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Who was Jesus?

This essay is written in response to readers who have asked me to write some more about the identity of Jesus, and the relationship between Jesus and God.

It is understandable that there is confusion about this. In trinitarian Christian churches, the name “Jesus” is used interchangeably with the terms “Son of God” and “God” in sermons and hymns. Trinitarians worship Jesus as divine.

The idea that Jesus is the only divine Son of God came originally from Paul of Tarsus, who called himself an “apostle” (messenger) of Jesus. Paul wrote, “. . . . Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (sought), but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Although Paul viewed Jesus as the divine Son of God, Paul did not view Jesus as equal to “God.” Paul wrote, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (I Corinthians 8:6). “When all things are subjected to him (Jesus), then the Son himself will also be subjected to Him (God the Father) who put all things under him (Jesus), that God may be everything to everyone” (I Corinthians 15:28).

Paul believed that God the Father had chosen Jesus to be the “messiah” or “lord” (ruler) of the world, but that Jesus is subordinate to God the Father. Paul also believed that God the Father used Jesus to create the world and humankind. This latter belief reflects the influence of Greek philosophy. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, six centuries before the Christian Era, believed that a “logos” (a creative intelligence, or “mind”) created the order of the world. Paul was from the city of Tarsus where Greek ideas were well-known. This idea of the “logos” is also seen in the Gospel of John where the unknown writer claimed that the “logos” that created the world was incarnated (became flesh) in Jesus (John 1:1-14).

The idea that the “Son of God” existed before being born as a man (Jesus) posed a problem for the early Christian church. It appeared that Christians worshipped two Gods, although one ranked higher than the other. This is called “polytheism” (worship of more than one God). The relationship of Jesus to God the Father became a matter of debate among Christians during the first three centuries of Christianity.

A Christian priest, named Arius, in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that God the Father had “created” Jesus as the Son of God before the world was created, and that Jesus was subordinate to God the Father. A church council was convened in Nicaea, in 325 C.E., to settle the controversy about Jesus and his relationship to God the Father.

Arius’ view, called Arianism, was condemned by the Council of Nicaea, and the Council produced the “Creed of Nicaea” which declared that Jesus was the “Son of God” who was “only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, things in heaven and on earth.”

The Creed of Nicaea declared that the Son of God had always existed and was the creator of the world: “But those who say, ‘There was (a time) when he (the Son of God) was not (in existence)’ and ‘Before he (the Son of God) was begotten, he was not (in existence)’ . . . . the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes (condemns).”

The Creed of Nicaea did not say that the Son of God was subordinate to God the Father. The creed claimed that the Son of God was begotten “of one substance with the Father,” suggesting that the Son of God existed within God the Father even before the Son was “begotten.” This was apparently an effort to refute the charge that Christians believed in two Gods, or “polytheism.”

So when did God the Father “beget” (i.e., “become the father of”) the “only begotten Son of God?” A church council in Chalcedon, in 451 C.E., affirmed in a creed known as the “Nicene Creed” that the “Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God” was “begotten before all ages” and “for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and ascended to the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there shall be no end; . . . .”

According to the creeds of 325 C.E. and 451 C.E., the Son of God had always existed as “one substance with the Father” and was “begotten before all ages” before coming “down from the heavens” to be “made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” and become known as Jesus.

The Nicene Creed, in 451 C.E., also declared a belief in “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, who proceeded from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped together and glorified together . . . .” Thus the doctrine of the “Trinity of God” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was affirmed as the “orthodox” trinitarian view of God. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit “proceeded” from God the Father, and the Son of God was “begotten” from “one substance with the Father” indicating that the Holy Spirit and the Son of God were part of God, and were to be worshipped “together” with God the Father. This has led trinitarian Christians to worship Jesus, and to equate Jesus with God the Father in trinitarian Christian churches.

The apostle Paul probably did not recognize the problem created by his view that Jesus was divine but subordinate to God the Father. Paul believed that Jesus was the “messiah” (anointed one) who would return to the earth during Paul’s lifetime to rule all humankind in the “Kingdom of God” (First Corinthians 7:29-31; First Thessalonians 4:16-17; First Corinthians 15:24-28).

Paul sometimes referred to Jesus as “lord” meaning “ruler” of the Kingdom of God. Since the term “Lord” is also used in the “Old Testament” to refer to God as the “ruler” of the universe, trinitarian Christians often refer to Jesus as “Lord,” meaning “God” without distinguishing between Jesus and “God the Father” as Paul did (Philippians 2:9-11).

