Imagine for a moment that, like the actor John Hurt, you believed that you were descended from Irish Nobility. The story has been passed down from generation to generation and instilled into family consciousness and sense of self. So much so that when you place your feet on Irish soil for the first time, you feel an immediate emotional response and attachment to that place of great ancestral meaning.
Imagine then, your horror, as his, to discover through ancestral research such as that of ‘Who do you think you are?’ on the BBC, that no such link can be drawn. No Irish lineage can be found.
What, I wonder would that do to your sense of self, of your familial self, your heritage upon this earth, your sense of where you have come from and your sense of being grounded in your own skin?
Would it, as for John, leave you with a sense of emptiness and grief?
Given recent scholarly biblical work in search for the historical Jesus, there are many who cannot marry their new found understanding of Jesus the man of history to the Jesus of faith and religion.
The story in faith that has been passed down through history is starting to appear a very long way off the mark.
Does this fact, or should this fact alter our faith?
Should we amend the story we pass down to more closely match what we suspect to be closer truth?
Given the diversity in opinion and theological doctrine, would it even be possible to find a conclusive picture of Jesus – his life, his work, his purpose?
Given that we could, I suspect that there would be many for whom the change would be as hard if not much harder than that of John Hurt.
We are left with a faith and religion that is likely very far from what Jesus the Christ intended.
And yet, in faith, I choose to set my sense of self and of our place in the world, by what little we can solidly assume of scripture. The general sense and principle of the Bible is as a book of the People of God, desperately seeking to name the divine.
Christianity has taken on a life of its own, and not even a direct written account of Jesus life proven to be from God’s own hand, would convince all Christ’s followers to give up present doctrine.
Philosophical and broad theological debates can do little to shift the average person of faith from their long held believes –yet, it is at the point where our faith directly relates to our life and meaning, that we start to question the relevance and truth of that faith.
For my part, as I have explored scripture and doctrine in light of my homosexuality, it is the search for the historical Jesus that has made sense; this is the process of seeking to get beyond the cleverly woven patterns of religious doctrine in order to find Jesus the man and his meaning. I sought this path of study as my faith and my sexuality have been separated. My relationship with God was distant and certain theological understandings had unnecessarily made it so.
At this point of direct engagement between my faith and my sense of self, I sought to understand Christ’s message. Having done so in this most precious areas of my life it has, for reasons of integrity, been right to use the same method within all theological themes.
Having seen that the faith I was taught is very far from the mark, very far from that which fosters a strong relationship with God; my sense of self was shaken. Having seen the truth, the truth beyond the constructs of doctrine, I sought that same foundation for faith in every point of meeting between faith and life.
The truth is that we can never get back to a complete and unpolluted vision of God’s history with humanity, nor of the historical life and times of Jesus, but I pray we may be able to see those things which are wrong and misleading within our history and doctrine, and that we may rejoice in those areas of agreement were life and faith connect.
For my part, I continue to seek the historical Jesus and yet I have faith in those immovable common and universal themes which bind all humanity and which, I believe, Jesus came to proclaim in God’s name.
The Church is built on faith and faith should never claim to hold ‘the’ truth. We are all different and thus we will all hold different beliefs in faith. God makes God’s self incarnate to each of us in the way that makes sense to us as individuals – in the way that draws us into a closer relationship with God. I am past holding on to creeds and theologies that seek to box God in and I rejoice in the boundless expression of God wherever God dwells with me.
It may be a hard reality, but it makes sense to me that God’s incarnate word – the Christ, has never been fully understood or fully named and never will be. His life and his death say enough to each of us to give a glimpse of God, and that glimpse is so bright and so full of love that it is enough.