So you’ve decided to follow Jesus and from here on in, Christians tell us, you’ll share real intimacy with your Saviour.
There are many permutations of this belief: having Jesus in your heart; walking daily with the Lord; enjoying a loving relationship with him; letting him speak to you. All rely on the premise that the post-mortem Jesus is an eternal, supernatural being who is able, somehow, to stroll, chat and administer one-on-one therapy. The old spiritual, still much beloved in Christian circles, declares ‘what a friend we have in Jesus’, while Mary Stevenson’s modern parable insists that his footprints are beside the believer’s in the sand – except, that is, when he has to carry them.
However, the concept of Jesus as bosom buddy and occupier of right and left ventricles is nowhere to be found in ‘God’s word’. Yes, there’s the possibility of feeling Jesus’ presence when with other believers; the shared delusion of Matthew 18.20 that over time would morph into ‘the Holy Spirit’. And it’s true too that Paul decides in 1 Corinthians 6.14 that believers’ bodies are sanctuaries or temples of this same Spirit. But these are both a long way from a Jesus who lives within the believer’s heart and, as another old hymn has it, ‘walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way’.
The Jesus of the gospels is not looking for people to be his chums. He does say in John 15.14, ‘you are my friends if you do what I command you’, but this is hardly what we’d call ‘friendship’ – ‘you can only be my friend if you do exactly what I say’ is the unreasonable demand of playground bullies and manipulators everywhere. It certainly isn’t friendship in the sense we normally understand it. But even if you’re taken in by this offer, do you do what he says? It’s highly unlikely, given that he insists you sell all you have and give to the poor, turn the other cheek and transform yourself into a slave, working selflessly and sacrificially to bring about the Kingdom of heaven:
…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve… (Matthew 20.26-28)
When you’ve turned yourself into a lifetime servant of others, surely then you can expect Jesus to be your best mate? Like the disciples before you, who also wanted to be part of God’s circle of favourites, you miss the point of what it was, and is, to be a slave; to work ceaselessly in demanding conditions with no reward, no wages and no acknowledgement. The most any servant of God can expect, Jesus tells us, is that he will say ‘well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master’ (Matthew 25.23). That’s it – that’s the extent of your ‘reward’: he’ll recognise your position as a slave and tell you you’ve pleased him, your slave-master. And that’s what you call friendship?
Jesus is not your loving buddy. He never said he would be and you’re just confusing him with James Taylor if you think he did. Even if you want to ignore what the Bible says about being a slave – and I’m betting you do – you can’t have a relationship with someone who has been dead for 2,000 years.
Face facts, Christians: your ‘friendship’ with Jesus, your entire concept of him, is no more than the product of your own imaginations.