Although the relationship between suffering and sin may seem obscure, it may be helpful to realize that the Church that has purported to represent Jesus has obscured rather than clarified this relationship. Charged with spreading Jesus’ teachings about the relationship between suffering and sin, the Church has, for over 2000 years, failed to preserve and present his message as he first delivered it. Instead of preserving the heart of Jesus’ message, the Church became distracted in preserving itself against political forces that resisted Jesus’ message and persecuted those who believed it strongly enough to live according to it. In its fight for self-preservation, the Church fell into the same fundamental error that Jesus’ message is intended to correct and from which Jesus still intends to deliver all of humanity, with uttermost commitment to the proposition that all people are cherished children of God and with undying determination that no child of God be left behind.
The human cure for suffering seemed just as self-evident to Jesus’ earliest followers as it seems today to his current ones. Peter exemplified it when he denied Jesus three times while Jesus was standing up to persecution by political institutions and enduring suffering at their hands. The cure for persecution and its consequential suffering, Peter’s example teaches, is to not follow Jesus “too” closely. Instead find safety by wading along in the shallows and not venturing into deeper waters as a follower. Compromise your devotion when threatening political forces challenge you. Instead of standing up to them cozy up to them as closely as you can so that you present no threat to their social privileges. Stay along the shore in shallow waters where the social elite frolic. Don’t dare them to swim beyond their safe comfort zone of social approval to encounter God’s grace that dispels all fear only when fears are fairly faced.
To human beings accustomed to surviving amid competing social pressures, the end of suffering seems most readily achieved by associating favorably with the most powerful cause of suffering so as not to be the target of its persecution. According to that theory, the goal is to shift violence away from a favored person or group towards unfavored persons or groups. The “favored” person or group hopes to remain within the protective shield of the “friendly” source of violence – and not have violence directed his, her or their direction (e.g., avoid friendly fire or being an injured bystander or collateral damage) – and to be protected from any violence potentially directed towards him, her or them from any other source of violence.
To achieve this end, systems of attack and defense are established to keep ahead of competing systems of violence. Arms races and armed conflicts are examples of this competition. Other examples include systems of law enforcement and prisons, gated communities and security systems in response to crime, well-guarded, rigorously restrictive national borders, rival gangs, family feuds and domestic violence orders of protection when they are applied to sustain victim-victimizer polarization rather than promote restoration of peace and health for all parties. The slogan of all such systems is “Join ‘us’ and be safe from ‘them.’” The idea of rethinking these systems is itself controversial because any de-escalation or modification of such systems renews our fears of the “worst case scenario” imaginable. There is no end to the degree to which we might be carried away by our fears into greater commitment to the perpetuation of pain and suffering.
In contrast, Jesus took and still takes the position that suffering’s end will come only when we change our structures of thought and our implementing institutions that cause and maintain suffering and embrace instead the divine alternative way of thinking and implementing that Jesus modeled. In Jesus’ vision of suffering’s end, tradition-bound human institutions that cause and maintain suffering and their ways of thinking must be replaced by freer, more spontaneously Spirit-guided dynamics that do not cause or maintain suffering and that, by necessity, are based on another way of thinking. This position he espoused when he declared, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” His declaration translates today into “Think differently about how to end suffering because present even now are spiritually oriented social dynamics and a personal way of life that cause healing instead of suffering and restore and sustain our health as well.” Jesus anticipated Einstein’s observation that a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which it was created. He offered to show us how to access God’s thoughts, which are at a higher level than human thinking. There Divine Wisdom’s solution awaits.
