to any type of conflict of being who I was and being Christian-and it was a frightening time. I had to ask the questions of myself what would remain of my faith if I reexamined certain things, if I could deal with the implications, and if my own faith would weather the storm. Thank God, it did.
And although my personal journey and story may be very different from that of many, I can state with confidence that what remains when we examine or question our existing beliefs more than anything is the knowledge that no matter what discoveries humanity makes, or what we learn or discover about long held beliefs, or what we rethink about our beliefs, it will never be able to damage real faith. I am not speaking of faith in a literal understanding of the Bible, or of faith in miracles, or in a specific tenet, but the faith that seems inherent in all people of God. As a Christian, it means faith that God was speaking to us through Christ and teaching us the best way to live and think about God-and that is a belief which is not reliant upon any specific event concerning the interment of the remains of Christ and whether or not the Resurrection was a physical event. It is reliant only upon believing Christ was a real person, God is real, and God was in Him.
By the time I finish writing this, the Documentary about the allegations that the remains of Christ were found and that His life may have been very different than we imagined will have aired. I may watch it, or I may catch it in what I know will be one of the frequent reruns the Discovery Channel does. I’m just grateful for the reflection and the soul searching that hearing about it inspired me to do as it was helpful to me in affirming my own faith.
What will the evidence yield? That honestly is not that important in the least to me on a personal level as it changes nothing about my faith. It does not in any way, shape or form make the Love of God and the teachings of Christ, and all that His Life and Death represented any less powerful to me at all. It will never subtract from the eternal power of the Spiritual teachings of Christ and the miraculous results that can be achieved by putting them into practical application. It will never explain away those times when we feel at one with God, at one with Creation, or the miracle of love and healing against all odds. It can never replace those moments, the times when you feel the knowing in your heart that this isn’t all there is, there is something more, beyond anything we could have ever imagined, and in our hearts we need never feel alone.
Many who are reading what I have to say already know this to be true, but faith based upon rigid, literalistic understandings of the Bible and denying that which we discover is true in the favor of holding on to old beliefs might not be a faith grounded in the best places. A faith that is built on a stronger foundation, one that learns to love the questions, the unknown, and the mystery-and that remains open to possibilities God might have thought of that humankind could not have conceived, is a far stronger faith indeed. It can survive the most aggressive attacks, both those which are based in our own irrational fears which pop up from time to time, as well as events which happen in life that serve to cause or inspire or simply remind us to let go and surrender to God the fact that we do not know all of the answers and maybe we don’t have to.
And even if we do find ourselves faced with theories which run contrary to what we have always believed, if we are enlightened with new information which challenges old beliefs or creates areas of questioning regarding what events in the Bible happened or did not and how, and everything we have ever believed seems turned upon its head, scattered and uncertain, we can always remain forever certain of one thing: no matter what, God, the teachings Christ brought us about God, and the Spirit of Christ is eternal and forever, and always as close as our own hearts.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.