Monday, October 31, 2016

The Basic Affirmation of Christianity

Christianity is the name of a view of life. It also often refers to the way of life based on this view of life. All people do not view life in the same way. We all look at the ideal life and our existential issues in different ways. This is similar to the way different doctors suggest different diagnoses and treatments for the same sickness of a person.

We see the views of life flowing as streams of thought through history. Occasionally several streams combine to form one, and one stream may split into several sub-streams.The view of life which we call Christianity is a stream of thought originated from the Hebrew view of life with the influence of the Greek view of life. Later Christianity got split into several sub-streams of thought.

Just as a building built on rock can withstand hurricanes, a way of life built on a firm view of life can stand firm. Jesus saw that his community’s way of life was based on the sand-like foundation of the view of life propagated by the Pharisees, and he provided a replacement which was firm, and he claimed that it could be the basis of a firm way of life. When the way of life based on the Pharisees’ view of life came to an end by the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, a new way of life rose based on the view of life that Jesus provided. Thus when Christianity took shape about 2000 years ago, what was its view of life? This is the question we are trying to answer here. 

It was believed in those days that all the existential issues in the world were caused by Satan, who was believed to be an angel appointed by God to assist Him rule the earth but eventually rebelled against God. People hoped that God would remove Satan from his position as the ruler of the earth, and appoint a new ruler who would obey God. The good news that Jesus proclaimed was that Satan had been dethroned and God was ruling the earth. God ruled in heaven, and when God takes over the rule of the earth, it would become heaven-like.

Making earth heaven-like has always been our dream. In fact almost all of our ideologies and our governments have such a dream. Heaven is our ideal world. However, our concept of heaven is not the same. It is generally thought that if we can eradicate poverty, illiteracy and ill-health, we can turn our earth to a heaven filled with joy, peace, and love.

But Jesus had a radically different view. The primary condition for the earth becoming heaven according to him was a change of mind. “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” -- that is what he proclaimed. In order for heaven to come on earth, heaven has to first come inside the human heart. Unless there is heaven inside, how can there be any heaven outside? There has to be love, joy, and peace within human hearts before they get manifested in our relationships.

Love is the primary condition for joy and peace. Where there is love, joy and peace will follow. Our hearts need to fill with love. We need to love God and we need to love each other. In order for our hearts to fill with love, we need to have at least two understandings at the depth of our hearts:
  1. That God is love. When I realize that God loves me unconditionally, I will love God in return. I will also love myself as God loves me. When I realize that God loves all people unconditionally, I will also love all people as I love myself.  
  2. That no one is 100% good except God. God doesn’t do any mistakes because God knows everything. Being omniscient, God doesn’t do anything wrong. However, angels and human beings,with their limited knowledge are prone to errors. That is why we say it is human to err. When we have this realization, we will be willing to admit our mistakes without justifying ourselves. We will also be willing to forgive our fellow beings for the mistakes they do.
 Once when someone called Jesus good master, he used this as an opportunity to teach this understanding about God. Jesus said, “Why do you call me good. No one is good except God.” St. Paul affirmed this understanding in his letter to the Romans when he wrote that God alone is righteous. John, the apostle, also meant the same thing when he wrote in his epistle that God is light, and there s no darkness in God. Isaiah saw in a vision the angels in heaven glorifying God as holy, holy, holy. Speaking about God, the words good, righteous, and holy seem to be synonyms.

In the traditional Christian liturgy, we glorify God along with the angels in the same way-- holy, holy, holy. Along with that we plead, “Have mercy on us,” which is the same as “forgive us” or “we are sorry.” In other words, we are telling God like this: “God, you are right, we are wrong.” This is the opposite of what Adam and Eve said to God after they disobeyed God. They justified themselves and blamed God. They were saying like, “God you are wrong, we are right.” Jesus made this distinction clear in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector praying. The tax collector admitted he was wrong, but the Pharisee justified himself.

This idea is made clear in the Lord’s prayer too. “Let the kingdom of heaven come to the earth” is the primary request in this prayer. The one essential condition for this to happen is given right before this request: “Let they name be hallowed.” When people realize that God alone is holy, the earth will become heaven. There we will be willing to admit our mistakes, and forgive others for their mistakes. 

We usually affirm two more understandings about God in our liturgy. One, God is almighty, which means that God is the only one with all the abilities. It implies that our abilities are limited. We are expected to live together cooperating with one another like the organs of a body. We need to be interdependent helping one another. Another understanding is that God alone is immortal, which means that God alone is beyond time-limit, and that God is the source of life. The life with which all humans and angels and plants and animals live is really God’s life. We don’t have life of our own. This understanding will help us to overcome the fear of death.     

Even today we need to proclaim the same good news that Jesus proclaimed. That we can make a heavenly life with love, joy, and peace a reality on earth is that good news. We can transform our families, our local communities, our nations, and our whole world to heaven. But we need to take the first step within ourselves. We need heaven within our heart first. And we can have heaven within when we realize that God is love, and God alone is omniscient and Good. It helps us further to realize that God alone is almighty and God alone is immortal.

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