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What was Jesus trying to achieve?


Question & Answer

Q: By Philip
Do you think that Jesus believed he was the Son of God/Son of Man (Daniel 7) and that he physically cured people of diseases and serious disabilities.? If not,what do you think he was trying to achieve by wandering around the countryside with his disciples? 
A: By Dr. Carl Krieg
Dear Philip,

The question that you posed, “What was Jesus trying to achieve?”,  is perhaps the basic question that Christians ask. With respect to the other two issues you raised, Jesus never called himself “son of God”, but he did call himself “son of man” which is another way of saying “man”. As for Jesus healing disease and disability, I do think that the oppressive nature of the ruling regime broke minds and bodies and that by offering love and hope Jesus could help in recovery. I remember a student who was blind and was asked by a fundamentalist group to come to a meeting so that they might pray over him and restore his sight. He was eager to do so, so that he could remove his glass eyeballs in front of them. Jesus did not turn glass into flesh, but psychosomatic healing is another matter.

What was Jesus trying to do? I don’t think Jesus was trying to do anything other than to help others become fulfilled human beings and to live together in peace and justice. As I argued in my column “Jesus and the Void”, Jesus was a fully human being, continually in tune with God and fully loving other people. Part of that being was to teach others about love and truth, to help others open their eyes to God and to embrace one another as children of one God. That was the person and that was the message. Some people caught on, others did not. Psychosomatic healing was a possible manifestation in those whose lives were changed.

Speculation about who Jesus was and who he thought he was, begins in the New Testament itself. Layer upon layer was added to the original story and what we have today in the Christian Writings is far removed from the initial encounter between Jesus and the disciples. One of the last to be added is the famous prologue to John, which states that the eternal Word became flesh in the person of Jesus. The disciples may have been curious about Jesus, but did not come to John’s conclusion. It was not until 325 CE that the Council of Nicaea concluded, under imperial pressure, that Jesus was God. It was in 451, at Chalcedon, that the church threw up its hands and confessed that it had no idea how Jesus could be both God and man. The contemporaries of Jesus confronted no such issues. For them, Jesus was a man, but a man like no other, a man who presented to them who they were and could become.

Because of all the later additions, the original story of Jesus and his followers has been transformed into a story alien to what he intended and what they experienced. We now have someone born of a virgin who dies for our sins, appeasing an angry god, who will come in the future to judge all who have ever lived, and whose power is now controlled by the church. As a consequence, people who are told that they have to believe this to be saved are leaving the church in droves, and secular society sees the story as ludicrous. So the fundamentalist narrative is harmful on three levels: it betrays the message of Jesus, it forces thinking Christians to leave the church, and it prevents any relevance that Jesus might have for secular society. Clearly what’s required is to rediscover the Jesus story, and that brings us back to your question: What was Jesus trying to do? Answer: Trying to help us become the creatures of love and compassion we were created to be. By what power, we may ask, was he able to be so totally loving? Was it because he was God incarnate, or because he was a human being that succeeded in overcoming temptation and was perfect? We’ll never know, and any answer to that is speculation. All the disciples knew was that Jesus empowered them to discover the truth of their humanity.
~ Dr. Carl Krieg
About the Author
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith, and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife, Margaret, in Norwich, VT.
*** This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

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