The escalation: Putting Faith to the test. (Part 3: The day of the test is now.)

But take away the possibility of offense, as has been done in Christendom, and all Christianity becomes direct communication, and then Christianity is abolished, has become something easy, a superficial something that neither wounds nor heals deeply enough; it has become the false invention of purely human compassion that forgets the infinite qualitative difference between God and man.

Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity

Two concepts that are central to Kierkegaard’s radical Christianity are:

(1) That the enemy of Faith is not Doubt but rather our willingness to succumb to the Offense.

(2) That Truth can only become part of my life when I – by myself – have wrestled with it. Only when I have concluded that it is True, will I truly believe it.

These have immediate consequences: The first one means that if my faith is to be tested – the way gold is tested and purified by fire, as Peter says – then that test must put me at the crossroads, it must expose me to the real possibility of being offended. The test is meaningless if doesn’t put me in danger of losing my “faith”, giving up, and turning away from God.

Does this seem too risky to you?

Does this seem too harsh to you?

Does this idea offend you?

If it bothers you, I recommend spending some time with Abraham, whom we call the Father of Faith. The best conversation to be had with him would be on the way to Mount Moriah, as he goes to sacrifice his promised son by the command of the very God that gave that son to him.

The second concept that Kierkegaard emphasizes is that if I want to teach a student a subject, the worst thing I can do is tell that student all the “facts” as if they were established and beyond question. Because if I do that, the student then spends no effort in learning. The student will simply believe the facts on the basis of my authority; and will dutifully parrot them back to me whenever I so require. (Which seems fair enough since, after all, aren’t I the one that will examine their proficiency at the end of the course?)

This teaching approach is what Kierkegaard calls direct communication. It requires nothing of the student but to be a passive receptacle.

But if I want that student to really know the subject, what I need to do is teach that student how to think about that subject. And that can only be done by forcing the student to wrestle with the concepts. I must force the student to ask questions, to test the “facts” against each other, and see if they stand as self-consistent. The students must prove to themselves  that it all makes sense.

If I succeed at that, the students will never doubt the truth of what they have learned and will be able to use that truth with confidence to discover – on their own – new and deeper truths.

This second method is known as the Socratic or maieutic method. It is what Kierkegaard called indirect communication. And he tells us it is crucial for the teaching of Truth, God’s Truth, because in that regard, any possibility that you might believe that Truth based on my human authority is totally counterproductive. If it is Truth, then you, the student must ask the hard questions and reach the conclusions on your own.

On matters of the spirit, your spirit, no human being has the right (or the power) to take an intermediary position between you and God. God Loves you. He wants this conversation, this relationship to be between Him and you: One on one.

Therefore, the teaching of the Gospel, teaching about God’s love, is an especially delicate endeavor. I have to do all I can to faithfully present the story of Jesus, to show how it is all woven together in the plan of eternity, and then I have to step back and say: Please, don’t believe this because I tell you to… You read it yourself, and then you judge it.

Does this seem too risky to you?

Aren’t I putting too much responsibility on you?

After all you are only a student, I am the learned professor…

Now increase the difficulty to the nth power.

If teaching by indirect communication seems a hard way to teach, imagine what it was like for Jesus. If anyone could have demanded that He be believed on the basis of His authority, it would have been Him. He was the Son of God. He was the promised Messiah. He, in fact, was the Creator. Remember?

John 1:3 All things received being through him, and without him not one [thing] received being which has received being.

But precisely for all those reasons, He could not risk direct communication. That is one of the reasons He never bowed to the pressure of the religious leaders (and the crowd in John chapter 6) when they asked Him to prove His authority by bringing about a sign from Heaven.

Can you imagine if He had? Thunder and lightning, fire coming down from heaven… who wouldn’t have bowed down in terror? Not a single person would have dared say they did not believe in Him.

Would that have been faith? No, it would have been the result of coercion.

And so, Jesus lived among us exactly as one of us… human in every appearance, even to the point of bleeding like any of us. He lived the perfect incognito: He was God with us (Immanuel) and yet never demanded that we bow to His will… because as He said:

John 6:38 …I am come down from heaven, not that I should do *my* will, but the will of him that has sent me.

He carried this incognito, this obsession with indirect communication, to the very end. Even when His life hung in the balance…

Luke 22:66-68 And when it was day, the elderhood of the people, both [the] chief priests and scribes, were gathered together, and led him into their council, saying, If *thou* art the Christ, tell us. And he said to them, If I tell you, ye will not at all believe; and if I should ask [you], ye would not answer me at all, nor let me go;

And to prove that statement, Mark records for us in his gospel that Jesus then said (Mark 14:62) “I am.” And He followed up with:

Luke 22:69 but henceforth shall the Son of man be sitting on the right hand of the power of God.

Was that a direct answer? It would be if He had backed it up with the power expected of that personage. But to just call Himself the Son of Man, even with the prophetic implications, was not enough to condemn Him. Others had come before with messianic aspirations. So, his judges pressed harder:

Luke 22:70 And they all said, *Thou* then art the Son of God? And he said to them, *Ye* say that I am.

And there it is: the same answer He gave Pilate when he asked Him if He was a King.

You say that I am.

In the end, that is the bottom line: When faced with all the evidence, when the question has to be answered by us, what do we say? We know the conclusion that tribunal reached:

Luke 22:71 And they said, What need have we any more of witness, for we have heard ourselves out of his mouth?

And they condemned Him to death.

Is it worth the risk to be challenged thus?

