Gary's Personal Creed

Gary Gocek bio

A layperson explores his spiritual beliefs.

© 2010, gary@gocek.org, http://www.gocek.org/, all rights reserved. Hover for usage notes. Email a link to a friend. Other articles by Gary.

Contents

Gary's Personal Creed.
Introduction and acknowledgments.
TJACB - The Bible and Theological Justification.
Biblical Perspective and the Nature of God.
Gary's Personal Creed, Annotated and with Biblical References.
Conclusion.
Appendices - Biographies of Authors, Augustine's Sermon 242, Gary's The Conductor, Gary's On the Road to Emmaus, Interviews with Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Simeon's O Lord, I Have Seen You, the Nicene Creed.
Bibliography.

Gary's Personal Creed

 

1I am. The universe is everything that is.

2I believe in God. God is everything that is, and everything that is not.

3I am related to all people and all aspects of the universe, seen and unseen.

4God is present in all of my relationships.

5I love and honor God by working to improve relationships.

6I love my neighbors as myself by working to improve relationships.

7Relationships are improved through the collaboration of the participants: me, other people, the rest of the universe, and God.

8I believe that the kingdom of God is a state of peace and justice for all: me, other people, the rest of the universe, and God.

9My work is to use my God-given gifts to improve all my relationships.

10The deadline for my work is today.

11We are all invited into the kingdom of God when all people, all aspects of the universe and God are collaborating to improve all relationships, all the time.

12I believe that Jesus Christ provides the perfect human example of living a life of faith and the selfless use of God-given gifts.

13The notion of peace and justice for all is so radical that it frightens humans who maintain earthly power and wealth through corruption, violence and oppression.

14Jesus so perfectly worked to change that establishment that those with earthly power killed Him by nailing Him to a cross.

15In the days and weeks following the crucifixion of Jesus,

16the followers of Jesus experienced the presence of Jesus.

17The followers experienced the tomb of Jesus as empty.

18The followers were motivated by the presence of Jesus to continue the work of Jesus.

19I try to discern and use my gifts, but I sin.

20Sometimes, my faith is weak.

21Sometimes, I fail to love God and I harm relationships.

22Sometimes, I fail to love my neighbors and I harm relationships.

23I believe that my faith and work are judged.

24Judgment is passed by a collaboration of the participants in my relationships: me, other people, the rest of the universe, and God.

25I repent by returning to the work of improving relationships.

26I am forgiven when seen working to improve relationships.

27My relationships, my faith and my works survive me. In these, I am, eternally.

Revised 2011-10-27. Revisions to the creed: the notion of humans establishing the kingdom of God has been removed. Instead, we use our gifts to make the world a better place, with no expectation of reward, because there is no tomorrow.

Introduction

The remainder of this article is intended to justify my creed and to provide a freely available alternative to what I perceive as a preponderance of fundamentalist Christian writing on the Internet. I have tried hard to come to an educated position while embracing my lay status. It's not that the fundamentalists are wrong, it's just that they overwhelm practically every Internet forum, insisting that everyone else is damned to a literal, physical hell. Instead, allow me to welcome you to the kingdom of God.

Acknowledgments

I received valuable assistance in the development of this article, but this article is my own work with the help of God and I am the only person who should be held accountable.

The Polish Heritage Society of Rochester granted me a scholarship in recognition of my in-kind contributions. I used funds from that scholarship to develop this article. This article may not represent the perspective of the PHSR.

A few members of the clergy have guided me since aroun 1990. This article presents my own beliefs, and these priests may not agree with some points, and they did not review all my points, so I will use first names only: Deven, Julie, Peter, Bill and David.

When writing an article such as this, it is helpful to have a professor of philosophy in the family to suggest research avenues, namely my brother-in-law Christopher Pines of Rio Grande University, Ohio. And of course, thanks to my lovely wife, Susan for her support, even when she doesn't know she's being supportive.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. See the Bibliography section for more information.

Evolution

In the middle of 2009, I began exploring my faith more carefully than during my previous fifty years. I wanted to write about my discoveries, and I initially chose a topic that I thought would be limited enough in scope to allow me to come to some sort of conclusion: I wondered what Thomas would have felt, in the "doubting Thomas story" (John 20:25), had he accepted Jesus' invitation to touch Jesus' resurrected body. Although there are other stories that suggest that the followers of Christ did indeed touch the resurrected body, none of those stories suggest that it was unlike any human body. However, my research into "the form of the resurrection body" led me (not surprisingly, in retrospect) down the parallel path of wondering what any of the followers experienced in those days following the crucifixion. My autumn investigation into Thomas had dragged on into Lent, through a few books and a DVD series and a group discussion series at my church about God, the Bible, Jesus, mission and the Holy Spirit. My core beliefs had evolved, and my article evolved to focus on my personal creed.

I found an essay on the internet about the development of new creeds. It is written by Jeffrey J. Meyers, pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Meyers writes that creeds other than ecumenical creeds such as the Nicene Creed or Apostles' Creed are "almost always dangerous". If a new creed doesn't say exactly what the traditional creeds say, Meyers feels that there will not be universal acceptance. I agree, but I also think our global human understanding of Jesus is evolving, and sometimes the centuries-old payers and creeds just don't answer our questions or describe our feelings. The Nicene Creed is pretty specific about the birth and death of Jesus, but it doesn't have much to say about what happened in the middle, while Jesus was alive on earth. The words "love", "peace" and "justice" are not used in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is separational in that it describes that which separates Christians from non-Christians. It may be that the Nicene Creed was never intended to describe the daily routine of Christians, but therefore, in my opinion, it is a tradeoff, acceptable to most Christians but only half the story. We're uncovering forgotten things about Jesus and His first century environment. Is the Nicene Creed still the best we can do? We won't know unless we try. I don't pretend to have written a creed that will be accepted by anyone else, but it describes my understanding of the work I need to do.

I never felt that I was exploring my spirituality because I was dissatisfied with Christianity, but my explorations verified that Christianity is right for me, and I will explain that further. Some of my explorations are relevant for all religions or atheism. Some of my explorations are only relevant in a Christian context.

I hope that any reader, regardless of his or her religious practice or lack thereof, will see that my beliefs put me on a path through life that leads to a better world for all. Undoubtedly, I sometimes stray from the path. I'm only human.

Technical and Grammar Notes

As a software developer, I have found the development of a long article for the web to be technically interesting. I tried all sorts of popups and Javascript elements, but they're all gone except for ads. This article uses CSS. Most links open new windows. I use color and I hope this doesn't bother colorblind readers, since I considered accessibility. I removed Javascript because it can be annoying to physically challenged readers and to users of small devices such as smartphones. I am particularly proud of the four-quadrant graph below, since it grows and shrinks according to the browser's text size. If you have any thoughts on the technical aspects of gocek.org, let me know. NRSV Bible verses do not capitalize "he" and "him" when referring to Jesus, but I otherwise conform to this tradition. Please report errors, misspellings, etc.

TJACB?

The questions of the nature of God and the "mechanics of salvation" have interested me for some time. The Bible doesn't provide detailed, literal descriptions. Doubting Thomas, when invited, does not touch the risen Jesus and describe to us His form. As it happens, there are different ways to interpret the relevant passages.

I will describe my approach to Bible study and interpretation. I have investigated varied approaches, and if I learned one thing, it's that there are as many approaches to Christianity, the Bible and God as there are people who approach them. I have tried to seriously consider and present only perspectives (my own or of others) that appear to be Theologically Justifiable According to the Christian Bible (TJACB) . There are other bibles, other gospels and other gods; some writings on Christianity include concepts that are not Biblical in origin. It's not wrong to mix in other concepts as long as writers are forthright about their approaches, but again, I have tried to include only justifiable perspectives. The different perspectives I choose may seem at odds with each other, but I believe they all remain true to the Christian Bible. Having stated all that, you, dear reader, should keep in mind my background and lay status as stated in my biography.

