The Scandal of Joshua Ben Adam, Part 6
By Robert D. Brinsmead VERDICT, October 1998
Foxes have their holes, the birds their nests; but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head...(Luke )
This is not a mournful statement from a man who laments his poverty. Far from it. Like other "son of man" sayings, this one also comes from a man who is conscious that being human makes him a son of God, the heir and lord of all things.
What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man*, that you visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the Godhead and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him rule over the works of your hands. You have put all under his feet. (Psalms: 8:3,6)
In its account of creation, the Old Testament makes a clear distinction between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom.
Then God said, Let us make man in our image and likeness to rule the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all wild animals on earth . . . . . So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them . . . . . rule over every living thing. (Genesis 1:26-30)
In our last chapter we saw how the human order of freedom, love and equality is not natural. This creation passage cited above also shows that the human order is above the natural. Being a reflection of Godís image and likeness, it is supernatural.
Our opening statement from Joshua ben Adam harks back to these creation passages. It also draws a distinction between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom, between the foxes and the birds on the one hand and the son of man on the other.
The animals and birds dig holes or make nests in a very defined territory. They are extremely territorial in their habits. They are prisoners of a certain space. Biologists have shown that this "home territory" is more basic to the animal kingdom than even the sexual instinct.
If the foxes find their home and their security in holes in the ground and if the birds find their home and their security in building nests, where is the home for Godís vice-regent and where is the security of she who is made in Godís image and likeness?
Joshua ben Adam declares that the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. He probably made this enigmatic statement with a big smile on his face just as there was a big smile on his face when he told enigmatic stories to lampoon conventional wisdom. The statement tells us far more than the simple fact he was an itinerant who moved from place to place. It tells us that the one who accepts the calling of being human as God intended is an itinerant spirit, a person who is free and on a journey.
The unknown author of Hebrews urges the Hebrew Christians to become itinerants like Joshua ben Adam. As he was crucified "outside the gate", they too must leave the security of the city and go "outside the camp" of Judaism. (Ch. 13:12,13) The writer also used Old Testament models for this itinerant community of faith. Abraham is set forth as the first great itinerant. He left behind the security of the city called
. "Abraham obeyed the call to go out . . . . and left home . . . . living in tents." Then the Israelites "left Ur " and became itinerants in the wilderness. A whole host of worthies "wandered about" as itinerants because of their faith. (See Hebrews 11) Egypt
Obviously Joshuaís having no physical home and moving from place to place is a parabolic life which points to the deeper reality of being an itinerant spirit who is free and on a journey. Far more significant than the houses we build to shelter us from the elements are the religious/philosophical/world-view structures we build for security. With these we build institutions, cultures and civilizations. They are an expression of our world-view and of our value system. As Paul Tillich brilliantly put it:
"Religion as ultimate concern is the meaning - giving substance of culture, and culture is the totality of forms in which the basic concern of religion expresses itself. In abbreviation: religion is the substance of culture, culture is the form of religion." (Theology of Culture, p 42)
When mankind builds these structures in which to find security and permanency, the human ones fall short of their awesome freedom as Godís co-creators in the journey of a developing universe. Compared with Godís destiny for them, their puny structures are like holes dug by animals or flimsy nests built by birds. Their structures imprison them in a restricted territory.
They stop them developing and moving forward in their journey through history. Human society within these structures reflects the vertical order the animal kingdom, with hierarchical power structures having their pecking orders of domination and submission. They become cages of human enslavement and oppression; they are barriers to human progress and development.
Joshua ben Adam didnít find a home in any sect. He didnít fit in with the Essenes, Pharisees, Zealots, Priests or Rabbis. Neither did he fit in with any school of thought, whether it was the school of the great Rabbi Hillel, Philo the philosopher or the school of the Cynics which had a strong following in his day.
He may have shared some things in common with some of those groups, but as the name ben Adam suggested, he identified with the whole of humanity irrespective of race, religion or gender. He didnít subscribe to any tribal righteousness. His vision was too transcendent for any sect. The sectarian structures made people as xenophobic as the creatures which dig burrows or build nests. They were essentially anti-human -- no home for the human one in Godís image and likeness.