The Gospel of John also depicts Jesus as the divine Son of God but separate from and subordinate to God the Father:

In John 12:49, Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has Himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.” Jesus did not claim to have the same authority as God the Father.

In John 14:28, Jesus told his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Jesus did not claim equal status or rank with God the Father.

In John 14:1, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” Again, Jesus was not identical with God the Father.

In John 14:24, Jesus said, “. . . . the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” Jesus believed that he had been sent by God the Father.

In John 14:31, Jesus said, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus was not talking about loving himself.

In John 15:15, Jesus said, “. . . . all that I have heard from the Father, I have made known to you.” Again, the Father is someone separate from Jesus.

Jesus certainly did not view himself as being identical with God the Father. This is clearly seen in the fact that Jesus frequently prayed to God the Father.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup (death) from me, yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt'” (Mark 14:35-36). Here, Jesus’ “will” is certainly separate from God’s “will.”

Incidentally, this scripture also shows that Jesus did not believe that God had sent him to die as a sacrifice to God to save humankind from the “death penalty” for sin. If Jesus had believed that God had sent Jesus for the purpose of dying, it would have been nonsense for Jesus to ask God to “remove this cup (death) from me.”

Also, when Jesus was being crucified, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabschthani,’ that is, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Again, this scripture shows that Jesus did not view himself as identical with God. Here, Jesus felt “forsaken” by God. Also, this scripture shows that Jesus did not see his crucifixion as the intended purpose of his life. The so-called “substitutionary theory of the atonement by the death of Jesus” collapses if we take the words of Jesus seriously.

Trinitarian Christians often quote Jesus saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) to support their belief that “Jesus” and “God the Father” are simply different terms for referring to the same God. But trinitarian Christians should continue reading John 10:31-38 and the 17th chapter of John.

Here is John 10:31-38: “The Jews took up stones to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father, for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.'”

“Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods?'” (Note: Jesus is referring to Psalms 82:6, “I say, You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If he (the psalmist) called them gods to whom the word of God came (i.e., the Jewish people), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’ because I say that I am son of God?'” (Note: some English translations say “the” son of God, but Greek manuscripts do not have the article “the” before “son of God.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.'”

The “oneness” that Jesus claimed with God the Father did not mean that Jesus was identical with God the Father because Jesus also prayed that his disciples “may be one even as we (Jesus and God the Father) are one” (John 17:11).

Later, Jesus prayed that his followers would “all be one as Thou, Father are in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou has sent me. The glory which Thou has given me, I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou has sent me and hast loved them even as Thou has loved me” (John 17:21-23).

The “oneness” that Jesus had with God, the Father, was a “oneness,” or unity, that Jesus wanted his followers to have with each other, with Jesus, and with God. According to Jesus, it is through this experience of “oneness” with each other that we can know that God loves us. God’s love is experienced through our love for each other, as evidenced by works of love, just as Jesus’ works of love evidenced his “oneness” with God.

In his prayer for his disciples, Jesus repeatedly referred to his making God’s “word” known to them. Jesus prayed, “I have given them the words which Thou gavest me” (John 17:8). “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy word is truth. As Thou did send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:17-18). “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father art in me, and I in Thee, that they may be in us . . . .” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:8-13).

Jesus uses the term “God’s word” to refer to God’s commandments to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself” and Jesus emphasized “that you love one another.” It is through love for each other that individuals experience the “oneness” that Jesus claimed with God the Father.

It should be noted that Jesus said that it is through keeping God’s commandments that our “joy may be full.” Our personal happiness, or joy, comes from living by love for God and each other.

Jesus was eventually crucified by the Romans who viewed Jesus as a Jewish revolutionary calling for new Jewish “Kingdom.” There is no doubt that originally Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary, and follower of John the Baptist who referred to the Kingdom of Israel as the “Kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus began preaching the message of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kindom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), Jesus was referring to a political kingdom of Israel. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus told them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (the Jews), and preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matthew 10:5-7).

As Jesus traveled through the countryside, preaching “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel (good news)” (Mark 1:15), something remarkable happened. As Jesus encountered non-Jews, Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” began to change.

When Jesus encountered a Caananite (non-Jewish) woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon, the woman asked Jesus to heal the woman’s daughter.

Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and knelt before him, saying “Lord (sir), help me.”

Jesus replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Note: Here Jesus was expressing a prejudice that was common among Jews at that time. Jesus referred to the Jews as the “children” of God and referred to non-Jews as “dogs,” implying that non-Jews were inferior to Jews.)

