Opinion Columns & Blogs

What did Jesus believe?


Remember when our teen-agers wore bracelets that read, WWJD? What would Jesus do? How about this one for adults, WDJB? What did Jesus Believe? I thought at first his beliefs would be easy to find; just go through the gospels and pull them out. But then I began to find many disagreeing Scripture scholars, each with his own researched idea of what Jesus really believed.

However, they all agree Jesus believed in his Jewish God, Yahweh. This young Galilean workman had been raised in a Kosher family, attended Synagogue on the Sabbath and listened to the Rabbi read from the Torah, the prophets and the Psalms. Yahweh appeared in every reading. Yahweh was his God, his father, his dad (Abba). Jesus must have had a special love for the 150 Psalms because all- but nine- of them were full of praise and love and faith in Yahweh.

These nine must have made Jesus wince and he probably skipped over them when he could. All nine tell the story of a man who doesn’t just lose his faith in Yahweh; he loses Yahweh. His God is gone, vanished from his presence. Psalm 22 is especially poignant and this is the one Jesus chose to recite just before he died on the Cross.“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus must have said these words. Two evangelists quote him and who would make up a horrible thing like this?

I know there are many “Jesus quotes” in the gospels which make me wonder how Jesus — as a Jew — could say them, like the “divinity statements” in John’s gospel. But this one rings frightfully true. Someone stood beneath the cross and heard him say in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi…etc.” right before he died. This memory was passed down for 40 years in Aramaic, and translated into Hebrew and then into Greek. Mark picks up the original Aramaic and Matthew has the Hebrew and Greek.

There can be no doubt he said it. Jesus lost his God. He was quoting Psalm 22 and he was feeling worse pain than the writer of the Psalm could ever feel. Jesus was dying. Where was Yahweh? Where was the God who had said, “You are my beloved son.”? Where was the God whose Kingdom Jesus had worked so hard to restore? Gone. Some say, oh well, Psalm 22 ends with praise and hope in Yahweh. Hope, yes, Faith no. Jesus died without his God.

One of the women most admired in our century, and not just by Catholics, is Mother Teresa. She did marvelous work among the poor and neglected in the gutters of Calcutta. No one could do what she did without a huge amount of faith. Yet, after she died, we found this note that ended, “If there be a God, please forgive me.” What? Where was that abiding presence? That comforting arm around her shoulders when the world was crashing down on top of her? Where was her faith? I have no faith, she wrote. God was gone.

I am beginning to lose patience with some of my critics who accuse me of trying to drive people away from their faith. That is absolutely the furthest thing from my mind. We strengthen our faith by questioning it — not by slopping Pauline verses all over the page as if they would somehow cover all theological problems.

Dr. J. Daniel Day has written a must-read” book for all Christians. He calls it, “If Jesus isn’t the Answer, He Sure Asks The Right Questions.” Dan covers 10 knotty questions before he closes his book with the most difficult question of all, the one I mentioned above, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? After listing all the reasons why this should not be in our Bible and dismissing each one, Dan proposes a beautiful prayer — for Jesus, for Mother Teresa, and for all of us who have at some time or other, lost our God:

“Help me to cherish not what I think I know more than I cherish doing what I know I should.”