On Loving Jesus
Here’s a bit of a confession: I have never been quite sure if I loved Jesus. Or maybe I was never sure what it meant to say that.
Partly, it’s my background. H. Richard Niebuhr once observed that churches tend to be churches of one person of the Trinity or another. There’s a lot to that. I grew up in a Congregational Church that was clearly more of a first person of the Trinity crowd. Emphasis on God the Father and Creator. God was “high and lifted up.” Jesus? Mostly, a really good teacher and moral example.
But that isn’t all of it. We lived in a neighborhood that was dominated by a large Southern Baptist church and by the people who went there. I was part of a Boy Scout troop at that church. And everyone in the neighborhood went to two weeks of Summer Vacation Bible School there. The highlight of VBS was a huge daily glass of sweet, ice-cold Kool Aid, usually red.
The Baptist Church, unlike my own Congregational one, was definitely a second person of the Trinity place. There were lots of pictures of Jesus in which he looked like the White Knight of Perfect Virtue. His forehead glowed. I didn’t warm to this Jesus. And we were urged to belt out hymns like, “Oh How I Love Jesus.” I tried, but I never fit in there, nor did I quite get loving Jesus.
There was something about this professed devotion that, even to a kid (at least this kid), seemed just sort of swarmy.
Recently I’ve been reading Francis Spufford’s book, UnApologetic: Why Despite Everything Christianity can still make Surprising Emotional Sense.
Spufford’s chapter on Jesus is titled “Yeshua,” of which “Jesus” is the latinized version.
Here’s a bit from that chapter. Spufford is writing at this point about all the impossible things Jesus says and asks.
“He seems to think a change is required in us as complete as the change that comes when chaff is set blazing after the harvest, and the fields billow with flame . . . He can be frightening, indeed he can. He says it would be worth chopping off bits of yourself — eyes, hands — if it would rid you of what separates you from God. Yet he is an optimistic pessimist. Come on, says somebody. How could anybody ever stand right with God, if it were as hard as you say? With God everything is possible, he says.
“He annoys people when he talks like this. Because the implication of his perfectionism is that everybody is guilty; and if everybody is guilty, nobody gets to congratulate themselves, and murderers and adulterers cannot be shunned . . . They are not outcasts, they do not belong in a category of unclean persons that the clean rest of us can hold at arm’s length. Yeshua insists that being unclean is not a temporary violation of the proper state of things. It is the normal human condition.”
Reading Spufford’s chapter, which is very faithful to the biblical picture/ story of Jesus, I found myself thinking, “I love Jesus.” I love this Jesus who irritates the virtuous, for whom most of our carefully managed categories are irrelevant, this Jesus who does not seem to be disgusted by anybody, anybody at all, and who talks constantly of a Kingdom that nevertheless eludes our grasp, even as in him it breaks in upon us.
It came as a revelation to realize, as I read, I do love Jesus. This Jesus.