The Caananite woman replied, “Yes, lord (sir), yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Evidently, Jesus was impressed that this woman was even willing to endure insult in order to get help for her daughter whom she loved. Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire.” According to the book of Matthew, the woman’s daughter was healed (Matthew 15:22-28). And Jesus learned a lesson in humility and love from this woman.

When Jesus encountered a Roman centurion (commander of 100 soldiers) in Capernaum, the Roman officer asked Jesus to heal the officer’s servant who was “lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” The officer believed that his servant would be healed if Jesus would “say the word.” Jesus “marveled, and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith’ ” (Matthew 8:5-13).

Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman who asked how to worship God, whether by the religious tradition of the Jews or by the religious tradition of the Samaritans. Jesus replied that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth . . . .” regardless of religious tradition (John 4:21-24).

From his encounters with persons of other nationalities and religions (Canaanites, Romans, and Samaritans), Jesus came to recognize that all people have the same concerns and needs. Jesus revised his concept of the “kingdom of God” to include everyone who was willing to follow God’s commandments “to love God and neighbor (everyone).” Jesus ended his days on earth telling his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And Jesus used a Samaritan (non-Jew) as an example of a “good neighbor” in the parable of “the good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-37).

Jesus’ new vision of the “kingdom of God” is defined in his parables. About two-thirds of his parables define the “kingdom of God.” These include the parables of the sower, the hidden treasure, the pearl, the mustard seed, the leaven, and many more (See my essay on “The Kingdom of God”). These parables do not describe the “Kingdom of God” as a restored political kingdom of Israel.

Jesus’ concept of the “kingdom of God” is seen in his conversation with a Jewish scribe. “The scribe said to Jesus, ‘You are right, teacher, you have truly said that He (God) is one and there is no other (God) but Him; and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Jesus saw that he (the scribe) answered wisely, he (Jesus) said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ ” (Mark 12:32-34). Clearly, Jesus was not referring to a political “kingdom.”

The scribe was “not far from the kingdom of God” because he recognized that God’s basic laws for humankind are “love for God” and “love for neighbor as oneself.” The discovery, or recognition, of God’s natural laws is the first step toward the reign of God’s laws in an individual’s life. The next step would be for the scribe to “enter” the kingdom of God by obeying these natural laws.

The central theme of the “gospel” according to Jesus is the “kingdom of God” in which love rules. Connected with this theme is the necessity of repentance and forgiveness. If a person chooses to follow the way of love for others, that person will repent of any failure to love, and seek forgiveneess from God and from any person hurt by the failure to love.

Repentance is evidence that a person is committed to trying to live by love. The meaning of repentance is seen in Jesus’ parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). (See my essay on “Repentance and Forgiveness.”)

Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). And Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4). The idea that God cannot forgive us unless Jesus “died to pay the penalty for our sins” is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Repentance and a willingness to forgive others are the prerequisites for obtaining God’s forgiveness of our failures to love.

Now we come back to the question, “Who was Jesus?” The Apostle Paul and the unknown writer of the Gospel of John believed that Jesus was the divine “Son of God” who existed with God the Father in heaven before coming to earth as a human being, but they also believed that Jesus was not identical with God the Father nor equal with God the Father in rank. In effect, they believed in two Gods.

The writers of the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make no mention of this so-called “pre-existence” of Jesus before his birth on earth. These gospel writers describe Jesus as a human being, a Jew, who was the “messiah” whom Jesus’ disciples expected to reestablish the political Kingdom of Israel on earth. Even after his crucifixion, when Jesus, (wounded but physically alive) met with his disciples, they asked him, “Lord (sir), will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

History has proven that Jesus was not the Jewish “messiah” who would reestablish the “kingdom of Israel,” and there is no reason to believe that Jesus was the incarnation of the “logos” of Greek philosophy. To believe that Jesus was divine but subordinate to another “God” would only mean that Christianity is a polytheistic religion, akin to that found in Greek mythology.

I believe that the best answer to the question, “Who was Jesus?” is found in John 8:40, where Jesus described himself as “a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.” And Jesus made no exclusive claim to “hearing” God’s truth. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father will come to me” (John 6:45).

Jesus also said, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me; if any man’s will is to do His (God’s) will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17). God’s truth, or will, that we should “love God and love our neighbor as oneself” is known naturally by everyone. Any person who “wills (chooses) to do His (God’s) will” can recognize that Jesus taught God’s truth.