Many Internet forums and blogs offer perspectives that seem to be TJACB, but differ spectacularly from my own beliefs. In 2009 following a triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the United States, the hottest topic was the acceptance of gays as good Christians who can serve in any capacity, including as bishops. Some Christians adhere to a perspective that prohibits openly gay practice (e.g., Romans 1:26-27) while remaining TJACB. From this perspective, the beginning of a conversation about homosexuals is that they are unrepentant and damned sinners, and the end of the conversation is either repentance or an acceptance of damnation. The adherents of this perspective are sincerely concerned for the salvation of souls, and I respect that, but this is not my perspective and my research indicates that there are contradictory perspectives that are just as TJACB. In the past I have felt that I didn't understand this perspective and couldn't reasonably converse with the adherents. I remain at odds today, but my research has helped me to understand. Of course, the homosexual topic is just one small bit of the overall topic of salvation.

Biblical Perspective and the Nature of God

I have presented my creed, and I believe the Bible and God support my creed. In this section, I present a tool for rationalizing one's beliefs, likewise through Bible study and a relationship with God.

God is 
interventionist 
← 

↑Bible is
metaphorical

Modern
Protestant
Borg
Crossan
Spong
Fundamentalist Traditional
Roman
Catholic

↓Bible is
literal

 God is
 collaborative
 →

When we read the Christian Bible, we perceive the literal historicity of each passage. The description of an event in the Bible may be viewed as a historical account, or it may be viewed as a metaphor or parable, or it may be in between. None of the stories are copies from a diary; they were all written centuries after the Old Testament events and decades after the New Testament crucifixion, so the literalness of any story is always debatable. The Bible calls out some passages as metaphors, so no one really treats every single passage as a historical event, but different people do see a different truth in each passage, and they can all be TJACB even if they seem contradictory. Is the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes a historical account of a physical miracle, or is it a parable that teaches that the fair distribution of wealth leaves more than enough for everyone? There are as many interpretations of the Bible as there are people who have lived on earth, Christian and non-Christian.

We also think about God, sometimes separately from the Bible. The Bible tells us stories about God, but it doesn't necessarily define God. God ranges from an omnipotent, omniscient and supernatural being who (or that) acts unilaterally to affect our lives, to a supportive but vaguely defined presence within and beyond the universe. God ranges, then, from interventionist to collaborative. As far as I can tell, this context of these terms was developed by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. I also point to the related phrase, "immanentize the eschaton" which was coined by Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics in 1952. This work is historically interesting but I won't further define it here.

Plot yourself on the graph. Plot Jesus on the graph. (Ha ha, I made a funny. Presumably, we each plot ourselves exactly where we place Jesus, aside from any variance due to human imperfection.)

Literal, Interventionist: "Fundamentalists" are shown in the lower-left quadrant. Such a person believes that Jesus is the one and only way to the one and only Heaven. Typically, fundamentalists do not believe that there is much we can do on earth, while alive, to affect our salvation. Our role is to worship correctly according to the unerring Word of God provided in the Bible in order to express thanks for salvation. In particular, the New Testament including the prophecies of Revelation is a historical account of a fairly limited period, no more than 150 years from the human birth of Jesus Christ through the post-crucifixion activities of the followers of Jesus. Fundamentalists recognize Jesus as the Savior. Anyone who does not recognize Jesus is not saved, even if he or she lives like a good Christian. Proper worship and Heaven are defined in the Bible, and God judges unilaterally.

Literal, Collaborative: Unlike the fundamentalist perspective, the traditional Roman Catholic perspective places importance on works while alive. In order for God to recognize the worth of human works, God must allow some negotiation or provide obvious help. This can lead to corruption, such as treating financial donations as works, and such corruption led to Protestantism. While that RC corruption has generally been overcome, the relationship between works and salvation remains with.

Metaphorical, Interventionist: Many Protestants fall into this category. The Bible is reinterpreted, over and over, against modern cultural mores. This has resulted in many Christian sects focusing on different reinterpretations. One would think that a metaphorical interpretation tends to lead one to a collaborative God, but it's hard to shake the notion, taught since birth, that after all our faults, the Second Coming approaches and God will send us all to Paradise.

Metaphorical, Collaborative: Some people in this quadrant believe we define our destiny with God's help, but this is theologically suspect. Our sinfulness constrains our abilities. The literal existence of Heaven is not as important as using our God-given gifts today for peace and justice on earth. To the extent that salvation is even an issue, all people can use their gifts and be invited into the kingdom, not just Christians. The question of where non-Christians spend eternity loses importance because God's kingdom is here on earth. God becomes abstract, impossible to define; events in human time are not attributed solely to God.

Literalists do not claim that there can be no metaphorical interpretation, but their approach is to say that the verses are literal, physical, historical accounts that also provide a symbolic meaning. Metaphoricalists focus on the symbolic meaning.

Metaphoricalists do not necessarily believe that the accounts in the Bible did not literally happen, and in fact it is usually not theologically justifiable to say so. It's just that the literalness of certain events is not as important as the meaning behind the events. Is the literal, physical and historical reality of the emergence of Jesus from the tomb as important as the lessons Jesus taught while He was a living human? For metaphoricalists, it is more important to ask that question than to answer it. In the minds of the metaphoricalists, the "apologetic" approach of defending literalness interferes with focusing on that which is really important, i.e., the lessons Jesus taught. Literalists don't see an interference because their focus is indeed on that which happened after Jesus died on the cross.

Both literalists and metaphoricalists are known to treat opposing perspectives as "wrong", or at least "less right". It is not typical for metaphoricalists to damn literalists as unrepentant sinners, but there is still the accusation that literalists are not the best Christians they can be. These perspectives and any point on my graph are all TJACB, but they conflict and every side thinks it's the right side.

Eschatology

The word eschatology typically refers to the "end times" and the Second Coming of Jesus. However, it can more generally refer to the ultimate relationship between God and Man. I mention this because I don't want to restrict my referenced authors as having referred to the future moment at which Jesus will arrive again, when they may have referred to a more general, ultimate relationship with God.

Your position on the graph suggests your eschatology. An interventionist eschatology is one in which an almighty God imposes justice and peace, in God's own time and in God's own way. Jesus is the way to Heaven. A collaborative eschatology is one in which people and God work together to achieve justice and peace. Jesus is the way to the kingdom of God here on earth. Of course, Jesus is both, but different Christians focus on different aspects.

Why not just call 'em "progressives"?

Internet research provides evidence for the emergence of a number of new approaches to Christianity, and many metaphoricalists would be lumped into an approach popularly known as progressive Christianity. I don't care for this label since it implies that others are not progressing. My impression is that the most fundamentalist right-winger is progressing and evolving.

However, the progressive label is reasonably well understood. The progressive approach, like my own, focuses on the kingdom of God, although definitions vary which is one reason I wrote this article. There are differences in the extent of metaphorical interpretations. One progressive Christian might insist that Mary was not really a virgin, while another might be high priestess of the local Marian cult, and both might be pro-choice and gay. Progressive Christians tend to be accepting of certain groups traditionally shunned for theological reasons, such as homosexuals. Progressives accept practitioners of other religious traditions (Christian and non-Christian), as long as the followers generally use their gifts for the good of all. Each progressive Christian exhibits a different level of tolerance for fundamentalism, although some lack of tolerance is in self defense.

Since at least the 18th century, there have been attempts within Christianity to explain that the Jesus movement of the first century was intended to mobilize the masses to spread justice and peace, and was not intended to describe the afterlife or the divinity of Jesus. Christianity has splintered into large and small groups with substantial differences in practice. Over the centuries, Christ has been used as justification for financial corruption, violence, the marginalization of women, and other seemingly non-Christian activities. Progressive Christians see these corruptions as originating from the evolution of practices that Jesus never taught.

