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‘To BE or not To Be’

Shakespeare“To be, or not to be that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…”

Unlike the above words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s soliloquy — in which the individual bemoans his lot — suffering the lot of the ‘outrageous fortunes’ that befall mankind —living an unexamined fruitless — even pointless existence — the author of Psalm 27 afirms his trust in the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures:

 “The Lord is my light and my salvation –
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life –
of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 27V1 (Latin:Domninus Illuminatio Mea) is the motto of Oxford University.

Oxfors University Motto

The  key verbs in the first verse of the psalm are forms of the verb ‘to be’: ‘is’ and the infinitive of the verb ‘be’. The psalmist is giving evidence for the validity of his confidence in God. God IS his ‘light’  and IS his ‘stronghold’therefore he shall not BE afraid.The verb ‘to be’ is one of the cornerstones of the English language: ‘I was, she has been, they were coming, he used to be. I am.’

According to the Gospel of John [not popular for many of the postmodern mindset], Jesus used the verb ‘to be’ rather a lot — some would say ‘excessively’.  Jesus said, one could say, some rather odd things regarding himself.  It is a question of identity — in other words, ‘to be or not to be’ is the ultimate question regarding the nature of ‘being’ [ontology] and, essential to Christian orthodoxy — the nature and personhood of Jesus Christ:

  • I Am the bread of Life [John 6:35 & 48]
  • I Am the light of the world [John 8:12]
  • I Am the door/gate [John 10:7 & 9]
  • I Am the good shepherd [John 10:11]
  • I Am the resurrection and the life [John 11:25]
  • I Am the way and the truth and the life [John 14:6]
  • I Am the true vine [John 15:1]

Not forgetting John 8:58: “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

If Jesus actually said these things, and there is sufficient reason for believing so, then we don’t have much ‘wiggle room’ as these ‘I Am’ statements from the Gospel of John are not difficult to interpret.  The ‘I AM’ statements leave little room for misunderstanding. Bread is ‘the stuff of life’, yet Jesus is not simply referring to physical food but rather to the fact that he is the very one who sustains life itself. He is THE, definitive, ‘Bread of Life’. [1]Likewise with his mention of being ‘the light of the world’. What could he possibly mean other than HE [alone] illuminates the way to ‘journey’? The same applies to the ‘gate or door’.

shepherds ead

Shepherds, of course, lead their sheep — there are though, some who ‘lead’ them ,the sheep following — or being driven — in the wrong direction.

Lewis CS

In his best selling book, Mere Christianity, C S. Lewis said that for Jesus to claim equality with God he would have to be either Mad, Bad or God; the other option that comes to mind is ‘Deluded’. The alternative to these three possibilities is: Lord, Liar, Lunatic, and ‘Legend’. However, one doesn’t have to be bad or mad to be deluded. Neither should we conclude, along with the quite recent ‘historical fictional’ accounts of his life, that the stories about Jesus are nothing more than Legend. However, Jesus, most informed people would agree, was not mad or bad neither was he a myth. The problem comes though when we get to the third option ‘God’.

There are many who would prefer to say that Jesus must have been delusional as there is no other acceptable possibility. Of course it was no fault of his own but maybe as a result of overwork — all the healings, speaking, and especially the fasting. Of course, when we make our decisions based on what we actually read in the Gospel accounts we have to admit that the events recorded have a ‘ring of authenticity’. There would, of course, be no point suggesting that Jesus was deluded unless we were basing this notion of delusion on the gospel narratives. A better option would be to say that the gospel accounts are in error i.e. Jesus never suggested that he was ‘The Resurrection and The Life’ .

Who would say such a thing anyway?

Light of the world

Exert from ‘Walls that Divide’ by Derek White [2010]

[1] John’s Gospel has traditionally been the target for critics [a] historically  because it is written as an apologetic—so ‘can’t be true’ and [b] more recently because it is too definite in its insistence that Jesus is the only way to God—especially in the ‘light’ of other gospel contenders: Thomas et el. ‘The Word becoming flesh [incarnation]’ is an unequivocal part of the doctrine of the Trinity; that Jesus of Nazareth  is the eternal son of God is an essential part of John’s purpose in writing the ‘fourth’ Gospel. As a matter of interest, Simon Gathercole, in his book ‘The Pre-existent Son’ argues convincingly that this doctrine is clearly evident in the Synoptic Gospels as well.

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