Jesus and Christ
Personal and Universal
Friday, February 15, 2019
A truly transformative God—for both the individual and all of history—needs to be experienced as personal and universal. Nothing less will fully work. If the overly personal (even sentimental) image of Jesus has shown itself to have severe limitations and problems, it is because this Jesus was not also universal. He became cozy and we lost the cosmic. History has clearly shown that worship of Jesus without worship of Christ invariably becomes a time- and culture-bound religion, often oppressive, misogynist, and racist, excluding much of humanity from God’s embrace.
I believe, however, that there has never been a single soul who was not possessed by the Christ, even in the ages before Jesus existed. Why would we want our religion or our God to be any smaller than that?
If you have felt wounded or excluded by the message of Jesus or Christ as you have heard it, I hope you sense an opening here—an affirmation, a welcome that you may have despaired of ever hearing.
If you have hoped to believe in God or a divinized world, but have never been able to mentally assent to the church’s doctrines, does this vision of Jesus the Christ help? If it helps you to love and to hope, then it is the true religion of Christ. No circumscribed group can ever exclusively claim that title!
If you have loved Jesus—perhaps with great passion and protectiveness—do you recognize that any God worthy of the name must transcend creeds and denominations, time and place, nations and ethnicities, and all the vagaries of gender and sexuality, extending to the limits of all we can see, suffer, and enjoy? All of our human differences are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.
This is why I can see Christ in my dog, the sky, and all creatures, and it’s why you, whoever you are, can experience God’s unadulterated care for you in your garden or kitchen. You can find Christ’s presence in your beloved partner or friend, an ordinary beetle, a fish in the deepest sea that no human will ever observe, and even in those who do not like you and those who are not like you.
This is the illuminating light that enlightens all things, making it possible for us to see things in their fullness. Light is less something we see directly and more something by which we see all other things. When Jesus Christ calls himself the “Light of the World” (John 8:12), he is not telling us to look just at him, but to look out at life with his all-merciful and non-dualistic eyes. We see him so we can see like him—with the same infinite compassion.
When your isolated “I” turns into a connected “we,” you have moved from Jesus to Christ. We no longer have to carry the burden of being a perfect “I” because we are saved “in Christ” and as Christ. Or, as Christians say correctly, but too quickly, at the end of our official prayers: “Through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.”
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 36-37.