A Core Theme Once More
By: Wendell Krossa
Non-retaliation or unconditional love was the core theme of the historical Jesus, the foundational element in his worldview. He taught this as the central meaning of ethics and theology. And he tied ethics tightly to theology as the validating basis of human action (ethics based on theology has a long history in human thought and behavior). Act like this because God is like this. Do not retaliate against offenders because God does not retaliate. Do not take revenge (engage eye for eye justice) or punish because God does not take revenge or punish. Instead, include all and love all in the same universally generous manner. Be unconditionally merciful and compassionate as God is unconditionally merciful and compassionate. Love your enemies because God loves enemies.
This striking new theology contrasts entirely with the God of Paul and Christianity, a God that retaliates, takes revenge, and punishes (see Paul’s Dominant Themes further below).
Here is the full statement of Jesus’ core theme combining the elements of both the Matt.5 and Luke 6 summaries.
“You have heard that it was said, an eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, Don’t resist or retaliate against an evil person.
“If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer your other cheek as well. If anyone grabs your coat, let him have your shirt as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if someone takes away your belongings, do not demand to have them back. Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; he sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
“If you love those who love you, that credit is that to you? Even tax collectors love those who love them, do they not? And if you embrace only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Doesn’t everybody do that? And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even wrongdoers lend to their kind because they expect to be repaid in full.
“Instead, love your enemies, do good to them, and lend without expecting to get anything back. Do to others what you would have them do to you.
“Then your reward will be great, and you will be the children of God (or better, you will be like God) because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful even as your Father is merciful. Be compassionate in the same manner that God is compassionate.”
Think of what this brief statement actually says. It turns everything upside down- both ethically and theologically. It was without historical precedent, absolutely unique and explosive in its meaning.
Since the beginning, human understanding of deity had concluded that the gods were threatening, angry, judgmental, condemning, punishing, and they would destroy. These features were projected onto gods. And the gods represented ultimate realities. They were creators, sustainers and controllers of all things, law-givers, ultimate authorities, and ultimate sources of human meaning and purpose.
Over history, various religious traditions had also introduced the more humane features of compassion and kindness into their versions of deity but that humanity was often conditional, reserved for believing insiders. Those gods would still punish and destroy outsiders/enemies. Overall, deity as ultimate reality embodied the harshest primitive themes of retaliation, tribal exclusion (privileged insiders, threatened outsiders), judgment/condemnation, conditional salvation, and ultimate destruction. People had long projected their very worst features onto their gods.
But in this stunning presentation of a new ethic and theology Jesus stated that God did not retaliate, did not punish the bad, and did not exclude or destroy anyone. Instead, God loved all the same and included all with the same unconditional generosity (the good things of life- sun and rain- were given generously to all alike, both good and bad). This unconditional treatment of all was simply too scandalous for many people to wrap their minds around and they, like Paul, retreated back to views of retaliating, punishing gods. That sat better with their views of justice as full payment for wrong done. And in that shameful retreat, they missed the greatest breakthrough insight in all history.
To get some sense of the profound nature of what the Historical Jesus was actually stating here, try this imagination exercise. Imagine if all that terrorizing mythology of historical religion were actually true. Imagine that the gods that created and sustained all things were beings that threatened, judged, condemned human failure, and then exhibited anger by excluding, punishing and destroying people. Imagine that myths like Hell were actually true, real places. That there was some great, cosmic threat behind all things, a divine condemnatory punishment, ultimate domination/subservience and realities like eternal torture in fire and destruction. What a horror this universe and life would be. No wonder some people actually went insane contemplating such things. I know of a man at an Evangelical college that jumped to his death because he believed that he had committed an unpardonable sin.
But in this profound statement of non-retaliation or unconditional love, the historical Jesus declares… “No”. There is no retaliating, judging/condemning, punishing, or destroying God. There is no threat against imperfect human existence. Instead, to the absolute contrary, the ultimate reality behind all is love. Let this stunning discovery blow through your consciousness. And stunner of all stunners, it is love of a nature that is beyond the best that anyone could imagine. It is unconditional. Scandalously unconditional. What a liberation for fearful, anxious, troubled minds intensely aware of their failures and living under the terrifying threats of their religions. They were told of an Abba Father who was merciful, compassionate, forgiving without pre-condition, inclusive of all alike, and who showered infinite generosity on all alike. Well, no wonder the chains began to fall away in the consciousness of many who heard such a message.
What a profound liberation movement this could have sparked if the followers of Jesus had continued to develop his theme on non-retaliation/unconditional love. But instead, Paul and his Christian religion buried that brilliant discovery under primitive atonement mythology.
Think of what the historical Jesus was actually saying: That all are safe in the ultimate sense because love is at the core of all reality and life. To get some feel for what this means listen to people who have had some experience of it. Some of the Near-Death Experience people get a good glimpse and taste of this love. They tell us that the Light that they encountered is absolute unconditional love. It is a love that is overwhelming and inexpressible. NDErs often express frustration that they cannot find words to fully communicate what they felt. And they come back disillusioned at the things that their religions have taught them about God judging, punishing, or sending people to Hell. They now realize that such things are simply not true. That barbarism has nothing to do with the unconditional love that they experienced.
And they discover that love is everything. It is the basis of all, the energizing life of all, the very essence and substance of all things. It is the permeating atmosphere of all. And again, it is of a quality that is unimaginably wondrous.
Someone stated that light is the essence and basis of all reality. Then add this- unconditional love defines the nature of the light that is at the core of all. Light and love are one and the same reality.
This creating and sustaining reality that we are speaking about is something that is infinitely better than the best that can be imagined (the real meaning of transcendent in deity). Such love is not tainted by any hint of threat, exclusion, condemnation, or punishment. As Campbell said of God- the actual reality is beyond categories, beyond terms or definitions, and beyond words or thought. The best that we can think of only points in the general direction of something that is infinitely better and beyond grasping. So the terms God or love are only penultimate terms, pointing to things infinitely better and beyond.
And the center of such light and love is immediately inside us. We are not separate from this wonder, nor far from it. It is the very core of our true self or person.
The above comment tries to show the stunning contrast of Jesus’ discovery with the central meaning of deity over history as threat, retaliation, condemnation, punishment, and ultimate destruction. Instead, To the contrary, the historical Jesus sparked a new trend of emerging insight that tells us that deity is unconditional love beyond understanding. This is absolutely explosive in terms of human perception and worldviews. It takes human consciousness in an entirely new direction. It challenges the entire mental framework of past theology and mythology and religion. The Jesus theological breakthrough takes things nuclear.
Think of the multiple millennia that those primitive ideas of punitive gods were beaten into public consciousness in endless versions. And think of the traumatizing impact of that on human emotion and life. And think of the outcomes in wasted time and resources as billions of people have tried to appease and please such threatening gods via salvation religion.
And then we discover that the very opposite is true. What a great release and relief to discovery that primitive mythology has all along been entirely false. And something entirely opposite and of infinite goodness is actually true. Something scandalously opposite to all the dark, frightening things that people have concocted over history.
The actual reality of unconditional love engenders in human consciousness an incomprehensible liberation, peace, bliss, warmth, and love. It liberates consciousness at the deepest levels of human fear, anxiety, depression, and despair.
This new insight on unconditional love as the foundational reality of all now becomes a new baseline for evaluating truth, right, and authentic humanity. Anything less, or anything other than this unconditional love, is ultimately false, not real, not true, or not right.