I prefer the term collaborative Christian when referring in general to my theology, and see my Conclusion in which I use the term humanistic Christianity. I believe we collaborate with other humans, with Jesus and especially with a collaborative God. I have not found much information on the Internet that uses the word "collaborative" in the same way as I, in this article. Typically, on the Internet, the collaboration refers to communication between people, supported by Internet-based social networking. My own notion of collaboration relates to the work of Borg, Crossan and Spong, learned from books and DVDs and discussion groups.

Gary's Personal Creed, annotated

I'm finally ready to discuss my Biblical justifications for my personal creed, line by line.


1I am. The universe is everything that is.

2I believe in God. God is everything that is, and everything that is not.

Exodus 3: 14God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Ecclesiastes 7: 14In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them.

Philosophically, these may be the most complex lines of the creed. I begin with a definition of myself. Ideally, I would provide the description of God first, but it seemed more confusing that way, and I want readers to see the distinction I make between me and God. Humans are limited; God is unlimited.

Any description of God, however, leads to a paradox. Since I am finite and cannot grasp the infinite, I can't define the infinite. If I say that God is infinite, I have defined God. But, since I can't describe the infinite, my definition must show that God is finite, because I defined God.

I do not believe that God is finite, but I cannot define God. Any definition I come up with has to be wrong, or at least incomplete. Even the divinely inspired author of Exodus could do no better than, "I AM."

Note that I do not use the creation story of Genesis to justify my existence. I see Genesis as an attempt to compare the infinite glory of God with the finiteness of the universe and humanity, not as a literal, blow by blow description of the big bang.

If God is infinite, when was there a time that creation did not exist? God is everything, including creation. If God "created", at some point in our universe's timeline, then that means there was a time when there was something (the to-be-created universe) that was not part of God. If so, then there was a time when God was not infinite.

Again, it's not that I think God is finite. It's just that, as soon as I say that God is infinite or does things, no matter how grand, I limit God. You, dear reader, are subject to the same paradox. God is ineffable. God encompasses humanity, yet cannot be said to be human, resulting in the ineffability expressed by Ecclesiastes 7:14.

I do not refer to the "God's image" idea (Genesis 1:27), either. There is an image of the president of the United States on my television right now, but the image is not actually the president. Whatever Genesis means when it says that we were created in the image of God, we are not God. I resist the temptation to define God anthropomorphically and thereby create an all-powerful idol who can, for example, help me win the lottery. Still, I perceive God.

Creation

I don't think God, eons ago, made a conscious decision, as we humans make conscious decisions at moments in time, to create the heavens and the earth and people. I don't know how creation happened, and I will never know. I don't like to think about a God who is infinitely powerful but has human-like emotions and desires; such a God can arbitrarily and tyrannically cure diseases as well as cause earthquakes.

God is present in the bad and present in the good. God is. It's not a matter of, "Why does God make bad things happen to good people?" It's a matter of my relationship to these things.

Regarding "creationism" versus, say, a belief in Darwinian theories of evolution, Occam's Razor is appropriate: the simplest solution is usually the correct one. So, which is simpler?
(1) Simple micro-organisms formed in a primordial clash of chemical reactions and electrical discharges, which evolved over billions of years into humans.
OR
(2) An omnipotent, omniscient, supernatural being created us in a miraculous flash, and will someday raise our decomposed bodies from our graves to invite us into an eternal paradise or condemn us to eternal torment.

Well, neither is particularly simple, but Genesis is a beautiful myth (not a historical account) invented by the ancients to describe the mysterious. As I have stated, we are not motivated by (2) to be good "because God loves us", since (2) describes a destiny imposed by God regardless of our actions. (1) allows for a collaboration with God. (1) makes sense. Creationists point to a "Cambrian explosion" in which the fossil record shows a sudden evolution from simple to complex life forms, since there apparently is no intermediate fossil record. Even if that is the case, (2) is not the only theory behind holes in the fossil record. It is as likely that an interventionist God destroyed the fossil record to confuse us as it is that missing fossils are due to "intelligent design". The Cambrian explosion is amply debunked in the scientific literature and it is beyond my scope to even provide references here.


3I am related to all people and all aspects of the universe, seen and unseen.

4God is present in all of my relationships.

1 Corinthians 12: 12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

If I can't say that God exists, what's left to say? There remains something special about human life. We're all connected, and that connection is where I perceive God. The connection is not just emotional or physical. It is spiritual and mystical. It is a leap of faith. God's presence in a relationship makes the relationship greater than the sum of the parts. The connection is what reminds me that I am not the most important thing in the universe. We are the most important, meaning all people and the rest of the universe, with God.

My creed touches on Jesus later, but this Bible passage mentions Christ. However, I don't think that we should take this as meaning only Christians participate in relationships that contain God. I think that anyone can live like Jesus and perceive God in relationships, even those who don't admit to learning about God from the Christian Bible. Yes, Jesus is the one and only way (John 14:6), but does one have to speak the name of Jesus to know the way? Can someone learn a way that is just like the Jesus way without the help of the New Testament? Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA said to Time Magazine, "But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box." (Interviews with Katharine Jefferts-Schori.) Christianity is right for me, but others can find the way, and I will revisit this thought.


5I love and honor God by working to improve relationships.

6I love my neighbors as myself by working to improve relationships.

7Relationships are improved through the collaboration of the participants: me, other people, the rest of the universe, and God.

Exodus 20: Paraphrasing the commandments: Have no other gods. God will punish those who reject God, and love those who keep God's commandments. Do not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord. Remember the sabbath day. Honor your father and your mother. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor. Do not covet your neighbor's property or spouse.

Mark 12: 30"'...you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Luke 19: 40[Jesus, speaking of the Palm Sunday crowd,] answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

John 13: 34"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

If any of my creed verses are justified by any Bible verses, it is these creed verses, by the Ten Commandments and Jesus' reaffirmation of the greatest commandments. Jesus points out the most important commandments, and yet, the word "love" is not used in the Nicene Creed. This is where personal creeds can provide new value.

It seems uncontroversial to state that we have relationships with all other humans, even those we haven't met. When natural disasters strike in far off lands and we send donations, we recognize those relationships. But, I also have relationships with animals, other natural elements, and the rest of the universe. Technically, the number of my relationships is finite, but for all practical purposes, my number of relationships is countless. We humans experience goodness and badness in relationships. We can't remove God from relationships, but we can ignore the presence of God and make relationships worse, or honor God by improving relationships.

We are the universe and the universe is us. When we pollute the water, we hurt the guy who lives near the shore and the guy who eats the fish, as well as the fish and the water, and the elements that were never meant to be in the water which come to be called "pollutants". The main difference between me and a fish is that I realize that there is a difference, but if you agree with that, then you must agree, one way or another, that I have a relationship with the fish. The fish is my neighbor, and God is present and perceptible in the relationship.

My use of Luke 19:40 to justify my relationship even with stones is a bit of a stretch. I doubt that even the most ardent literalist would claim that there was no symbolism in Jesus' statement. The stones would not have literally shouted out. Still, there is a symbolic statement there, that we're in this together with everything else in the universe.


8I believe that the kingdom of God is a state of peace and justice for all: me, other people, the rest of the universe, and God.

9My work is to use my God-given gifts to improve all my relationships.

Psalms 82: 3Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. 4Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Matthew 5: 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Luke 17: 20Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you."

Luke 18: 7[Jesus said,] "And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

I lump a lot of things into the phrase, "peace and justice". The big deal about the kingdom of God is not that your illness will be cured. That's not the kind of peace we working for. You will be at peace after you die, I'll grant you that. But, the kind of peace we're working for is the peace of loving each other. The kind of justice we're working for is fairness for all people, not revenge against bad people.

My creed does not state that the kingdom of God is somewhere "out there", after we die. This kingdom is here on earth. We use our gifts to improve our relationships right now to give thanks for those gifts and to extend the invitation to the kingdom to all. This is not done to reserve a spot in a place that is imposed on us by God. Maybe Heaven is a place where we go when we die, but I'm not describing a supernatural afterlife, and neither does the Bible. My kingdom of God is an ideal, and yet, very human.

