Credo V

“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…”

In the beginning, God creates mankind in his own image. Then, with the birth of Jesus, God creates Himself in mankind’s image. This has lovely literary and theological symmetry, but it is so difficult to understand.

Does the mind that conceived gravity, wrote the laws of thermodynamics and motion, structured quantum mechanics and relativity principles, designed the the DNA molecule and the Higgs bosun, now become confined to what a 1400 gram human brain can know? Do the hands that once formed the Milky Way now become limited to the skills of a carpenter? Does the creator of the universe become re-created in the womb of a woman?

It seems unlikely.

But there are reasons to believe this unlikely truth. First, Jesus said so. Therefore, He either had a severe mental illness involving delusions of grandeur, or he was exactly who he said he was: the human incarnation of the eternal and almighty God. Since his other teachings had wisdom rather than insanity, it is hard to believe Him to suffer from a serious mental illness. He doesn’t sound insane; He sounds like the Son of God.

The second reason to accept what Jesus said about Himself, is that three people who knew him well, and one person who talked to many of the people who knew Him well, wrote down what He said and what He did. And while all four of them differed in many details, they all agreed on one thing: Jesus is the Son of God. Since then, millions, possibly billions, of people have had experiences like them and like me. Jesus personally convinces us that He is the Son of God.

I can’t think of another historical figure who claimed to be the Son of God and the people who knew them best also affirmed the claim. Certainly, there have been founders of great world religions, like Buddha and Mohammed, but they never claimed to be God. And certainly men have claimed to be god–various psychotics whom we currently heavily sedate and frequently confine to institutions, and megalomaniacs who happened to rule the Roman Empire or the nineteenth-century Empire of Japan–but the people who know them best didn’t agree. They weren’t gods.

It is easy to believe something similar to “Son of God”: I am a child of God. Fair enough. Does that mean Jesus is just another child of God? A kind of spiritual sibling? Brother Jesus?

I don’t think so. If we recognize that God in the form of Jesus has taken on the limitations of humanity, e.g. become the Son of God, but is still God in some difficult to understand cosmic sense, then He is also Lord. And although that concept is not difficult to accept on paper, it has been a difficult concept for me to live out.

In the middle of my first year in college I had no idea what to major in or what kind of job I would want after I finished college. That may have been due to lack of exposure to the big world, perhaps. My grandfather was the first in our lineage to finish elementary school and learn to read and write. My father was the first to finish high school. My generation would be the first to go to college. But, other than the teachers at school, the preachers at church and the doctor that we saw once a year, I didn’t know any college graduates. Our neighborhood and my family were populated by mailmen and mill workers, cooks and clerks, policemen and firemen, carpenters and bricklayers, farmers and storekeepers. Yet, from my earliest memory I was expected to go to college.

Now, here I was in the middle of a legacy dream with no clear idea on how to proceed. So, one afternoon midway through my second quarter and before trying to register for third quarter classes, I lay down on my bed and asked the Lord to guide me. I figured since He wanted me to know He was real from my experience in the rain when I was fourteen, He might have some direction I should go when I was eighteen. It sure was not obvious to me.

I got no answer. But I mused about who I was and what I was good at and what I liked. I faced the facts that I was pretty good at science but didn’t love it, and I loved literature and the arts but wasn’t particularly good at it. I’d heard that medicine was an art and a science, so on that thin bit of reasoning, I got up and the next day registered for the first of my pre-med classes.

Was that guidance from the Lord or the musings of a dumb eighteen-year-old? I don’t know. At lots of points in my life I prayed for guidance and never got what I thought was a clear answer. I made the best decision I could at the time and moved on. That’s pretty much the pattern of subsequent critical decisions in my life, and I always wondered if I was on the right path. I mean, what good is it to have a “Lord” if He doesn’t tell you what to do?

Sure, there’s following the principles He laid out in the Bible. The Ten Commandments, which, if I’m being totally honest, I treated back then as the Ten Suggestions. There’s the Beatitudes; but being blessed for being poor in spirit didn’t resonate with me and I never quite understood what it was to be blessed. There’s the Shema: Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; but how to do that? And, of course, the golden rule: Love your neighbor as yourself; but I have to say I defined “neighbor” as people I liked (clearly not Jesus’ intention). So I stumbled through life full of hypocrisy, imperfection, and uncertainty.

I may have suspected that the noise of the world was drowning out the voice of the Lord, but I thought I was doing pretty good–not perfect but better than most and asking forgiveness in a general sense at each monthly communion service. By claiming salvation by grace, I guess I fulfilled the minimum entry requirements to heaven. Coupling complacency with grace may still have gotten me into heaven, but it didn’t let me hear the the voice of the Son of God.

Then one afternoon I prayed an honest prayer, one I’m embarrassed to share: “Lord, I know I’ve been really sinful in the past, but I’ve put those things behind me and now I’m doing pretty good. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any serious sins I’m committing. So, Lord, show me my sin.”

Now that’s a prayer that is as arrogant as it is honest, and maybe the only reason I dared pray it was that, based on past experience, I wasn’t expecting an immediate and literal answer.

“You’re greedy,” said The Voice in my head that was not my own.

“How can You say that?” I replied with amazing temerity considering who I must have been talking to. “I give to multiple charities and tithe to my church.”

“You do that because you can afford it.”

Well, granted. By this time my income was such that we lacked for nothing even after what I considered my generosity. But I didn’t want to tell Him that.

The Voice continued. “You were invited to a mission trip and you didn’t go because of greed.”

“That wasn’t the reason,” I said. “I could afford the $2500. I didn’t do it because I couldn’t leave my practice for the sixteen days the trip would take.”

“You don’t want to leave your practice because you are afraid of losing three weeks worth of billing.”

And this was true. It was more than simply giving up my paycheck for three weeks. If I didn’t work for three weeks, I wouldn’t bill for the income that paid for my employees’ salaries, the office rent, insurance in its various forms. It was potentially a lot of money and was truly the reason I never even considered going on this mission trip.

“It’s past the deadline to sign up,” I said, but by now the argument was lost. I was making excuses.

“Make the call,” said The Voice.

So I made the call and went on the mission and became a little more humble and a little more generous. If I became poorer as a result, I haven’t noticed it. What I have noticed is that since then I have had moments, sometimes on mission trips, sometimes in the operating room, sometimes sitting with a friend, or even a stranger, when, despite whatever physical discomforts or dangers or embarrassment I faced, I had the pure knowledge and joy that in those moments I was doing exactly what I was created to do.

And that’s the payback. If I choose to live as a child of God, a being with purpose and destiny, if I allow Him to be my Lord. He is the Son of God, but we can choose to let Him be Lord.