I read a lot of religious books and it’s rare to come across one that changes the way you view Christianity. I now have two such books on my bookshelf: The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr and Finding God Beyond Religion from Tom Stella. By chance, both authors emerged from the world of Roman Catholicism. Rohr is a Franciscan friar, while Stella is a former Catholic priest.
“Having grown up a Catholic, I put Jesus on a pedestal.”
The quote above is from Tom Stella and mirrors my own upbringing as a Catholic. I saw Jesus as separate from myself, either as God incarnate or as the gatekeeper to God. But what if Jesus was just like us, a flesh and blood human being, with a special connection to God that we too could achieve?
Like most Christians, Stella no longer believes Jesus is the only way to connect with God—but just one of the ways. As reported by the Christian Broadcasting Network, a 2020 Probe study showed that even among evangelicals, 60% of those surveyed believe that “Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad are all equal in regard to a path to salvation.” Among other Christians the number is likely much higher.
Stella goes on to point out what he believes is a common misconception about Jesus: that he is the only child of God. But the truth is we are all the offspring of God. Stella calls out how in Luke 11:1, Jesus didn’t say to pray to my father but to our father. He was a son of God just like we are all sons and daughters of God. It leads Stella to the following conclusion:
Perhaps what is needed is not to take Jesus off the pedestal, but to come to the realization that there is a place on it for us as well. We have the capacity to share the same intimate relationship with God that he did.
“God is not apart from us, but at the heart of us.”
Stella believes that for many Christians, Jesus has gotten in the way of the awareness of our own intimate relationship with God. In his words, “we have hailed him, but we have failed to see him in our own likeness.” He wonders if we might “embrace Jesus as a human being who reveals the incarnate presence of God in all beings.”
“Jesus saw the sacredness in all of us,” no matter our faults or past transgressions, regardless of our station in life. We are all worthy. Perhaps Jesus was merely illustrating the relationship all of us could have with the Divine, proof that we can achieve the same intimate relationship with God. As Elaine Pagels points out in the following passage from Beyond Belief:
God’s light shines not only in Jesus, but potentially in everyone. The Gospel of Thomas encourages the hearer not so much to believe in Jesus…as to seek to know God through one’s own divinely given capacity, since we are all created in the image of God.
A similar take on Jesus comes from Richard Rohr.
Writing in The Universal Christ, the Franciscan friar and author Richard Rohr writes that “in Christianity, we have made the mistake of limiting the Creator’s presence to just one human manifestation, Jesus.” Because of this, we have spent our time following Jesus, when our time might be better spent following his message.
Rohr wonders if God needed us to focus our attention on someone and that someone was Jesus. But there was just one problem: we went too far. We spend our precious time here on earth worshipping Jesus the messenger and trying to get other people to do the same. This obsession often becomes “a pious substitute for actually following what he taught.”
Rohr points out that most Christians believe that “God’s presence was poured into a single human being,” Jesus. But maybe Jesus simply realized what was already there—a world saturated by the presence of God. So like Jesus, we are not separate from God. We are, in fact, immersed in God who is present in every particle of life. It’s a presence we too can immerse ourselves in!
What Jesus really wanted was for us to “see the world with his eyes.”
What if we were able to see the world with the same love and compassion as Jesus? Wouldn’t our own world grow richer, more compassionate, and more loving? Like Jesus, could we also become representatives of God here on earth?
Rohr reminds us that God is the DNA that was within Jesus and is within all of us. “The Divine Presence is here, in us and in all of creation, and not “over there” in some far-off realm.” God’s presence can be found in the material world all around us. And when we realize that God is in and of all things, we view the world differently.
Jesus showed us what a complete human might look like if we lived to our highest potential—and wanted us to achieve this potential in our own lives. When we come to realize that what’s known as Christ consciousness is possible for us too, it “has the power to radically alter what we believe, how we see others and relate to them, and our sense of how big God might be.” We become the fully realized humans we were meant to be.
Rohr tells us that when we “stand in solidarity with everything and everyone else,” we see the Divine in literally everything and everyone. When we learn to see God in all things, we see the world and ourselves “in wholeness, not just in parts.” Accepting this fact can cause a radical change in our perspective:
Once we know that the entire physical world around us, all of creation, is both the hiding place and the revelation place for God, this world becomes home, safe, enchanted, offering grace to anyone who looks deeply.