|The Norwegian church has a great potential for revitalization. However, the question is: Does the church dare?|
A Christmas Message
in Our Time
|By Sverre Avnskog, master grammar school teacher|
We are approaching Christmas and once again the nation is about to celebrate the birth of Jesus and at the same time allow itself a much coveted feast during winter darkness! The Christmas gospel will be read in schools and churches, and the little child Jesus will be at the centre of attention for many people, children as well as adults. For people who are fond of the church it is positive to see that the churches are full during the Christmas period, and that it continues to be important in people’s lives, even if it perhaps does not seem equally evident during the rest of the year. And what might be the reason why so few of us resort to the church in our every-day lives? A minister, recently resigned, once said that “it seems as if the church responds to questions that no one poses anymore”.
Unfortunately, I have to agree with Einar Gelius in his deep-down sigh. In many ways it seems to me that people in our country have progressed spiritually quite far during the last few decades, but that the church is not able to follow the people it actually was supposed to lead. In many ways the church today does not formulate any questions which are essentially different from those it has put forward for the last few centuries and experiences that increasingly fewer people take an interest in its preaching. What can the church do to re-kindle people’s interest and curiosity? I think a large part of the explanation for the waning interest is that the church is perceived by many people as unapproachable, closed and dogmatic, with too little of curiosity, openness and reflection. Being a school teacher I note particularly that students with the ability to reason independently are completely uncomprehending vis-à-vis the belief that Jesus is supposed to have died for their sins. “But Sir, isn’t it terribly unfair that Jesus was punished for something he hadn’t done?” And, yes, if we peel away all of the religious window dressing and focus on the very logic in Jesus being crucified for others to go free, then what we are left with is not so very beautiful. If “God” let his son be born on Earth, well aware and with intent to having him killed, then “God”, according to our concept of justice, right and wrong, must be a killer? And “Jesus”, supposed to have been born on this earth with the purpose of being killed, has then committed some form of suicide? Not to mention those who were drawn into this game of conspiracies, the people who carried out the killing in accordance with “God’s” will – has not “God” with his plan also turned them into murderers? I am no theologian, I am merely trying to make the doctrine of the church on this crucial point an object of normal logical assessment. I have also studied the New Testament, and I find the image of Jesus depicted there to be much more ambiguous and contradictory that what the church expresses in its preaching.
Furthermore, the Bible has a very shaky credibility as a source material to understand Jesus. First of all, nothing was written down while Jesus was alive. After his death the stories about Jesus were related from mouth to mouth for several decades. Therefore we cannot trust very much the truth of what has been narrated. Everyone dealing with witness accounts knows full well that even witnesses having observed exactly the same event with their own eyes, frequently offer rather contradictory witness descriptions. In addition, when the gospels were collected and there was a process of selecting what to include and exclude from the final version the text was edited, some things were deleted and others added in order to make the gospels harmonize better with each other. In spite of this endeavour in fact no unambiguous or clear picture of Jesus emerges, nor of the purpose of his mission among mankind. If Jesus himself realized that he had been sent to the Earth with the main purpose to be killed, would we not then count on being able to find clear statements from Jesus to corroborate that? But what does Jesus say? He says, among other things, in Matthew 9, 13: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’”. And in Mark 12, 32-34 Jesus discusses with a scribe who says: “To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And Jesus confirms the veracity of his statement by saying: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Can these be the words of a man who not long afterwards was to become the greatest sacrificial lamb ever? In my opinion these words by Jesus are in obvious clash with the idea of Jesus being an “atonement sacrifice”.
Several statements of Jesus in the New Testament clearly show where Jesus himself placed responsibility for his death on the cross. For instance in John 8, 37 Jesus says that “...you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word”. In other words, there is nothing here about God wanting to kill him. No, it appears evident that Jesus understood that human beings were going to take him to his death on the cross, because they were not able to receive his message about the loving and merciful God! There are many statements in the Bible where Jesus expresses opinions showing that he does not believe God needs any sacrificial deaths in order for us humans to be redeemed from our sins. Hence, from Jesus we have a very clear and simple statement when he gives us these beautiful and unambiguous words: “Forgive and God will forgive” (Mark 11, 25-26). At the time of Jesus each and every kind of religious practise was regulated by a comprehensive and very detailed set of rules, strictly controlled by a powerful clergy. “God” was a God of wrath, punishment and revenge, who had to be constantly propitiated by means of sanguinary sacrifices and burning of animal blood. In this society Jesus appeared with his simple and clear message about a God of love, mercy and forgiveness! A God accessible to all, anytime and anywhere, for poor and or rich – even the most wretched sinner can through a heartfelt prayer find peace with God. Jesus was a leader, a reformer and a founder of religion, but unfortunately his contemporary society was not able to receive his simple doctrine of love. Only very few people loved him while he was alive, his community opposed him, the clergy saw its positions threatened, and the Romans considered him a rebel. In reward for his loving and self-sacrificing deed on Earth, the humans provided Jesus with his death on the cross!
You see, in our time when hatred, terror, war and violence dominates the media flow, we certainly need Jesus’ message of peace and love between human beings! And from the churches this message ought to sound like peace trumpets all over the Earth. But then again we also see that fewer and fewer people listen to what the church has to say. Increasingly fewer people regard themselves as Christians, and if the church does not manage to regenerate it will eventually end up as a small sect without interest, completely without influence. However, there is in the church also a mighty potential for revitalization, if the men and women of the church only have the courage to let the clear light of love shine on its almost 2000 years old “ghosts”. In the religious bosom of Norwegian women and men there is a powerful sea of compassion, charity and love that could be set in motion, if only the church dares open up! The image of Jesus and of God as presented in the Norwegian church is in no way founded on the solid rock of the Bible as we are often left to believe. If you put on the spectacles of the heart when studying the holy texts then a completely different God emerges. A God who does not need to be placated by the killing of his son, Jesus. A God who wishes humans to live in peace, atonement and love! This is the universal and eternally valid message of love! I also wish to refer all religiously interested people to a book which will be published in Norwegian language shortly, namely “Toward the Light!”. This magnificent religious work, originally published in Denmark, throws a lot of new light on the life and teachings of Jesus, in addition to other important spiritual issues in our time!
Originally written in 2004 11.02.11
English Translation by
English Translation by
|Throughout the years several artists have tried to picture what Jesus looked like. According to "Toward the Lighet" none of the pictures resambles the real Jesus, or Jeshua, as his Arameic name sounded like.|