What a person believes about “who Jesus was” is not essential in following Jesus. Jesus said, simply, “you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Deism and Cultural Religions

“Deism” is a name given to the only religion that is known to all human beings regardless of time and place. Deism is called “natural” religion because its principles are known from nature and human reasoning.

In contrast to Deism (which is a universal religion), there are many “cultural” religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Trinitarian Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and others, which were developed in particular societies by individuals and groups living in certain geographical areas.

A cultural religion is taught to persons born in or living in an area where the cultural religion is dominant. For example, if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would probably be a Muslim (Islamic religion); if you were born in China, you would probably be a Buddhist; if you were born in Spain, you would probably be a Catholic (Trinitarian); if you were born in Salt Lake City, you would probably be a Mormon, etc.

Of course, some individuals leave the cultural religions that they learned as children, but most persons never leave their cultural religions because such religions are interwoven into the cultural fabric of their particular society. Membership in the cultural religion is expected if a person wants to be “in good standing” in a particular community or society.

Unfortunately, most cultural religions are “exclusive” religions; that is, each cultural religion claims to possess “truths” that have been revealed only to the founder or leaders of that cultural religion. Often the claim is made that God revealed these “truths” through “supernatural means” such as “angels, mystical visions, and tablets of stone or gold.” The alleged benefits of a cultural religion are available only to those persons who know of and “believe in” that cultural religion. All other persons are viewed as “unbelievers” and “infidels” who, allegedly, will be punished by God for their “unbelief.”

The so-called “supernatural truths” in a cultural religion are written into a book, such as “The Holy Bible,” “The Holy Qur’an (aka Koran),” “The Book of Mormon,” etc., which must be revered and obeyed by “believers” who expect a reward for their obedience. These “believers” often shun and sometimes persecute the “unbelievers” or “infidels.”

The history of the world has repeatedly shown what happens when two “cultural” religions clash in a particular geographical area. Often, political leaders use their cultural religion as an excuse for expanding political control over other countries in order to seize the natural resources of those other countries.

For example, when the Jews invaded Canaan and eventually took political control of the land, the Jews claimed that God had given Canaan to the Jews so they could establish the Kingdom of Israel and replace the Canaanite religion with the Jewish “true” religion. When the Arab Muslims invaded the same land about 1,800 years later, the Muslims claimed that they had been commanded by God to conquer the land and establish the Islamic “true” religion there. It is clear that the Jewish and Arab political leaders used their cultural religions to fan the flames of religious zeal to motivate their people to conquer other lands and take control of the natural resources.

Today, the Israeli Jews and the Arab Muslims battle for control of the same land, and their political leaders use religious leaders to enflame their people in the conflict. In their blind religious zeal, both sides commit inhumane acts in the name of their God: Jehovah or Allah. In following the dictates of their own “cultural” religions, many of the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims are violating God’s natural law that requires love, or compassion, for all “neighbors,” (including those “neighbors” who are viewed as “enemies”), as taught by the deist Jesus (Luke 10:30-37; Luke 6:27; Matthew 5:44).

The man known as Jesus of Nazareth was as Jew. His cultural religion was an ancient form of Judaism which led the Jews to conquer the land of Caanan by military force and rule it politically. In Jesus’ day, the Jews had lost political control of the land and were ruled by the Roman Empire.

Jesus joined a religious/political revolutionary movement which was led by John the Baptizer. The purpose of the revolutionary movement was to free the Jews from the Romans and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, which the Jews called the “kingdom of heaven” (aka “kingdom of God”), and in which the Jews expected to enjoy peace and prosperity. Like John the Baptizer, Jesus initially viewed the “Kingdom of God” as exclusively for the Jews. When Jesus sent his disciples out into the countryside to announce the coming of the “kingdom of God,” Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles (non-Jews), and enter no town of the Samaritans (people of mixed race and religion), but go rather to the house of Israel (the Jews). And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” (Matthew 10:5-7)

As Jesus preached his message about the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” he encountered Gentiles, Samaritans, and Romans who had the same human needs and hopes that the Jews had (Matthew 15:22-28; Matthew 8:5-13; John 4:46-53: Luke 7:1-9). Jesus revised his view of the “Kingdom of God” to include everyone who was willing to love God and “neighbor” (Mark 12:28-34) and Jesus gave up the idea that the “rule of God” would come on earth through military force (Matthew 26:52). Jesus preached “repentance” (turning away from lovelessness) and “forgiveness” of others as the way to establish the “Kingdom of God” on earth.