Indeed, if we were talking about earthly things, it might seem too risky to bring someone to the brink of apostasy (the possibility of the offense) just to bring them to faith. And it might seem too risky to tell someone they must question their “religion” just to get them to believe in it… Or to tell them that salvation is to be had in another Kingdom that lies beyond the human senses and then refuse to give them any tangible proof of the existence of that Kingdom.

But these are not earthly things we are talking about. We are talking about heavenly things. And that means the rules are different. The way risk is reckoned is different because, at all times, there is someone else present overseeing it all, God the Father, who loves you. 

So, really, there is no risk… that we will be treated unfairly. There is no risk that we will be tested beyond our ability to pass the test (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is no risk that if we honestly wrestle with the Word of God, if we question what we think we believe, that we will somehow be tricked (by the devil) into rejecting God. There is no risk because God the Father is always present, and He is always working on behalf of our salvation (John 5:17) and we are always able to hear His voice (John 6:45).

The real risk lies in choosing to live an unchallenged life.

Because not one of us has a guarantee that we will see one more day.

Therefore, the test will come sooner than later: Everything we think we believe will be challenged, and the possibility of the offense will be right there before us, undeniable, unavoidable. And on that day, it will become clear that no one else can take this test for us; that, whether we fall away or stand, it will all be entirely up to us: Do we call out to the Father or do we reject Him altogether?

That moment is precisely what Jesus is precipitating here for that crowd: They saw the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish. They saw all the miracles of healing Jesus did in that crowd before He sat down on the mountain and began to teach them. And if they had been following his crowd for long, this was not the first time they had seen such things. And then they heard His words… the words of the Father. What more did they need? It is time to face the test:

John  6:45-51 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every one that has heard from the Father [himself], and has learned [of him], comes to me; not that any one has seen the Father, except He who is of God, He has seen the Father.

Verily, verily, I say to you, He that believes [on me] has life eternal. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.

I am the living bread which has come down out of heaven: if any one shall have eaten of this bread he shall live for ever; but the bread withal which I shall give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

And there it is, the crossroads, the possibility of the offense. This is a Jewish audience. Maybe accepting the word “bread” in a figurative sense could have worked for them. But Jesus ups the ante: The bread must be eaten, and it is His flesh. Just the image of cannibalism and human sacrifice would have been revolting to them.

What will they choose?

John 6:52 The Jews therefore contended among themselves, saying, How can he give us this flesh to eat?

Do you start to hear it, that sound in their voice? (“This is too much! This is not fair…”) But Jesus will not let up:

John 6:53-58 Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Unless ye shall have eaten the flesh of the Son of man, and drunk his blood, ye have no life in yourselves. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up at the last day: for my flesh is truly food and my blood is truly drink. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him.

As the living Father has sent me and I live on account of the Father, *he* also who eats me shall live also on account of me. This is the bread which has come down out of heaven. Not as the fathers ate and died: he that eats this bread shall live for ever.

Now there is no going back. You cannot “unhear” that. If cannibalism was revolting, the idea of drinking blood was even more so… uniformly forbidden in the Law.

He has put them squarely at the crossroads. They cannot ignore the choice before them because it is so outrageously “over the top”. He promises to give them eternal life – which any who believed in the Law and the Prophets longed for – but tells them that the only way to receive it is to eat His flesh and drink His blood – which totally repels them.

Has Jesus put before them an impossible quandary?

How can it be fair to force them to make such a choice?

We find the answer to those questions in the next verse:

John 6:59 These things he said in [the] synagogue, teaching in Capernaum.

The answer is: Yes, it is fair because He is speaking this in the presence of the Father. The choice might seem impossible in the world, but it is not impossible in the presence of the Father. For, the very instant that we turn to Him and cry, “How can I possibly do this?”, we will hear His voice.

The sad thing is that many, when confronted with the crossroads, just turn away without trying, without calling for help. It is easier to be offended:

John 6:60 Many therefore of his disciples having heard [it] said, This word is hard; who can hear it?

Whose fault is it, that they fell away?

Was Jesus wrong to put them in such a dilemma that day?

Maybe if He had waited…

Why didn’t He wait?

Ask Abraham. God promised him that through him, and through his promised child, all humanity would be blessed. But that promise could not have been fulfilled in Abraham’s life until he had passed the test on Mount Moriah. Why? Because the Abraham that ascended that mountain was not the same one that came back down.

God knew Abraham’s potential; that is why He chose him:

Genesis 18:18-19 Since Abraham shall indeed become a great and mighty nation; and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Jehovah, to do righteousness and justice, in order that Jehovah may bring upon Abraham what he hath spoken of him.

And that is why He put him to the test in Genesis chapter 22. If Isaac was 12 years old that day at Mount Moriah, then Abraham lived 63 more years after that. I believe that it was during those 63 years that the truth of that observation God made in Genesis 18 became reality. And God was proven right… Abraham’s children still remembered their Lord 2000 years later when the true promised child, Jesus the Messiah, was finally born.

The same is true with us.

You see, when we hear Jesus talk about eternal life, we often imagine that He is talking about Heaven, the life that will come after we die. But that is wrong. The eternal life He offers us begins in this world, while we are still alive. When we believe and accept Him as Savior, we are moved from death to life:

John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.

It is from that point on that our real life, eternal life, starts. It is from that point on that we have the power to work out in this world the promise He has spoken into our lives. Abraham had 63 years to work out (the consequences of) his salvation. How much time do we have?

As Jesus will make clear, later on in John’s gospel, He came to save us so that He could send us out to continue His mission. If that is so. And if we cannot start that mission until we choose to believe in Him, then He must bring us to the test sooner than later.

There is no time to waste.

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