Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Methodists share with many Christians fairly standard views of God, Jesus Christ, and angels. God is all powerful and all good, existing outside of time. God created the universe from nothing, and has intimate control of every occurrence in the universe. God is not material, and because God is beyond human comprehension, God must sometimes be spoken of metaphorically. Fallen humans can know of God through what God chooses to reveal in scripture. What is revealed there is sufficient to assure people that their sins have been forgiven by a loving, personal God, that they are restored to a proper relationship with God, and that they are saved from hell to enjoy a blessed existence glorifying God in the life to come. Methodists also embrace the traditional teaching that God exists as three persons: Father, Son (sent as Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is God incarnate, that is, God born as an historical human being, Jesus of Nazareth. "Christ" is nOt a proper name, but a title; it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah". While it is difficult for the human intellect to grasp how God (all powerful, perfect, unchanging) could be at the same time a real human being (located in a specific time and place, subject to the regular laws of growth, development, experiencing joy and pain), that is what God has revealed in scripture (especially the beginning of the Gospel of John).

Jesus is significant to Methodists for at least two main reasons: First, Jesus, God incarnate, who walked the earth for a number of years, is an expression of God's loving concern for humans. Despite human sin that results in separation from God, God reaches out to humans once again to make possible their reconciliation with God. In teaching his followers how to live, in founding the church, and in sending his disciples out to all nations to spread the good news (the Greek word for good news is "gospel"), Jesus makes a proper relationship with God possible.

Second, humans could never repay the debt they incurred by sinning against an all powerful and perfect God, because the debt is infinite but they are finite. Through his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus, who is both human and infinite God, repays this debt and makes it possible for humans to be in the presence of a God who can tolerate no sin. By his resurrection from the grave Jesus defeats death, and makes possible the reversal of the sentence of death‚ spiritual and physical‚ placed on humans following the fall into sin.

These are traditional models of God and Jesus Christ, which were shared by John Wesley. Some Methodists in the last 200 years, like other Christians, have questioned whether these are the most fitting models for God and Jesus. Some have proposed that God is not best thought of as a father or as an angry but merciful judge; rather God should be thought of as the creative presence within the universe and within humans. Some have argued that the idea that Jesus pays a cosmic debt incurred by human sin (called the ‚"substitutionary atonement") is based on a medieval feudal system of lordship and honor that makes no sense in the modern world.

Modern suggestions about the identity of Jesus include: Jesus as a great moral teacher who reconciles humans with God by example; Jesus as a manifestation of divine love and acceptance; or Jesus as a process of transformation in which we can all participate as we open ourselves out from self-centeredness to service to the greater creation.

In addition to God and Jesus Christ, John Wesley believed in supernatural beings called angels. He argued that non- and pre-Christian societies had some awareness of these beings (he mentions the "demon" that advises the Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.). But scripture reveals more information about the existence and nature of these beings. These beings have no body, or, if they have one, it is more like flame than flesh and blood. They possess sight, understanding, wisdom, holiness, and strength that are something like these characteristics in humans, but so far surpassing them that they are incomprehensible to humans. They especially have the power to affect human bodies, causing pain or relief. Good angels work to counteract the efforts of bad angels. They cure, protect us from evil, and in general undertake the work of God's care for humans, both the saved and the unsaved. This care occurs in ways that we may not see, or recognize as such.

Today, many Methodists retain traditional beliefs in angels. For many, angels seem either uncomfortably pre-modern, or simply have no relevance to their belief system. Still others have a belief in angels but, perhaps without being aware of it, instill them with qualities more in line with New Age religious movements than with those of traditional Christianity.

Study Questions:
     1.     How do Methodist's understand God's nature?
     2.     Why is Jesus important to the Methodist connection to God?
     3.     How did Wesley understand angels? Are they still recognized today?

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