The Scandal of Joshua Ben Adam, Part 5
By Robert D. Brinsmead VERDICT, September 1998
"Unless you turn around and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom" Matthew 18:3 (1)
We are now ready to bring the strands of our outline together. Joshua ben Adam bursts onto the scene with a teaching about the kingdom. It is something new. It is something which has already arrived. The time to enter is now. The announcement is called "good news", so excitingly good that it must be accompanied by great celebration with much eating and drinking.
The "kingdom" is a new kind of human society. The qualification required for entry is being a member of the human race.
Being human is enough. Therefore respondents must enter with no other titles. Everyone has to enter this new society like a little child. When Joshua said this he was not commending any childhood virtues. In that culture children had no status. They did not count. Entering the kingdom as a little child, therefore, means entering as one who has no titles or as one who does not count. It is a kingdom of nobodies (2).
This is why Joshua declared that the destitute at the bottom of society were the really lucky ones. They were already nobodies. They had nothing to lose. They were overwhelmed by the amazing generosity of the invitation. Becoming part of this new human kingdom was much harder for those at the top of the tree. They were as welcome as anyone else, but they had to enter without regard to their titles of honor, wealth or power. They had to enter as little children, as nobodies who didn't count.
In the new fellowship of the ben Adam society there is no discrimination. There are no high ranks or low ranks. No lords or lackeys. No masters and servants. No rulers. No chief apostles. No special chair for St. Peter. No one called Father (Leader, Fuhrer, Pope). Everyone is color blind! Gender makes no difference because both male and female are equally human. No hierarchy. No imposed authority because love is not commandable. No groveling to superiors or condescending to inferiors. Just love which knows no up or down, but a laughing, level playing field at this banquet of human liberation.
Religion doesn't count. There is no religious test. Whether one believes in baptism by dunking, baptism with a water pistol or none at all is irrelevant. Neither good opinions concerning religion or bad opinions have any bearing on the matter of admittance or exclusion.
Aside from the one evil of not being human (forgiving, caring, compassionate, giving, etc.) there is no sin.
The ben Adam society has one mission statement: it is to live and die in the service of humanity, to work unceasingly for the liberation of every oppressed human being.
The Distinction Between the Natural and the Human
Others beside Joshua ben Adam have dreamed of and worked at creating an egalitarian society. The Humanists, the Libertarians, the Republicans, the Levellers and the Marxists could all see that God and religion created oppressive societies which were inimical to human freedom and equality. History has amply demonstrated the failure of every theocracy.
So they left aside the supernatural and confined their dreams to what was possible according to the natural order of things. There is, however, a very great tension between the natural kingdom and the human kingdom. Nature creates its own hierarchy. Nature left to itself is a killing field, "a wicked old witch". The fit survive to eat, dominate or subjugate the weak. Nature doesn't help the weak but destroys them. Nature doesn't love the neighbor. It is totally blind, unthinking and makes no conscious choices.
Why be amazed that there are predators and prey, oppressors and oppressed and "dog eat dog" in our brave new world? This is consistent with the outworking of a natural order. Xenophobia (3) is natural (Ask any biologist). Incest is natural. Violence is natural. Sexual promiscuity, even rape are natural. Predatory behavior is natural. To be a parasite which weakens, maims and kills is natural. So much for the new cult of nature worship, and the view that any aberrant human behavior is justified if it is natural!
The entire animal kingdom, being natural, is a vertical order of domination and submission, predator and prey. It naturally arranges itself into a 'pecking order' with the strong above and the weak below.
The human kingdom, on the other hand, is not natural. To care about others as we do for ourselves is not natural. To help the weak and deliver the oppressed is not natural. To love other races of people and even our enemies is not natural. To forgive those who injure us is not natural. To be compassionate, considerate and kind is not natural. Everything which is an expression of the great human imperative "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" is not natural because it does not operate on a vertical order. Being human is an horizontal, lateral, on the-same-level order!
Being human, therefore, is not natural! It is above or superior to the natural. It is supernatural.
We are now getting close to the heart of what Joshua ben Adam is all about, what life and human relationships are all about and what the supernatural is all about. Therefore we must pursue this distinction between the natural and the human with all the tenacity and excitement of a treasure hunter close to a massive strike.
There is another very fundamental distinction between the natural kingdom and the human kingdom. The natural order develops randomly. It is a spontaneous order. It is unthinking, does not reason from cause and effect, has neither foresight or hindsight. It makes no conscious choices, but is guided wholly by instinct. It is neither conscious or free.
