CURIOUS: Where and how do we find a vulnerable God?
EAGER: We do not have to look far. The mythologies of the world provide us with gods who have to die at the end of the harvest season, who then go down into the world of the dead, and come back up resurrected with new growth in Spring. Here is a popular Christian hymn:
In the grave they laid him, Love by hatred slain,
Thinking that he would never wake again,
laid in the earth, like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.
John Crum, Common Praise 237
The cycle of suffering and resurrection is very familiar, especially in cultures rooted in agriculture.
CURIOUS: So why is the Christian story meant to be more convincing than these mythologies?
EAGER: Jesus’ credibility begins with the kind of person he was, and the teaching he had about people and about God. He teaches caring and forgiveness, and that he is doing the will of a ‘Father’ who is everyone’s good father. Much like Gandhi years later, he teaches non-violence, and he declares that the Kingdom of God is within us. His authority comes from within, and finds root within his hearers, and it is not the authority of political might and outward power.
CURIOUS: Even so, how is it that his story is so parallel to the dying and rising god myths?
EAGER: To understand and believe what had been happening to Jesus, in both his ministry and in his death and rising, his followers, both the disciples and those who were to hear about Jesus from them, were responding to the mythical expectations already associated with death and resurrection.
CURIOUS. Tell me more than that. Some examples.
EAGER: The suffering servant passages in Isaiah were an account of the suffering of those who followed Yahweh, the father God of Israel. Hebrew men and women who knew Jesus would associate Christ’s cruel passion and death with these verses.The passages are in the Book of Isaiah, chapters 42(1-9), 49(1-13), 50(4-11), 52 v11- 53 v12.
Here is a version of the servant songs as sung by Christians who see Jesus’s suffering as that of the suffering servant in Isaiah
Hear me, all people:
God called me to service,
God made me the light of Israel,
to bring light to the people of earth.
God has given to me
the tongue to teach,
the power to listen,
the ears to hear,
the skill to uphold the weary.
I have not disobeyed nor turned back,
but offered myself to the lash,
let my beard be torn from my cheeks,
held my face up for insult,
knowing God is my help.
Yeshua, our face turned away,
we despised your failure,
we disdained your misfortune:
God, we thought, had rejected you.
Yet, for our sins your were bruised,
for our misdeeds you were punished;
the lash we deserved, you received,
for we had turned from God’s way.
And on you was laid the blame.
For us, you were oppressed,
for us. you were afflicted,
for us, you remained silent,
Lamb of God, led to sacrifice.
In death you were with the wicked,
even the wicked and worldly,
though you had done no violence
but waited patiently for what was to come.
Yeshua, put to our grief,
Yeshua,offered for us;
by your descent into death for us
shall we be given your life.
It was common to look back into the history of their people, and their literature and traditions, and perceive that this death on the cross was a fulfillment of what had been written before.
CURIOUS: Non-believers say that Jesus’ followers shaped his story to fit these so-called prophecies.
EAGER: Believers will say that the overwhelming evidence for their faith is the unique person of Jesus, who was known to them before his death, and who was known again after his death in his resurrection, and that the variant stories of inspiring experience of his continuing presence are grounds for faith and trust in him.
CURIOUS: How then, did the Church come into existence after Jesus?
EAGER: Out of their continuing experience of Jesus his followers came to identify him with God, and to see his life and death as a demonstration of God’s love. They were moved by the Spirit to praise God and preach the new life of the resurrection which they had witnessed in Jesus’ rising. They saw themselves as those called forth by the Lord, from the Greek for which we get the word “Church.”