Devotion and Rationalizations
The Jewish attitude toward those who promote devotion to Jesus is no different than their attitude toward those who promote devotion to the sun. All of the qualities that one may believe that Jesus possesses cannot justify devotion to him. Jesus’ supposed unparalleled popularity, his alleged ability to transform lives, his reputed courage in taking on a corrupt religious establishment and his professed humility would all be gifts granted to him by the One Creator of all (had he possessed any of these).
In the context of devotion the only quality that is relevant to the discussion is the quality of Creator. The Jews were worshipping the Creator long before Jesus was born. Jesus brought nothing new to the table in terms of Creator and there is nothing new that anyone can bring to the table in terms of Creator. God is the One Creator; He always was and He always will be and this simple truth can never change or be adjusted.
Where the Christian differs from some of the more crude pagans is not in the realm of devotion. The devotion that the followers of Jesus promote is no different than the devotion promoted by the worshipers of the sun. In both cases we are being encouraged to direct devotion toward a finite existence. Christianity separates itself from some of the pagan cults by the various rationalizations that it presents to justify devotion to Jesus, but not in the devotion itself.
Let us examine some of these rationalizations.
#1 – Christians contend that the devotion that they are encouraging is not the idolatry prohibited by Scripture because they do not worship Jesus’ physical body.
This argument is rooted in the false assumption that idolatry is limited to the worship of a physical body. I think that most Christians would recognize that worship of the spirit that animates an animal, the spirit of a person or an angel would all be considered idolatry. In fact most of those cultures that practiced obeisance to statues were not directing their devotion to the physical statue, but rather their hearts were directed toward the spirit that the statue represented.
God is the creator of both spirit and flesh (Zechariah 12:1). Both of these belong to God and to Him alone. Every body and every spirit and soul are completely subject to the One Creator of all. To give to any subject the devotion that belongs to the Master is idolatry.
# 2 – Christians contend that the spirit that inhabited the body of Jesus was “one and the same” as the God of Israel therefore worship of Jesus is not worship of “another god” prohibited by the Jewish Bible.
This argument is rooted in a misunderstanding of the term; “one and the same,” or in a misunderstanding of our relationship with God, or both.
We can say that two seemingly different entities are one and the same when they share the same elemental properties despite their seeming differences. Water and ice can be said to be one and the same because they both share the elemental ingredients of H2O. A person who appears in two different costumes can be said to be one and the same because the disguises do not define the essence of the person.
Certain things can never be “one and the same” simply because they describe two opposite elements of existence. Light and dark, hot and cold, holy and profane, good and bad can never be “one and the same” unless we are speaking of these qualities in relative terms (such as a room which can be considered both light and dark if it only partially illuminated). But when we speak of these concepts in absolute terms then they can never be “one and the same.”
When we focus on worship the critical terms are; Absolute Giver and the beneficiaries of His benevolence. These are two opposites that can never be “one and the same.”
When people saw Jesus as he walked the earth, or when thy find him in the pages of the Christian Scriptures they might identify him as a righteous person, a humble person, a wise person or a holy person. But they do not see Absolute Master, Creator of all, Source of all existence and the Ultimate Giver. All righteousness, holiness, wisdom, humility and self-sacrifice that abide in a human soul can only be gifts from the Source of all goodness. These qualities can only turn the person into a greater beneficiary of God’s benevolence; they can never turn him into Master.
The only way one can say that any given person is “one and the same” as God is if they do not understand the term; “one and the same,” of if they do not recognize that our worship of God is predicated on the fact that He is the Ultimate Giver and that anything that a finite existence possesses can only be a gift from God.
# 3 – Christians contend that Jesus is a “doorway” through which people come to God. As such, they see Jesus as inseparable from God.
This argument is rooted in the false assumption that God is inaccessible; it is rooted in a misunderstanding of the word “doorway” and in a misunderstanding of the word “inseparable.”
God is accessible to all who seek Him in sincerity (Psalm 145:18). All of the holy men and women who walked the earth before Jesus experienced a closeness to God without ever hearing of Jesus. Many saintly people experienced intimacy with God since the time of Jesus without having devoted themselves to Jesus. The claim that no one comes to the Father but through Jesus is demonstrably false.
To say that Jesus is inseparable from God is also patently false. Many people worship God and do not worship Jesus. Others, such as Unitarians, worship Jesus as a human being and not as a god. The fact that many Christians chose to fuse these two entities together in their minds does not make them inseparable. In fact, many Christians who have studied the matter recognized that their worship was misplaced and abandoned Jesus and remained with God. God and Jesus are certainly separable from one another.
The point of a doorway is that it provides a space through which one can access the area beyond. A doorway facilitates your approach to your ultimate goal. A doorway that demands to be carried with you wherever you go is no doorway; it is a distraction from the destination. No Christian denomination ever advocated that after an initial encounter with Jesus, one can forget about Jesus and get on with developing a relationship with God. Devotion to Jesus is a doorway to Jesus, not to God.
#4 – Christians contend that Jesus was a manifestation of God. They compare Jesus to the fire of the burning bush that Moses saw at Horeb (Exodus 3:4), to the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21), and to the Angel of the Lord that appears throughout the Jewish Scriptures (Exodus 23:20; Judges 6:12; Isaiah 63:9).
This argument is rooted in a misunderstanding of the relationship that the Jewish people share with God. The relationship between God and Israel includes many activities that are ancillary to the essence of the relationship. The essence of the relationship is God’s love for Israel and Israel’s love and reverence for God. As expressions of His love, God guides His people, He speaks to their prophets, and he protects them from their enemies. As expressions of Israel’s heart for God we offer sacrifices, we build a Temple and we follow His Law. All of these activities are only part of the relationship inasmuch as they express the heart of one party toward the other. If you remove the heart from these activities, they remain empty husks.
All of the manifestations of God that are found in Scripture relate to the ancillary aspects of the relationship. God showed His people that He chose Solomon’s Temple with a cloud of glory (1Kings 8:10), God accepted Elijah’s sacrifice with a fire from Heaven (1Kings 18:38), and God spoke to Abraham through the agency of an angel (Genesis 22:15). These have no impact on the essence of our relationship with God; namely, the love of our heart.
When God came to teach His people about the essence of our relationship with Him, they saw no image. God emphasized this point when He reminded His people of this covenantal encounter (Deuteronomy 4:15). The Sinai encounter was the definitive teaching about the heart of our relationship with God. And in this critical context the Scriptures emphasize that there was no manifestation at all.
Christianity’s claim for Jesus is a claim about the essence of the relationship. Christianity demands a love and a reverence for the person portrayed in the pages of the Christian Scriptures. This is not telling us at which location to bring our sacrifices, it is not guiding our travel and it is not merely bringing us a message. This is telling us where to direct our hearts. It is a teaching that attempts to place a finite existence into the essence of our relationship with God. This is idolatry.