By following Peter’s example instead of Jesus’ model, the Church learned to deny Jesus as Peter did to whatever extent necessary to avoid the persecution and suffering it had previously endured at the hands of political forces arrayed in opposition to God’s social alternative on earth. Eventually the Church compromised with a Roman Emperor who supposedly embraced Christianity and made it the official state religion. So as to remain the “official” religion of the Roman Empire and thereby placate and be cozy with the powers that once persecuted them, the Church knuckled under to the Emperor’s demands for conformity in the Church’s doctrines. In what would prove to be a progressively more complete manner, the Church rendered unto Caesar not only what was Caesar’s but also what was God’s. Such is the progression of all forms of addiction and co-dependency. The modern Church still suffers from this cowardly lapse into ill-health as it became the bride of Caesar instead of the Bride of Christ. For centuries since its marriage to Caesar, the Church has sought for security through being a social insider rather than through being aware of God inside where Jesus said the Holy Spirit will access awareness of Truth’s courageous kingdom in our hearts. Looking outward for its social cues from other social insiders, the Church maintains its marriage to socio-political institutions by collaborating with them much as an abused spouse collaborates with his or her partner because independence seems to come at too great a cost.
As a shrewd politician who knew that openly discussed and disputed differences in beliefs would undermine the value to his empire of Christianity’s system of beliefs, Emperor Constantine the Great demanded that the Church fathers clean up their act and stop tolerating controversy and diversity among themselves. So as to line up his collaborators, subjects and slaves in unflagging allegiance rooted in their fear of suffering, the Emperor demanded conformity to his will from everyone who claimed to be his ally. So, the Church fathers gathered at Nicea to find a way to provide it. Eventually they found a way, a way akin more to Constantine’s politically motivated machinations than to Jesus’ spiritually motivated mission. The key to avoiding persecution turned out to be for the Church to become an arm of the Emperor’s persecution and play the political game of eliminating all diversity of viewpoints. In the process of purging diversity of beliefs, the Church fathers introduced the practice of justifying their persecution of those who disagreed with them by citing texts deemed sacred (known today as The Bible) as their “infallible” authority (while they, by no small coincidence, also simultaneously took up the twin role of defining which texts would be declared sacred and being the texts’ sole authorized interpreters). In this manner, the Holy Spirit’s role as revealer of All Truth was subordinated to texts that supposedly already contained all the “truth” we’d ever need to know.
Thus began the Church’s devotion to its self-preservation as a political institution, its misuse of sacred texts to justify its actions and its sliding away from its devotion to preserving the message Jesus lived, died and rose again to spread to all corners of the earth. To compromise this message of God’s eternal and unqualified grace as the true end to suffering eroded and eventually erased the message all together. To temporize it destroyed the eternal nature of Jesus’ message. To introduce favoritism based on political considerations undermined the unqualifiedly inclusive nature of the message. In a stunningly short time it became only logical to adopt Constantine’s ways to enforce conformity within the Church: extermination of diversity of viewpoints as if penetrating contemplation, passionate conversation and patient consideration of what Jesus meant as he lived his life on earth were totally intolerable. The hierarchical power structure of the Church came to emulate the top-down power structure of the Empire and other monarchies precisely because its aim and function were the same as that of other human institutions. When self-preservation is the primary purpose of an organization’s life, it is only logical to develop structures that effectuate this purpose primarily. A pyramid of loyal subordinates who are dependent on the leader’s power for their own self-preservation suits well the purpose of the leader to preserve himself in power – regardless of declining commitment to the organization’s initially stated mission to establish an alternative way of life awash with healing and health in place of suffering.
Once the primary purpose of the Church came to be its own self-preservation, the amassing of power to itself became a logical next step. This step brought the Church into direct competition with other social institutions such as monarchies, merchants’ guilds and military engines that likewise were appropriating power, material resources and loyal adherents to themselves for self-preservation. Power-hungry, politically savvy men (and less frequently women) gravitated to opportunities to amass personal power under the guise of aiding institutions in their struggle for power. Political struggles and their corresponding manipulations of minds within and among these organizations inevitably became the main game. To accomplish their goals, monarchs, merchants, the military and missionaries joined forces in mutually supportive ways. The Church’s claim to speak for God was one of its most useful contributions to empire-building by others. Through fear of God, the Church recruited loyal followers and increased wealth to the service of the monarchs, merchants and military who in turn aided the Church’s rise to power. In addition, the Church pronounced divine justifications for God’s favor falling upon the Church’s allies instead of upon those who opposed the Church’s allies. The Church’s rhetoric became increasingly and then unceasingly self-serving, inflicting suffering on those who opposed the Church in any sphere of life.