Joshua ben Adam didnít find a home in any exclusive group. If his little support group had their was, they would have created their own exclusive group. At one time they found a man ministering to people in ben Adamís name. "As he is not one of us, we tried to stop him", said John. But Joshua replied, "Do not stop him, for who is not against you is on your side." (Luke 9:49,50)
Joshua recognized that no group could have a monopoly of the supernatural human spirit anymore than they could restrict the working of Godís spirit to their little burrow or nest. Joshuaís friends thought that only one group of people could work in ben Adamís name, whereas everyone who responds to Godís Spirit and acts in a human way, is a ben Adam in his own right.
Joshua ben Adam didnít find a home in any kind of Establishment - neither in the old one nor in a new one. Nothing could be further from the truth than the proposition that Joshua replaced Judaism with Christianity. Others built an Establishment called Christianity, but the itinerant ben Adam had nothing to do with that. The very nature of an Establishment is foreign to his itinerant spirit.
Often to their dismay, ben Adamís close friends found that he would not stay in one place long enough to consolidate an interest. They would have taken steps to organize the movement. But he always moved on. At one time his three closest friends had a revelatory experience with Joshua on a mountainside. They wanted to build some booths or some kind of monument to capture the glory of the moment. But ben Adam, the incorrigible itinerant, would have none of it.
Given his confirmed itinerant spirit, it has to be doubted that he took any steps to organize the church by ordaining twelve apostles. That plays on the Old Testament tradition of the twelve tribes and suggests that the organization of the Christian Church as the new
began with Joshua ben Adam. We suggest that here was a case of the second or third generation projecting their own understanding of the church back onto the words and actions of Joshua ben Adam. Certainly Matthewís account of Peter being given the role of the Chief Apostle is completely out of character with ben Adamís thoroughly egalitarian kingdom. (see Matthew 16) The whole notion of ben Adam beginning a new hierarchy ruled by the chair of Saint Peter is a monstrous distortion of the whole character and teaching of the great itinerant. Israel
The first step in forming an Establishment is writing something down. Judaism was founded on a written code and sacred text which was given final shape by the priestly Ezra in the 5th century BC But Joshua ben Adam didnít write anything down, nor did he instruct his eye-witness apostles to write anything down. Amazingly, no one attempted to record his life and teaching until the second or third generation. The New Testament contains no eye-witness accounts of Joshua ben Adam. Biblical scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written between 70 and 100 AD.
The only explanation for Joshuaís reluctance to write down a charter for his new kingdom is found in his itinerant character. He saw only too clearly that cold text, laid out like a corpse, is a poor vehicle for his spirit. Moreover, text too easily becomes a Law which prevents any growth or development. It quenches the itinerant spirit which is free and on a journey.
Joshuaís teachings contain some unforgettable aphorisms (one-liner witticisms) and parables. They are not prescriptive, not a new law code. They convey a new spirit, attitude and world-view which provide a compass for our journey rather than a road map.
Joshua spoke in the tradition and spirit of the Old Testament prophets. Their message was not prescriptive either. Rather than containing a legal code, the prophets were critical of fasting, festivals and the sacrificial rituals. Theirs was a new vision for humanity which transcended ritual piety or tribal righteousness. They spoke of a universal brotherhood of justice, mercy and love. The prophets conveyed most of their teaching in poetry. Poetry was the best medium to convey the spirit of Godís word, but poetry was never meant to be interpreted according to a strict literalism.
The prophets were mighty men of the spirit. They launched an enormous leap forward in human consciousness, a paradigm shift in human thinking which transcended legalism, ritualism and narrow tribalism*. Like all great charismatic leaders, they launched a movement in history but not a religious Establishment. They did not teach people how to be religious, but how to be human.