In this group of creed lines, I'm establishing the importance of peace and justice, for the universe that "is". Both Testaments are full of references to peace and justice. Practically all religions, major and minor, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, stress the importance of peace and justice for all.


10The deadline for my work is today.

Matthew 24: 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Philippians 3: 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made [resurrection] my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

There is no time to waste. Today, we see pockets of peace and justice on earth, but also much violence and injustice. We don't live our lives with all that nastiness around us and then get judged as "good" just because God loves us. We are judged as good when we use our gists for good. If you read the Bible today, and die tomorrow, your friends will reminisce about how you were at peace with your Bible in your final moments. Well, whoop dee doo. If you instead give selflessly for the good of others today, how much grander will be your legacy?

Jesus told us that the work is to be done today. Paul wrote to the Philippians that the work is to be done today. The kingdom is not yet out there waiting for us. It is already here, and we use our gifts to spread that news until everyone believes it.


11We are all invited into the kingdom of God when all people, all aspects of the universe and God are collaborating to improve all relationships, all the time.

Matthew 13: 44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

2 Timothy 2: 22Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

I continue to stress that the news of the invitation to the kingdom is spread by us as we use our gifts with the help of God. The Bible does not tell us that Paradise will be imposed on us by God, regardless of our sinfulness. We must recognize the treasure, the kingdom, to seek it, and must sacrifice all to experience it. The Bible tells us, over and over, that we must get beyond our sinfulness to experience the kingdom. This is an idealistic notion that is probably unachievable by humans, and I will address that later.

In all these justification sections, it may seem that I am belaboring a point, but I am building a theology. Jesus the human didn't invent the kingdom of God, so before discussing Jesus, I have explained that God's presence in our relationships gives us a glimpse of something better than our current human existence. This leads us to understand our work to invite all to the kingdom.

Jesus is critical to my own understanding of the kingdom of God, but again, the notion of the kingdom predates Jesus the human. The kingdom, as I have described it, is present in the Old and New Testaments, as well as other writings through history.


12I believe that Jesus Christ provides the perfect human example of living a life of faith and the selfless use of God-given gifts.

Isaiah 61: [This is the verse read by Jesus in Luke 4:18.]
1The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

Ephesians 2: 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

James 2: 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Romans 14: 4Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Here I introduce Jesus. My theology depends on treating the life of Jesus more importantly than the death of Jesus, and I must comment here on the passages of Ephesians and James. We in the 21st century often view Protestantism through Martin Luther's 95 Theses of 1517, which we see as a statement that faith alone is sufficient to achieve the kingdom of God. Certainly, the Roman Catholic church of the 16th century had become corrupted by the way it considered works as a way to the kingdom, but I don't think that we can pray our way to the kingdom, nor is it preordained. James 2 makes that clear to me, and Ephesians 2 says that no matter how good you think your works are, you're not the only judge, so don't be boastful.

Certainly, also, works are not sufficient. Our motivation to work is the promise we receive from God that our we can experience the kingdom of peace and justice together, not individually. Jesus didn't just pray for the three years of His public ministry, and then die. All that healing and traveling about suggest a path for each of us.

To describe His ministry, Jesus selected the verse from Isaiah. The verse does not describe the glory of Jesus; it describes all the work He has to do, and that work is all about proclaiming peace and justice.

Unlike the Nicene Creed, my creed does not describe the origin of Jesus. Was Jesus born of a virgin as the literal progeny of God? I view the virgin birth story as a metaphor for Jesus' relationship to all of us. By referring to Jesus as God's son, He becomes brother to all of us (see also "further comments" below). Biblical scholars tell us that phrases like "Lord" and "Son of God" were used in the first century by various leaders, and the Bible writers may have used those phrases to mock those Roman and religious leaders, including the ones who killed Jesus. See my essay on Mary for more information on how her virginity reflects her discernment of God's plan for her.

The perfection of Jesus contradicts my claim of his simple humanity. How can He be perfect and human? We know stories such as of the Syrophoenician woman who wanted help for her daughter (Mark 7), and Jesus at first refuses, but the woman convinces Jesus that His initial refusal was wrong. But, the weight of the deeds of Jesus' life is heavy indeed, and so profound that we cannot see any faults. As I shall describe below, Jesus then sacrificed his life for the cause. He fought the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7) and 2000 years later, we still see that there is no better way. I am willing to accept that Jesus provides a perfect example.

As I have already stated, it's possible to live like Jesus without admitting it, and maybe without reading the New Testament. No one can do better than Jesus, but even we Christians don't emulate Jesus without God's help, so I don't see a reason to limit God to helping only Christians. I am comfortable with non-Christian understandings of God as long as I perceive that those believers are working to improve relationships as a result of their own understandings of God, even if they don't say it that way. I recognize that some wonder, as in Christianity Today, if the progressive Christian "...eclipse[s] the centrality of Jesus Christ himself [with] the ethical 'message of Jesus.'" But, I do recognize the unique perfection of Jesus.

My creed does not state that Jesus atoned for our sins by sacrificing Himself. I will discuss sin, judgment, repentance and forgiveness below, but these are not imposed by God alone. Hanegraaff, the apologetic whose book I read ("Resurrection"), disagrees: "God took our sins and placed them on Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to pay the debt we could not pay. ... We cannot earn [the gift of God's perfection] or deserve it; we can only live a life of gratitude... As our [living] Lord, Jesus Christ gives our lives meaning, purpose and fulfillment."

In my opinion, there is a contradiction in Hanegraaff's statements. Apparently, our purpose is to be thankful through prayer, Bible study and church membership, but I don't see much fulfillment in this. Even his comments on church membership seem to be related to group worship, rather than work and outreach. In Hanegraaff's theology, the work is done, and all we humans have to do is to be thankful.

What if I'm not thankful? Does Jesus revoke His atonement for my sins? Apologetics like Hanegraaff would say 'yes', and I, being thankless, will suffer eternally. Apologetics believe that Jesus will literally emerge from the clouds upon the event of the Second Coming to judge each of us on how much we prayed for an invitation to a literal, eternal paradise. Non-Christians, intentionally or otherwise, are excluded from Paradise along with the thankless.

But, I say, 'no'. The death of Jesus gives meaning to the life of Jesus, and it is the life of Jesus that we are to emulate. Resurrection depends on how well we thank Jesus by emulating Jesus, not on how well we worship Him. The kingdom of God is not found without our emulation of Jesus. Non-Christians can also emulate Jesus even if they don't admit it, and it would be unfair to exclude them from the kingdom. To be unfair is to be un-Christian. The kingdom of God cannot be found where Muslims are flying planes into buildings, nor where Christians are damning non-Christians to Hell. As I have stated, it's a collaborative search and proclamation.

Hanegraaff makes a good point about our inability as humans to actually emulate the perfection of Jesus. Apologetics say that Jesus did for us what we imperfect beings cannot do for ourselves. My theology, however, states that we humans are to work all the time for the good of all, and that's an impossibly idealistic goal. If it's impossible, then the kingdom of God cannot be found. And yet, Jesus believed so strongly in the work to proclaim the kingdom that He stuck with it, even unto death. For all that Jesus did, 2000 years later the world is still a mess of pain and sinfulness. My theology states, however, that the example of Jesus was so profound that we "get the point" and we try to live the same life.

Additionally, if the apologetic approach is correct in stating that humans cannot emulate the perfection of Jesus, then it's a contradiction to suggest that Christians have found a better way to worship than non-Christians. How can a Christian say that his or her interpretation of the Bible is more correct than a non-Christian's ignorance of the Bible, when we are all hopelessly mired in a swamp of sin? My theology states that since Christians are imperfect, non-Christians can work just as well toward an invitation to the kingdom.