In tugs-of-war among power grabbers and megalomaniacs throughout history, even helpful human institutions suffered from abuse of their ideologies and rationales for existing. Distortions of their purposes twisted them into convoluted structures and dynamics unrecognizable in comparison to their origins – converting them from helpfulness to harmfulness. As a result, institutions of civilization of all types have risen and fallen because the sustainability of human institutions is based on honesty and integrity in remaining true to each institution’s purpose. Wandering off target from the true purpose is called “hypocrisy.” It is a toxic condition that will not sustain life. No form of life that pretends to be something it is not can sustain itself.
Any form of life that fails to remain faithful to its true purpose inevitably disintegrates for lack of internal integrity as its immune system attacks the artificial aspects of its pretense and parasitic organisms convert it into their host for their contrary purposes. A self-deceiving life form topples as its infrastructures weaken. Its decay is the opposite of health. In the absence of continuously maintained healthy integration organized around its true purpose, an organism disintegrates and falls. Splintering into pieces is one natural outcome of becoming excessively rigid while trying to maintain uprightness artificially and then falling down. Over the centuries, the Church, in the course of its cyclical decline, has splintered into many denominations large and small. With few exceptions, most of these fragments of the professing followers of Jesus, in attempting to assert their independence from the declining Church, have taken on some form of political structure designed to promote the superiority of each splinter of a community that ironically purports to be one whole and indivisible body of believers in Jesus.
Splinters cause pain. Shattering of communities into subparts that war against each other in their respective quests for members, wealth and power causes pain. Instead of remaining true to Jesus as a Bringer of the Light of healing and the end of suffering, the Church in its many shards has become itself a source of pain and suffering. In this manner, the Church has wandered progressively farther from Jesus’ unifying cry to all humanity, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The Church no longer believes uncompromisingly in that cry or in the process Jesus introduced for implementing the Church’s divine charge to lead humanity into its unified destiny of oneness. Until the Church repents and believes again with a purity of faith in the mysteries of God and the Divine Wisdom of God’s Plan, both the Church and God’s Plan will continue to fail due to the Church’s noncooperation with the Plan.
God will not impose the realm of divinely inspired grace and love upon humankind against our will. We must choose freely to receive and enter into the experience of the realm of grace as an act of free will or we’ll not receive it at all. By God’s choice to remain eternally faithful to humanity, divine grace continues to be available to individuals who single-mindedly determine to enter into the kingdom of God even in the face of the Church’s failure to carry forward with its divine charge to be God’s kingdom on earth. The Church will repudiate these individuals as heretics until the Church learns to recognize them as the cutting edge appearance of the very mission that is its to carry out. Such individuals are budding mystics (sometimes called Gnostics and heretics) whom the Church’s traditionalists scorn and reject because the traditionalists know not what they do. Today they crucify the mystics who dare to show up openly to fulfill the Spirit of the law and traditions just as the religious traditionalists of Jesus’ day on earth crucified him.
Meanwhile the dismembered Church will continue to teach and explain “about” Jesus through a variety of stories and doctrinal positions but it will not serve as his unified spokesperson on earth until its scattered elements, in concert, lean towards, listen to and loyally obey him as Lord. The most the modern splintered Church is willing to do today is to acknowledge Jesus as the Church’s Savior when it inevitably fails to carry out its mission because it will not cooperate with Jesus as Lord (Chief Authority Figure of and within the Church). To accept Jesus as Lord requires one to repudiate prevailing power Caesars (and their model of doing organizational business) and risk instead the persecutorial wrath of politicians near and far who serve and preserve the current empire as faithfully as one hopes to serve Jesus in the presentation of his divine message and mission.
A clash between the divisive faith agendas of political realms and the unifying faith agenda of God’s Plan to End the Suffering of All of Us is, by definition, unavoidable. This clash of wills manifests in a variety of ways, chief among them being political persecution directed against any whose uncompromising commitment to God’s Plan remains unshakeable. In the clash of commitments only a small minority of Jesus’ followers are willing to expose themselves to politicians’ lashings as Jesus did. The vast majority of his followers duck into the shadows as Peter ducked, compromising their personal allegiance to Jesus because it’s socially or politically rewarding to do so. So long as being popular or seeking votes matters, the likelihood is great that public displays of ugly ducking will continue to be more prevalent than courageous stands for justice on behalf of the least socially powerful, who are more popularly scapegoated as villains than cast as heroes and yet find an advocate in Jesus.
