Friday, November 05, 2010

Jesus Only?

There's a lot of nonsense spoken in the name of God/Jesus. I'm sitting in a bookshop next to a table where there are two guys having a conversation. One of them is telling the other about a talk he's giving to some young people on the upcoming weekend. Here's the essence of his talk:

Friends are unreliable. We may expect them to satisfy our needs but they never live up to our expectations. The only friend that can bring complete satisfaction is Jesus. If I found myself on a desert island with no other people (friends) I could experience complete satisfaction because I would have the perfect friend in Jesus. Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden needed no one else but God to speak with. So that is all anyone needs. So if I find that my friends are letting me down, remember: they are fallible. Jesus is completely reliable and is the only friend I really need to be completely satisfied.

This is, of course, complete nonsense for the following reasons:
It completely ignores what we know about relationship needs from psychology. Humans have a fundamental need for relationship with other humans. This includes a profound need for physical touch, without which humans cannot thrive.

If one is going to use the Eden story to support the complete fulfillment of a person with God alone, one could just as easily argue that God making a couple after not finding a partner suitable for Adam from the animal kingdom, demonstrates that true fulfillment comes as a result of human relationship. Adam's initial aloneness is conveyed as something that needed to be rectified. That is why the story has God making Eve with the narrative culminating in them meeting and Adam celebrating their union.

The whole Bible sees community as core to faith. It is only in the modern West that individualism has become so dominant as the norm. The New Testament is shot through with the communal basis of faith with metaphors of relationship. While Jesus is most certainly described as the matrix within which these relationships exist, there is constant advice to love, support, and encourage one's family, "family", and neighbors.

What makes the plans of the speaker to give young people such thoughtless advice is the obvious irony of the situation.

Firstly, the guy was married! Clearly, Jesus wasn't enough for him! After his talk to the youth he could go home and cuddle up to his wife. What right does he have to stand before kids who may be aching with loneliness and say Jesus is the only friend you really need and then go and satisfy his own human needs for relationship by being married?

And he wasn't alone at the table (obviously). He and his conversation partner were obviously close friends. So here he was putting together a message that Jesus is completely satisfying in an intimate friend relationship!

And all this happened to take place in a Christian bookstore coffee shop. Do you think that, as I looked around, I saw people all sitting at tables by themselves with looks of complete satisfaction as they communes with an invisible Jesus? Not at all. Every table (other than one) had at least two people leaning forward sharing conversation together.

What response would this speaker likely get standing up to pontificate to lonely kids that then only friend they need is Jesus who will bring them complete satisfaction?

Christians throughout history have been isolated from their communities for all sorts of reasons - persecution, accident, circumstances. Imagine a Christian shipwrecked on an island and completely alone. Have any in such circumstances refused rescue because they have found complete satisfaction in Jesus? Certainly many in these situations would describe God as sustaining them through ordeal. But it is an ordeal because it is a not how humans are made to exist.

We need to get real with our spiritually vacuous advice to people. Apart from the mystics who deliberately went against their human nature and isolated themselves to commune with God alone, I know of no one would choose a life cut off from others.

Surely a message to these young people would be that we are made for relationship. And if you are feeling lonely and neglected and isolated, we are here for you; we will genuinely listen to you; and we will support and encourage you while you learn to relate to others, develop friendships, and navigate the gh sea of living with other flawless people. A satisfying relationship with Jesus will only occur if it is enfleshed in real people who love and accept the lonely and marginalized in the same way Jesus did. Let's hope those young people the presenter was planning to speak to don't leave depressed, disillusioned -- and lonely.