The human on the other hand is conscious, intelligent, and has the freedom to make decisions, even ones which go contrary to natural instinct, laws of heredity and the spontaneous order. The two attributes which make the human or horizontal order possible are love and freedom. Together they are the essence of being human. Love and freedom belong together like the two sides of a coin. They are the two sides of one reality. There is no love without freedom and no freedom without love; and of course without both there is no horizontal order and no true human existence.
To illustrate, if someone held a gun to your head and demanded money for his hungry stomach, you may comply. But that act of giving would not be love. It could only be love if you did it freely. But if you did it in the hope that God would reward you (pay-back) that would not be love either. As Joshua ben Adam said, love means giving without hope of reward. If you did it out of fear of future punishment that would not be love either. Whatever is not done freely is not love. Love is not commandable. It does not exist with coercion, fear, force, and is not bribed by hope of a pay-back.
Now let us look at love from the perspective of the neighbor. There is such a thing as calculating benevolence, a giving which is designed to manipulate the receiver, put him in your debt or get him on your side. This kind of "love" is the condescension of a superior. It produces resentment in the inferior because it takes away his dignity of being free and being human. How can being manipulated or forced into returning a favor be love? How can control by a benefactor be love?
Love has to operate not only in an atmosphere of freedom, but in a relationship of equality.
Love does not exist where there are superiors and inferiors. There is no such thing as loving "up" to someone anymore than it is possible to love "down" to someone. The human order of freedom and love, therefore, is very different to the pecking order of the animal kingdom with the strong's domination over the weak.
Being human is not natural. It is above or superior to the natural. Being human is supernatural. This horizontal human order of freedom and love is the image and likeness of God. (See Genesis 2:27, 28; Psalm 8:3-7)
God is the spirit, mind, wisdom and intelligence by which all things exist. There is no place in the 400 billion galaxies of this universe where his presence is not. He is not present in one place more than he is in another. He never was an absentee landlord as far as this earth is concerned, and no fall or sin on the part of humankind caused him to withdraw his presence from sustaining every animate and inanimate thing. He lives in us and around us. It is wisdom which lives in and guides the fish in the sea and the birds in the heavens in their mysterious navigations. It is mind which superintends the development of species, the fantastically mysterious functions of our billions of body cells, and operates in the electrons, neutrons and super strings of the atom.
Worse than dumb is the biologist, botanist or physicist who thinks that there is no mystery in anything save chemical components and physical laws. As scientist Paul Davies has written, there is too much evidence of design, order, purpose, intelligence and wisdom to deny the presence of this transcendent reality everywhere (4).
At the same time that God is in his creation, he is above and beyond and distinct from his creation. He is unimaginable, unknowable, "the inconspicuous figure in the quiet back room. He sits with head bent, silent, waiting, listening to the commotion in the streets . . . . his presence is evident in the last reaches of infinite space beyond man's probing eye. His presence is guessable in the last reaches of infinite smallness beyond the magnification of electron or microscope. He is present in all living beings and in all inanimate matter." (Robert Ardrey, African Genesis)
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:7-16)
"God is a spirit", said Joshua ben Adam, but just as the spirit of a master artist, sculpturer and gardener comes to expression in his canvass, sculpture or garden, so God's spirit comes to expression in the things he has made.
Is God a force, a non-personal intelligence as Paul Davies comes close to saying? To which we must answer, God as spirit comes to personal expression in the creation of the human person, male and female. Person creates person. The human order of freedom and love is the image and likeness of God. ". . . that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it unto them . . ."(Romans )
God as consciousness and person comes to expression in that humanness wherein people are able to relate freely and laterally to others in love, compassion, caring, kindness and justice. Humanness - consciousness, freedom, love, on-the-same-levelness - is a supernatural gift which is derived from the spirit of him who is present in all things and through all things.
Now if this humanness is the image and likeness of God, then God must be supremely human. He must be a conscious person like us, only supremely more. He must be free like us, only supremely more. He must be loving as we are, only supremely more. He must be committed to on-the-same-level (non-vertical, non-coercive) relationships like we are, only supremely more. "For God is love, and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God dwells in him." (1 John 4:16)
God must be supremely human.