One more shot at apologetics

Hanegraaff quotes author Norm Geisler, "Everything the Bible affirms is literally true, but not true, literally." Isn't it the intent of apologetics to prove that everything the Bible affirms is both literally true, and true, literally? I recognize that even the most ardent literalist accepts that there are passages that were not intended to be taken "literally". The problem with Geisler's statement is that it allows apologetics to pick and choose which statements are or aren't metaphorical. I can get away with that because I'm coming from the extreme metaphorical side. Geisler can't get away with that, because it's a crutch that lets him switch to metaphorical whenever he can't prove something.

Further comments on Mary (Jesus' mother)

Mary the mother of Jesus disappears from the Gospels after the childhood of Jesus, but she is brought back by the writers to witness the crucifixion. Presumably, Jesus had a relationship with His biological mother during His adult life, but no post-crucifixion passage describes an encounter between Jesus and Mary. More to the point, there is no account of Mary having had a resurrection experience. There is no account of her having accepted Jesus as the Messiah. This is problematic for theologies that prohibit salvation without that recognition of Jesus. Mary is revered by practically every Christian tradition, ancient and modern, and yet, in the fundamentalist sense, Mary was not "saved". She can only be viewed as saved by making assumptions that are not supported by any Bible verse.

I am aware of Mary's appearance in Acts 1:14. I don't doubt that the followers of Jesus took in His mother after He died. Mary is reported to be praying, but we do not know her prayers and there is no specific support of a conversion to Christianity.

Practically all that we believe about Mary is extra-Biblical and mythical. From the cross, Jesus assigned one of His followers to act as a son to His mother (John 19:26-27), thereby establishing a community of "two or more", but we have only Acts' vague mention of Mary after the crucifixion. We have even less information about Mary's husband, Joseph. Given the short life span of first century laborers, it is likely that Joseph died before the crucifixion, and this would further explain John 19.

John 20: 17Jesus said to [Mary Magdalene], "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Mary Magdalene, other women, the eleven and their extended group, Paul and many others are described in the Bible as having resurrection experiences, but not Mary the mother. Even in my metaphorical theology, wherein the resurrection experiences may have occurred over an extended period (rather than "on the third day"), Mary probably lived to hear about the resurrection experiences. But, we are left with no evidence of a conversion of Mary to Christianity.

Collaborative theologies such as mine have no trouble with Mary's non-Christianity. It is stated that Mary was a pregnant virgin (Luke 1:34) and blessed among women (Luke 1:42). Metaphorically, she discerned that God had a purpose for her and she accomplished that plan with the help of God. We are all virgins until we discern our purpose and collaborate with God to fulfill it. Spong describes the evolution of descriptions of Mary over time across different books of the Bible; when writers wanted to establish the preeminance of Jesus, they put His mother on a pedestal that has never been surpassed. It's not about a supernatural impregnation; it's about the discernment of gifts and purpose and how she knew that would make the world better for everyone, and then to pass on such a lifestyle to her Son.

The Holy Trinity

My creed does not make a statement about a Holy Trinity and a Holy Spirit. I specified that God is present in relationships, similar to what we call the Holy Spirit, but the Trinity is not a definition of God. The Trinity is a description of three perceptions of God, which add up to something infinitely less than God. Arguments about the Trinity caused the split between the Roman and Eastern (Orthodox) churches in the fourth century, and this is still debated today. It is debated because it is an infinitely weak definition of God. The Trinity anthropomorphizes God, which is a limiting factor, and the Trinity is not gender neutral no matter how hard we try to say that it is intended to be gender neutral. God is ineffable, the presence of God is perceived outside of describable human intelligence, and Jesus was human. I don't claim that the Trinity is "wrong"; it's just infinitely inadequate.

The Transfiguration

In Matthew, Mark and Luke (pre-crucifixion), Jesus foretells His eventual suffering and Peter complains. Jesus rebukes the devil in Peter even while calling Peter His "rock". Then, the story goes, deceased humans, Moses and Elijah, appear.

Mark 9: 2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"

Moses, whose law was about to be rewritten, and Elijah, who ascended without dying, never heard the Good News before they died, since the messiah had not yet arrived, but here they are. It is not explained how the apostles knew them to be Moses and Elijah.

Moses and Elijah died before the human arrival of Jesus, but their appearance in Mark 9 et al suggests that they are en route to salvation. There is some debate among literalists over whether pre-Christians will be saved by a general faith in God, by the Old Covenant under which they lived, or by the New Covenant, since Jesus and therefore the New Covenant are eternally begotten. Note that in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4 (discussed in more detail below), if literally interpreted, our resurrections and eternal salvation occur upon the event of the Second Coming. To claim that Moses and Elijah had achieved their eternal salvation by the time of the transfiguration could be met with argument by some believers.

This isn't as much of a problem for metaphoricalists because not only is 1 Thess 4 metaphorical, but so is the transfiguration. The realization among the followers of Jesus that they were experiencing the eclipse of the great prophets is nothing short of dazzling.


13The notion of peace and justice for all is so radical that it frightens humans who maintain earthly power and wealth through corruption, violence and oppression.

Mark 14: 1It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him;

Having defined my view of divinity, I then established the humanity of Christ and our motivation to act like Jesus, as impossible as that may be. In this verse, I begin to explain the killing of Jesus.

I have already stated that atonement theories don't motivate me, and that's also not what motivated Judas and Caiaphas. If Jesus had simply claimed to forgive them for their sins, they would have had a good laugh and went on their corrupt ways. Jesus' work, however, threatened their place in society by inciting the masses to realize that Judas and Caiaphas were living wrongly and at the expense of others. Jesus had to be removed, not because God unilaterally ordained it eons earlier, but because the selfish nature of humans left no other options.


14Jesus so perfectly worked to change that establishment that those with earthly power killed Him by nailing Him to a cross.

Mark 14: 1It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him;

John 19: 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

John 20: 25So the other disciples told [Thomas], "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

(This is the only verse in the NRSV Bible that refers to the "nails" of the crucifixion.)

And so those in earthly power had their way with Jesus. Of all the stories in the New Testament, the crucifixion stands out as a major Biblical event with extra-Biblical documentation. Maybe Jesus wasn't born of a virgin, and it's unlikely Pilate told the Gospel writers what Jesus said to him in private (if there even was a private meeting), but some guy named Jesus really was crucified. The Gospels and other sources indicate that Jesus' execution had to be ordered by the Roman government, regardless of who wanted it. For the Romans to execute Jesus so painfully, some sources suggest that there must have been an element of threat to the Romans. I don't think the Romans were really all that scared of Jesus, but the Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead, so they convinced Pilate that Jesus claimed supremacy over the emperor, even though He didn't, and Pilate then had no choice but to order the execution. The crucifixion wasn't an act of God; it was an act of frightened men.

Jesus did not die not alone. Recall that one of the two being crucified near Jesus was faithful, while the other was not (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus died with both of them, and symbolically, with all of us.

I continue here with the notion that Jesus was not born to be sacrificed for us. He comforted the afflicted and challenged the establishment, and was killed for that.


15In the days and weeks following the crucifixion of Jesus,

16the followers of Jesus experienced the presence of Jesus.

Mark 16: 14Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Unlike the crucifixion, there is effectively no extra-Biblical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. I believe that the Biblical stories are accurate descriptions of resurrection experiences of the followers of Jesus, regardless of their literalness. I do not believe the resurrection stories were invented as some sort of joke, or political jab at the Romans. I do not believe that the stories were the result of hallucinations or hypnosis. Intelligent people of sound mind and body experienced the risen Christ.

Regarding the repeated Biblical promise of "three days", I'm not sure what to make of that. I doubt that Jesus literally predicted an event that was to happen on exactly the third day after his self-predicted death. I see it as a symbolic prediction that, at some point not too long after the death of Jesus, the followers would have resurrection experiences.

