Searching for the Real Jesus Christ image

Searching for the Real Jesus Christ

Several years ago the controversial ‘artist’ and musician Marylin Manson released a song originally by Depeche Mode called Personal Jesus. To me it seemed to pinpoint something very particular within our society. It begins with the words ‘Your own personal Jesus, Someone to hear your prayers, Someone who cares.’ The idea appears to be that people create their own versions of Jesus, or other saviour like figures, to suit their own needs. The question is, though, whether our imagining of Jesus is any better than that of those in the rest of society. How far do we create for ourselves our own personal Jesus - a version of Jesus that makes us feel comfortable and self-satisfied? Or are we genuinely seeking the real Jesus?

You might say that if we want the real Jesus, then surely we just turn to the Bible. Absolutely right, but even in getting to the Jesus of the Bible, we have to get through ourselves as the individual readers. That’s the problem. We often think that we have Jesus pinned down by the time we open the scriptures to search for him. Often we find just what we’re looking for – but have we got the whole picture? I’ve just completed a thesis on the Christology of two massively important 20th century theologians – Karl Barth and Karl Rahner. I think that Karl Barth, in particular, was Jesus-intoxicated and had (has) much to say of use to us.
Barth did much of his thinking in the context of the first and second world wars. He became convinced that the only worthwhile message that the Church should bring in that context was to do with its centre – Jesus Christ. For Barth, liberal Christianity had become much too positive about the potential of humanity and in Germany the professors who had taught him had bizarrely embraced what was seen as the progressive Nazi party. Barth thought that this was a direct result of losing sight of concepts such as sin and grace and consequently losing sight of Christ. Barth challenged the Church to remember that a high view of human nature, apart from God’s elective and saving grace, is not biblical and therefore nothing to do with true Christianity.
During my research I found a lot in Barth that I agreed with and likewise a few aspects that didn’t sit quite rightly, though I will not go into that here. But what I did find is that is that he continually tried to let Christianity’s object – Christ – shine for Himself. In searching for Christ, we need to let Him shine for Himself. Barth, I am sure, didn’t manage to steer completely away from his own personal Jesus, but he did take risks with his prior thinking in order to try and see what was really going on. In fact, it is rumoured that in a public lecture he gave as a very old professor, he was asked by a young lady to try and sum up his theology in a short sentence. Supposedly, he quoted an old hymn that his mother had taught him with the words “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That sits well with me! So I think that what we can learn from Barth (and I would encourage people to read him!) is that we should be willing to let our own personal pictures of Jesus be shaken up for the sake of letting the real Jesus speak to us again and again.
Getting the true picture, of course, can only be done in community. In a society where individualism is rife, we need to be open to challenge from others in our Church community. Why not ask someone, who you find personally challenging, to hear what you think about Jesus and then let them suggest other ways of thinking about things that you may not have considered? “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5 ESV) At the end of the day, Christ wants to be known, so our continued searching for him need not be in vain.

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