If I Were God, Would I Have Come?

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Giovanna Bellini- Madonna col bambino, 1470-1475- Public Domain

As Christmas day draws closer, travel plans are finalized, menus are tweaked, and some are going out foraging for last minute purchases. At the “Hickling Estate,” even though we are newly made empty nesters, the kids (and one nephew) will be coming over to share Christmas day with us. Like many of you reading this article, we will have a “spread” composed of finger foods and will have some items that we do not normally serve at home (shrimp and cocktail sauce, etc). Even though the rest of the family turns its collective nose up at fruitcake, there will be a block of it cut up for me because I learned to love it as a kid when my father would serve it (more for me). But the big “shindig” will actually be when Andrea’s side of the family shows up the day after Christmas for the family Christmas party. We’ll have about 20 or so on the 26th. We’ll provide the meat and everyone else will be bringing in their favorite dishes. My waistline will not be happy but the taste buds will be very, very happy. With all that is going on now with family plans, church events, and various parties, I still try to find little bits of time here and there where I can pull away and reflect on Jesus Christ during this season when we celebrate his coming into the world. I’ve always liked to put on Handel’s Messiah or better yet, find a place where it is being performed and watch it in person. I also like to play Gian Carlo Menotti’s Christmas Opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. I find that I worship anew each time I play these musical reminders of Jesus’s entrance into the world. When my mind shifts to the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, I ask the question, “If I were God, would I have come to the earth like Jesus did?”

Of course, this question may not be correct theologically as I am a fallen, lower being who is limited in his ability to make “Godlike” choices because of my metaphysical composition as a human being. Not having the qualities of God, how can I even attempt to engage in such an activity? Nonetheless, as the Christmas season rolls on, I still ponder this. When surveying other religious paradigms, it appears that there really were no other gods that came like Jesus Christ did. In Greek mythology, the gods did interact with humans and shared in some of their weaknesses even though they were immortal. For instance, these gods were known to be angry, vengeful, lustful, and have larcenous tendencies. These mythological gods would “come” and mingle with humans and were known for their superhuman powers. Sometimes the gods would help humans and at other times they would hinder them. On some occasions it was storied that they would make love to humans (such as when Mars had his way with a vestal virgin which caused the legendary conception of Romulus and Remus). Going back into ancient Egyptian religious lore, Osiris was the king of the netherworld. But did he interact with his devotees? When delving into the literature on Osiris, it is obvious that he had no relationship with those who relied upon him for their sustenance in the realm of the dead. He merely kept the disembodied spirits in the netherworld energized as he united with Ra to invigorate these departed souls. He never emerged from the netherworld to visit those who would rely upon him after their deaths.

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The Chariot of Zeus- Project Gutenberg eText 14994- Public Domain

In examining the Muslim texts, it is known that the only time when Allah had actual contact with humanity is through Muhammad who received divine messages that were given to him by the angel Jibril. Allah is “wholly otherworldly” in these encounters. These recitations that Muhammad received from the angel Jibril supposedly formed the Quran. It is Muhammad alone who toured heaven during “Al Miraj” where he traveled atop “Al-Buraq,” a white animal with wings. But he still had no contact with Allah even when in heaven, but only angels, prophets, etc. In Buddhism, there is no personal god at all to have contact with but only the path to become one with the universe upon attaining “nirvana.” In Hinduism, striving with deeds to attain “moksa” or “being liberation” is the objective. As in Buddhism, there is no personal relationship with a god here either.

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The Night Journey of Muhammad on His Steed, Buraq, Unknown Artist, 1514, Public Domain

In stark contrast to pagan Greek/Egyptian mythology, when Jesus Christ did come, he did not come with fiery thunderbolts (Zeus) nor did he descend into the realm of the underworld as king (Osiris). There was no worldly pomp or circumstance that accompanied the entry of Jesus Christ into the world. Rather, in contrast to the Allah of Islam, he knowingly humbled himself and took on the form of man (known as the kenosis or the emptying of himself). Jesus did not cease to be God when he came as a baby. Rather, he willingly veiled these attributes and submitted himself to life on this earth that eventually led to his death on a cross. This is plainly stated in Philippians 2:5-8 where, “Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

