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The Christ of Weakness: The Historical Jesus vs The Jesus of Faith

This post will take an unconventional turn as it is something that I wouldn't have dreamed of writing a few years ago. About 4-5 years ago I would have shouted 'Hallelujah' at the idea of the historical Jesus only supplementing the Jesus of Faith. I would have probably agreed that the historical Jesus can't really do much to improve our faith in Him.

Over the past few years though, after reading the best, brightest, and most faithful LDS minds, I am coming to discover that the Jesus of History is perhaps something rather different than our conventional Jesus of Faith. While, on its face, the previous sentence might sound like someone going through apostasy, I would further venture that my understanding of Jesus has become much holier and beautiful from the light and knowledge I have gained.
"Puzzlement... is often the knob on the door of insight. The knob must be firmly grasped and deliberately turned with faith. The harrowing of the soul can be like the harrowing of the soil to increase the yield with things being turned upside down." - Neal A. Maxwell (1)
A recent discussion on a podcast I listened too inspired this article. It can be found here.

First, let me define what I mean by the term 'The Historical Jesus'. He is one that is uncovered through studies of the New Testament and extra-biblical texts. He is found through comparing many translations and ancient manuscripts. He is found in the words of historians like Josephus. He is found through many secular means and ways of study. He is, honestly, the Jesus found when one approaches the New Testament with a trained eye in the fields of learning.

What do I mean by the Jesus of Faith? This is our conventional Jesus. This is not to say he isn't the following things, but they are perhaps details that we over-emphasize in our vernacular as compared to the writers of the New Testament who knew Him better than we do. For example, this is the Jesus of 'compassion'. This is the Jesus who was ever mindful of his mission on earth. This is the Jesus that is 'perfect' in our literal meaning of the term in English (this is not to say he committed sin). This idea of Jesus, while they might highlight certain aspects of truth, often are over-emphasized to the point that they no longer are consistent with the Son of the Man of Holiness found in the New Testament.

I have written elsewhere about how certain ideas in our traditional understanding of Christ and God are simply not really found in scripture (An Omniscient God: A false Greek idea?). It is becoming even clearer to me that the Jesus of the protestant world, the one that resulted from the Reformation and the many centuries before it, is one very highly misunderstood. It is so misunderstood that it could very well have a big impact on how close we can approach Him. As Elder Maxwell put it above, it could be that our gospel soil needs to be turned upside down in order to produce a more fruitful yield.

(from PottyPadre)

THE PROBLEM... OR THE BEAUTY?!

C.S. Lewis seems to have commented, just slightly, on the idea I am discussing when he wrote the following:
"The sweetly-attractive-human-Jesus is a product of 19th century skepticism, produced by people who were ceasing to believe in His divinity but wanted to keep as much of Christianity as they could. In the Gospels you are not invited to pass any moral judgment on Him, however favorable: it is only too clear He is going to do whatever judging there is: it is we who are being judged, sometimes tenderly, sometimes with stunning severity." - C.S. Lewis (The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004) p. 375.)
This problem that Lewis described goes even further back. A very watered-down look at history appears to yield the following:
  • An apostasy occurred in the first or second century in which the original Gospel was mixed with Greek philosophy and other influences.
  • This very ordinance centered, but theosis denying, Christianity grew but then divided and subdivided itself during the Protestant Reformation.
  • The Protestant Reformation introduced so much 'protesting' that the Enlightenment Era brought critical thinking to the idea of Jesus. So much had been twisted and pulled and fragmented about Jesus that he was no longer recognizable.
  • This gave way to Romanticism in which C.S. Lewis refers to above. 
What Christianity, and the LDS tradition, has inherited is the Jesus of Faith that is still scarred, torn, misunderstood, and much different from what the scriptures describe. Dr. Peter Kreeft puts what I am thinking very nicely:
"Why have we reduced him to “meek and gentle Jesus”? Because we have reduced all the virtues to one, being kind; and we measure Jesus by our standards instead of measuring our standards by him. But why have we reduced all the virtues to being kind? Because we have reduced all the goods to one, the one that kindness ministers to: pleasure, comfort, contentment. We have reduced ourselves to pleasure-seeking animals. But why have we reduced ourselves to pleasure-seeking animals? Because we are implicit materialists. Our ethics are always rooted in our metaphysics, and modern ethics is rooted in modern metaphysics, the modern world view, which is the superstition that all that is objectively real is nature, which in turn we have reduced to matter." - Peter Kreeft (Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion (Ignatius Press, 1992), 32)
With all this in mind, this could be what the Lord meant when he said the following:
"For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world...
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun."(2)
Even with this, we as Latter-Day Saints believe in a 'continuing restoration'. "The Restoration started with the Prophet Joseph Smith and has continued to the present through the work of the Lord’s living prophets."(3) I would argue that our understanding of the Savior from the sources we currently have is NOT where it should be. It will need continual restoration to correct themes we borrow all the time from centuries of apostasy.

