There is a major flaw in the creeds. We read for example in the ‘Apostles Creed’:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
When I first met the stream that I am heavily influenced by, the Anabaptist stream, they helped me see the major missing element: no life for Jesus. Born –> suffered –> died –> rose! It suits many believers, his life, the Sermon on the Mount and his other teachings have no relevance for us. Of course we have to put Jesus in his setting, his message is to the Jewish world, but we cannot dismiss his life like that. He was not simply ‘born to die’ so as I might be born again, not die (eternally) but live for ever.
But… why the short life? Following the normal tradition we have Jesus in obscurity till 30, no miracles, his ‘hour’ had not yet come. Then for three years he travelled, taught, confronted in no uncertain manner tradition that distorted who the living God was, implicitly made some extraordinary self-claims, miracles, crowds, opposition. Talk about full on. Then after three years his ‘hour’ had come.
If his life is so important would it not have been a great advantage to have lived for another 40-50 years. Deposit wisdom, lay deep foundations, then the death on the cross after that? Of course here I am in the realm of ‘perspectives’ for we have no solid biblical tradition for an answer. The best I can do is:
It is better I go away.
He became one of us, yet he is truly beyond all of us. Seems there is something so down to earth with God that he does not want to fulfil the task for us. He wants us in our weakness, frailty and yet far from being truly-human in our abilities and characters to get on with the task. Jesus’ death is vital, his life is essential but the task is for us. He restored (all authority) and then said ‘make disciples’, fellow learners, fellow mistake-makers.
Maybe this has eschatological implications too. Maybe God could have wrapped this all up long ago and saved us a lot of pain. Peter says his delay is he wants all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9), yet the longer this goes on it seems there are many who do not come to repentance, so we even have to think through that Scripture some. Maybe Jesus could have lived longer – but it ‘was better’ that he did not. Better for us. Maybe God could wrap this all up… but maybe it is better for us. Maybe there is something about this being mysteriously tied up with a task for us to fulfil. Without going down the ‘pure bride’, nor the post-millennial route (that would call for a change of mind on my part!!) perhaps we have to ask the question about the task that God has set before us. What are we to do? Could it be ‘it is better I don’t return yet’, and if so we have to find the same answer the early disciples did.
We need the Holy Spirit, and we face our own insecurities, dysfunctional behaviour, inadequacies, yet find ourselves unable to believe there cannot be a different world, a place where God is welcome, that does not order itself on a top-down hierarchical system that favours those from privileged backgrounds.
Yes if Jesus had stayed around till he was 70, or had returned some while back how much better off we would be. Apparently not.