The priests of
were the men of the religious Establishment. Ezra, representing the priestly tradition, laid out the legal code in its final form and became the father of Judaism. Israel
The purity code, the festival regulations and the sacrificial laws were given their final form and shape in the time of Ezra. This elaborate legal code quenched the prophetic spirit, turned the movement of the prophets into an Establishment known as Judaism, and effectively destroyed
ís itinerant spirit. Israel
Being an Old Testament prophet was a real occupational hazard. They were generally persecuted and killed by the priests of the Establishment. Joshua ben Adam stood in the tradition of the prophets in both message and spirit. Like the prophets, he too was critical of the priestly or legal tradition, so not surprisingly he got the same treatment as the prophets.
Nothing misrepresents Joshua ben Adamís teaching so much as turning the New Testament into a new legal code or a charter of a new religious Establishment. It was the free spirit of Joshua which moved Paul to declare, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law [the written code, the letter of Scripture, etc.]". (Galatians ; -25; Romans 6:7, Ephesians 1:15)
Joshua says that the human one must remain Lord over all religious regulations rather than being enslaved and dehumanized by them. (Mark ,28) He never said anything that would give the slightest support to the notion that the human ones should use scripture as a rigid rule book.
Joshua ben Adam was not only an itinerant spirit himself, but by not writing out a new charter to replace the Jewish Torah, and by resisting any moves toward creating a new religious Establishment, he signaled that he wanted the Church to remain an itinerant community - a movement on a journey and open to the future. His kingdom of human freedom, love and equality cannot find its home in any sect, exclusive group or Establishment. No written code or creed of orthodoxy could possibly be the charter of his kingdom.
We all know that the Christian Church quickly lost its itinerant character. It did not remain a movement of a free people on a journey through history. It would be hard to find an institution so fearful of and hostile to human freedom as the Church. Basic religious tolerance was not even considered an option by either Catholics or Protestants until it was forced upon them by the events of modern history during the reign of Queen
and the beginnings of the American nation. And generally speaking, the Church was an Establishment bent of resisting most kinds of human progress whether in democratic rights, science or diversity of ideas. In short, it would be hard to think of an institution so alien to the itinerant spirit of Joshua ben Adam than the Christian Church. Victoria
In order to appreciate what is involved in recovering ben Adamís itinerant spirit of being free and on a journey, we need to recast the issue in the light of the big cosmic picture. The big picture presents us with an exciting insight into what it means to be human.
Our universe has been evolving over a long period of time. With telescopes now available we can look not only across 12 billion light years of space, but back 12 billion years in time to see the explosion of super-novas and the development of black holes bigger than a million suns. We can count 400 billion Galaxies, yet the creation is not yet finished because we see evidence of an expanding universe.
Each atom in this vast expanse of matter is like a universe of inner space, with neutrons and electrons in constant motion at speeds which defy the imagination. Scientists now speculate about super strings. These sub-atomic particles are so small that billions could dance on the head of a pin. "We have learned," says Freeman Dyson, "that matter is weird stuff." (Infinite in all Directions, p 18)
Then about 3-4 billion years ago life first appeared on this planet. It was as if all the powers of the cosmos had conspired for several billion years to create an amazing set of conditions that were just right for the emergence of living matter.
The basis of all life, whether of plant or animal, is the microscopic living cell. Although we know about its nucleus, its genes and chromosomes, and its DNA, its inner life and function is still a mystery beyond the ability of science to replicate. These cells organize themselves into colonies of billions of cells to create a living creature whose attributes are even more amazing. Without conscious thinking or planning a hive of bees sets up a complex organization with awesome communication and navigation skills. The monarch butterfly performs feats of flight and navigation that are nothing short of amazing. Acting randomly, spontaneously, without the freedom which comes with conscious intelligence, nature succeeds in settling into an overall balance and symbiotic harmony despite conflict and predatory behavior.
Yet there is a wonder which exceeds all other created wonders. "The most astounding fact in the universe," says Dyson, is the "totally mysterious . . . . mind". Mind "has established itself as a moving force in our little corner of the universe. Here on this small planet, mind has infiltrated matter and has taken control". (ibid p 118)
In the human mind, or spirit, this evolving created order has become aware of itself. "We are the eyes of the universe; the most awake bit of the cosmos known to us", says Teilhard de Charden.
