Credit: Google Images, 2016
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” Revelation 6:12-17
Utter the name of Christ in a crowded room, among polite company, inside a business meeting. Wait and watch the awkwardness, the tension, the sweaty palms, the raised eyebrows, the sneers. What is it about that name? Does it denote shame, anger, disgust, holier-than-thou self-righteous propaganda the speaker is trying to push on everyone else?
In the post Christian West, no less than in America, the name of Jesus Christ has become synonymous with cursing and cussing and blatant contempt either against real and imagined enemies, the system, politicians, the insane driver who cut us off, bad luck, uncongenial circumstances, bad weather, a cheating spouse, etc…. It is the grand intrigue of history that Christ’s influence in human affairs has extended to the domain of profanity. Jesus has to posses something pretty darn remarkable about him in order for his name to be used as a term of derision millenia later. Can anyone imagine the name of Buddha or Mohammed employed in similar fashion? In the case of Mohammed, expect your name to be added to a death list should you dare to cuss Islam’s prophet.
The name of Christ threatens us. Christ’s name invokes accountability. We know of Christ the Savior. Many people are fed up with that already. We have turned salvation vocabulary into meaningless and sentimental platitudes and slogans on bumper stickers: “I got saved from working overtime this weekend,” “I got saved from my demon husband by divorcing him,” “I got saved from the IRS,” “DANGER: SAVED AND RAPTURE READY.” We pay sufficient lip service to the notion of Christ the Savior and salvation from sin that we don’t believe it anymore because we are uncritical consumers of religion, not disciplined followers. Or we take Christ for granted. Admitting that we need salvation implies we have a problem, a sin problem, and sin by all practical purposes, is regarded by the current intelligentsia as seriously passe, an old fashioned idea whose time and progress has rendered irrelevant in light of modern science, education, and overall human enlightenment. So we think.
A nagging feeling persists about Jesus Christ. The doubts and suspicion about him hasn’t stop public dialogue and debate. It is not going to stop anytime soon. Jesus is disturbing. He was dangerous to the social establishment of his time to the degree of being designated a threat to public order. He wasn’t merely promoting a new form of religious experience (the Romans could careless about Jesus’ new private spirituality), he was creating a brand new platform of human existence affecting every area of life both private and public. Little wonder he got himself executed. All that talk about him being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It sounds arrogantly exclusive and narrow minded and we can’t live with that. The ancients could not handle that claim either. We want our options open, our religions tolerant, our lifestyles free from religious constraints.
Jesus challenges all of that. Jesus remains a danger, firm and final because he is in charge now and his moral compass guides the universe (Matthew 28:18). If that were not so, anything goes. Let’s lie, cheat and steal with no consequence. Let’s murder. Let’s engage in child rape and human sacrifice. In the great scheme of things of an amoral universe, Hitler and Mother Theresa would be equals. But the boundaries have been drawn. There are parameters to living in God’s creation. Everything we say and do is of consequence. The baby Jesus in the manger, the pet Jesus, the meek and mild One and feeder of thousands doesn’t present an imminent danger to our peace of mind and prospects for the future. We treat him more as fire insurance than Lord.
It is rather the Christ of judgment, the wrathful Lamb, the Christ with the whips at the Temple in Jerusalem who is unsettling. Christ as judge we find both uncomfortable and disturbing, inglorious to a degree that make us squirmy, furious and indignant. This is the Christ we find unbecoming, unpalatable, unwelcoming. This is the Jesus Christ who pierces our ego and look upon as the great cosmic kill-joy, the disrupter of our show and status quo, the arbiter who won’t let us get away with our dreams of selfish ambitions and self- determination. We don’t want to embrace him in the mode of judge and critic. Until then, Christ will continue to resemble us modern self-designated civilized decent folk: Tame and tolerant and tenacious when it comes to getting our way in the world. Human nature resists transformation and eschews insecurity and threats. So long as Christ stays dangerous, we will hide from him at our own peril. How then can we be saved?