Talking with Dr. James Regehr, Ph.D. (Biblical Studies), in Yorkton, Saskatchewan (Canada) - a First Covenant member since 2010, who was also a full-time Baptist pastor for more than a quarter-century - we confessed:
We don’t “get” the charisma of the Christian messiah, or savior, or Lord. The Creator of the Universe - Who is all spirit, and absolutely one - becoming material... It's such a weird idea….”
Dr. Regehr wrote back, trying to explain “the attraction and ‘charisma’ of Y’Shua”:
The “charisma” is rooted in the idea that in the person of Y’Shua, GOD is having direct, physical interaction with ordinary people - comforting the hurting, healing the sick… accepting of all people who are not proud before God, but humble and repentant of heart … God getting personal with normal ordinary people … that God is always with each of us and never leaves us, individually, nor forsakes us.
The “charisma” is that the “corrupt religious leaders” were condemned in favour of those who were compassionate and kind … even “justice” is trumped by “mercy” for the genuinely penitent and broken people.
The “charisma” is the belief that IF God were to actually take human form, this is how He would act; what He would teach and how He would relate to others … and that this is a person who is and should be our role model.
The “charisma” is that Y’Shua was the embodiment of God caring for his “sheep” and that, with Y’Shua, the focus is the commoners and the “least” of society - the “untouchables” …
The “charisma” is also rooted in the idea that God became one of “us” in the person of Y’Shua and knows the struggles we all face as frail humans - because He experienced it too - so God the eternal and transcendent One, bridges that distance and identifies with us.
The “charisma” is that Y’Shua represents our way to become better people and more than what we are and actually useful and needed in His service - each person with her/his unique gifts, abilities, talents, opportunities - to impact other people positively and make a difference - giving us each a sense of purpose that is greater than ourselves - and all this with the promise of eternal reward for faithfulness and “eternal life in Heaven” in the presence of God - and just as God came to us, when we die, we will go to be with Him …
All theses things are part of the attraction and “charisma” of Y’Shua … and all of these things ARE true of God - and Christians see God personified in Y’Shua … so to “deny Y’Shua” FEELS TO THEM like forsaking the personable and compassionate, etc., character of God.
So because the identity of who God is, is so intrinsically tied in with Y’Shua, to deny Y’shua … where does that leave them about “Who God is”?
Does this make sense to you? Does this help you understand where ex-Christians are coming from?”
We remain befuddled. A physical, material, divisible God, or someone (or Someone) beside Him, whom people worship?!?… Dr. Regehr kindly responded:
The Creator of the Universe becoming material: Adam and Eve heard the sound of God walking in the Garden and went and hid themselves … God “appeared" to Abram (Genesis 17.1) … Moses saw God’s back … Isaiah saw the LORD seated on His throne … what about Jacob wrestling with the “angel,” and then saying he wrestled with God? … What about the handwriting on the wall? Was that the hand of God? … What about the 4th man in the fiery furnace with Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah? An angel? Or God? (Christians would say that was … well, you know who they would say it was … )
The real fascination is how God could be both localized and at the same time still not be localized, but infinitely present everywhere! THAT is mind boggling!!!
We confess to being boggled.
Scripture speaks in the language of men (Genesis Rabbah 31b). Every Scriptural expression that seems to impart physical, material attributes to God is rhetorical. God is infinitely exalted above the merely physical.
Beyond that, we read a paper Dr. Regehr prepared, “What It Means to Me to Be Noahide.” We were struck by its emphasis on God’s grace and, particularly, His love: that is, of God’s love for the world.
We thought, “that’s nice.”
We don’t talk a lot about God’s love for the material Universe or for us – human beings, or any beings – as individuals. Not because we don’t appreciate His boundless love but because it’s pretty much a given, a well-accepted concept. Instead, we mostly stress human beings’ obligations to God: to love, obey and worship HIM.
In fact, we find the proposition that ‘love rules’ rather scary. To quote the late George Orwell - famous for his great dystopian novel, 1984 (London, 1949) – on the subject (in “Politics vs. Literature,” 1946):
“When human beings are governed by ‘thou shalt not,’ the individual can practice a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by ‘love’ or ‘reason,’ he is under continuous pressure to behave and think in the exactly the same way as everyone else.”
We believe in human liberty and freedom. In fact, as the Torah makes crystal clear, HaShem has manifested Himself as the God of human liberty and freedom!
When “God’s love” turns oppressive, it isn’t of HaShem but against HaShem.
Later, reviewing this piece, Dr. Regehr posted a few more “charisma” points which, he says, are crucial in Christian thinking. “If you want your readers to understand people’s reluctance to completely leave Christendom,” he says, “you NEED to include these concepts”:
* “that “you know who” is the ONLY way to God”;
* “the emphasis on the “total depravity” of humankind: that we are all born into sin and totally incapable of “good” - and that ALL have sinned and are under God’s condemnation, so we all face an eternity in Hell [in conscious torment] as punishment for being human;
* “that "you know who" dying on the cross and shedding his blood paid the price not only to “atone” for their sins, but to ultimately “forgive” their sins … they see the Yom Kippur sacrifice as an “atonement” only: the minimum payment necessary to keep the full wrath of God being poured out on us, while the cross, in contrast, was not just an atonement but a complete forgiveness.”
“Let me explain it one other way,” he says. “The idea is that the “Old Testament” sacrifices were like the minimum monthly payment on a high interest credit card, where the total amount owing (that is, God’s wrath) keeps growing, while the cross pays the credit card off completely and makes it possible to start building a positive balance … So for all who have been forgiven, it’s Heaven instead of Hell awaiting, because they have “accepted” “you know who” as Lord and Savior …”
“THIS,” he says, “is the greatest hold on “Christians” - that rejecting “you know who” means they will go straight to Hell when they die…. And that fear of Hell is a POWERFUL motivator! With a VERY strong hold in the soul of the Christian!”
What struck us most from our delightful conversations with Dr. Regehr? That different people come at the concept of God with different belief-sets.
By Michael Dallen
Happy New Year 5779
Next week, September 9th, at sunset on Sunday evening: the beginning of the first day of the month of Tishrei, "the first of months," "the birthday of the world." (More precisely, the birthday of the first true, reading- and writing-capable human beings, our legendary common ancestors Adam and Eve, 5,779 years ago.) Shana tova, may we all be inscribed and sealed for a good new year. Happy New Year!