Friday, June 19, 2015

"ACCEPTING JESUS"?

Last night, while struggling with disciplining my thoughts so I could go to sleep, I asked God to make it happen. It seemed that as soon as I did, other thoughts came. I was impressed with the possible error (if not error, then possibly the misconstruing) of the idea of "accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." There appears to be more than adequate biblical evidence for such an idea, yet the construct just doesn't ring entirely true. This is intellectual acceptance and possibly faith. Both are affirmable, especially the faith part. But something is missing.

Something is wrong with this doctrine.

What struck me is that it might not be an individual "accepting Jesus," but, instead, Jesus "accepting that person." I thought, if so, how does that come about? What are the dynamics that make this happen?

It reaches all the way back to the creation of humankind. Knowing full well that they would disengage with God, why did he do it? Knowing that having given us "free will," and that we would turn away from him, why did he go ahead and create us anyway? There is a passage in Justus that may answer this question:

The scene -- Jesus and the disciples were vacationing at the house of Simon the Tanner, on the white beaches of the Mediterranean near the city of Joppa. They were seated around a campfire in the sand, the afternoon fading into darkness . . .

"There was a time beyond the way men measure time,” he began, “when I and my Father lived together on the other side of the stars . . .”

What can I say to them? How can I speak to them of love that transcends their capacity to comprehend? How can I tell them that they, each of them, are both the objects and consequence of that love? That they, and they alone, are the objects of the deepest stirrings, the deepest feelings in heart of him who is Omnipotent, of him who is all-knowing, of him who is everywhere present, of him who cannont change, of him who is eternal?

“We considered what you might think imponderable. Our love for each other . . . infinite, eternal, and absolute. I and my Father are One. It is beyond the reach of reality for us to be anything else. Yet, in all the endless realms of omnipotent possibility, there was something we did not have and could not possess.”

“What could that be?” from Matthew, the intellectual among us. If any of us besides Jesus could wear the mantle of ‘theologian,’ it was this tax collector. The irony, as well as the curiosity was lost on none of us. “How could God, who is wholly contained in himself,” Matthew asked, “How could God not have something, anything he could have wanted? How is it that an omnipotent, infinite Sovereign lack anything he desired? If he lacked something, how could he be all-encompassing? How could he be God?”

Jesus smiled. It was the question he wanted. “One cannot have what is not his to own.”

“And what is there amongst all of reality that does not belong to Yahweh?” Matthew looked at Peter to his right and James to his left as if seeking their concurrence and support. He got it. The intense interest in their expressions compelled an answer.

“Your love,” said Jesus simply.

A breeze, or something like it, provoked the flames and they leaped slightly higher, illuminating faces. The puzzlement on each face evidenced profound lack of comprehension. “Simon,” he said, “You are a tanner of hides. You create fine leather for king’s houses. You love the work of your hands, do you not?” Simon thought of the end product of his labors, its softness, its rich fresh leather aroma and smiled in affirmation. “Tell me, Simon,” Jesus continued, “does your fine leather love you back?”

Simon’s eyes averted, “Well, of course not, but . . .”

“It may please you, but the pleasure is of your own creation. It cannot think or feel to love you back, yet you cherish its beauty and think it is love. It is not. Love that responds from the object of one’s love is not something that can be generated by the Lover—even if the Lover is the Sovereign God. The love of which I speak is not a mere decision, as if it were something one can move, shape or discontinue, as if it were something that can be shut off and on. Love, true, authentic love must come because one feels it deep within himself and expresses it because he cannot contain it. To "make a decision to love," is pure nonsense. You can decide that you can treat someone in a loving way, but that is a decision to control behavior in a certain way. It is not love. Such a decision does not require passion. It means that you have decided to be nice. Something you should have learned as a child. No! Love must spring, irresistibly, from the well of one’s being. That is why you have being. You were created in order to love, freely and confidently.”

"Do you think the Father and I, do you think the Holy Spirit of God, do you think that we do not feel heartfelt love and compassion for each one of you? Do you not know that when you suffer, we suffer? Do you think we, ourselves, would not empty our life for you, or die for you? Do you think we just "decided" to love you, like one decides to move a stone from one place to another, in a children's game? No, we are touched deeply and emotionally for you. We want you in our life and we want you to know it."

“It is not possible to love without the force of its power within you. You have no power to choose to love, you have the power to choose whether to express it. If it is there, you have the power to repress it. If it is not there, you cannot generate it or choose to express what does not exist.”

* * *

The shadows on our faces flickered with the flames. They were covered by consternation and seeking to understand—no, to appreciate what he was saying to us. “The Father has placed within you the capacity, the power, to irresistibly love him, yet you have the choice to release that love or not. You also have the power to determine by what measure it is released. You are free—free to release love or repress it. You are the only creatures on earth with that power.” Was he saying that we were created so that the Father would have someone to love him because we chose to give it to him, or withhold it from him? Such an inscrutable thought was too high for us.

“My Father and I wish that more than anything your minds can imagine,” Jesus continued. “Look above you.” Our heads lifted to behold a canopy of brilliance spread like a glorious, sparkling belt across a field of velvet darkness. “Can you count them? What you can actually see is an infinitesimal slice of what your eyes cannot see.” I thought about that. How could there be heavenly bodies that we could not see? If they were there, why could we not see them? “Before these,” Jesus said, “there were angels. Like you, they were created with the ability to love or withhold it. Those that loved were confirmed in their love. Now they love the Father because the thought that they could not would never occur to them.”

It did not occur to me then, on that lovely, starry night, but on reflection I realized that what Jesus was giving us was the very rationale for creation. Moreover, he was telling us why he had come.

“Yet, even they were not created supremely. They were not created in the Image of God.” He paused only for the briefest of moments, just enough to create a hunger, an anticipation for his next words. “You were,” he said. “You were created more like God than you can now comprehend. Of no other living being can it be said that it was created in the Image of God.” It was too much. Our minds were reeling. We needed closure and Jesus seemed to sense that. “That Image has been corrupted. I have come,” he said, “to give the Image of God back to you so that once again, you may freely love the Father and his Son, whom he has sent. There is much to say; there is much to teach you, but this much is enough. For now it is all you can absorb.” With that, he rose and shook the sand from his garments. “This day has ended. Let’s get some sleep.” He turned and walked toward the house. The twelve and most of the others followed. I remained. I needed to think.

It is clear to me now, that the notion of "accepting Jesus" does not entirely grasp the meaning of genuine engagement with God. Jesus desires to accept us. And the only thing -- the only thing -- that creates the venue for that is our desire to love him. If he senses, or knows, that we love him, that is all that is his acceptance requires. Changes in behavior (repentance) are not a part of this requirement. That may, or may not, come later; and if it does, it comes naturally, borne and energized by our love for him, but it is not a part of our acceptance by God. It is true, he already knows whether or not we will love him. That is the premise upon which the biblical teaching of predestination is built. So that when we come to love him, we discover that he knew it would happen all along. And, given our proclivity to evil as evidenced by our sorry lives, that stuns and amazes us. But the core issue is not predestination, it is the plain and simple fact that Jesus, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit are simply hungry for our love. It explains the reason for the cross, and since he first loved us, comes the full circle of his love for us, forgiveness of our sins and the rest of eternity in his blessedness.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. The apostle Paul -- 1 Corinthians 13:13

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