The Crumbling of a Monumental Pedestal: Reconstructing the Divinity of Jesus

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As if there wasn’t enough chaos and controversy in our current social order, now along comes the dispute over the monuments of famous historical figures that have fallen out of favor because of their guilt by association and participation in racial discriminatory actions that are, in retrospect, indisputably abhorrent.

Not only are effigies of Confederate leaders deemed to be worthy of castigation and removal, so too are the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and even the “Father of our Nation,” George Washington, candidates to be literally knocked off their high horses.
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Whatever position one might hold in this dispute, it is a reminder for us all to reconsider just who, or what, each of us believes is of such monumental importance and value that we would elevate it to a place of prominence in our own lives; and place it above all else on a pedestal of one sort or another.

The Prominence of Jesus
Today I pulled up behind another car at a stoplight. On the rear bumper of the vehicle was a sign which I strained to read the question posed, “Do you follow Jesus this closely?”
With what has become almost an auto-response for me to this kind of creedal statement, I muttered inaudibly in a cryptic reply, “well, it depends on which Jesus you’re talking about.”

At this stage in my own life journey — where I might be summarily described as a post-theist progressive follower of the historical Jesus, his teachings and lifestyle (as near as we can discern them) — I might be tempted to concur with that other road warrior; and place Jesus high on a pedestal of his own.

That is, until I might recall those cautionary words of scripture regarding both idolatry and one’s place in relationship to others with a smidgen of humility and noblesse.

“Now whoever is greater than you will be your slave. Those who promote themselves will be demoted and those who demote themselves will be promoted.”  Mt 23:11

At the risk of being presumptuous, I suspect the other driver’s bumper sticker intended to place their Jesus on a pedestal worthy of some type of divine worship. And that difference and distinction raises for me a question I have been thinking about recently. Namely, how do I best elevate to a place of honor and prominence in my own life that which I would espouse to be of greatest value; while avoiding the long held human temptation of our own wild imaginations to imbue those collective values with supernatural attributes? How might I refrain from raising the divinity of Jesus to some sort of supernatural prominence on a pedestal of our own other-worldly imaginings.

Redefining the Nature of Divinity
When I was a boy, my mother would occasionally make a popular sickly-sweet candy actually called ‘divinity;’ presumably because it was simply divine.  My father, who was a preacher himself, loved it. But I was always puzzled by the use of the name given this human concoction; being the same word I would hear him express when describing from the pulpit or altar this same attribute of his “divine Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

In the compendium of religious verbiage, there was the ‘sacred,’ the ‘divine’, the ‘holy, eternal and everlasting’ all bundled together, and often in the same sentence. The divine with a capital ‘D’ was elevated to a place of prominence that seemed to run contrary to the humble servant figure so often portrayed in those gospel stories I learned. That is, until the tale was later told in those didacted gospel traditions; attributing to the historical human figure some co-equal status with a god of our own configuration.

Razing, Not Raising, the Divinity of Jesus
David Galston (Academic theologian, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Brock University, and a founding member of the Seminar on God and the Human Future) recently wrote in one of his weekly “Quest Thoughts,”

“In theology, reference to the “divine” is not meant to be literal. It is not a reference to somebody. It is a reference to a perspective that is larger than, and always too large for, the human imagination. The divine, accordingly, is not an authority but a question. The divine is the question about the size of our minds and the size of our hearts. It is the question that challenges us to be more than we thought we could be while here on earth, in this context, with these uncertainties, and within this community.”

Lest one quickly grasp any notion that we human beings will ever be anywhere else than part of this earth, the more important point the philosopher makes resides solely within the ever-expansive capacity of the human mind and heart.

Divinity is about far more than a sweet concoction or illusory fantasy. It is about embracing what is to be most revered because it is deemed most sacred within the boundaries of our own fullest humanity; without need of pedestals for any single one imperfect human being.

With that in mind, it would be difficult to follow the Jesus character I have in mind if he were elevated and fixed upon any pedestal. Instead, I would prefer to do my best to remain grounded for a journey with such a companion in this world; and with the kind of humility and selfless giving he once embodied.

© 2020 by John William Bennison, Rel.D.  All rights reserved.
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