The human person has self-awareness, self-consciousness and self-determination. No science has ever been able to explain or ever will explain, the mystery of human consciousness. Although the human body and brain are composed of the same matter ("mysterious stuff") which compose the stars, the earth and the cells of all living matter, the human mind is also above and distinct from the created order.
The human mind can visualize and think about things in the long distant past or in the far-flung future. It can not only transcend time but space also. Its imagination and probing intelligence can visit great galaxies, supernovas and blackholes whose size is millions of light years across. The mind can also enter the world of inner space to "see" super strings which are smaller than the nucleus of an atom by how much an atom is smaller than an entire world. Mind can split the atom and release its enormous energy. It can study hurricanes and tornadoes and work toward controlling them. It has devised not just a way to fly through the sky higher and faster than the birds, but now though space itself. The technology of communication and computers, only an extension of the human mind, is awesome.
The real wonder is not how far the human race has sunk, but how far it has progressed in the very short time since the birth of human consciousness. For if we represented the history of the universe by a 12 month clock, then the conscious human person has arrived in the last five minutes before on December 31.
We must repeat here what we found in our previous chapter (No God Above): The human order is distinct from and above the natural order. We need to say this decisively in our age when the world-view of the old pagan nature cults is being resurrected by modern environmental cults. Nature worship has become a popular religion again. Who hasnít heard this kind of conventional wisdom: "Mother nature knows best.", "If its natural it must be good.", "Nature does it best.", "Nature is all wise.", "We must obey Mother Nature.", "You canít improve on Nature."
The beauty and wisdom which nature has acquired in its 3-4 billion year development must not be allowed to blind us to its deficiencies. Here is a partial list:
Nature is blind, unthinking and unconscious.
Nature acts randomly without planning or foresight.
Nature is insensitive and cruel.
Nature is a brutal order, a killing field wherein the strong survive to eat, dominate or destroy the weak.
Nature is the domain of predators and parasites.
Nature serves up crippling and killing diseases.
Nature makes genetic mistakes resulting in human suffering.
Nature has wiped out 99% of all the species which have lived on this earth - all prior to the arrival of the human species.
Nature is often a destructive, hostile force, producing volcanoes, hurricanes, tidal waves and earthquakes.
It has become fashionable in some circles to speak of Homo sapiens as an unmitigated disaster for the environment. The new nature worshipping cults may love trees and animals, but they portray a real antipathy toward the human species. The thing which they often single out for special criticism is the Old Testament view that humans are distinct and above the natural order. Besides exaggerating the damaging human impacts on the earth (which are minute compared to the destructive forces of nature) and ignoring the positive fruits of human progress, the nature worshippers cannot appreciate how much nature needs the benefit of human intelligence.
Nature needs human intelligence. Through spontaneous, random development nature has arrived at a state where it needs intelligent modification, correction and direction into the future.
Human intelligence started to modify the environment with fire and heat. In a few thousand years, that technology has come a long way. Cultivation of plants and domestication of animals has greatly increased natural food supplies. Human intelligence has eliminated many diseases. Psychology and psychiatry are relatively new sciences but have made great strides toward understanding and alleviating mental illnesses. The average human life span has been extended and the quality of life enhanced by better living standards, education, communications, transportation and information technologies.
In recent years we have seen encouraging progress in technologies which improve the environment by lessening the human impact upon it, in re-afforestation and the preservation of threatened species as well as the improvement of others. Letís not underestimate what the development of Miracle Rice did for the human race.
For sure, mistakes have been made in fulfilling the mandate of presiding over nature. But we need to remember how much progress has been made in a very short history. The human species has barely got itís boots on!
The astounding thing about the human mind is not its ignorance and weakness, but its knowledge and power. In this we have most to fear and also most to hope, because human knowledge and power can be abused as well as used. The awesome fact remains that the human mind has a capacity and a potential which, in the words of Freeman Dyson, is "infinite in all directions". Of course humanness is above nature! It is above black holes and above the stars. It is Godís image and likeness, having a destiny "a little less than God". (see Psalm 8:3-6)
There are two human attributes which clearly distinguish the human kingdom from the rest of the biological kingdom. These are freedom and progress.