I wonder if anything comparable to the resurrection experiences would have happened without the martyrdom of Jesus. All humans die, eventually, but would Jesus' resurrection have been the same if He died peacefully after a long life? I don't think so. Jesus is historically important because before Jesus, most people just didn't "get" how to work for peace and justice, and why. The Old Testament and other sources describe a similar kingdom of God, but the notion was always corrupted by humans. Jesus lived a life so perfect that humans finally "got" it.

Furthermore, the followers of Jesus at the time didn't really understand it, until after the crucifixion. At Gethsemane, they fell asleep, as the betrayal and arrest were imminent. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we would understand. That's so powerful, following such a profoundly perfect life of service to others, that Jesus' presence was still felt after his death.


17The followers experienced the tomb of Jesus as empty.

Mark 16: 6But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him."

John 20 17Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Spong, in "The Easter Moment", reports a skeptic's explanation of Mark's story, that is, that Mary went to the wrong tomb in the early morning darkness, but Spong and I do not believe that that's what happened. The Bible stories do not describe a "resurrection moment" at which the body of Jesus comes to life after being dead. The Bible stories tell of the followers encountering Jesus outside the tomb, implying to Bible readers that Jesus got up off the slab and walked out. However, there is a metaphorical perspective.

Jesus worked continually at improving and strengthening relationships. In the end, those relationships were too strong to die, even as human bodies die. So strong was the presence of Jesus that we each can have a relationship with Jesus today. Some of that may be a memory spread through the generations since the death of Jesus; the rest is developed through Bible study and other thinking about Jesus.

The way in which Jesus lived was just that powerful. In an appendix, I tell of one of my own resurrection moments that reminded me of the Emmaus story. If you study Jesus and pray about Jesus you, too, can have resurrection moments. Jesus will not be literally, physically in your living room, but He will be with you just the same. That's what the Bible describes. It is not necessary to believe that the Bible is absolutely literal with respect to the resurrection stories. When you have your resurrection experiences, you will want to tell those stories, and Jesus will be very real to you. The Bible stories were not written to trick us into believing that something spiritual was actually literal. They were written than way because the writers were so moved by the experiences that they wrote the stories as they felt them.

Resurrection is the recognition that the quality and eternity of our relationships is defined by how well we follow the example of Jesus' work for peace and justice. Christianity is not about a supernatural emergence from the grave, and it's not about the divinity of Jesus.

I include the verse from John 20 because it seems to prevent any non-literal interpretation. Why would a metaphorical interpreter imagine Jesus saying such a thing? I think that this verse recognizes that we are all in different places along the path that Jesus taught. Some people think that it's all a bunch of hooey, like the faithless one on the cross next to Jesus. Some people need a little extra prodding, like the doubting Thomas. John 20 shows someone just barely coming to grips with the continued presence of Jesus. Jesus is present, and yet, not quite. Mary has to think about it some more. Jesus slips away, but He'll be back.

The Resurrection of Jesus

Mark 16: 9Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 14Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

John 20: 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Acts 9: 3Now as he [Saul a.k.a. Paul, who had been persecuting Christians] was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

Jesus' resurrection occurred in our human, space-time continuum so as to have an effect for all of humanity. However, that doesn't mean we humans can fully define the resurrection in human terms. The Bible describes the death of Jesus, the emptiness of the tomb and the appearances of the risen Jesus, but the writers of the Bible couldn't literally describe the resurrection moment.

Nowadays, we can study and discuss the life and teachings of Jesus in order to really get to know Jesus, and maybe we have a vague memory of Jesus passed down through generations. Unless God has miraculously imbued your mind and soul with something more, that's all we’ve got. We don't give much credence to people who claim to have had a physical encounter with Jesus, aside from Paul (Acts 9:3), who wrote much of the New Testament but only came to know Jesus after the crucifixion. If you work really hard, you can get to know Jesus. Jesus becomes real for you. Jesus is resurrected for you.

After the crucifixion, the followers of Jesus experienced something fantastic. Maybe they experienced a physical body emerging from the tomb, as apologetics insist, but that is a limited perspective because we in the 21st century can't experience the same thing. The followers were transformed from scared fishermen to courageous proselytizers, but there have been transformed people willing to die for Christianity for centuries. Only a few of them in the first century knew the human Jesus. Something beyond the physical continues to transform us and lets us know Jesus. Christianity does not require a physical resurrection of Jesus.

Thomas (as in, Doubting)

John 20: 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." 28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

1 Corinthians 12: 12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

Oh, why didn't Thomas touch the risen Jesus when invited, so he could explain what he felt? Something has always drawn me to the Doubting Thomas story, and my research has explained this in new ways for me.

Augustine (Sermon 242) teaches that Jesus didn't eat because He was hungry; He ate because it comforted the apostles who were in the unprecedented position of interacting with He who had died. Jesus did not show His wounds because He was wounded; He showed His wounds because it proved to the apostles that He was really Jesus. But, Augustine is simply struggling to explain something that wasn't a literal account in the first place.

The resurrection experience is not driven by the resurrected; it is driven by the earthly living. Jesus did not force His way into rooms for dinner; the apostles brought Jesus in. Christianity is very community oriented, so it's not surprising that the larger group had a resurrection experience before the absent Thomas did. Thomas finally had his experience after rejoining the group.

As for Thomas touching the body, once Thomas experiences the appearance of Jesus, the touching becomes irrelevant; Thomas "gets it" and the passage ends with the scolding. If it was Thomas and the others who brought Jesus into the room, then it was Thomas and the others who did the scolding (in Jesus' name). Thomas had allowed himself to slip away from the community and went off to do his own thing. Every part of the body is required for the body to be healthy (1 Corinthians 12:12), and Thomas had separated himself, so he was scolded and then forgiven and welcomed back into the fold.

Our Experiences with the Resurrection of Others

John 21: 25But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

The appearance passages, like the rest of the New Testament, are not diary excerpts. They were written decades after the crucifixion. The passages describe realizations of knowing Jesus in a way that the followers of Jesus did not previously know Jesus, even though they were physically with the pre-crucifixion Jesus. Literally speaking, who saw the risen Jesus first? Well, it depends on which passage you read. But, if the passages depict realizations, then they could have all happened at the same time.

And, we can have the same experiences. Not just similar experiences, but the same experiences, and others.


18The followers were motivated by the presence of Jesus to continue the work of Jesus.

Mark 8: 34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

Mark 16: 15And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation."

Hanegraaff says that only a literal, physical resurrection would be powerful enough to motivate the disciples to continue the work, but there are stories of Christian martyrs through the centuries, long after anyone who knew Jesus personally had died. We cannot explain today's evangelists if the 1st century evangelists required a literal experience. So, I disagree that the acts of the apostles prove the literalness of the resurrection.

While I think that non-Christians can act good like Jesus without knowing Jesus, I do believe that Jesus wants us to proclaim the New Testament. Most of us are too sinful to recognize, on our own, a good path, so most of us need an example, and those Christians who know it should proclaim it. Also, Jesus not only called on us to spread the word, but to do that through the active use of our God-given gifts. Sometimes, the word is successfully spread, and sometimes not, but it's better to comfort the afflicted even if the afflicted person is not converted, than it is to try to convert that person without providing the comfort.

I include Mark 8 here to point out that I believe that Jesus told us to do the work, but did not tell us that we could ever stop. We should not think of the entrance to the kingdom of God is opened simply by stating the name of Jesus. Of course, there are stories of Jesus resting, such as by being attended to with oils (John 12:3), but Jesus was human as we are, and we sometimes stop to rest. Even God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2), although I don't like to anthropomorphize God like that. We are human and must occasionally rest, but people suffer while we rest, and our invitations are delayed. So, it is true that we rest, and we also sin, but that's not part of the plan and Mark 8 trumps the examples of rest.

Mark 8:34 and similar verses are simultaneously some of my favorite and most feared verses. Christianity is not easy. It's really hard, and the work never ends.


19I try to discern and use my gifts, but I sin.

20Sometimes, my faith is weak.

21Sometimes, I fail to love God and I harm relationships.

22Sometimes, I fail to love my neighbors and I harm relationships.

