Webmeister's note: This painting is a reproduction of "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512. Link at end to page in wikipedia.org, from which I downloaded it. JA.
Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, June 21, 2009.
"For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God" (I Cor. 11:12, NIV).
I thought about calling this essay, "Hail Mary, full of grace," but decided that shock value notwithstanding, it would not lead us in the direction where I feel led to go right now though it does have a bearing on this piece. The title comes from a spirited discussion between two friends about Karl Barth's enigmatic statement, "God does not need us" (The Epistle to the Romans, Pg. 35). It is found in his exegesis of Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith." Here's the context:
"The Gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question-mark against all truths. The Gospel is not the door but the hinge.... Anxiety concerning the victory of the Gospel, that is, Christian Apologetics, is meaningless, because the Gospel is the victory by which the world is overcome. By the Gospel, the whole concrete world is dissolved and established. It does not require representatives with a sense of responsibility, for it is as responsible for those who proclaim it as it is for those to whom it is proclaimed. It is the advocate of both. Nor is it necessary for the Gospel that Paul should take his stand in the midst of the spiritual cosmopolitanism of Rome; though he can, of course, enter the city without shame, and will enter it as a man who has been consoled by the Gospel. God does not need us. Indeed, if He were not God, He would be ashamed of us. We at any rate, cannot be ashamed of Him." End Quote.
One friend took the "pro" and the other the "con" of his statement that God does not need us. The one who agreed with it wrote, "My thoughts are, in the circles I have been in, God is sought after as 'a High.' People have a difficult time living in the lows or middles of every day life so they try to stay in 'a High' state of being in God. I see there is 'a Resting Place in Him' that is not an emotion.
"People are so self focused on wanting to be important and needed. The being needed or loved or used of God, or by God, becomes the focus and not God Himself. This is not a resting place; it is a place of scheming and planing God's next move. He continues to ask us to enter His Resting Place where He is everything and trust He is in control of all things. There can be so many voices in this walk. The place He has me, is to keep coming back to Him in that inner sanctuary to hear only His voice, His truth and in Him there is a KNOWING all is well." End quote.
My other friend expressed another point of view about Barth's statement, writing, "Because LOVE MUST GIVE, He needs us in order to pour forth His tremendous Love. His being given freely and abundantly to His wife, and she shall love Him back with the same love that He has given to her, she has taken on His name and identity and lost herself entirely in Him. So Yes, God needs us and He doesn't need us!!!! Only He can build and form the body He needs, but He needs the body. One body, one Spirit, one faith, one hope, one bread, one mind, one heart, One Father of us all." End quote.
The argument in favor of Barth's statement is based on an intellectual approach, whereas the argument against it is more emotional. In "God's Trombones," James Weldon Johnson wrote an emotionally satisfying and artistically beautiful account of the creation, which I recall like this: "It was darker than a hundred midnights down in the cypress swamp. God sat with His head in His hands, and said, 'I'm lonely. I'll make me a man.'" I've often thought that perhaps God loves us so much because He needs us to fellowship with, and yet, right now, against the backdrop of Barth's exposition of the Roman Letter, I can see that most probably, we have yet again created God in our image.
Parents have children for many reasons, maybe to have someone to take care of them in their old age, or maybe to have someone help them on the farm or in the business, but quite possibly, children are born because we have a need to share ourselves with them, to love them, to nurture them and see them grow in the glory of God. The dark side of this fantasy is that we often try to create them in our own image, which does not work because the "creator" job has been filled.
What does all of this have to do with Mary, Jesus' mother? I've long been interested in what keeps the Catholic Church viable. What is its appeal to the over one billion members? It can't be the doctrine, because that is very illogical, it seems to me. Why the devotion to Mary to the point of making her a "Co-Redemptrix?" Why are Catholics urged to pray the rosary? (It is a form of devotion in which the participants repeat five decades, or divisions of the rosary of "Hail Marys" preceded by an "Our Father" and followed by a "Glory Be"). They use a string of beads to help them keep count.
In surfing the TV channels, I stumbled across EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), a Catholic Channel, which broadcasts all over the planet. Mother Angelica, one of the teachers, is a sweet old nun who leads the recitation of the rosary, with the help of younger nuns who give the answering responses. They all appear to be in some sort of a trance, mechanically repeating the words with no emotion on their faces, and no deviation in the tone of voice. It's a thirty minute program where the only "plot" is the repetition of the Rosary, over and over. People write in and say how much this helps them to cope with their daily problems, and how it enhances their faith.
Whatever it is, I saw a prime example of what God has given me to write about, i.e., the difference between Life in the Spirit (Christ within) and religion (self effort, the need to drum up either a feeling or a result dependent upon our actions). All self effort is based on the premise that God needs something from us, that our salvation, or healing, or financial well being depends on our keeping the covenant. While that was certainly true under the Law of Moses, it is most certainly NOT true under the New Covenant, which fulfilled the Covenant God made with Abraham in Gen. 15, PAID IN FULL by the blood of the Lamb.
We have a friend who was brought up Catholic, and he explained Catholic devotion to Mary like this. If Jesus, the righteous and feared judge, should turn us away from heaven's door, we can go around back and Mary will let us in a window or the back door. When my generous sister and brother-in-law took us on a Mediterranean Cruise in 2004, we visited the Vatican. I was fascinated by Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" which spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel (Link at end to the page. It's worth your time to check it out). It's a huge panorama depicting his interpretation of the church doctrine of his day. Christ is standing, stern faced, arms crossed, not welcoming but fearsome, looking at the mass of humanity cowering below as He wreaks judgment upon the lost. Standing next to Him, Mary looks away in horror, to avoid seeing the fate of sinners. The artist has captured to a "tee" the chilling scenario of what most of us grew up with, i.e., hell fire and eternal damnation. This was the Catholic version of it, from which Protestant ideas originated.
What is it about all this that is so irresistible to so many? As a result of my friends' discussion and the Holy Spirit's processing, I came to see a little clearer into the mystery. Luke states that Mary was impregnated by the overshadowing of the Most High. The sperm of God entered her womb, fertilizing the ovum which was to become Christ, the fruit of her womb. The Bible says nothing about any qualifications she may have had to impel God to choose her among all others. She was willing, but her selection is surely sovereign election, not a reward for services rendered. She was a human woman who gave birth to a human baby, about which John said, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14).
What I've gathered from watching the Catholic channel is that they view God as "an other," far removed from them. Mary is their conduit to God whom they feel unworthy to approach alone. By decreeing that her own conception was immaculate they have reinforced the concept that flesh is too evil to contain God. (Pope Pius IX defined "ex cathedra" the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854, with the following: "We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful"), [From a Wikipedia article on the Immaculate Conception.]
If Mary were divinely conceived, do they think she was therefore not as sinful as the rest of us and thus more qualified to receive the sperm of God? In that scenario, Jesus would be more divine than human. In fact, Jesus was fully divine and fully human, which indeed is a mystery. He was tempted in all points like as we, and when you think of it, IF He didn't come in the flesh, but was only a spiritual apparition as the Gnostics suggested, then this limited view of the Incarnation does not help us.
Catholics believe that God needs us to be good, and Mary is our helper in that; Protestants possibly do not give Mary her due, but many have replaced her with the Bible; believing it helps them to be good, they have elevated it into the Godhead, making an idol out of the book. They are trying to live the Christian life by the letter of the Law rather than by the Spirit. IF we could be good, we would, but we cannot without the indwelling Spirit working through us and flowing out of us. Catholics have their mantra, "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death." Protestants mostly ignore Mary, but boast, "I have made a decision for Christ and gotten the victory." Any way you cut it, Catholics and Protestants, as well as Jews and Muslims, have put man in the drivers' seat, whereas Paul declared that "GOD was in Christ personally reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them" (II Cor. 5:19, Phillips). God is the power there, not man!
More than anyone I've ever read, Karl Barth writes about the all sufficiency of God in the affairs of men through the mystery and POWER of the Gospel. He is devastatingly scathing in his views of religion's attempts to "be good" and please God. His statement, "All men are standing on the same step before the righteousness of God," is merely a rephrasing of Paul's assertion that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). If that doesn't deflate your ego and pride, and put you on your knees, nothing will.
Because we cannot please God without surrendering our will to His, which He helps us to do, I conclude that God does NOT NEED us, but He does WANT us, and He WILL HAVE us. It was foreordained before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Nothing is up to us; but like Jesus, we do only what we see the Father doing and we say only what we hear Him saying. When we have an anointing of the Spirit, we have no need of any man or religion to lead us. God Himself will lead us through the valleys, across the mountain peaks, and give us rest by the still waters which calm our souls. In the name above all names, we rejoice and enter His rest. Amen. Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Michelangelo's Paintings on ceiling of Sistine Chapel
(Click on the "Last Judgment" to enlarge it. If you click on it 3 times, you can really see the detail well.)
Surrendering to God is harder than giving a cat a pill
Working for Jesus? Surrendering to God, II
Fighting the Good Fight? Surrendering to God, III
A Covenant With Death? Surrendering to God, IV
The Family Fix, Surrendering to God, V
Your Mortal Body, Surrendering to God, VI
Echoes From Sodom, Surrendering to God, VII
Judgment: His or Ours? Surrendering to God, VIII
Why did Christ have to die? Surrendering to God, IX
The Pearl of Great Price, Surrendering to God, X
Tested by Fiery Trials? Surrendering to God, XI
Sibling Rivalry, Surrendering to God, XII
When Parents and Churches Fail, Surrendering to God, XIII
The Blessed Hope of His Appearing, Surrendering to God, XIV
Does God Need Our Faith? Surrendering to God, XVI
The Glory Road
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This site was created on 06/12/09
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister