Jesus Thoughts (9) : Election affinities

As it's Election Day here in the U.S., I will endeavor to steer this imaginary conversation toward the galaxy of spiritual election.

Cosmic oceans of ink have been spilled on the subject of monotheism, its historical/cultural development, & (recently) on the shifting, tricksterish, unaccountable personality of Yahweh as portrayed in the Bible.  I'm just going to try to articulate what strike me as the most basic & important features of this portrait.

Three features stand out :
1) this God is a Creator.  As I tried to describe early on in this thread, the Genesis story of "creation in 7 days" sets the cosmos within a solar/planetary framework of day, week and year - a way of "domesticating" the universe for Man.  The seasonal rituals of Judaism are in part, then, a kind of annual dance of celebration within this scheme.  And this feature lays the groundwork for :
 2) this God is a Savior.  This may be the most distinctive aspect of Yahweh : he enters History as an agent on behalf of the lowly & the oppressed (saving the Hebrews from exile and oppression in Egypt : leading them to their Promised Land).  The Bible is in this sense an epic, quasi-historical chronicle - a "transgressive" mix-up of genres (theology, history, poetry).  Which leads to the third, fateful characteristic :
3) this God is Universal.  The texts of the prophets make two great claims in the latter portions of the Bible : first, that Yahweh is the God of all things and all people, who has called the Jews to be a "priestly nation", offering worship and sacrifice for all nations; and second, that the Messiah promised through Moses is coming, at some future time, to complete the salvation of Israel and the whole world.

When, firstly, the Bible portrays a personal (though at the same time invisible, ineffable) God, who intervenes in history in order to establish his elect - his chosen people - for the purposes of world salvation - and then, secondly, declares through his prophets that he will send his Messiah - the combination of these two elements lays the ineluctable groundwork for the appearance of one who will claim that mantle, bring it to fruition (the Messiah).  The Messiah, as the personal "representative" of a personal God, is what you might call "the elect of the elect" : one can imagine the wonder, unease and tumult that such a claim would unleash at any time or place.

I want to go back to the 2nd of the three original characteristics of Yahweh for a moment, since the Messiah is, again, presenting an enactment of salvation.  The Hebrew "God as Savior" is distinct from other gods and religions in that, rather than being welded into a hierarchical, authoritarian structure of cultural power (say the Egyptian or Assyrian sacred kings), Yahweh is the God of the lowly, the poor & the oppressed : he challenges, undermines, and overthrows kings and empires on behalf of a universal spiritual relation between every person and his or her Creator.  We need to underline this distinctive quality of the Bible (pointed out memorably by Eric Auerbach in his masterwork, Mimesis) : here even the great kings and priests of Israel (Moses, David, Solomon...) are delineated in all their comical human weakness and imperfection - as wholly dependent on the grace of their saving God.

One of the implications of this egalitarian emphasis is that it short-circuits, again, the official mediation of "sacred rulers" (priests or kings), who would "authorize" the relation between human persons and God.  The barrier is beginning to be broken down.  But the radical claim of Jesus : to be the Messiah himself, to be, in fact, "one with the Father" - coexistent with the eternal Spirit of God - completely dissolves that barrier of mediating authority.  The personal God has manifested in person : the circle has come round.  Man and woman - persons - made "in the image of God" have been set in a contextual frame of earthly time and space (of history) which incarnates, embodies, this abstract ratio (Logos).  The spiritual relation between God and Man has been simultaneously universalized and personalized.  The "God of slaves and servants" has appeared fully embodied, as Isaiah predicted, "in the form of a servant" : but in this lowly approach (through suffering), Jesus serves by opening the cosmic door : the "Way" which unites the cosmic Source with the "children of God", and the children with each other.

Many of the early Christians suffered persecution and martyrdom as they traveled through the Roman Empire proclaiming this new "kingdom" of God.  But a pivotal change took place when, in a.d. 313, Emperor Constantine ended the suppression of Christian worship.  The Church, especially in the East, gradually became aligned with the authority of the State; while in the West, the decline of the Empire and the social disorder caused by the barbarian invasions forced the Church to take on many of the former responsibilities of government; bishops oversaw the safety and welfare of local communities.  The development of the Byzantine theocracy and medieval feudalism not only re-established archaic forms of mediating authority between the person and God; they also set in motion fateful changes in the relationship between Christians and Jews.  What had formerly been a matter of polemic and religious debate, became a rule of enforcement and discrimination (once Christianity became aligned with the power of the State).  The destiny of this fateful divide unfolded catastrophically in the 20th century, when malevolent Nazism exploited ancient religious divides and social enmities, the deep & poisoned well of anti-semitism.

The original message to Man is direct, without mediation of any earthbound authority.  It is a personal spiritual invitation to believe and understand.  Roger Williams (of Rhode Island) - who called himself a "seeker" - is the great saint of this principle, which he termed "soul liberty."  Williams' Rhode Island colony is considered the first government in history founded on an explicit separation of church and state.

I feel a curious personal connection with this particular story, since I was born on May 29, 1952, & thus celebrated my first birthday exactly 500 years after the fall of the Byzantine Empire (the conquest of Constantinople, 5.29.1453).

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