Joshua ben Adam's vision of a new humanity was grounded in his new vision of God which we began to anticipate in the last section. Gone is the God of pay-back justice who is so offended with us that he needs atonement to bring him back. Gone is a
in a place called "heaven", a kingdom which will one day arrive on earth in coercive power. God's kingdom, said Joshua, is already here, in you and around you, and with you. He is here and numbers the hairs of your head. Gone is the coercive, monarchical sky-God who's been reflected in all kinds of inhuman oppression. kingdomof God
The God of Joshua ben Adam was a supremely human reality (5). In our chapter, No Religion, we saw that Joshua acted on the authority of being a man in God's image and likeness. (Genesis 1:28, 29; Psalm 8:3-7) In the history of the world up until the time of Joshua ben Adam, this image of God remained a potential. Joshua actualized the human potential. In him God's image and likeness found full expression. Everyone who came within the orbit of his words and actions encountered this image and likeness of God. We may fault the early Christians for starting to blur this distinction between Joshua and God, but we cannot fault their united testimony that he was "the image of the invisible God", "the express image of his person". (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3)
The ancients (and too many moderns) thought God was like an earthy monarch seated on his throne with people coming unto his presence and going from his presence with nose on the floor and rear end in the air. They thought of humans relating to him as a vertical authority, of Master over servant, Ruler over subject, Strong over the weak. But if Joshua ben Adam was really like God, we confront a totally different reality - a supremely human God.
Humanness cannot operate vertically after the order of the animal kingdom. Humanness functions horizontally with freedom from any kind of coercion, force, dominance or manipulation. Joshua showed in his whole character and teaching that God relates to us humanly, in a way which is true to his own image and likeness.
The people who came within the orbit of Joshua's influence were moved to believe in a God who was with them, in them and for them, to heal, forgive and inspire them to face life with new hope and courage. Scheming tax collectors, hardened Roman soldiers, marginalized prostitutes, outcast lepers, all were made to feel that God was their accepting, sympathetic friend.
In order to show us how supremely human God was, Joshua daringly gave God a new name. This new name embodied his new vision of God. The Hebrews had called God by the name YHWH. It was written without vowels and never pronounced. Their God was so holy, aloof and distant that he could be approached only through mediators which included all the paraphernalia of religion.
Joshua, however, addressed God as Abba in his native Aramaic tongue. This was the affectionate, familiar name with which little children addressed their father. It meant something like Daddy or dear Papa. In Joshua's day this sounded like scandalous familiarity, even blasphemy. But with Joshua, Abba wasn't a denial of God's transcendent greatness but proof of it. Greatness, he said, was manifested in humility and service to others. It was seen in a supremely human Abba Father being, with us, among us and in us. Everyone has equal access to him, whether truck driver or Pope (6). There is no need for mediators, priests, repetitious prayers or rituals. Human existence on the horizontal plane does not mean relating to each other religiously. Religion belongs to the world of vertical relationships. God is not religious. Not if he is a supremely human reality!
Supremely human means that God is not only the source of our humanity, but that he is more human than we are. He is more loving, compassionate, kind, caring, just or anything else we recognize as being human. He is more sensitive to our rights to be free and human than we could possibly imagine. There is no imposed authority, no encroachment of our individuality, no interfering with our rights to make decisions even if they be wrong ones. Won't God be the first to respect his image and likeness in us?
It is a mystery how God lives in us, making it possible for us to be conscious, human and free, yet doing this so unobtrusively that our choices and actions are wholly ours. He can inspire us, but he never dictates; his spirit prompts us, but does not interfere. The life we live is ours, not his. The pious imagery of his using us like an empty vessel or as a person with no will of our own is utter nonsense. He is a God of freedom and he knows that we are not human unless we are free. So in all things he gives us the space we need in order to be human because he is the supremely human spirit.
Joshua ben Adam's vision of a supremely human God helps us understand why he allowed the church to make its mistakes and develop a domination system which destroyed human freedom. Or why he allowed it to refashion Joshua ben Adam to fit a totalitarian regime so totally at odds with his vision of the kingdom. God allowed it because he is a God of freedom - far more passionate about human freedom than we could ever be. He doesn't force humanity to do it his way. God didn't stop the Inquisition any more than he stopped the Holocaust.
