Christian history is a two-thousand-year-old dinner table argument over whose version of Jesus is the right one. People have been debating about who Jesus really was—what he said, what he meant, where he came from—for ages. The reality is Jesus is a metaphor into which we dump our vision of humanity. Regardless of who he actually was, that has always been who he is to us (and always will be). The Jesus we hold dear is a mirror image of our beliefs about human potential. The question, who is Jesus? really is the ask, what do I believe about who I can become? What is my ideal human, and how do I become that? We could call this your personal philosophy of Jesus.
The Scriptures we do have about Jesus leave a lot of room for imagination and interpretive bias–not to mention the impossible conundrum of having to decipher the scramble of what Jesus actually said from what later traditions, scribal blunders, or blatant partisan rewriters had him saying. Jesus preposterously added to this confoundment by preferring to speak in parables and teaching by asking questions, which require our imaginations to fill in the empty spaces and invite us to make a multiplicity of imprecise interpretations–none of which can make a legitimate claim to have been inside the mind of the Rabbi to know exactly what he meant to say.
So, what is the good orthodox believer to do? One must know the right answer to the Jesus quiz to get into the pearly gates! The prescribed Christian solution is, lie to yourself, obviously. Convince yourself you know for sure until you don’t remember there ever was a process of convincing or something to be convinced of in the first place–Jesus is this way and this is what he said! That’s an easy solution, until that uncomfortable moment when you come into contact with other Christians, and other not-Christians, who believe in a completely different Jesus yet who spoke the very same words. Maybe none of us have got it right, so we’re all going to hell! What if the whole Church wound up in hell because of its fixation on Jesus?
Unconsciously, every good preacher and Christian faction has its own ideas about the human condition, the spiritual path, and how far out there is too far to go. They project this all onto Jesus, the perfect theological object for all our hopes and dreams. And Jesus is designed to take on all our projections–that is precisely his power. The Jesus we find ourselves believing in and preaching happens to be the embodiment of all our aspirations and lunacies because Jesus is the godhuman. Whatever we see as best, we see as God, and Jesus shows us how to be that as humans. That is the metaphor of Jesus, being the best you you cannot possibly imagine yourself to be.
The trouble is that people project onto Jesus unconsciously. Jesus is the answer is a lie and a joke. He is the question. He is the power to understand what the question that’s plaguing you about you is. Because his face is the metaphorical face of the divine, and of you the human, your Jesus is a mirror for what it is you most want yourself to be and fail to live up to at the same time. He can hold the polarities of your unconscious conflicts: your human shortcomings and divine potentialities. Therefore, those who see Jesus as a fixed historical image have lost the capacity for self-reflection. If we find ourselves looking for the One True Jesus, we are really lost.
Create your own Jesus instead. This is the invitation of Jesus. Lose yourself in the imaginative dream journey of living to fully become yourself. You will be confronted with the full truth of your human frailty and depravity–if you really try (death). And you will see the face of God–witnessing yourself transform into what once was impossible (resurrection). Of course, this in itself is one vision of Jesus. There is a social justice Jesus, a climate change Jesus, and an infinite array of Jesuses fitted to whatever problem-dream combination you find yourself living in.
One of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas, asked Jesus, what is the way to heaven? Jesus answered him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). The answer Jesus gave has been interpreted as if it was code for some kind of orthodox dogmatic formula of salvation, i.e. the fundamentalist creed that in order to get to heaven you have to know that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way of salvation. But nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus was inviting his disciples into a living relationship with the reality of himself and his message. There is no way to know “the Father;” to see the face of God–to experience divinity exploding your limited human possibility–except this way of becoming, which is more of a journey than an answer.
Another of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, demonstrated his fixed-image misunderstanding of Jesus, exemplified in the thinking that the path of Jesus is about being shown who God is by Jesus: “Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). The delusion of Philip is what Christian Orthodoxy has decided to focus its heresy wars on–the nature of Jesus: is Jesus homooúsion tó patri, the same substance as the Father; is he God, part God part human, etc., into an endless wasteland of irrelevant questions. Orthodoxy wants Jesus to be the answer about God, not a quest to find out who you are. It wants Jesus to be God for you, telling you Jesus did all the work of seeing God so you don’t have to; only listen, believe, and obey–never challenging you with the impossible task of divinity. But Jesus corrected Philip: “Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’” (John 14:9). If Philip thought knowing God was a matter of being shown God by Jesus (or the Church, for us by extension), he didn’t know Jesus at all.
Orthodox Christian theology has become an enterprise in manufacturing Jesuses for its people instead of finding itself in the creation of Jesus. Jesus is a living, creative way, not an object of deification and religious outsourcing of spiritual encounter (the Jesus created by orthodoxy). Perhaps we must lose our salvation, as we’ve been sold it, to find God. The Jesus our institutions have created is the reflection of their unconscious strivings, and by reflecting on this, they may yet awaken. We all create our own Jesuses, and Jesus has been created as a weapon of violence and oppression, and as a symbol of peace and liberation. Create your Jesus intentionally.