 The contrast of Jesus Christ with pagan gods is observed in His life as he does not seek to increase his powers, to subjugate those who he comes into contact with, or to develop consorts for his bedroom. Rather, Jesus, speaking of Himself stated, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).” Jesus did not seek earthly riches, power, or sensual experiences during his ministry here on earth. Rather, he willingly lived a meager existence, as he did not even possess a home. In contrast to the Allah of Islam, Jesus Christ came to the earth and did so meekly. In his earthly ministry, he modeled modesty and compassion. In his death and resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ modeled total submission to God. Even as he was waiting to be betrayed, Jesus taught about the coming of the Holy Spirit who would indwell every believer and who would be a guide that mystically dwells within. This is in stark contrast to Buddhism and Hinduism where enlightenment comes as these adherents strive to “earn” their salvation through their “good deeds” somehow. So, after a brief survey of various religious deities/systems, it is clear that Christianity is unique as God incarnates himself in order to meet the needs of each human in a personal way.

This Christmas season, the American atheists have displayed billboards trying to convince people not to go to church on Christmas. “It’s all just a fairy tale anyways so why waste your time?” they say. However, the life of Jesus Christ is no myth and is based upon well-documented accounts by those who witnessed his ministry, death, and resurrection. Moreover, what these brand of atheists fail to realize is that sincere Christians won’t go to church on Christmas Sunday to make themselves better Christians, to fulfill some sort of required duty, or become more holy by their attendance, somehow. No I, and many like me, will go to church this Christmas because we really want to go. Yes, I enjoy hanging out with my friends at church. Yes, I enjoy singing songs, appreciate a well-decorated sanctuary, and like to listen to a special homily. But why I am really there is because I am awestruck by the fact that the maker of the universe is so virtuous and kind. He demonstrated this when he lowered himself to take on a human form and lived a life of total sacrifice to include his tortuous death on a cross. All of this with the aim of making as many people as he can his family members (Rev. 21:3-4).

Ross Bible Pond

So, back to the original question about whether I would have come if I were a god; I can say that in my present state that I would not have come because I would not want to suffer. I am too comfortable and used to catering to my own needs. This is what makes the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus all the more believable. Jesus Christ coming as a baby makes sense. If God is holy and virtuous unlike me, then he would come humbly.  He would lead by example by coming among us. God would show us a way to live even through his own life. He would demonstrate and teach us how to live now, here on earth. God would also enable us to become more like him through relationship. He would not “take advantage of” humans like the pagan gods nor would he be aloof from humanity like Osiris of Egyptian lore and the Allah of Islam. He would not send us down pathways where our own good deeds would somehow meld us into the fabric of the universe with our own identities disintegrating as in the concepts of “nirvana” and “moksa.”

 Rather, he would reveal himself and demonstrate how we can live Godly lives right now. This virtuous way of living  would not be based upon some sort of ritualistic formula or “qualifying good deeds.” Rather, he would show us how a relationship with God necessarily involves an interconnection with others in helping meet their needs (as Jesus modeled for us). So, the incarnation makes sense to me. God, if he were wholly virtuous unlike me, would come humbly as a baby, would live among us, and would give all for us so that we could have relationship with him.

 So, the American Atheists have it wrong. It is not a burden for me to go to church on Christmas Sunday; something that I have to do in order to gain the approval of an imaginary deity. No, I go out of love and devotion to worship the God who willingly emptied himself and dwelt among us. The one who revealed himself, who showed us how to live by his own example, and who leads me now through this life by his Holy Spirit. No, I would not have come, but I am so glad that the one who spun galaxies into existence came as a baby long ago on that first Christmas night.

A Remembrance of Heroes: Desmond Doss and Patrick Carothers

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Photo taken by DUSM John Hardy, E/NC USMS.

What motivates those who serve our country in the military and in law enforcement to willingly face the prospect of death? Over the Thanksgiving holiday break, I took in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” for a second time. If you have not seen this movie, it is based on the true story of Desmond Doss.   Doss is a humble and simple man whose heroic exploits as a combat medic stun his comrades during some of the most intense fighting of World War II. Doss, who refused to carry a weapon during his field duties, saved the lives of 75 men during one bloody conflict against a hardened Japanese army that was burrowed into a bluff during the Battle for Okinawa. Upon conferring the Medal of Honor to Doss, President Truman recognized him for his heroism while facing extreme danger.

It was also near the Thanksgiving holiday that the nation learned of the death of Patrick Carothers of the U.S. Marshals Service, who died in the line of duty while attempting to apprehend a dangerous criminal who had holed up in a Macon, Georgia mobile home. The dangerous fugitive shot and killed Carothers while Carothers and and his fugitive task force team attempted to arrest him.  Again, why did Doss and Carothers knowingly place their lives in jeopardy?   What inspired them to put in harm’s way the thing that most people would say they value the most?