An Astounding Example

The examples of how our understanding of Jesus doesn't square with what is written in the New Testament (and Restoration scripture for that matter) are numerous. I have written on some (another example found here). An interesting example I have yet written on is the example of "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" or "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

I am not an expert in Greek, therefore, I was struck when I learned about this recently. Dr. Thomas Wayment explains:
"'Eli, Eli, Lama Sabacthani’ is frustration. "My God, my God, why have you left me here alone?” It’s a cry of, “God, I thought the millennium happened now. I thought redemption was you taking me down.”...  I don’t think so many people, or very many people, ever think was Jesus as surprised by Easter as Mary was? That’s a really powerful nuance and you can see why in the story, and you become very aware of this in New Testament studies, the gospels are not as sanitized as you would expect. They leave a lot of remnants of the historical person navigating his own experience."(4)
Too many of us, myself included, read the gospels and assume that Christ was fully aware and knew his purpose perfectly. Even some of us conclude that he perhaps did not fully comprehend at first, but he surely knew by the time he was before Pilate when he said: "for this cause am I born, and for this cause came I into the world."(5) The original Greek does not paint that picture though. It appears that Jesus slowly grew into his understanding. For some reason, many of us do not see this or have yet to see it. There is beauty in this idea. For it fits perfectly into the narrative of what restoration scriptures teach:
"And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first."(bold added for emphasis)(6)

 Jeffrey R. Holland expresses elsewhere that the Savior perhaps didn't comprehend all we usually think he did:
"... He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”"(7)
CONCLUSION

I have written elsewhere of how various ideas were stripped from Christian theology because it conflicted with the view of a deity not having 'weakness' (see here). In other words, ancient Christians became embarrassed of a God with weakness. I have also written elsewhere of how our vernacular about "weaknesses" falls into this category we are discussing (see here)

D&C 93 puts it plainly that Christ did not have a fulness at first. This is scripturally consistent with the idea that 'weakness' simply means one who lives below a divine fullness. The Christ of the New Testament does show one who was rejected, persecuted, scourged,  who suffered injustice, and who was sinless. To the trained eye and one who has 'eyes to see', the Christ of the New Testament Gospels is one who had 'weakness'. He did not understand everything. He grew patiently. He had to wait upon God. He knew what it felt like to 'fall short of the glory of God'. 

It makes sense when one ponders. Christ can succor us in our sins because he suffered for them and, by proxy, experienced them. Christ can succor us in affliction and temptation because he suffered those things. Often though, we think it blasphemous to consider that Christ was NOT omniscient (a word not found in scripture, interestingly enough). How can Christ succor us in our 'lack of understanding'? How can he understand having patience with oneself (i.e. being too self-critical)? How can Christ succor us in our waiting upon promised blessings to come? How can Christ succor us in the midst of our questions?

In our conventional understanding of Christ, he cannot succor us in those things. With The Historical Jesus, though, our Jesus of Faith can be enhanced. Christ is the God of weakness. The scriptures are remarkably consistent on this theme.

For example:
"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."(8)
 "For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you."(9)
 "Behold, and hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, your advocate, who knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted."(10)
Jesus may have understood this during his own ministry. This idea might explain the following confusing exchange:
"And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God"(11)
Christ grew from grace to grace because he had 'weakness' to overcome. He went through the process of gospel living and ordinances the same way we have to. He experienced questions, struggle, ignorance, and self-growth. All this leads to maybe what Joseph Smith meant when he said the following:
"If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves... Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach Him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, He begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to Him, He is ready to come to us."(12)
 For further reading:

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed the way you explained everything through the scriptures about jesus being of weaknesses and what that really meant, a lot of people don't understand. Your very gifted writer. Thank you 🙏

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