August 2, 2009

Dealing with Nazareth - 2

Before moving ahead, I need to acknowledge three assumptions inherent in the question posed last time. First, we assumed the historicity of the Jordan event. Second, the voice of God is assumed to belong to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Jews. Third, we assume God's pleasure depended at least partly on things Jesus did. It is this third assumption that requires a bit of discussion, I think, because technically, this is a theological point.

It is one thing to accept God's existence and verbal proclamation as historical events, but once we cross the line into evaluating why God is pleased, we have entered the realm of theo-logic. No mater how scriptural, and no matter how true to real, christian, spiritual experience, any meaningful statement about what pleases God is, technically, an interpretative conclusion based on the scripture (and spirit). Obviously, this causes problems for academic historical inquiry.

For example: Christians can rightly say God was pleased with Jesus of Nazareth for many reasons. We take it as factual that the Father enjoyed seeing his eternally begotten Son reflecting His divine image as a Man on the Earth. We also believe God approved of the way Jesus lived his life in Galilee. So it is good christian theology to say God was pleased with Jesus both because of his eternal position in God and also because of things Jesus had done. We christians can even call these things spiritual facts and believe that they are, but theology can go much farther, which is a problem when our interest is history. At some point, we include too many extra assumptions, or we make different assumptions than others would make. At some point, early on, we start reconstructing events based on ideas, rather than facts. This obvious problem is why cautious scholars generally keep history and theology far apart from one another.

On the other hand, historians make assumptions all the time. What's important is not to assume anything unless absolutely necessary, and even then to do so at a bare minimum. Therefore, while I'm certainly not suggesting theology needs to become a bigger part of historiography in general, I am saying that since the analysis of historical evidence sometimes proceeds on the condition of filling in one or two blanks, simple assumptions about God should not necessarily be excluded from such consideration any more so than other unknowable properties - such as, for example, whether Caligula was completely insane and how he became that way.

Therefore, a few metaphysical assumptions may become necessary as we attempt to analyze what Jesus most likely did that was pleasing to God. However, as these points present themselves, our goal will be to keep "theo-logic" to an absolute minimum. We will not include ideas that we happen to prefer, or from any particular traditions. Instead, we will analyze the historical question at hand and consider only that which it demands.

With that said, here is what we have so far: God was pleased with Jesus at least partly because of things Jesus did. Christian belief certainly agrees with this statement and agnostics who accepted our first two assumptions (for the sake of argument) can tack this one on along with those. Or not. Either way, we continue to proceed with as little philosophical judgment as possible, and no more than necessary to consider the question at hand: What did Jesus actually do that was pleasing to God?

As I say, this will not be a purely non-theological inquiry, but let's see how close we can keep to that ideal. In the end, I think some folks may wind up pleasantly surprised. (I sure hope so, anyway!)

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

What did Jesus do to please God? In a word, obedience. He obeyed His parents, He obeyed His teachers, He obeyed the Law of Moses, He obeyed the promptings of God, and He obeyed the poor and needy. For, as Scripture tells us, God humbled Himself, coming in the form of a slave; not just the form of a man but the form of a lowly man, the lowest of men, a slave of slaves, a man who obeyed in ways which the worldly would balk at and call foolish, stupid, idiotic, and horrible. He obeyed not only as Man but also as God, and that, my friend, is the extraordinary humility of God: He who is Thrice Holy showed what true holiness is, and, because He is Holiness itself, He showed us He Himself; He who is Love and Mercy itself showed us true love and true mercy. Jesus showed us who God is, who we ought to imitate, and who man is, how man ought to act and live. And this by obedience. He, the Word Incarnate, obeyed the Word of God, the written Word, that is, the Sacred Scriptures, to such a degree that He lived it, He lived by its words, He lived by what God told Him, tell us, in the verses. He obeyed the Lord as the Lord and as Man. He has shown us how to do God's Will, how to live by His Will, how to be servants of obedience, true obedience. This is why He calls us to imitate Him. And that is why God was pleased with Him. Because He was obedient, even unto death on a cross.

Bill Heroman said...

Amen, amen, amen! Thank you so much for this inspired survey, brother Nick. (Is this Nick Norelli or some other Nick?)

Scan down the page and see more of my thoughts. I like your style, and rest assured, my conclusion is going to center on obedience. I'm merely trying to get there by considering the Gospel events from a historical basis, in order to weed out whatever ancillary theologies might crowd the view, or color it, from the perspective of various folks. Hope that makes sense/seems worthwhile.

Please keep commenting. :-)

Bill Heroman said...

Not that I'm claiming to be the most obedient servant God's ever had. But I know He was.

Just had to clarify that, for some who may read this. ;-)

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