This is another post in which I’m clearly not ready to complete the subject. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be, so let’s just call this a starting point.
Growing up, I was always taught to look to the Bible, the Cross, and sometimes even to pray to the picture of Jesus in the Last Supper that hung over many dinner tables. I had assumed that these were all simple representations of God. Since we were really worshipping and praying to God in our minds and hearts, it never occurred to me that this might violate the first three commandments in some way.
As I said, I used to feel that people looked to these symbols of God and his power because we can not at all fathom God himself, so it becomes hard to direct the focus of our worship at him. These symbols are a much easier target. To me this seemed perfectly ok. Clearly these symbols were a representation of a small set of God’s attributes. We have the Cross which shows his mercy, we have the Bible which shows his power and authority, we have the image of Jesus which describes his grace, even the Virgin Mary and the Apostles portray an aspect of God in their lives. God is all of these and much more, but it should be ok to focus on just a part when trying to worship the whole.
Recently, I’ve become more educated on Hinduism, and I’m beginning to understand why there are so many Gods in the religion. Originally, it was similar to Greek mythology to me. Greek mythology was developed to explain the world without the benefit of any real form of scientific understanding. This excused the ancient Greeks when they chose to believe such fanciful stories. It never made sense to me why, in this day and age, such well-educated individuals could follow a religion like Hinduism, which seemed to have the same fanciful, imaginative gods as in Greek mythos.
I now understand that Hinduism does not allow for these Gods as actual gods, like in Greek mythology. It allows these gods to exist as representations of the one true God, Brahman. In this way, Hindus can worship their own representations of the same God. In this light, it is a monotheistic religion in the same sense as Christianity.
These days it seems that many Christians have stopped worshipping God and have started worshipping just the symbol itself. Clearly some branches of Christianity have chosen to worship the Virgin Mary and the Apostles. I’ve heard such phrases as “Pray to the Cross” or “The Bible will show you the way.” For some Christians, it is possible to still consider the symbols of God as just that, symbols. For others, the line becomes gray and the symbols seem to take on a power, a life and a following of their own.
To me the strongest, and most complex, symbol of God is Jesus. Of course, the debate has raged on for two thousand years. Was Jesus completely God? Partly God? How much of his God-like qualities did he give up to become human? In my mind, it has to be clear that Jesus is less than God. If God is all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing, then Jesus must be less than that for there to be a distinction between he and God. Otherwise, there would not be any purpose in the idea of a Trinity. I’m not really going to argue this point now, maybe later, when I really want to have a completely futile argument with myself.
However, the fact is that Jesus is somewhat different than God, he has to be. And God is who we are worshipping. So then why do we worship Jesus at all? Many argue that Jesus is the one that saved us by dying on the cross, so that is why he should be worshipped. I’m reading a book, The Story of Christian Theology, in which centuries of Christian philosophy is focused on what Jesus did on the cross and how we are saved because of it.
I’ve always viewed God’s forgiveness as something that was a gift from him, a direct result of his love. If you read the key verse in the Bible:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. “- John 3:16
The structure of this verse shows us that the key body of the sentence is “For God so loved the world…that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” To me, this clearly states the premises that God loves us (the first premise), if we believe that he does love us (the second premise), then we are saved (the conclusion). The “that he gave his only begotten Son” is not a premise to the conclusion that we are saved; it merely supports the premise. The vehicle to salvation is not the illustration that supports God’s love, but his love itself and the acceptance of his love. In the same way that the vehicle to sin was not the illustration of sin (the fruit in the Garden of Eden), but the acceptance of sin, the act eating the fruit and defying God’s will for our own personal satisfaction. The verse could have been written:
“For God so loved the world, that he did something amazing to show his love, that whosoever believes that he does love us should not perish but have everlasting life.”
As sad as it sounds, I do not believe that Jesus had to die for us to go to Heaven. God is God. He could have saved us as he chooses. But Adam, Eve, and the rest of us have decided that God’s love is not enough, so Jesus had to come to show what God’s love really is. A simple “I Love You” card would not have convinced us.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. ” – John 15:13
Jesus was the illustration of God’s love. Yes, Jesus did something amazing in accordance with God’s will, but ultimately, God is who saves us, not Jesus. God is who we should worship, not Jesus.