Psalms 15: 1O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? 2Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; 3who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

Psalms 51 3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Ecclesiastes 7 20Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.

Mark 14: 38[Jesus said,] "Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

John 14: 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

1 John 4: 20Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

I know that my purpose is to do the work described by Jesus, and I know what the work is. But, sometimes, maybe even most of the time, I just don't do it. It's not that I don't want to, but sometimes I just turn on the TV and turn off Jesus.

In creed verses 19-22, a substantial portion of my creed, I remind myself that I must constantly struggle with my humanity as I strive, mostly unsuccessfully, to sacrifice everything to spread the news of the kingdom of God. Everything I do is sinful, except by the grace of God. However, there is a danger in getting too caught up in self loathing. How do I even know that reading the Bible isn't sinful? Certainly, some of you reading this are convinced that I am damned to Hell. Still, I need to get out of bed in the morning and try.

The followers of Jesus, who knew Him personally, couldn't keep their eyes open at Gethsemane. I am in good company in my weakness.

I have stated that I perceive God in relationships, and that I love and honor God by working to improve relationships. This provides an interpretation for John 14. Jesus taught us to improve relationships because of God's presence.

There is ample evidence in the Bible, in both testaments, that the work is to improve relationships. I must be careful to allow not even worship to distract me from the work.

Free Will

Galatians 5: 13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.

Christianity is about peace and justice, but not about freedom, per se. Jesus did not teach that we can do as we please. Christian practice has traditionally involved the following of many rules. Some promote peace and justice, some promote the religion itself. It's not that any rule is bad, but some "traditions" did not originate in the first century. They are corruptions of the teachings of Jesus, such as, in my opinion, rules excluding female pastors. Still, we do not spread the news of the kingdom by acting as we please, and we must follow some rules.


23I believe that my faith and work are judged.

24Judgment is passed by a collaboration of the participants in my relationships: me, other people, the rest of the universe, and God.

Matthew 7: 1"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?"

Matthew 13: 47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

John 20: 23[Jesus said,] "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Revelation 20: 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.

Certainly, we are judged, but is it a unilateral judgment by an omnipotent God in some supernatural afterlife? I don't think so, and the disciples' experience with Jesus after the resurrection suggests that judgment is collaborative. Does Jesus atone for our sins only to be overturned by God? Again, I don't think so. We are judged today, and we will be eternally judged, according to the states in which we left our relationships. God is present in those relationships, so God participates in those judgments, but it is not unilateral nor supernatural.

My statement here in creed verses 23-24 is necessary to remain consistent with my previous verses. If I collaborate in the improving relationships, I collaborate in the invitation to the kingdom, i.e., in the forgiveness of sins.

I don't think that this collaborative judgment is inherently sinful. For the disciples to "retain the sins of any" (John 20), they somehow judge, but this does not contradict Matthew 7. Matthew 7 prohibits hypocritical judgments. Matthew 7 prohibits vengeful judgments that prevent the repentance of a sinner. John 20 prescribes the sort of judgment that describes the state of a relationship. Each of our relationships is judged to be in some state, good or bad or in between. We suffer for having damaged relationships and we benefit from having improved relationships. The suffering and benefitting last until the relationships change, which may never occur once we die. We aren't judged at a point in time, later. We are judged now and later and always. As we take part in judgments, we must always remember our own sinfulness.

Many Christians and others believe (at least, informally since most people never elucidate their beliefs) that some bad people get away with their bad deeds while alive, but will be punished "later". In my theology, the punishment occurs right now and forever, because the work to improve relationships and proclaim the kingdom occurs right now. I suppose it is frustrating to think that our judgment today is as bad as it will get for those bad people, but I really believe in the work, and I really believe in the judgment. How much worse can it really get for, say, Adolph Hitler? He died as one of the most hated humans of all time, and he will remain so, and he knew that as he died.

Hell is not a place where the bad people go. Hell is not a place without God. In my theology, we do the work and benefit, or we don't do the work and we suffer. We do the work and we remain loved in our relationships, or we don't do the work and we are pushed aside.


25I repent by returning to the work of improving relationships.

Matthew 27: 3When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself."

I do not believe that Judas was a scapegoat who was born unwittingly into a role to fulfill God's plan. Judas destroyed his relationship with Jesus, with the other eleven, and with just about everyone else around him. Matthew 27 doesn't suggest that Judas repented and was forgiven. We don't successfully repent unilaterally. If we destroy our relationships, we suffer. If we don't repair those relationships, we don't get to apologize the suffering away. If we leave our relationships in a bad state, we are left to "see to" our suffering by ourselves, and we cannot truly comfort ourselves.


26I am forgiven when seen working to improve relationships.

Mark 2: 7[A scribe said,] "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic - 11"I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." 12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

Borg and Crossan would probably refer to Mark 2 as a parable written to symbolize the work and teachings of Jesus. The paralytic represents those of us who are paralyzed by fear or hatred or greed, etc. We must fight our fears and hatreds and worldliness and move on. To do that, we must recognize the presence of God in our relationships and work to improve those relationships. If we do that, we can be forgiven for our past transgressions, even by those whom we harmed.

I don't suggest that we should be overtly proud of our actions as use our gifts, nor expect to benefit; that's not what I mean by, "when seen working." We benefit from the work, because that is the nature of relationships. The Bible is full of both righteous and self-righteous people. The righteous don't wait around for their rewards, they just keep on working. Jesus never misses a chance to rebuke the self-righteous.

Evangelism

Evangelism is implicit in my creed, not explicit. My theology requires that everyone collaborate to spreead the news of the kingdom of God, regardless of their religion. We must emulate Jesus to spread the news, whether or not we recognize that it is Jesus whom we emulate. However, an attempt to convert a non-Christian to Christianity is a distraction from the working with that person to invite each other to the kingdom. My theology places more importance on the work than on direct evangelization. If I emulate Jesus, I motivate others to do the same.


27My relationships, my faith and my works survive me. In these, I am, eternally.

Mark 10: 29Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life.

John 5: 24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25"Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

Galatians 2: 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

First, I believe that John 5 does not suggest that the faithful are not judged. It suggests that the faithful are not judged badly and they do not suffer after the judgment, because to be faithful means to do the work of inviting all to the kingdom of God.

Resurrection is an important element of Christianity, but it is a result of working for the kingdom, and not something imposed unilaterally by an omnipotent God, if we only pray correctly. We get resurrected because we did the work. Jesus was resurrected because Jesus did the work, not because He was God. That's why the literal, physical, historical emergence of Jesus from the tomb is not critical to Christianity. John 5 does not suggest that we will walk from the grave after our bodies have died.

John 5:28-29 remind us of the Lazarus story in which Jesus calls for Lazarus to come out, but the dramatics are for the living. When we hear and understand the call of Jesus, part of what happens is that we have resurrections experiences; we can experience the presence of those who have died. For most humans, the Lazarus story wasn't enough on which to base a religion, and we didn't fully understand resurrection until we experienced the resurrection of the teacher, Jesus.

My father once told me he had met a woman, who had since died, who came from the "old country" and had met his grandmother. My father had never met his grandmother, who died close to a hundred years before I wrote this article. The local woman told my father that his grandmother was tall, and now my father has told me and I have told my sons. I think this is a non-trivial proof that I have relationships with everyone and everything, and everything has relationships with everything. My father's tale was a resurrection experience. My great-grandmother's tomb was as empty as Jesus' tomb. She did the work well enough that someone bothered to remember how tall she was. My sons have now had this resurrection experience, whether or not they describe it that way. And so on, forever.

Jesus appeared after death - will I?

Literalists claim that although Jesus appeared to his survivors after the crucifixion, we will not. Jesus is God, we are not. We will do all the things Jesus did after our own resurrections, but that won't occur until the Second Coming.

