Epistle to Kenny Lazarus: The Truth Event

Dear Reader, this a continuation of a conversation that just got too unwieldy to keep in a comment box. The metaphors will make more sense if you read this full post and comment thread first.

Brother Kenny,
If you follow a living God, why insist it is in a stone?

The truth of the Resurrection is actually a perfect example for what we are talking about. As we both know, there are four Gospels and they were originally set down between forty and a hundred years after the Crucifixion; as such, they each have distinct version of the story, with John being the most divergent as well as the latest. Each of the Gospels is like a lodestone marked by this truth event which can be best understood when the lodestones are studied in their relation to each other. Matthew was possibly set down by the tax collector himself, but it’s most likely written by one of his followers around 80-90 CE. Mark was most likely written by Peter’s translator John Mark, which means it was set down by someone who knew a firsthand witness to the Truth Event. Both of these documents probably came into being within fifty years of the Truth Event. Luke is the least mysterious as well as the most prolific of the Evangelists as he writes his Gospel and the Acts; we know that he is not a firsthand witness but a disciple of Paul, who himself was technically a second hand witness (he never met the pre-Resurrection Christ). John might have been composed by 100 CE but not much earlier than that and it was probably put together by disciples of John, not John himself (and there is an interesting theory that it was actually written by Lazarus).

We must now ask why these Gospels were written because it was not for our benefit, though they have benefited us tremendously, but rather for the edification of the faith of the first few generations of Christians. This is their original function; when we place them in relation to each other we can see the bands of alignment run parallel like a forensic investigator recreating a bomb from a blast. They were not written in response to the Truth Event but to something that happened almost forty years after it. In 70 CE Rome sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and scattered the Jews in the great Diaspora; the battle of Tel Meggido was over and the Messiah did not come. After three days, three weeks, three months and three years, a decade, the Temple remained rubble and the Messiah had still not come. This must have been tremendously traumatic for the infant Church and could easily have been the event that smothered Christianity in the cradle. Until this point the first and second generation of Apostles were certain that Christ would bodily return in their lifetimes; therefore they would have seen no need to record that which they had already witnessed. It was only in that dark decade after the Apocalypse when the world rolled on and the Messiah did not appear did it dawn on them that they needed to start preparing for the future. It must have been tremendously difficult to keep the faith together and carry it throughout the Empire and beyond its frontiers when the Messiah did not return and Temple lay in rubble. In this context, it makes sense that the two Gospels produced at the beginning of this period were straightforward accounts. Within a few decades Luke produces a masterpiece that incorporates the first two Gospels into a sophisticated narrative that indicates the writer had a Greek education and was writing for the larger Gentile audience. John is clearly from the end of this period and contains the theological beliefs of the earliest Christians in terms of what they thought the Truth Event meant.

These documents transform Christianity from a cult to a religion, from a breakaway sect into something entirely new in the world; they are secondary only to the Truth Event that inspired them in terms of their significance to the world, because without them the Good News would have been lost. In much the same way that the generation of first hand witnesses to the Holocaust are trying to find ways to preserve their stories before they pass away, the Gospels that are the only lenses we have to glimpse the Truth Event through are the testimonies of the first generation written down by the second. That there are four Gospels as opposed to one is in itself a miracle because it provides us enough points of reference to form a holographic view of the Truth Event rather than a flat view. They are not the Truth Event itself, they are evidence of the Truth Event that are like lodestones which can serve as a compass to guide us to experience the awakening that Christ brought. They are not salvation itself but point to it.

Though what happened in the tomb could be viewed as the singularity of the Truth Event, for me the proof of it is the whole of the Ministry. In three years Jesus was able to transform those closest to him from tax collectors and fishermen into saints. When Jesus was born Augustus Caesar was the proclaimed King of Kings and had every prophesy and history he did not care for burned, and renamed months after himself and his divine adopted father Julius so as to remake the world of men into his image, and yet his palace would be torn down to make a tomb not for the carpenter from Galilee, but his fisherman friend who denied knowing him three times on the night of his death. When one considers that John Mark was a disciple of Peter’s and yet includes the story of Peter denying even knowing his Lord, it gives the account an extra sense of honesty; in fact, the disciples are often portrayed in an unflattering light throughout the Gospels which is evidence of their honest humility as these were written after decades of very difficult work and martyrdom in a dark time. Furthermore, all the texts deal with the benefit of doubt.

