Given that we are in the last days of Lent and almost to Good Friday, this is perhaps providential.
My automatic Google notification for “Aramaic” brought up a curious article from Psychology Today, “It’s in the Bible…Isn’t It?” This is not a publication I read so I am unfamiliar with Stephen Mason, Ph.D. who is apparently nationally known for his writing and radio show. Nor do I know about his earlier article from last month where he addressed the question of an historical Jesus. In this column, however, he decides to poke again at this question and offers a poorly frame “quiz” of biblical knowledge. Apparently in an attempt to show us that he knows the Bible, having read it once as an undergraduate. Sadly, he begins by showing his own ignorance.
Last month, I wrote a column based on a documentary DVD titled: “The God Who Wasn’t There.” In a nutshell, it questions the existence of a historic Jesus Christ. I don’t know if there ever was such a person but, then again, does it really matter?
Look at Buddhism. Like Christianity, it has now split into numerous sects though no one can be sure about its titular head – Buddha. Was he a real person? Supposedly his friends called him Siddhartha and he died from either a mesenteric infarction or a bad truffle. But maybe he never lived. This was, after all, a couple of thousand years ago. Anyway, while Buddhists are happy enough with the message, Christians seem to need a body. Why this should be so, I don’t know.
Assuming he is truthful in saying that he doesn’t know why a “body” is so necessary to Christianity (and I have no reason to think he is lying), he clearly does not remember much of the Bible he read so long ago nor bothered to learn even the most rudimentary facts about Christianity.
Why should Christians need a body, specifically the body of Jesus? Because unlike Buddhism where the emphasis is upon the teachings and practices of the founding teacher, Christianity is that and more. As an aside and to make this point, when Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ1 came out a rabbi friend of mine complaining about the violence said he did not understand why the movie had to be about the crucifixion, why not the Sermon on the Mount. “After all,” he said, “it is not like the crucifixion is central to Christianity.” Except it is.
It is true that the teachings and life example of Jesus are vitally important to Christianity, but the reason a real, bodily Jesus is necessary for Christianity is because his death was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.2 This fundamental teaching is clear in all of the New Testament, particularly Paul’s letters and the letter to the Hebrews. If there was no Jesus/no body then there was no sacrifice and thus no atonement of sins. So while the doc may not know why Christians insist on a real, historical Jesus. This is what makes “Good Friday,” otherwise a brutal and bloody affair, good.
So perhaps Dr. Mason will read this post and learn why it is that Christians need a body.
- We showed this movie Tuesday night as the final film in our Reel Jesus film festival. I may blog on it later, but Man! what an exhausting film. I have such mixed feelings about it, but one thing is clear it is a powerful film. [↩]
- Notice that I am not even addressing the question of whether or not he really existed, but why Christians “seem to need a body.” [↩]