Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Visions of the Son of God

December 24th, 2011 by Vader

And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain…   

John’s astonishment at having his attention called to a Lion, only to behold a Lamb, is representative of the conflict between the expectations of the Jews of a Messiah who would come in His Glory, and the actual realization of the Messiah as a working class stone mason from Nazareth who became the Suffering Servant. The Jews were not alone in having an imperfect vision of their Messiah: I submit that all human visions of the Son of God are distorted in some respects. Fortunately, many also have a grain of truth to them. The trick is sorting out the grain from the chaff, and then making sure it is the chaff and not the grain that we carefully discard.

In the discussion that follows, I will mostly not be careful to distinguish Son from Father, since, even in our nontrinitarian LDS view, the Son is one with the Father in purposes and passions.

God as Oriental Despot. God has gotten a lot of bad press for the Great Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,  various other greater and lesser catastrophes, and, perhaps most of all, for the existence of Hell. Mormonism offers some relief from this harsh vision, in writings like Moses 7, where God is convulsed with sorrow for His erring children. Even D&C 19, which starts with a vision of eternal punishment as terrifying as anything out of Dante or Bosch, is softened by the declaration that Hell is a transitory state meant to purge us of our unholiness.

Nevertheless, so great is the rebelliousness of man that God must continue to stand ready to put on His angry face, and even Christ was prepared to drive the moneychangers from His Father’s House with a whip.

God as Santa Claus. At the other extreme, popular with children of all ages, is the view of God as a kind of jolly old elf who no one sees, but who we believe in because He occasionally and capriciously give us nice things. According to this view, if He has failed to be very generous to much of humanity throughout its history, it’s only because many of us are inexplicably blind to how easily He is flattered. “Knock, and ye shall receive.” A slightly less immature version of this teaches that our prayer of supplication should start off as a prayer of thanksgiving, presumably to soften Him up a bit before we begin our wheedling.

In a great and good Conference talk, Elder Bednar offered an effective antidote to some aspects of this thinking.

God as the complete Other. Popular amongst the liberal Christianity of today is the belief that Hell is, at worst, an overblown metaphor for the angst of those who find they haven’t quite made the cut. This is closely related to the concept of God as pure Other, utterly untouched and untouchable by the world He created. This distant, majestic, incomprehensible God seems like a Being that would appeal to Jonathan Swift in his most misanthropic moments, and who among us has not felt like giving up on the rotten human race at times? Here what I mean by “giving up” is not abandoning to Hell, but just abandoning.

Unsurprisingly, this view of God leads in many cases to a rejection of the literal divinity of Jesus Christ. Which brings us to:

Christ as Earthy Sage. Few calling themselves Christians have been quite as blunt as Thomas Jefferson or his modern-day counterparts of the Jesus Seminar, who enthusiastically trimmed the visions and miracles out of the New Testament to leave only an itinerant Jewish sage they would be comfortable sitting down and drinking a beer with. I prefer the more straightforward honesty of those Unitarians who no longer even pretend to call themselves Christians. “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

These have their counterparts among those LDS who regard the Book of Mormon as pious fiction and the testimony of the Three and the Eight Witnesses as folie à deux, a kind of sacred mass hysteria.

God as Republican. Then there are those who cannot quite let go of the original Jewish expectation of a Messiah to bring political reform. Surely Christ would not approve of abortion on demand, widespread availability of pornography, gay marriage, and so on. Well, no, He wouldn’t; but it is a fallacy to think that this translates into support for the Republican Party.

God as Democrat. It’s a bipartisan fallacy. Substitute Iraq, poverty, greed, and Democratic Party, and the previous statement still works.

God as Libertarian. Well, okay, not just bipartisan.

God as kitschy holiday symbol. Four words: Star Wars Holiday Special. Let us speak no more of this.

God as Elephant. This is the famous analogy to the blind men and the elephant, each touching only one part of the creature and trying vainly to extrapolate to the whole. One cannot help but be sympathetic to this view, which after all has quite a lot of truth in it. Our vision of God is going to be largely shaped by our own experiences with Him, and these will differ somewhat from person to person. But if God is an elephant, He is not also a swan, a bull, or a cloud, like protean Zeus taking whatever shape will seduce the fair maiden du jour. God is Who He is, and our spiritual explorations must eventually converge on His Reality. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” we must be prepared to edify each other.

Christ as Holy Child. As in Christmases past, I give the final word to the English mystic and visionary, William Blake:

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee life, & bid thee feed

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight;

Softest clothing, wooly, bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice?

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb.

He is meek, & he is mild;

He became a little child.

I a child, & thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

And thus we come full circle. Merry Christmas to you all.

Comments (1)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , , ,
December 24th, 2011 13:27:30
1 comment

Adam G.
December 27, 2011

A very Merry 3rd day of Christmas to you, and thanks for this insightful message.

I humbly offer this complement to your reflections:


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