I’m taking a break from the exposition of Kierkegaard to attempt to address the question I raised in my previous post.
What can we expect from Jesus?
I ask this as it has become a matter of pressing concern in my reflections on Kierkegaard’s Gospel. Pressing, because in his exposition he defines the character of Jesus in such a way as one’s relation to Him and experiencing of Him is implicit even in it’s telling. As he writes, he seems to invite the reader to expect–even anticipate–some kind of sensible, measurable, experienceable change in one’s life. Namely: the invitation to and experience of help, rest and healing.
Kierkegaard writes of Jesus as though he were a real person who’s activity is rooted firmly in our perceivable existence. He calls this ‘contempariousness.’ We are contemporaries with Jesus, and thus what he offered historically to his hearers in the 1st century is the very same Gospel we hear today.
But what does our experience of this Gospel look like? In the Scriptures, it is clear: Miracles, healings, demonstrations, community, separation from the world, companionship with the real Jesus and his followers.
Can we expect the same today?
This is a more difficult question to address than perhaps it first seems. Some readers might have read the list above and may now be screaming “Yes and Amen!” to that.
But please allow me to probe that faith. Those experiences are not universal to all Christians. Not all who call on Jesus and put their faith in Him can consistently count on the same experience as those first disciples. We do not see every sick saint find restoration for their health. We do not see the Church fearlessly standing against the powers of this world, nor do all Christians abandon the passions and pleasures of this world to follow their convictions. And most obviously, there is no walking, talking Jesus to follow.
There is a part of me which objects even to my own criticisms. I might blame Christians for not having enough faith, enough faith to be healed, find wholeness and be committed to the ethic of Jesus Christ. Yet when I do this, I am contradicting Kierkegaard’s understanding of the Gospel.
That is to say, Jesus takes the initiative in offering Himself as our Help and Healing. If I am blaming individuals for not having ‘enough faith’, I have clearly set the individual up as his or her own help and healing. Have I not?
All this to say, it seems plan to me that there must be some experience of the faith which precedes the individual’s effort and choice. If Jesus goes to the sinner and offers Himself as their help, offers to carry their heavy loads and give them rest then there must be some essential difference in the experience of such a one who accepts this message than one who does not.
How else could it be claimed that Jesus is our real contemporary? If it were not so, Jesus would be a literary and historical figure, not the real presence Kierkegaard seems to write about.
What, then, can the Christian expect to experience? If we reject these anecdotal and sporadic reports of healing, of senses of peace or wholeness, or even the feeling of being accepted (since these feelings come and go in everyone’s life, and the heightened expectations of today’s Evangelicalism have made the peaks and troughs of life take on Divine proportions) what are we left with
In what real way is Jesus our help?
In asking this question, I seek an experience common to all who confess genuine faith which could be claimed as the aforementioned help which Jesus apparently offers to all.
Like a doctor who has the cure to our greatest ill, what is the medicine all Christians swallow?
In asking this, I have made an assumption. I have made Christ’s work into a service he administers to us. This is only partially true. However he is a person, a being. An Other.
I was asking of Christ as though he were an It, a thing, a dispensary. But the discussion is elevated once one understands Christ as Other, not as It.
In our daily dealings with upright bipeds we call humans, we seem to switch between regarding other bipeds as It or as Other (Thou). Perhaps one sees the police officer in a uniform as an It, and then sees one’s friend and college as Thou. Thou, whose existence does more than render unto you a service, but whose existence in and of itself impacts your own.
Indeed, in an encounter with an Other we are imputed by that Other and interact with the Other (Thou) in some way. Beyond being an It with which we exchange services or goods, Thou is a person with whom you share existence, whose being is impacted by your own and indeed you notice your own being implicitly impacted by theirs.
All this to say that one’s encounter with Jesus, in faith, in an encounter with an Other. By acknowledging that Other, even before one has decided how one will react to the Other, one’s existence is impacted by the Other. If Jesus, as Kierkegaard says, is the very same Help even as he is the Helper, our experiencing Him as Thou (as opposed to It), is intrinsically a help for us.
This distinction between acknowledging Jesus as Thou as opposed to It is a different one to the previous discussion concerning the supposed lack of ‘faith’ which sees many Christians disappointed by their lack of miracles/sense of peace/etc. Even in having faith that Jesus owes us these things, one regards Him as an It, and thereby misses the Help His existence offers and is for us.
The Help Christ offers, then, is found in our recognition that he is Thou not It. This is no work on the part of the person, as such, any more than our choice to see some as Thou and others as It is a conscious choice. Indeed, I would posit that there are many occasions when the Other, who we have decided is an It, impacts us in such a way that we are forced to then see them as Thou. However, this is off topic. I mean to say that in seeing Christ as Thou we are helped.
When one regards Christ as Thou, and thus has one’s existence impacted by that Thou and shares common existence with Him, it is unique to Jesus that his existential presence before us and with us finds it’s climax in the decision to follow Him. In this way, in meeting Him as Thou and truly as Thou is (Inviter, Helper, Help, Cure, etc), we find the other things which were burdens are no longer so. And we find rest in our being, as we realise our being is ultimately secure in the light of His Being. In relation to Him we are helped and know Him to be Help.
To leap away from the book, Training in Christianity, from which many of these ideas come, I wish to call to mind one of Kierekgaard’s most memorable catchphrases by way of a conclusion.
He said that the purity of heart is to will One Thing.
And so, in meeting Jesus as Thou one experiences such a purifying of the heart, since other pursuits pale in comparison. All the burdens fall off and the self find rest. In this way Jesus is the constant Help, not our help once. The Christian is constantly helped as he constantly sees Jesus as Himself.
At the beginning of this post, I believe I was asking the wrong question. Or perhaps with wrong motives. I was regarding Jesus as It, not Thou. Therein was my frustration. Jesus will not be regarded as an It to do our bidding or fulfil our desires. He is a Thou, the great Thou in whose light all humanity knows itself.
For the Christian, true and lasting help is granted when he or she looks at Jesus and sees Him as He is. This is the first and last of the faith. More than the isolated incidents referred to in Biblical stories, we can and often DO experience that same inviting and transforming Jesus that our ancestors believed and trusted in. This is the great thing we can hope for. This is our expectation.