Freedom is the indispensable condition of being human. Nature is not free. It can only act as it is acted upon because it has no conscious intelligence. We do not hold a dog morally responsible for stealing meat from the butcherís shop. We hold ourselves responsible for our actions because we are free. We judged that the Nazis who were hung at
were free not to follow inhuman orders. If they were constrained to do what they did by factors beyond their control, they would not have been guilty of inhuman acts. We may have a biological nature which predisposes us to greed, sexual irresponsibility, even predatory behavior, but because we have a human mind we are free not to obey our biological instincts. We are free even to do unpredictable things. It is this freedom which makes us personally responsible for our actions. Nuremberg
It is also this freedom which makes the moral qualities of courage, fortitude, kindness and love possible. Without freedom, we could neither be responsible for good or evil. We would simply be big-brained animals blindly following orders from above, whether they be orders from our own genes or the orders from a more dominant animal in the hierarchy of authority.
This human freedom is also the freedom to learn, to develop and to progress. It is starkly apparent that from the birth of human consciousness, the human race has been on a journey in terms of both the development of knowledge and human consciousness.
Whereas animals continue to live exactly as they did thousands of years ago, the human species today with computers, satellites and communication technologies lives a lot differently to primitive man. There has been a parallel development of human consciousness.
This itinerant spirit, the spirit of being free and on a journey is not natural. It is above the natural. It is supernatural. It is Godís image and likeness, for God too is free and on a journey. His creation is not yet finished. He has created humanity in his image and likeness to participate with him in the ongoing creation and in this journey into an open and therefore human future. It has to be open precisely because God and his partner are free. It is a journey of discovery with possibilities which are "infinite in all directions".
There is a delightful Old Testament story of God consulting with Abraham about what ought to be done with
. It conveys this idea of God on the journey of history with humanity. The Gospel of John calls the divine spirit the Paraclete. Paraclete means one who comes to stand alongside of us. Far from being someone who barks down to us his orders from above, he walks on our level, at our side. According to John this Spirit also says to us, "I do not call you servants but friends". (John 14: 26; 15;26) Sodom
When we consider that this freedom to be on journey with God is our calling and destiny, why should we try to find our home, our security, our resting place in a restrictive religious system, a sectarian prison, a stultifying creed, or in any ideology or ism. All these things must appear like the puny burrows and nests of the animal kingdom to which we can easily descend when we lose the vision of being free and on a journey with God.
Is God a Catholic - who speaks Latin? Is he a Protestant - a white Anglo-Saxon? Is God a Christian? Is God a Jew? Is God a Muslim? Is he male? Of course he is none of these things! Can he be put in a sectarian box? Can he be tied down by a religious creed? Whilst the Church was chanting its creeds and resisting science and human progress, God manifested his freedom by going outside all religious structures to inspire free men to launch an age of enlightenment, of science, and of human progress. God by-passing the theists and working in and through atheists? He must have a great sense of humour.
As for the human spirit made in Godís image and likeness, is it not crystal clear that it also transcends nationality, race, religion, gender, culture and age? The human spirit is neither Jew or Gentile, African or Caucasian, black or white, male or female, old or young. That which invests the human spirit with dignity, superiority, and equality is not its racial identity, sexual identity, cultural identity, and certainly not its religious identity, but simply and only this - its human identity.
God cannot be locked up in a religious structure. The human spirit cannot be confined in a sect. The
cannot be contained in a creed or be identified with any Establishment. There is no "Theory of Everything" which can contain the human sprit which is free and on a journey with God into an open future. Any creed will be out of date before the ink is dry. The human one is above Socialism, Capitalism or any other ism. At best all of the foregoing systems or institutions could only be what fire is to human need - a good servant but a bad master. Their rightful place is under peopleís feet. (Psalm 8:6) kingdomof God
No wonder Joshua ben Adam could say "Foxes have their holes, the birds their nests; but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head". There is no home worthy of the human spirit except in him who is "our dwelling place from generation to generation". (Psalm 90:1) No one says it better than this: "God is love; he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him." (John 4:16)
There is no home worthy of the human spirit except in him who is "our dwelling place from generation to generation". (Psalm 90:1)