What faith and patience God had to wait until the man Joshua actualized the human potential of being God's image and likeness! What faith he must have to wait until even the church, so long the arch enemy of human freedom, sees that the way of the vertical order, with its domination and submission, is a sad human disaster. In recent times the church has learned many lessons and has moved on to repudiate inhuman things like religious intolerance, slavery, racial discrimination and opposition to science. Hopefully we will soon see less resistance to Biblical scholarship, more equality for women, a greater willingness to admit its mistakes, but above all the total elimination of the error of all errors - a vertical relationship to God.
Greatness was manifested in humility and service to others.
Any vision of God which is other than the supremely human God is an appalling danger to humanity. The idea of God as a non-human, vertical, authority is the most destructive weapon ever let loose on the earth. Where atheism has destroyed its millions, theism has destroyed its tens of millions. In God's name the worst tyrannies and inhumanities are legitimized by becoming sacralized.
Let the idea of God being a vertical authority above us be accepted, let the idea that this relationship takes precedence over human relationships be accepted, then the door is wide open for every human atrocity, tyranny, deprivation of liberty and destruction of human rights. This is how a sensitive human being like Saul of Tarsus got caught up dragging Christians in chains before the authorities. He put devotion to his God before human obligations. In the same way good men got involved in torturing people in the Inquisition or carrying out Pogroms against the Jews. For sure they were human enough to hurt as they kicked against the goads of their own human consciousness, but the higher authority called God made them do these inhuman things.
Calvin agonized over burning Servertus at the stake. This bloody intolerance was not behavior true to Calvin's own human nature. For sure he had to violate his own human sensitivities to do it, but allegiance to a higher authority which he worshipped as God made him do it. As long as a vertical authority called God is separated from our horizontal relationships to our fellow humans the agony of doing inhuman things in God's name will be repeated.
"For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans 7:19). Millions have been slain and continue to be slain in God's name. At this very moment somewhere on earth someone is being hacked up or blown up in God's name.
God is absolutely the most destructive idea let loose on this planet. This idea has caused more war, bloodshed, misunderstandings, strife, tyranny and terror than anything else. Nothing has held people in so much darkness, bondage or blocked human progress so much as the idea of God.
Christians have thought the world was in darkness through want of the Christian God. So they have gone out to convert the world to the God of original sin, hell and blood atonement. A God of blood savagery and total vindictive revenge, dressed up in garments of love and mercy, produced a totalitarian system which has survived the collapse of every other totalitarian system. Why? Because it sacralized its rule and kept people captive with the idea of God.
Anyone who can't see that the idea of God is dangerous, bloody dangerous, hasn't read any history and doesn't realize the appalling amount of crimes against humanity done in his name. And it has not stopped. The world today is a powder keg because there is an idea of God between the ears of millions of people that's more dangerous than all the explosives you could muster in this world.
That many want to dress this idea of God up in a benevolent guise makes no difference. It may be worse because, in the guise of 'God is Love', the idea becomes more seductively dangerous to human freedom and existence. It is safer to believe in no God at all than to believe in this God above, that is, in this God of the vertical dimension.
Of course, we are dumb fools if we fail to acknowledge the source of all this inhumanity done in God's name. It is because God is made to be an authoritarian, non-human reality. This always works to take away our freedom, destroy the possibility of loving others and turns us into the image and likeness of beasts.
Joshua ben Adam laid the ax at the roots of the vertical order with a new doctrine which put a supremely human God on the human level of freedom and love. His image and likeness is not seen anywhere else.
If God is not an authoritarian figure above the human horizontal line, then nothing else is above that line to demand from us blind obedience, submission and loss of human freedom. There is no Bible, Creed, hierarchy or religious laws that can exercise an authoritarian rule over us. Whatever is human may stand on the line of equality with us, but every other icon must be placed beneath our feet. (Psalms 8:3-6)
Joshua's new vision of God was all about his solidarity with people. It went beyond anything taught before him. It is a vision urgently needed in a world rocked by religious violence.
(1) No Serving God apart from People
God and people are is such solidarity that it is no longer legitimate to say, "God comes first". The worst inhumanities to man crawl under the wretched cover of putting God first. Under this cover they are still spreading mayhem and murder from
to Afghanistan , from Jerusalem to Bosnia . Northern Ireland
The God which is not in solidarity with people is a God of the vertical order, a non-human Abstraction and a dangerous idol of the imagination. Millions will rush into battle for this Abstraction - a God isolated from people- and they will give up their lives or slaughter others to defend him. Yet it is all a total delusion because a God in isolation from people does not exist.
