Joe the Messiah

Warning: I’m thinking out loud here, so if you’re ultra-orthodox or easily offended, this might not be for you.

Earlier today in my Patristic Readings in Greek class, we came across an interesting word. I don’t have a good Greek font installed to reproduce it here, but it’s the same word in the New Testament that we usually translate as “cleave” (as in, a man shall leave his family and cleave to his wife). It also has connotations of “glue” and “stick” — but at least one Greek dictionary also used a stronger, more interesting word: Weld. The image of “God as Welder” instantly conjured up (for me, at least) a blue-collar, working class sort of God, and borrowing a popular political meme lately, I blurted out to my Greek class, “Hey, it’s Joe the God!” Not surprisingly, I got a lot of raised eyebrows on that one.

But I’ve been thinking about it a lot today. Yes, it’s true that John McCain has kind of been beating the whole “Joe the Plumber” thing to death lately, and all of its related offshoots (Bob the bricklayer, Craig the Construction Worker, Sue the Waitress, ad nauseum) but there’s an undeniable appeal to the “common person” here.

It’s one that resonates with me. My favorite author, John Steinbeck, spent a literary career celebrating the lives of working class people in books like The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Once there Was a War. Actually, it permeates everything he wrote. My musical icon, Woody Guthrie, and folk music as a whole, celebrate the “songs of the simple folk.” In my own life, I have often championed the cause of the masses–it explains my infatuation with blogging, Web2.0 technology, Wikipedia, and open-source software.

Back to “Joe the God.” I’ve been really stressing lately in my church history class over the issue of the “Divinity of Christ” that keeps showing up in the early councils and creeds. While I can’t completely deny that Jesus is God, I’ve had a hard time affirming it outright. I’m beginning to realize that perhaps this is because for a long time now, I’ve been far more enthralled with Jesus’ favorite title for himself (Son of Man) than with our favorite title for him (Son of God). I’m captivated by his humanity more than by his “divinity.” It’s the idea of “Joe the God” — or perhaps more accurately “Joe the Messiah” that really moves me, and I sense I’m not alone in this either.

Here’s a thought: The early church “fathers” struggled to find a balance between Christ’s divinity and his humanity. Is it possible that in our own time the pendulum has swung to far to the “divinity” side, to the point where [people like me] feel a strong need to advocate and emphasize Chris’s humanity? Yes, I know I sometimes take this to the extreme, calling the divinity into question–but perhaps its a needed over-compensation necessary in order to bring balance to the force. Oops, wrong universe–how’s that for syncretism?!

Back to politics and a nod to the other point of view: A few months ago, long before the rise of “Joe the Plumber” my friend Trait Thompson made a case against looking for a “Joe Six Pack” to lead the nation, arguing that instead we need an FDR or a Thomas Jefferson. It’s a great post, and you should read it. Ironically, we both like John McCain, but (obviously) come at it from different angles, as we always have (It’s great to have friends across the aisle, btw).

So I wonder if those who yearn for strong or exemplary leadership in our government are more drawn to the image of Jesus as “Son of God.” Drawing Augustine into the equation (just for fun), I wonder if perhaps those who, like him, view mankind as depraved and fallen are more likely to feel a need for an external, all-powerful divine Savior. Conversely, perhaps those with a pre (or post) Augustinian view of things, who see mankind as “made in the image of God” and therefore intrinsically good, look internally to humanity for our salvation–casting Jesus as the “people’s Messiah” or “Son of Man.”

If this is the case, following the threads begun in the age of Enlightenment, through the democratizing influence of the internet today (think web2.0), and looking toward a post-modern future with shades of Ray Kurzweil’s messianic/apocolyptic concept of Singularity

Maybe the pendulum is ready to swing in Joe the Messiah’s direction. Second Coming of Christ, anyone?


Comments

Joe the Messiah — 7 Comments

  1. Hey Neal, thanks for the blog shout-out. It’s an honor for this new blogger to be quoted by a seasoned blogger such as yourself.

    As to the divinity of Christ, I don’t have any problem acknowledging both aspects of his nature. His humanity is how I know he relates to me, Joe the Consultant, so to speak. However, His divinity is how I have faith that He has overcome the trials I face and through Him, I am able to do the same.

    On a completely unrelated note, I went out to the Southern Hills pumpkin patch last week and bought a couple to take home. We took pictures of Cale out there and he absolutely loved it. Also got to spend time with Jessie, which is always awesome.

  2. I’m fascinated that you brought politics into this the way you did. I’m also QUITE surprised that you favor McCain, particularly with your emphasis on the needs of the marginalized and “the average Joe”. I don’t find that McCain, as he has conducted himself in this campaign, relates well to the average person, other than to play to the country’s fears. He hammers away at Obama’s supposed “elitism” and is himself a graduate of an elite military academy in a family line of similar graduates. His wife’s wealth has supported his political career. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, one can hardly claim that that is the experience of “the average Joe”. Obama, on the other hand, did not come from a privileged background. After graduating from law school, he went to work at the grassroots level with “the average Joe and Jane”. Yes, he has a lot of political and monetary support now, but he reached that place in a much different way than McCain. Neither is superior to the other; they are simply different. However, for one who understands “the average Joe” better, I choose Obama.