Doubt strengthens faith by making it work harder; it polishes the lenses by which we peer at the Truth Event. Doubt is thinking, not just simply believing as a child. Doubt is what prepares faith for terrible tests that will break our bodies, take everything and everyone we love, and kill us in the end. Christ struggled with doubt in Gethsemane and on the Cross in the extremity of his suffering; again, to include this fact rings of the kind of honesty that comes with enlightenment, not fanaticism. That there is nothing absolute about the divinity demonstrated by Christ, but rather He is a being who suffers and bleeds, who laughs and drinks wine and gets angry at fig trees and tells people to look for money in fish and raises people from the dead and cures lepers and teaches everyone that they are worthwhile and beloved by God. He is such an unlikely Messiah He must be real; the people who knew Him loved Him so much they became better people for Him and spent the rest of their lives enduring suffering to spread His ministry. When we peer through our polished and focused lenses toward the heart of where the singularity should be we see the flickering paradoxes and contortions of reality that indicate that there must be an Absolute somewhere behind them, but we can never define or directly perceive what it is. Those paradoxes and contortions are the Horizon of the Truth Event much as an event horizon cloaks a gravitational singularity. We cannot determine what exactly happened in the tomb and in the days afterward, but must either accept or reject what these disciples who have proven so trustworthy in their other reporting agree upon as the general shape of the events.

If, however, our science fiction world were to produce some way to peer into the past, say, and we were able to view Peter and the Apostles bribing a guard, rolling aside a stone, and fleeing with the body in the night (despite the fact that such an act would have been so abhorrent to them culturally and religiously that it would have been unimaginable to any of them), my faith would not be shaken a whit. My faith does not depend on whether or not Jesus was able to turn water into wine or if he was just more sober than everyone else and noticed that there there were some more untapped kegs; I myself have performed that equivalent miracle more than once just by checking the fridge in the garage. What is most authentic are the teachings and parables, the sermons and the symbolic actions such as the casting of the moneychangers from the Temple and these require divine wisdom and courage which is far more difficult to fake than a magic trick. This is the Teacher that bids us to follow the difficult path, not simply believe in a miracle.

Does this make my point clearer?

Your brother,

Winston

3 Responses to “Epistle to Kenny Lazarus: The Truth Event”

  1. Yes, this makes it a bit clearer. But I think I still disagree with you.

    But first, some housekeeping: You dated Mark and Acts at around 50 CE. Actually they were done about 25 years later; Most scholars say between 68 and 73. So, these may have been written at the same time the Temple was destroyed! (BTW, thanks for correcting my history, I always think the Temple fell in 72!)

    As far as Christianity being smothered in the cradle when Jerusalem was sacked, I actually think that strengthened it. As you described, It gave the early Christians the impetus they needed to write and study and work to keep their tradition alive. I think the biggest threat to Christianity and indeed perhaps it’s death came at the Battle for Milvian Bridge in 312 when Christianity started to become an “Official” State religion! But I digress…

    As far as your view of the Scriptures, I certainly agree with you. You wrote “They are not the Truth Event itself, they are evidence of the Truth Event that are like lodestones which can serve as a compass to guide us to experience the awakening that Christ brought. They are not salvation itself but point to it. ” This is certainly the case although there a many who would disagree vehemently! But, I consider them to be at best heretics and at worst idolaters!

    I think the crux of our disagreement is here: You wrote “Though what happened in the tomb could be viewed as the singularity of the Truth Event, for me the proof of it is the whole of the Ministry ”
    It sounds like what you are saying is that Jesus’ actions are more important than his Resurrection.

    This is understandable and it is a common response to the Scriptural stories. But if this is all there is for you, then by definition, you are not a Christian; you are a follower of Jesus. I realize that may sound judgmental but I certainly don’t intend it to be. As you know, I have many friends who are not Christian and I love them dearly. But, By saying Jesus’ ministry is the only thing that is important to you, you are turning him into no more than a great teacher and spiritual leader. Jesus of Nazareth was of course all of this. But for me, he is so much more.

    Jesus Christ is “The Truth, the Way _AND_ the Life” (John 14:6 emphasis mine, obviously!) By being fully human AND fully divine, Christ embodies the Absolute. Christ/Godhead is the source of all Truth! Followers of Jesus are only interested in his Life. Followers of The Christ aka Christians are interested in his acts too but see so much more!

    Now, whether or not we can perceive or access that Truth is another matter. This is where I think you get stuck. You seem to believe it is impossible to get access to The Truth. For the most part, I agree. I do think we, for the most part see, through a glass, dimly. But it is possible to see the Godhead “Face to Face” and that is by a spiritual/ supernatural encounter with The Christ!

    Now, I am not saying that this is easy. Far from it. Each person has their own way of doing it. For me, writing like this has been a spiritual experience! (So, thank you!) I cannot say what will work for everyone but as a leader in the church I can try to construct worship so it happens there and we, as a church can create space for it to happen.

    In summation, allow me to say that I don’t expect to”convert” you! To attempt to do so would be rather insulting. I do hope though that at some point you can make the leap from rationality to acceptance of the irrational! Because ultimately, my thinking on the subject is completely irrational!

    That is all for now!

  2. Upon re-reading this, I’m a bit troubled by my last paragraph. My comment about you making the leap is a bit pretentious. I said at the outset I didn’t intend to evangelize and I don’t. My understanding of “salvation” is complex and evolving. I have no idea what awaits you when or if you “make the leap.” For all I know, you may be happy and comfortable where you are now. If so then good for you. I should not have implied that my way is “better” than yours! I apologize!

  3. […] ‘Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd, smiling…’ « Epistle to Kenny Lazarus: The Truth Event […]

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