Did Jesus force his way physically into the room where the followers were eating? Did Mary Magdalene watch while the stone was rolled away and Jesus rose from the slab? That's not what the passages say. The metaphorical perspective suggests that Jesus won't break my door down; I will invite Him in. The followers invited Jesus in.

If I live fully today and love fully today, as Jesus taught, then my survivors may be able to invite me in after my death.

The Resurrection of the Rest of Us and the Second Coming

For a related story, see my parable of The Conductor.

1 Thessalonians 4: 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

Literal (not my) interpretation: Everyone gets resurrected on the "Last Day", i.e., upon the event of the Second Coming described above. Everyone will be judged, and some will be resurrected to Heaven and some will be resurrected to Hell. Jesus is not "a" way to Heaven, but the one and only way, so even if you live a good life, and even if you live as Jesus teaches, you won't be resurrected to Heaven unless you specifically recognize Jesus as the Savior. (Hanegraaff suggests that children and pets will be resurrected to Heaven. With respect to pets he asks, "Why not?") No one gets resurrected before the Last Day. Upon the death of an earthly body, its disembodied soul is transported to a "spirit world". Don't read this disparagingly or sarcastically; the Bible gives little explanation of the immediate post-death location of the soul. Hanegraaff's reasoning is somewhat fantastical, but he says that the soul survives the death of the body and has to wait somewhere. On the last day, an angel blows a trumpet and all bodies rise from their graves to be reunited with their souls, i.e., there is a correspondence between each earthly body and its soul, which combine to make up the heavenly body. The earthly body had died, but Hanegraaff insists that something non-dead must remain, i.e., the soul. Hanegraaff advises against cremation, but it's not a showstopper. The correspondence of body and soul precludes "reincarnation", because reincarnation would create multiple bodies for a single soul, and that's not TJACB.

I can't resist remarking how fortunate it is for Jesus and his plans for the Second Coming that humans invented the trumpet.

Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church said to the Associated Press, "As Christians we understand [salvation] as relationship with God in Jesus, but that does not mean that we're expected to judge other people's own commitments." (Interviews with Katharine Jefferts-Schori.) We humans are not empowered to constrain God's plan, so either there are other heavens in addition to the Heaven of the Christian Bible, or one can live as Christ taught without specifically recognizing Christ.

Over time, humanity will mature. More and more people will invite others to the kingdom of justice and peace. When enough people develop a relationship with resurrection, whether or not they call it by that name, the stragglers who resist will be swept aside and the rest will experience a new paradise.

Afterlife

This article says nothing definitive about "afterlife", and I believe that the purpose of Jesus while on earth was not to teach us about a supernatural, conscious existence after bodily death. Relationships survive death, and I have active relationships with dead people, including Jesus. However, these are not the same as my relationships with living people. I can change my relationships with dead people by thinking and praying about those relationships, since that thought and prayer sometimes exposes aspects of the relationships that were previously unknown. God's presence in those relationships, be they good or bad relationships, gives those relationships a continued existence. I need not base my behavior on the possibility that, at some historical point in time, Jesus will literally descend from the clouds with trumpts a-blaring and bodies rising physically and literally from graves along with their beloved pets. My skepticism about a literal afterlife defines my motivation to do good today. Today is all we have, and that's consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

Conclusion

I am comfortable with other perspectives as long as we can work together for peace and justice. I find that attempts to define God, or to interpret the Bible literally, or to hold on to an interventionist eschatology are distracting. They distract (Luke 10:41-42) from or interfere with my perceptions of God's presence in my life. I collaborate with that presence, with the help of a metaphorical interpretation of the Christian Bible, to determine the path that I should take through life. That path is to work today for peace and justice, which leads to an ultimate end, i.e., my theology includes a collaborative eschatology. A metaphorical approach allows me to go beyond reading about the experiences of the followers of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament; I can have the same experiences.

The literal fundamentalist believes he or she will experience the kingdom of God no matter what happens to anyone else, because he or she conforms to a lifestyle that supports one or another God-imposed kingdom. In contrast, I believe that either everyone experiences the kingdom, or no one does, because my notion of the kingdom is a state of peace and justice that cannot be achieved while anyone has yet to be invited. The fundamentalist's theology is not "easy", but it is finite; my theology is infinitely more difficult, but encouraged by the profound example of the human Jesus Christ.

I find that many atheists and neo-pagans expend much energy debunking the Abrahamic religions and then defending their debunkings. The arguments against Abrahamic theism touch on the rationality of believing in God, institutional corruption over the centuries, etc. Of course, the arguments discuss theologies that are mostly literalist and interventionist (and Roman Catholic, but I have claimed that Roman Catholics enjoy some collaboration with God). My theology is metaphorical and collaborative, and is not addressed by most atheistic and pagan writers.

I find that modern pagans, meaning Wiccans and similar groups, follow a vague and simple collection of rules. Most neo-pagans adhere to the tenet that their actions should harm none, but "harm" is usually not well defined, so pagans are no less tempted to act in their own self interest than anyone else. Most pagans participate in ceremonial attempts to influence the physical world and the behavior of others, although these do not necessarily depend on interventionist, supernatural forces. Most pagans consider the morality of their actions, and I am sympathetic to pagan notions of gender equality and care for the natural environment, widely held in pagan circles. However, local pagan groups make up their ideologies as they go along. There may be a general belief among pagans that peace, justice and care for the natural environment will lead to a golden age, but pagan eschatologies tend to include a distracting array of "spirits" and other entities that regularly interact with living humans. Considering all that, I find pagans to be more literal than metaphorical, and more individualistic than "humanistic" (defined below). Pagans choose love when it suits them; Christians have no choice but love if the kingdom of God is to be entered by all. Pagans commonly believe in reincarnation, so the need to make this life better is not urgent; another life will come along. My Christian theology stresses the use of our gifts to ensure that we are all invited to the kingdom of God, which is a metaphorical state rather than a supernatural afterlife. Certainly, pagans are spiritually aware, and one could make the claim that pagans collaborate with nature as I collaborate with God, but my studies of neo-paganism revealed little that was of use for this article.

In order to consider atheism, I have self-evaluated my theology against my knowledge of philosophical ideas. I see my theology as "humanistic Christianity" (a term I prefer over "Christian humanism"). The humanistic Christian uses the teachings of Christ to improve humanity. In contrast to neo-paganism, secular humanism is rigorously defined and specifies morality. Secular humanists argue against my mixing of theism and humanism. Briefly, the argument goes, humanism centers on human values and concerns, so once one adds God or Christ or theism into that mix, it's no longer humanism or atheism. That's technically true, but my theology suggests that Jesus would have agreed with most aspects of secular humanism, except for the "secular" part.

If secular humanism is so great, and if God is ineffable, why bother with God?
If my work is today, then why care about a long-term eschatology?

The Christian Bible, theistic as it is, provides profound wisdom for defining a human path. Jesus Christ provided such a profound example of using the wisdom of the Bible that I can't ignore Jesus and I am drawn to emulate Jesus. I perceive my relationships with humans and the universe to include a profoundly spiritual aspect. The perception of the presence of God in relationships is a leap of faith. I can't rationally prove the presence of God, but this presence gives me purpose. We are finite humans, with limited gifts and limited time, bu the successful invitation to all to the kingdom of peace and justice would be too profound for its effects to be limited to today. My relationships, my faith and my works survive me. May God's kingdom come (Luke 11:2).

Appendices

Biographical Notes

Here are some biographical notes on authors whose works were researched for this article.

Augustine's Sermon 242

Click to view Augustine's Sermon 242.

The Conductor by Gary Gocek

Click to view Gary's The Conductor.

On the Road to Emmaus by Gary Gocek

Click to view Gary's On the Road to Emmaus.

Interviews with Katharine Jefferts-Schori

Click to view Interviews with Katharine Jefferts-Schori.

Simeon's O Lord, I Have Seen You

Click to view Simeon's O Lord, I Have Seen You.

Nicene Creed

Click to view the Nicene Creed.

Bibliography

Click to view the bibliography.