When Oprah turns her back on her baptist upbringing for objecting to the jealousy of God, let’s not be too harsh toward her. The rest of us are not that different because we use the same kind of reasoning to sort of block out the parts of the story of our faith and the activity of the local church which we, frankly, don’t think much of. We’re just like her. Making her the bad guy for being a little more honest about her doubts than the rest of us doesn’t make our doubts any less serious, or any less damaging.
The cure for this, though, is not to give up and give in to doubt. While we should face our doubts openly, we shouldn’t just cave into them as if doubt disproves what is true. The massive factual obstacle for the person who is attracted to doubt is Jesus of Nazareth — this Jesus, as his friend Peter said, who was crucified.
It’s obvious, I hope, that I’m writing here for people who say to themselves, “There is something irresistible about Jesus.” For some of you, that’s a point which you make into an ideological cathedral — a point of doctrine which lines up in an acronym that summarizes the faith, your faith. For others, it’s a nagging thought — as you work out your faith on your own, you keep coming back to this Jesus, and you can’t make sense of him all the way, but you also can’t accept everything he says because it seems somehow too hard to live that way, or too complex, or too simple, or merely out of your grid of experience. For others, Jesus is a good way to summarize the right way to see the difference between right and wrong; you keep coming back to him in some way even though all of the people you meet who claim to love him don’t necessarily act like you think they ought to act — as some might say, you like Jesus, but not the church.
What I also hope is obvious as we work through this together is this problem for all of us of “this Jesus who was crucified”. It’s not like Jesus didn’t warn Peter and the other disciples about this. Before they returned to Jerusalem, Jesus asked his friends who they thought he was, and Peter, of course, said, “You’re the son of God, Jesus — the Messiah.”
And Jesus was very pleased with this — telling Peter that God himself taught him this truth, and that what this truth would mean is that Jesus would call together people who would storm the gates of death, and death could not stand the assault.
But then Jesus did something else: from that moment on, Jesus began to tell them that when he would go to Jerusalem, he would be tortured and tormented by the leaders of the Jewish people and the Romans, and that they would crucify him — but that he would also be raised to new life.
This was Jesus message to Peter, but Peter didn’t want to hear any of it. “This will never happen to you!” was Peter’s correction to Jesus — this Jesus whom he just called “Messiah” and “Son of God”. And this Jesus, in his lovingkindness, told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan, because you see things your way and not the way God sees them.”
And the reason Jesus says this is because he was preparing himself to be crucified. This is the place where Oprah’s problem with God starts to come apart at the seams — but it is also the place where all our objections and boredom and confusion and high-minded theological summaries come apart at the seams.
Jesus knew he was going to be crucified; he was actually crucified. Peter stood up in Jerusalem and told the people there — who at first thought he was drunk for shouting in public like that — that Jesus was crucified. For Peter, that’s a significant change — the kind of change we all really need to get involved with. It’s not a small change of mind to go from a guy who wanted Jesus to stop talking about going to Jerusalem to be killed to being a guy who wanted the city of Jerusalem to stop what it was doing — in very religious moment in the calendar of the city — and face up to the fact that this Jesus was crucified. It was a massive change. And Peter knew it required these people who were calling on the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to get changed as well.
After he got changed like that, Peter said: “Men of Israel, listen up: Jesus, from Nazareth, who worked out things we can only explain as signs of God — things he did in public, because you yourselves saw them — this Jesus was crucified and killed by you because that’s what God wanted.”
Jesus being crucified means we have to get ready for what God wants, and we have to give up what we want.