The supremely human God, however, is so inseparable from people that it is not possible to hurt or neglect any human being without hurting or neglecting him. Joshua's saying is applicable to God: "In as much as you have done it unto the least . . . . . you have done it unto me". (Matthew 25:40). Joshua suggests that his Abba Father could become downright threatening if one of his "little ones" was injured. (Luke 17:2) Doesn't a good father put his kids first?
God is a spirit (John ) who comes to personal expression in people. The only way to serve him is to serve people. If you pour out your blood on the ground for him it could not benefit him any more than giving him food or money.
Joshua said we should come to God in his name. His name is ben Adam, and it means a human one in solidarity with all human ones. Coming to God in the name of ben Adam means we come in solidarity with humanity just as he is in solidarity with humanity. For instance, don't think you can worship God, says Joshua, if things are not right between you and your neighbor. First, go and be reconciled to the offended one and after that give your thanks together. (Matthew 5:24) It is as if God says (to borrow a line from an Old Testament story), "You will not see my face unless your brother is with you".
(2) No Seeing God Except in People
Religion makes a "mountain" or a
's meeting place. Joshua ben Adam desacralizes all places (John -24) and makes people God's only meeting place. God's image or likeness comes to expression only in people - nowhere else! He is seen in people, especially ordinary people doing ordinary things. temple God
Religion generally sends everybody running in the wrong direction. People rush off to find God in sacred things - in a place, in a day, in things eaten or not eaten, in mystic contemplation, in religious rituals and group hysteria - whilst the living image of God is on display in everyday life, in the kindness of a stranger, in the uplifting cheer of a neighbor and in the amazing dedication of ordinary people helping ordinary people. These things are not natural but human and supernatural. This is God's living temple shining with the glory of his presence.
(3) No Finding God in Subjectivism
Joshua ben Adam's teaching about God's kingdom within us must not be confused with these endless, wretched journeys of self-discovery. God is not found in any mystical contemplation of the navel. Joshua's whole life and teaching was about a self-forgetfulness in the care and service of others.
The eye is made to see and admire what is outside of itself. For sure Joshua does talk about God as spirit dwelling in us, but his spirit is extroverted rather than introverted. It was said of Joshua, "He saved others, himself he cannot save". This may also be said of us because it is simply the way of being human.
It is sometimes said that we must learn to forgive and love ourselves before we can forgive or love others. That's conventional wisdom, but its not the way of Joshua's kingdom. His way is to find forgiveness and mercy by showering forgiveness and mercy on others. The merciful find mercy. Our debts are forgiven "as we forgive our debtors". (Matthew 3:7; ) Life is found by losing it.
This is not a calculating kind of giving as a means to receive something in return. That is the ugly old way of pay-back justice and tit for tat. What Joshua talks about is a reckless self-forgetfulness. The only way to learn this truth is to do it just as swimming is learnt by swimming. It is the way of being free and being human.
The way of the Joshua's kingdom is not to sit around learning how we may be saved or get to heaven. Talk about finding salvation for yourself is conspicuously absent in the authentic sayings of Joshua ben Adam. You look here in vain for talk on life after death. His theme is finding life now, and you find it by throwing it away.
Thirty years ago there were a group of people who became obsessed with getting right with God by means of "righteousness by faith". (I was there!) Some of them are still going around and around the same point thirty years later. Unless they get off that treadmill, the only success they will ever enjoy is spreading their own neurotic pre-occupation with the salvation of me, me, me to others.
Joshua told an outrageous story about an indolent manager who was scheduled to be dumped. So he started giving away the boss's stuff for throw away prices, and forgiving big debts to the firm on write-off terms. Of course, all this largesse at the owner's expense made some people happy and got this slippery Dick of a manager into their good books. But the really big surprise was the reaction of the owner. He congratulated the rascal for doing the right thing.
They've been arguing for two thousand years over the unexpected punch-line of that story. But the point is really simple. Start giving away the royal treasures as if you've got God's credit card. See if you can blow the bank. There's only one little catch - none for yourself!
(1) The words "of heaven" appear to be a distinctive Matthean gloss which we leave off.
(2) This insight into the meaning of "little children" comes from Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.
(3) Xenophobia: Fear of foreigners or strangers; racist.
(4) See Paul Davies, "The Mind of God".
(5) I am indebted to Albert Nolan's Jesus Before Christianity for the phrase "a supremely human God". This thought was the
of his excellent little book. high point
(6)So says Michael Morwood in Tomorrow's Catholic. Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium.