Friday, October 9, 2009

George Fox: Christ, but not to rule over them

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” (Col. 3:15):
The world would have a Christ, but not to rule over them; the nature of the world is above Christ in man until Christ hath subdued that nature in man.
George Fox, from "Mind The Heavenly Treasure," a collection of devotions.

"The world would have a Christ, but not to rule over them." Isn't this the heart of our troubles: that we want Jesus, "but not to rule over us?" Isn't that the issue in the Society of Friends--that many want the beautiful aesthetic of Jesus, the love, the joy, the peace, the forgiveness, but within the context of a Jesus molded to our liking, so that we can control him? Isn't that at the core of our endless debating and overthinking about the resurrection, the Virgin birth, the divinity of Christ? That we want to reduce him a to great sage, put him on the level with other great sages, on a level with us? We're drawn to him ... there's an irresistible magnetism that reaches out across the ages and pulls us in towards him ...but we resist the implications of this power.

It's very few, however, who will diss Jesus openly,who are not on some level, in awe of him. We'll attack Paul without a second thought, as we will the institution of the church, but when it comes to Jesus, we treat him gently. Even Hitler was in awe of him--or at least afraid of his followers. Instead, like us, he attacked Paul: "that Jew" as he called him, the one who turned the "Aryan warrior" Jesus into something else. Aren't we still doing that? Not attacking Paul for being Jewish, but attacking Paul or the Church for making Jesus uncomfortable to us instead of confronting the idea that Jesus himself may be uncomfortable to us?

We are, as Ben Witherington put it, a Jesus-haunted culture.

We "would have a Christ." We love the idea of Christ, and if not Jesus himself, then his surrogates--Fox, Woolman, Francis of Assisi. So many Quakers would, ironically, want to start the faith at Fox, as if Fox were not explicitly living out the words of Jesus ... or want to start with a Jesus as man, Jesus stripped of the difficulties, the miracles, the grandeur, the majesty.

We would have a Christ but not to rule over us.

What if we, wildly, radically, impossibly, behaved as if --"as if"--isn't that what faith is?-- the whole story were true and not pick out the parts that allow us superiority? Of course, people don't rise from the dead and ascend to heaven after walking for a time on the earth. Of course, virgins don't give birth. There's nothing radical or remarkable in asserting that these things can't be true. It's completely ordinary to reject them. (Paul knew this. That's why he called himself "a fool for Christ.") The extraordinary move is to recognize that the seeming impossible might be real because that is to recognize that the world and the universe as we know them might be more miraculous--and multidimensional and sacred and wild-- than they seem. Doing that involves a paradigm shift.

What if we would have a Christ to rule over us?

Then, Fox says, we would have peace in our hearts. And from that peace in our hearts would flow peace within the Society of Friends. Do you agree with this?


Hystery said...

This topic is key in my thoughts these days. I've been spending some time with it. I wish so much I had the benefit of being able to sit together with you to hear your thoughts more completely. Online communication is so inelegant and limited. I know I miss so much of the nuance of your thoughts because I cannot see your face or hear your voice.

Please correct me if I am misunderstanding. Is it the belief in Christ as God (as opposed to beloved philosopher for instance)that would make him rule over us?

Raye said...



Diane said...

Bill and Raye,
Hard to argue with amen! Good to hear from you Bill.


The short answer to your question I think is yes, but as you point out, saying that loses quite a bit of nuance. It makes me feel boxed into a corner where I'll be attacked as denigrating others or as a hater or ... something. So I agree with you that a longer discussion would be helpful!!! Love you!!!!

forrest said...

I think if we want to get to this logically, we'd have to start with Jesus as Messiah, that is, the divinely appointed king of Israel. Still legally king because still alive... and then, if one is thinking of the Christians as honorary Israelites, we'd have to include ourselves. (Anyone else could join, so long as they were up to the minimal requirements for God-fearing goyim, right?)

Diane said...

