Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Jesus I Never Knew

For the second year in a row, my wife and I are leading an adult "Home Group" for our church. This year we're reading The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. I have read it before (probably a decade ago), but I'd forgotten how good it was. Here is an excerpt from the excellent opening chapter:

Once, for a two-week period, I was snowbound in a mountain cabin in Colorado. Blizzards closed all roads and... I had nothing to do but read the Bible. I went through it slowly, page by page. In the Old Testament I found myself identifying with those who boldly stood up to God: Moses, Job, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, the psalmists. As I read, I felt I was watching a play with human characters who acted out their lives of small triumph and large tragedy onstage, while periodically calling to an unseen Stage Manager, "You don't know what it's like out here!" Job was most brazen, flinging to God this accusation: "Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees?"

Every so often I could hear the echo of a booming voice from far offstage, behind the curtain. "Yeah, and you don't know what it's like back here either!" it said, to Moses, to the prophets, most loudly to Job. When I got to the Gospels, however, the accusing voices stilled. God, if I may use such language, "found out" what life is like in the confines of planet earth. Jesus got acquainted with grief in person, in a brief, troubled life not far from the plains where Job had travailed. Of the many reasons for Incarnation, surely one was to answer Job's accusation: Do you have eyes of flesh? For a time, God did. (pgs. 17-18)
Though I would object that, even in the Old Testament, God is much more than just a cosmic Stage Manager -- barking orders from on-high but never actively participating -- he is in fact the central character of the play. Even so, there is a certain sense in which it still feels like we're down here muddling through, while God is way up there doing who knows what. It is encouraging to know that even the greatest saints felt that way, and were not condemned for it, but it is especially encouraging to know that God did something about it. However it may be true that God is the central character in the Old Testament, in the New he truly did learn "what it's like." No more could he be accused of ignoring our plight, for he had taken it upon himself.

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