Easter Sunday is fast approaching.
While Christmas and Easter are inseparable from one another, and while the latter could not have occurred without the former having first occurred, there is no question that for the Christian world there is no event of greater significance than that of Easter.
Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation, God’s assumption of human flesh in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. Easter, however, is the celebration of the main point to which Christmas points, God’s glorious Resurrection from the dead.
Easter assures us that death has been defeated and that all who believe in Christ have been graced with, not just immortality, but eternity, timelessness union, with God.
There is no greater news. There is no greater reward than any human creature could ever hope to attain.
This being said, although the eternal life that God the Father offers the human race through the sacrifice of God the Son is a gift, and even though God Himself paid a price for it that human beings could never afford to pay, there is a cost, a great cost, that people must expend if they wish to avail themselves of God’s infinite bounty.
That cost is nothing more or less than their whole selves, their minds, hearts, and souls.
Of course, there is also a cost to not believing in Christ. If you didn’t read the Gospels carefully, if you just relied on the homilies or sermons of far too many contemporary clerics, whether Catholic or Protestant, you wouldn’t know this, but the cost of rejecting Christ is nothing other than the loss of eternal life.
Again, this is hardly a popular message. Christian clergy know all too well that in the Western world of the 21st century, to stress from their pulpits the violent streak in Jesus’s teachings, His continual, frightening evocations of the eternal condemnation to which unbelievers will be subject, is to risk losing no small share of their congregations. Doubtless, a good number of these ministers don’t want to reckon themselves with this aspect of their Savior’s message.
But reckon it with we must, for to deny this feature of Christ is to substitute for the Christ of the Gospels something inevitably less than the real thing, an idol made in the image of our own contemporary sensibilities. The Jesus with whom millions of American Christians are familiar is a sentimentalized, one-dimensional caricature that, by design, is as non-threatening as he is boring.
This Jesus—let’s call him “Jesus Now”—is decidedly incongruent to both the Jesus that unfolds in the pages of the New Testament as well as the Jesus recognized by the Church of yesteryear. The differences are numerous.
Jesus Now spent his ministry on Earth traveling the countryside doing nothing but preaching…love. It’s true that the real Jesus did so as well. Only “love” is interpreted very differently depending on whether it is Jesus Now or the real Jesus who is preaching it.
The love with which Jesus Now is preoccupied isn’t something that either the real Jesus or any other human being that has ever lived would recognize. There are certainly some people who have spoken as if they knew what it is. For example, those secular, leftist “progressives” who are the ideological offspring of 1960’s hippies can certainly identify with Jesus Now, for, theoretically speaking (their actual practice is all too typically an entirely different matter), they embrace the same vapid, nonjudgmental, and indiscriminate fluffy stuff associated with the “love” of Jesus Now.
This is an utterly thoughtless “love,” a “love” that, being without expectations, obligations, distinctions, and consequences, would have to exist in total abstraction from real relationships. St. John the Evangelist said in his gospel that God is love. From the perspective of Jesus Now and his present-day disciples, “Love” is God.
In stark contrast, the real Jesus and every other human being who has ever known real (if imperfect) love knows that love is, well, tough. Consider the parent-child relationship. Intimations of God’s love for those who He made in His image are ubiquitous throughout His creation. Yet it wasn’t until I became a father to my son that I genuinely felt something that I imagine is analogous to God’s love for us. There are moments, usually when he is sleeping at night, when I still feel overwhelmed to the point of tears with my love for my boy.
Yet it is precisely because of this love that I discipline my son when he misbehaves. It is from my unconditional love for him—and it truly is unconditional—that my expectations for my son arise. To most parents the truth of what I say is obvious: Far from being incompatible with love, the latter demands that we correct, castigate, and, when necessary, punish our children. Parents who dare to practice Jesus Now’s version of “love,” who refuse to pass judgement, refuse to discipline, and/or who refuse to discriminate between their own children and the children of total strangers, are not fit to be parents.
As every person who has ever been married can readily attest, spousal love, though a fundamentally different species of love than that at the heart of the parent-child relationship, is even further removed from the “love” of Jesus Now. Spousal love consists of mutual obligations, rights, and responsibilities. Spouses hold each other to account for their actions. There are consequences to violating one’s duties to one’s spouse.
We could continue.
It’s not just that the “love” of Jesus Now is unrealistic. It is positively boring. If it is correct that Jesus did nothing but preach “love,” then, the remotely curious person must ask, why in the world would anyone pay attention to Him, to say nothing of go out of their way to kill Him?
Another difference between Jesus Now and real Jesus is that the gospel of the former is virtually indistinguishable from the Political Correctness that is the reigning orthodoxy of contemporary Western elites. To hear our clerics tell it, one could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus endorses government mandated preferential treatment policies for racial minorities, women, and homosexuals; the erasure of all national boundaries; and limitless illegal immigration.
Jesus Now is a full-throated pacifist. He opposes the death penalty and war.
In the days leading up to Easter, I pray that more Christians see Jesus Now for the PC fiction that he is and make it a point to come to know, perhaps for the very first time, the Jesus that is their Savior.