Confession: During the time I was a Christian Jesus was not exactly real to me. My proclaimed feelings for Jesus were superficial, similar to an obligatory sense of love that should be felt for my great, great, great, grandfather. By that I mean that I knew that as a Christian I was supposed to love and revere him. But let’s be truthful. He was not a real, tangible person in my life. He was just as much a ghost to me as the face in a photograph of a long-time deceased ancestor. And just like the feeble emotional connection I could garner for an ancestral family member, I could not love Jesus as someone I have not experienced in the same way that I love people who I have physically seen, touched and heard.
This is true for most professing Christians I think, even though I know they, just like me, would not admit it to be true. I find some credibility in the claim that atheists make in Jesus being a myth. Because for many Christians he is. He exists as a mythical figure that believers feel beholden to acknowledge with love and veneration. They love the idea of Jesus, but they don’t really love him. This is the unspoken, uncomfortable truth.
My own perspective evolved from seeing Jesus as God, then to acknowledging Jesus as a historical rabbi, and finally to understanding Jesus the man who became an extraordinary spiritual leader and teacher. In the latter sense, Jesus became a perceptible figure that I could acknowledge as someone who, though I have not physically experienced, was still relevant in my spiritual journey.
My research for the historical Jesus led me to understand Jesus not to be God, but a man with faults, with a possible social stigma to overcome, and with a determination to rage against injustice and oppression through his belief in God. Knowing that Jesus had his very real human moments, times when he called others dogs, cursed fig trees, played favorites, failed himself, failed others, yielded to ego, doubted himself and doubted God, allow me to understand that my material being will always sometimes overshadow my quest for spiritual elevation.
Jesus became real for me when I saw him as a man who in many ways surpassed his inherent human nature and excelled in his spiritual quest. In this perspective he is no longer a ghost, or mythical figure that I feel obligated to try to unconditionally love, but a man of spiritual substance who through his faith in God tried to instill a more benevolent humanity.