Hi Forrest,

Thanks for the comment. I respect going at things logically but I think I am also trying to push this beyond the bounds of reason and logic, to embrace the wildness, the danger, the unknown, the giddy foolishness that comes when "Christ rules over us."
But more than that, I think it's probably not fruitful, at least with liberal Friends, to talk or argue about whether Jesus is God, because what does that mean ... and then we get caught up in the semantics of "God." I could write a blog and maybe will on how we both put way too much weight and way too little on the God concept. What I think is really important however--though I do think Jesus is God, at least the only God I want to worship--is that we Quakers consider radically reorienting our relationship with Jesus. It could start from the premise that we don't understand him and that he is above us and can teach us ... Jesus can get so domesticated and who are we to do that? How dare we? That's why the Gospel of Thomas is so refreshing--it's this wildly other set of sayings that are uncontextualized, undomesticated, not made comfortable or "understandable" for us. What if instead of fitting him into our box, we tried to fit ourselves into his box or embrace his wildness for an unpredictable ride?

Hystery said...

Thanks for your answer. Obedience to Christ is really important to me so I appreciate reading your perspective which is passionate and love-filled.

forrest said...

What I'm saying... One of the holes in my head is starting to fill in, and I could see roughly how things ought to fit together when it settles.

We had the Jews awaiting a king who would restore the nation, vindicate their vision of God, subdue their pesky polytheist neighbors--and we ended up with Christians saying incoherent things about an avatar of God, still embodied & still God somehow, who had wandered through Palestine emitting a bewildering combination of wisdom, calamitous prophecy, and miracles, then fell victim to governmental foul play because God needed this result to make things work out right. Christians claimed there was a direct connection between the expectation and the outcome, but one just about needed to pound the stuff into a sort of mental emulsion to make it hold together even precariously.

And now we moderns have been given what? The wise and simple teacher of platitudes is passe; now we get a feisty prophetic defender of the poor and the Torah--but still, why did those poor superstitious folks think he was The Messiah? (~'Certainly he himself wasn't crazy enough to have believed that!') This guy is a lot closer to what I saw in Jesus when I first read the synoptics, but he doesn't add up either! I have to account for the "Messiah" identity by the simple notion that somebody qualified, presumably John the Baptist, anointed (effectively crowned) him king and left him with the problem of dealing with the armed-&-dangerous de facto regime. But then, I've had to wonder, how did we go from Jesus to the rich-&-strange territory of Christianity?

Being crucified would seem to render a candidate ineligible to be Messiah, dead people being effectively out of the running... but if God resurrects the person to strength & health afterwards, this, as his supporters saw it, was a powerful act of vindication. Said supporters continued to gather together, awaiting the time when God would give Jesus de facto power over Israel--and meanwhile, somewhat as the Book of Acts had it, they started finding adherents among the ex-pagans who frequented synagogues outside of Israel. (This changed everything; there was quite an argument about whether and how to include these converts... and the pesky polytheists who once persecuted Israel have since become pesky monotheists, for whatever that's worth!)

What I was about in my previous comment... What claim does this Jesus person have, to rule over anyone? To a Jew, if he's the Messiah his authority is automatic. To the rest of us (and while I think Jesus is very like God, so are we when we can let God work through us) it's less automatic, unless (as people originally thought of it) to be Christian is to belong to Israel's goyim auxilary. A voluntary matter, then--but he's got my vote! Not so much for a literal attempt to live like good 1st Century Galileans, but to seek that connection to God needed before any human institutions whatsoever can work humanely.

Johan Maurer said...

This entry gave me a generous portion of sheer joy.

Diane said...




It is an improbable story. I agree with "A voluntary matter, then--but he's got my vote! Not so much for a literal attempt to live like good 1st Century Galileans, but" AND ESPECIALLY THIS: " to seek that connection to God needed before any human institutions whatsoever can work humanely." Yes.

Frederick said...

Diane, (and Hystery),

I really liked Diane's response about how we could "radically reorient our relationship with Jesus." As a liberal Friend, I too share your worry that talking about whether Jesus is divine just brings up fruitless arguments -- there's all these essentialist definitions. But what Jesus *did* is what matters, I think. It's the dynamic. I hesitate to go here in a short comment, but it's really his approach to the cross, and what God did after the cross, that inspire me.