    What does this have to do with our theology? On that point, I think you make some interesting connections. Jesus has been so over-divinized in the doctrine and language of the Church that we have slid, by neglect, into the heresy of downplaying his humanity. We place so much more emphasis on the Person of Jesus–as in Second Person of the Trinity–that we ignore his teachings. We expect our personal relationships with him to have more claim on us than how we behave toward those he taught us to serve. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see anywhere in scripture where Jesus commanded us to worship him, but I see a lot of places where he commanded us to serve others as he has served us. Jesus the Exemplar, the “Son of Man”, should have as central a place in the Church’s teaching and mission as Jesus the Savior, the “Son of God”.

    You mention your favorite author. Allow me to mention one of mine: Tolkien. In all this discussion about the nature of Jesus, I’m reminded of the scene in LotR where Galadriel is tempted by the power of the ring. She is transfigured before Frodo and Sam into a being of terrific power and proclaims, “In place of a Dark Lord, you would have a Queen…. All shall love me and despair.” Had Jesus made a big deal about his divinity, I think his Transfiguration before Peter, James, and John would have gone just as badly. He never would have made it as Christ (Messiah), because he would have been focused on his power, not on his mission. In the words of the children’s song, “he came down that we might have love”, not that we would “love him and despair”. As Paul quotes God, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

    Oh, God help me, I’m procrastinating from what I should be doing right now! Pastors don’t have time to talk theology; we’re supposed to be running churches! 😉 Get thee behind me, Neal!

    Later, bro. Keep rattling their cages!

  3. Mark — my relationship with John McCain is complicated, and goes back eight years to when he ran against Bush. I don’t really think either candidate is a true “man of the people” but I’m still intrigued at the ways in which each claim it.

    Tolkien is among my favorites, too — great analogy (and I always thought Frodo was the messianic one…or was it Aragorn?)

  4. I have a great respect for McCain. I think we need him in the Senate more than in the White House. That said, I don’t care for the way he has conducted his campaign. Obama is no messiah, nor is he anywhere near perfect. However, he has a cooler head, tends to draw advice from a wider sampling of perspectives, and doesn’t play on people’s fears the way McCain does. The lesser of two evils? Survey says “Obama”, imho.

    Politics aside, now. I’m back on theology. As far as I’m concerned, Frodo is a Christ figure in LotR, definitely. Okay, for everyone who will scream at that, Frodo is a Christ-like figure. He is selfless enough to appeal to the Christ in those around him: Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, and even, arguably, Boromir and Smeagol. As Frodo persists in his quest for the sake of others, they persist in their efforts for his sake. The epitome of communion in Christ, wouldn’t you say?

  5. Oh NO! You’re a heretic! …Just kidding. You posed some really great thoughts old friend (imagine that said in my best Grady Walker voice).

    The usual defense that tries to dismiss your type of questions is something like, “This is nothing new. The Fathers (i.e. the Councils) made the assertions they did for a reason: they researched the scriptures and debated this long ago, and their votes decided that this was heresy…and that settles it.” Or does it? Think of all the presuppositions/assumptions the Fathers brought to the table.

    As Phyllis Tickle mentioned in her Great Emergence, this all comes back to the issue of authority. Sola scriptura? Tradition? A combination thereof? Neither? I think the pendulum is, as you mentioned, swinging back against itself. I think mainly because we have a new set of criteria for testing sources of authority now.

    For good or bad, the enlightenment (and all those things leading up to it) permanently altered our collective perspective. And now, with our position set solidly in the information age, some of us have no choice but to question even our most fundamental assumptions. Some still never will, but I (and apparently you too) must. That’s not a bad thing. it is in our spiritual and physical DNA.

    So, all that rambling was to say that I at least agree with your willingness to question the “unquestionable.” And in other words, welcome to the Matrix.

    Thanks,

    db

  6. I know this is late to the game.. I starred this in Reader and just got back around to looking thru my stars..

    Just wanted to suggest you re-read the first chapter of John’s gospel. I have a hard time with the proposition that Jesus did not want to emphasize his Deity. Surely he did so by his actions all throughout his ministry, and it was confirmed by the Father at his baptism.

    “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” – St. Irenaeus

    In brief, Jesus’ humanity means nothing if we deny or suppress his divinity. His divinity is precisely what gives meaning and purpose to the Incarnation.

    The balance you speak of is of course real, but it is also necessary. For in the same way, if our Lord were not also fully human, the Incarnation and Atonement could not have the effect of making us able to become true sons of God and freed from our sin. Both are necessary. Neither should be shunned.

    I am puzzled why you feel the need/desire to overemphasize Christ’s humanity. The real Good News is that we can become sons of God–that we become more like him. Why would you want to make him more like us?

    I hope you’re having a great holiday season!

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