As the action of “Hacksaw Ridge” reached its climax, Doss is portrayed covered in the mire of the battlefield as he utters the prayer, “Lord, please help me get one more.” He is speaking of his comrades who lay helpless and suffering from their wounds. Even as they lay there, Japanese soldiers hunt down and kill the injured American soldiers they encounter. Even though his unit has retreated, Doss remains to face the enemy, unarmed, as he continues dragging the injured GIs to safety one after another. After each rescue he prays, “Lord, one more” and then he continues through the night until the last possible moment. One evocative scene portrays Doss underneath a cascade of water as he takes a shower after the battle. The flowing, cleansing water carries the blood of those he saved down and off his body. I have to say that as the movie ended, I was in awe of what this simple man of faith did. Not only did it leave a lasting impression on me, it also left the same impression on those who went to see the movie with me. We were left almost speechless as the movie ended. Of course, Doss is only one of thousands of “America’s best,” our veterans, who have disregarded their own safety while protecting their country in battle. It is obvious to me that Doss was motivated by his faith in God to love his fellow soldier more than himself. This love was demonstrated when Doss, while being carried off the battlefield himself badly wounded, stopped those who were carrying him and insisted that another soldier be placed on the gurney in his stead. In recounting this incident, Doss would opine that he would rather lose his life so that someone else might live.

As I learned about Pat’s death, I could not help but draw parallels between his gallantry and that of Doss. When Pat died, he was a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Marshals Service. So, over and over again, like Doss, Pat, through his 26 years of service, must have uttered similar words. “Lord, one more, help me get one more fugitive off the street.” There is no telling how many dangerous fugitives Pat put behind bars in his long career. One fugitive arrest after another, Pat and his partners made our country a safer place. I am not privy to the details of the shootout but it seems to me that Pat must have been the first one through the doorway when the murderer opened fire. Pat was in a leadership position with the task force and yet he was leading his troops into battle. He was placing more importance on the lives of his teammates than on his own life.  He willingly risked his life over and over again for 26 years and eventually gave his life so that his country would be rid of still one more dangerous fugitive. But again, what motivated Pat to do this?

I had the privilege to work with Pat for a month during the late 90s. We had flown into Chicago from our respective offices to support the Chicago USMS office during the “Gangster Disciples” high threat trial. We hit it off immediately and so we were “hang out buddies” during our month together. It did not take long for me to realize one thing about Pat. He loved his partners. He was always looking out for their best interest and always made sure to check on them. Recently, I also had the privilege of attending Pat’s graveside ceremony before the family laid him to rest. At this gathering, his good friends also made sure to point out Pat’s great love for his family, his community, and for them. Pat’s pastor also spoke of Pat’s faith in God and how this relationship impacted him as a young man. It is clear to me that what motivated Pat was his love for not only his partners but also for his country. His selfless actions throughout his career and on the day he confronted this criminal demonstrate a man who was motivated by love.

As Jesus Christ awaited his betrayal, he is praying for those he is leaving behind. As the time is counting down for his arrest, brutal torture, and death, Jesus Christ utters these words. “Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” Not only is Jesus speaking to his disciples but also forward in time to those who would join in relationship with him. Jesus was motivated to undergo torture and death by love. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi tells us that Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (2:5-8).” Jesus Christ died so that all could be a part of his family (Rev. 21:3-4). It is hard to imagine how much Jesus suffered during his final hours. But Jesus led from the front and loved all completely by sacrificing his life. Jesus tells us of the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” in the Book of Matthew. This parable demonstrates that God, like a shepherd, hunts for even one lost sheep, and that he does not want even one to perish. God is saying in Matthew 18, “Can I find just one more lost person that I can save?”

This is the love that I see demonstrated by Corporal Desmond Doss and by Deputy Commander Pat Carothers. A love that is not concerned about ones own self interest. Rather, a selfless love for one’s fellow man and country. A love that is willing to sacrifice all on behalf of others. I am proud to have worn the same star as Pat (America’s Star). I am also proud to have known someone who was not only a warrior, but was also one that was motivated by divine love. So, in a season that is known for veterans and thanksgiving,  I pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Pat. Thank you for laying down your life for your country. Rest in peace, brother. I will see you again when we are both reunited in the presence of Jesus Christ.