Another vital point to note is that serving Jesus does not require one to fight for his preservation. He cannot die or otherwise be unpreserved. By his very nature as an eternally alive child of God, he is already preserved by a Power greater than any power that might come against him to threaten his preservation. That fact relieves his faithful followers of having to be concerned about protecting him. As he cowered in the courtyard during Jesus’ interrogation by the politicians of his day, perhaps Peter trembled in part because he felt powerless to protect one he loved as he loved Jesus. Perhaps he felt guilty and ashamed of his failure and was paralyzed with fear. Believing past stories of God’s wrathful relationship to humanity, Peter may have been confused about how he was to draw guidance from those stories to apply to Jesus’ strange manifestation of the promised Messiah. Confusion is a form of pain that may have added to his paralysis and feelings of helplessness.
Perhaps it would have been helpful for Peter to know then what he learned later, namely that Jesus would overcome death and not be defeated by the worst that the politicians of his day could throw at him. One can only imagine how it might have helped Peter to stand stronger had he known the outcome and realized how little Jesus needed Peter’s help to be preserved. Perhaps then Peter might have been freer to consider how he might choose to relate to that mysterious new process of overcoming all fear that Jesus modeled. Had he known then what we know now, perhaps he too might have allowed Perfect Love to cast out all fear and stood alongside Jesus even in the hour of his appearing to be powerless. Jesus tells us that when two or more gather in his name (and nature of the Christ), there is greater power than when one stands in his or her divine nature alone. Today we who believe in Jesus with all of our hearts, minds, wills and spirits are called to stand together to invoke the Divine Power of our gathering and allow God to manifest in all His/Her grace and glory as Love for all.
Today we know what Peter did not know. Yet we who purport to follow Jesus while living comfortably as privileged members of society continue to cower in the face of suffering as if its power were greater than the power of the Father manifest through our Lord and Savior. Like the rich young ruler who was dismayed by Jesus’ instructions to sell all he owned, give the sale proceeds to the poor and follow Jesus, we are dismayed by the prospect of no longer focusing our energies on self-preservation (or only on the preservation of our personal loved ones) and instead surrendering our wealth and welfare into the hands of God as Jesus modeled – for the benefit of all of God’s loved ones as God determines is best. Understandably, we cower at the prospect of trusting God so utterly while yet continuing to witness the failure of any other approach to ending the world’s suffering.
Many are scared to follow Jesus as radically as he requires because they fear losing their current lifestyles and being ridiculed for being so overly idealistic. They interpret ridicule and loss of social status and comfortable lifestyles as shame, a “sacrifice of pride” rather than seeing this “loss of pride” as a sign of humility gained to empower sacred lifestyles rooted in ancient wisdom. God calls us not to be a sacrifice but instead to be a sacrament, not to martyrdom but to mastery of the art of thriving fully beyond the ego’s stifling criteria of shame and pride. We need to lay down our former ego-based lifestyles for Jesus as our friend and Master in order to receive life back again with humility and God-defined purpose, far more empowered to enjoy life fully than we’d ever be in any other way. We need to trust Jesus to be our Lord and Servant too. We need to turn the world on its head as Jesus did to become aware that God’s call to service is supported by God’s promise to serve us as we serve others in God’s name and nature. We don’t need “more faith” in God. Rather we need to know God more accurately as the egoless God who serves us as His/Her servant-children, not as a false, ego-bound God who expects our all from us without giving God’s all in return. The truth is that as we give our 100% to serve God’s purpose and Plan, God gives His/Her 100% back to us to the full extent that we expand our capacities to receive all He/She gives. Surely this is an exchange that promises substantial benefits, many of which cannot be accurately foreseen and simply must be expected and accepted by faith. It is not impractical to follow Jesus radically – from the very root and core of our beings where the Christ Light shines – but it does feel scary.
© Art Nicol 2013