Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is God the Father Marginalized in Christianity?

The name of Jesus (or Christ) is common on Christian lips. “Jesus saves” is a typical expression, whereas expressions highlighting the Father or the kingdom of God are much less frequent, and explicit references to the Holy Spirit (or Ghost) are essentially missing. As the three manifestations, or “persons,” of the Trinity are consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance), the hypertrophy (i.e., maximizing one part of a system) is worthy of investigation. This is not to say that equal attention to all three is optimal; Jesus himself says in the Gospels that he came to preach the mysteries of his Father’s kingdom. This statement implies that followers of Christ should focus most on the Father and his kingdom. That this is not the case suggests that historical and contemporary Christianity has missed the point. This should hardly be surprising, for throughout the Gospel of Mark, strangers get Jesus’ point whereas the disciples tend to miss it.

This church has an explicit Christocentric focus. (Maliz Ong) 

The default, or “party-line,” which is hardly ever questioned within Christianity, goes something like this. “Concerning Christ’s life the Creed speaks only about the mysteries of the Incarnation (conception and birth) and Paschal mystery (passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension). . . . ‘All that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven,’ is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter.”[1] Along this line, Jesus is focused on himself, which implies that he is not just the intercessory means to the Father, but also the end-point. Unfortunately, this assumption is one that Jesus himself does not hold in the Gospels. Accordingly, the nearly monopolistic focus on Jesus Christ is problematic.  

The Logos became man “in order to do his Father’s will.”[2] The incarnation is thus a means; the focus should rightly be on the Father’s will.  “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.”[3] In Luke, Jesus says, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.”[4] He views himself and his life as a means to something else—I dare say, something that he views as more important than himself. Were the kingdom of God synonymous with Jesus, he would say he must preach about himself. I came to preach the mysteries pertaining to myself. In saying he came to preach the kingdom of God, Jesus distinguishes himself from his Father’s kingdom.

Lest it be construed that Jesus is the king of the kingdom, as per the “Christ the King” feast day at the end of the liturgical calendar, Jesus refers to the kingdom as his Father’s rather than his own.[5] We know from the ancient Greeks that deities cannot die; this is the main way in which the Greek gods and goddesses differ from humans. Presumably immortality holds in the case of Jesus’ Father (as well as Jesus Christ). So the king of the kingdom cannot be the Son because the Father always exists. That Christians regard Jesus as a king (the Romans do so to taunt the Jewish leaders) suggests that the focus on Jesus is exaggerated. Reason itself should not be so offended, as if the mind goes on holiday when it comes to religion.

A more troubling problem pertains to the Christ-centric historical approach ensconced in the typical Christian mindset. Both the kingdom of God and its king, Jesus’ Father, are marginalized. That is to say, scant attention is devoted to them—the obsession on Jesus Christ crowding them out as the go-between is treated as an end in itself. To treat a means as an end is deeply problematic in itself, especially if the means views itself as a means. In coming to preach on the mysteries of his Father’s kingdom, wherein his Father’s will is done, Jesus is not focused on himself. Ignoring this point, however, his followers have focused on him, and thus ironically deviate from following his lead. It is reasonable, I submit, to posit that a follower should be focused on what the leader says is his focus. If this focus is not on the leader himself, then a follower goes against the leader in focusing on the latter.

Lest it be argued that the invisible kingdom and its king are too far removed from human perception and cognition to be grasped—hence the mediator is necessary—the presumed knowledge of divine revelation undermines the claim. In other words, that the religious, theologians, and laity tend to assume that they cannot be wrong about revelation being revelation (and even on how it must be interpreted!) undermines the claim that the Father and his kingdom are too distant theologically to be petitioned and entered, respectively, directly. Put another way, the sheer declarativeness in typical statements pertaining to revelation belie the claim that a Christian’s focus cannot be on the Father or his kingdom.

To be consistent with Jesus’ own approach, a Christian is therefore rightly focused on the Father’s will and his kingdom more than on Jesus Christ. I am assuming here that the end being served by a means is more important that the means itself; hence the use of served by. In terms of religious objects, the Christian imitating Jesus is most focused on the Father and his kingdom. The latter two would be central to the Christian’s mindset and Christian liturgy. That is to say, worship of the Father primarily, in line with, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” In spite of this prayer taught by Jesus, “In the name of Jesus” is much more likely to be in a petition, prayer, and sermon or homily. In fact, the all-consuming gravity of this obsession has left little if any space for references to the Holy Spirit.

 Christians on the street are more likely to ask, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ?” that preach on the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The hackneyed question may legitimately be answered by another, “Have you?” The declarative certainty of the likely response undercuts the Christian’s premise that 1) humans are not infallible, 2) belief does not constitute knowledge, and 3) the Father (and his kingdom) are too distant theologically, or “wholly other,” for human beings to relate to, or focus on, directly rather than through an intercessor or mediator. This is not to say that following Jesus’ example and teachings is not important; rather, it is to make this point.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 1, Sec. 2, Ch. 2, Art. 3, para. 3, line 516.
[2] Ibid, line 512.
[3] Mark 1:14-15.
[4] Luke 4:43.
[5] Matthew 26:29.