My friend Meng Chen, atheist and purveyor of Daoist philosophy, is the only person that I am aware of wrestling seriously with the writing out at everdeepening.org. After reading The Soul Comes First, he began working his way through the New Testament during his slack hours at work. He was pretty scandalized by it – all the blood and suffering. What elicited umbrage in him, however, was the obscurity of the parables. The Parable of the Unjust Servant [Luke 1:12] was particularly offensive. In this, an embezzler is called before his manager, and made aware that he will be fired the next day. To curry favor with prospective employers, the servant trades their indebtedness for a fraction of the amount owed. When apprised of this the next day, the manager praises the resourcefulness of the servant, although warning that the servant’s concern for things of this world will cost him eternal riches.
Now this seems to communicate a terrible precedent. But it is of a type with many of the parables. Jesus sets up a recognizable human situation (such as the decadent son), elaborates depraved behavior (the son squandering his inheritance), and then contradicts all of our expectations for human justice by an award of forgiveness (the father dressing the repentant son in his own robe). The brilliance of the method is to situate the hearer in dilemmas that they understand, dilemmas that they may confront every day. From there, he is led into the most despicable of choices – choices that are probably close to his own heart and mind, but that are easy to condemn. And then the paradox: condemnation is not delivered, but forgiveness and celebration. Obviously, the master and father are not people we would recognize. Rather, they are God, the God of Genesis that similarly forgave Cain.
The virtue of parables is that they resonate differently in the minds of the hearer depending upon his specific concerns. Jesus may have offered the Parable of the Unjust Servant to his disciples, and a meaningful message is to be found for them. But among those disciples would also have been the Temple spies, and in their ears this story would have had a different focus. For was not the priesthood God’s accounting firm? Did they not accept money for sin sacrifice in the temple? To them, Jesus was suggesting “Forgive the debts you have recorded. Doubly: cast aside the profits you gather in the settlement of sin. The Father will admire and reward your generosity.”
In this teaching, we hear the incredible mercy of Jesus reaching out even to those that he knows will destroy him. He recognizes their frailty in the face of the enormous burden they are required to carry, made more difficult in their age by the power of the state that allowed mere men to behave as though they were gods.
In terms recognized in the modern era, the nature of this danger was first made explicit to me when reading A General Theory of Love (Lewis, Amini and Landon). Written by three psychotherapists, the book begins with a survey of the nature of human psychological experience – our relationships, neurophysiology and neurochemistry. Then at the end of chapter three, the authors take the trolley off the tracks. They state (I paraphrase): “We will now describe the psychotherapeutic process. In therapy, the therapist enters into the experience of trauma with the patient, and as the moment is reached, suggests to them: ‘Not that way. Go this way instead.’ In this intimacy, the success of the treatment is entirely dependent upon the moral clarity and courage of the therapist. If either of them fails, the therapist becomes trapped in the patient’s trauma.”
Here at WordPress, I have encountered a number of therapists that decry the Diagnostic Standards Manual and its emphasis on pharmacology. They perceive that our society is failing its most sensitive members, those that empathize with suffering but lack the power to change the circumstances that cause it. Much of their behavior is an attempt to anaesthetize or redirect their suffering. But many therapists in training are not prepared to confront such psychic agony. They are trained to a mechanical model of mind, learning theory and practice in sterile lecture-hall settings, and so are unprepared to confront agony when they encounter it. Their response is to withdraw and write a prescription that suppresses the outward signs of trauma.
In effect, this is the same response taken by the temple priests: rather than dealing with the trauma of sin, they transferred the cost to other beings – innocent animals sacrificed in atonement. The goal was to keep the people pure. What Jesus came to point out was that this did not solve the problem of sin – it merely shifted it away temporarily, allowing it to gather to assault the sacred community again and again and again. The only way to solve the problem of sin was for the strong to shoulder the burden for the weak.
The Garden of Eden describes a community that obtained that strength through direct relation with God. When we chose to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we lost that protection. Our religions and social sciences are institutions created in our search as a species for methods to organize resources sufficient to overcome the psychological trauma of the violent processes of Darwinian evolution. That strength was not inherent in us. It had to be created in us through our own effort.
Prior to the modern era, it was on the Rabbis and Priests and Gurus that responsibility was settled for delivering on all of God’s magnificent promises. We know them “Every tear will be wiped. Every fear will be banished.” How could we expect our religious leaders to possess such means, when if they did the era of paradise would be manifested in an instant? And so they broke – and continue to break – under the weight of their burden.
And so here I am to announce: that is not justice. It is no person’s place to stand in evidence of love in our hearts. No person can wash away the wounds of trauma, for they all seek refuge in God from their own trauma. Each person must find their healing in the open chambers of their own heart, with God.
The history of religious tolerance was marked by revolutions against the hypocrisy of religious authority. But that in itself is hypocrisy: no man stands between you and God, only your own fear that love is insufficient to deliver healing. Paradise enters the world when we stop shifting our burdens onto those we establish as idols, whether in temples or churches, and surrender ourselves to God’s ministry.
Jesus did not write a Gospel because no words can describe that feeling: the feeling of infinite compassion and mercy encountered in the heart that receives God. When it is felt, we cease to rail against our idols. Rather, we offer “Thank-you for your service. I am sorry that I placed my burdens on you. Let me give you rest and ease, as I have found rest and ease in Christ.”
And for those with ears to hear: This is how you will know him when he returns. Your hearts will shout with joy.