Jesus tried to reform his “cultural” religion. Jesus said that “love your neighbor” meant more than just loving your “Jewish” neighbor. It meant having compassion on anyone who is suffering, even those who are considered “enemies” (Matthew 5:43-47; Luke 10:29-37). Jesus taught that evil behavior begins with evil thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). He taught that good deeds can be done any time, even on the Sabbath that ordinarily is a day of rest (Matthew 12:9-14). He opposed the commercializing of religion by the money-changers who earned their living off of pilgrims who came from distant places to worship in the temple at Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13). He opposed the blood sacrifices that were part of the temple rituals which were intended as atonements for sin (Mark 12:32-33; Matthew 12:7). He urged people to pray in private, and not make a public display of prayer or giving of alms to the poor (Matthew 6:1-6).

It is no wonder that the religious leaders of the Jewish “cultural” religion viewed Jesus as a dangerous heretic and a revolutionary who might also offend the Roman rulers and cause them to take revenge on the Jews by destroying the Jewish temple and the Jewish capital city, Jerusalem (John 11:48).

Jesus’ determination to preach his vision of the “Kingdom of God on earth” eventually led to his crucifixion. After surviving his brief crucifixion, the wounded Jesus met briefly with his disciples to charge them with the mission of preaching “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all nations (Luke 24:47). Some days later, Jesus departed from his disciples. Various and conflicting stories are told about Jesus’ departure. Some of his disciples believed that Jesus had temporarily “ascended to God in heaven” and would return to the earth during the disciples’ lifetimes. But Jesus was never seen again by his disciples.

During the next four hundred years, a “cultural” religion was created around Jesus. This religion was based on the teachings of a man named Paul from the city of Tarsus. Paul claimed that Jesus was the divine Son of God who was sent by God the Father to die as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of humankind (Philippians 2:6). Paul was a Jew who compared Jesus’ crucifixion to the Jewish practice of blood sacrifice in the temple as an atonement for sins (Romans 5:8-9).

Church leaders took Paul’s view that Jesus was the only divine “Son of God” and added that Jesus, together with “God the Father” and the “Holy Spirit,” was to be worshipped as one God, officially stating this doctrine of the “trinity of God” at the Council at Constantinople in the year 381 (of the Christian Era) and reaffirming this doctrine at the Council at Chalcedon in 451 CE. Church leaders, such as Athanasius, also adopted Paul’s theory that Jesus’ crucifixion was a “blood sacrifice” to atone for the sins of humankind. This theology became known as “trinitarianism,” and this is the cultural religion taught in Trinitarian Christian churches today.

Actually, Jesus’ own religious beliefs have nothing to do with the theology which is taught in Trinitarian Christian churches. Jesus was a “deist” because he taught the truth which he discovered in himself. Jesus described himself as only “a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but he made no exclusive claim to knowing God’s truth (or God’s will). Jesus said that everyone is taught directly by God (John 6:45), and those who seek to follow God’s truth, or God’s will, are able to recognize that Jesus taught this same truth, and are attracted to Jesus (John 6:45; John 7:17).

In the 17th and 18th centuries, some Deists in England began a reform movement to return Christianity to the natural religion, or deism, of Jesus. These Deists became known as “Christian Deists.” Christian Deists recognized that natural religion can be summarized as “love for God, and love for neighbor (everyone)” as Jesus taught. The practice of love for God and neighbor is necessarily accompanied by the practice of repentance and forgiveness.

We should repent of (turn away from) any failure to love, and seek forgiveness from God. When possible, we should also seek forgiveness from any person whom we have failed to love. We receive forgiveness from God if we are willing to forgive other persons who repent of their failures to love us (Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:14-15). Christian Deists believe that by love, repentance, and forgiveness, we are doing God’s will that brings us a sense of inner peace and joy, and helps to create the “kingdom of God” on earth where people can live together in unity and peace.

The Language of Christian Deism

Religious beliefs are expressed in words. Since a word may have several different meanings, it is important to know how a speaker or writer defines the meaning of a word.

Throughout the essays on Christian Deism in this web page, there are key words that carry specific meanings from the viewpoint of Christian Deism. Some of these words are used by Trinitarian Christians who give the words very different meanings. Therefore, I think it is important to define, in this essay, the meaning of key words as used in Christian Deism.

1. GOD. “God” refers to the Creator of the world, including human life. From the evidence of “intentional design” seen in the nature of the world and human beings, Christian Deists infer the existence of an “Intentional Designer” called “God.”

Christian Deists do not presume to describe God. Christian Deists view God in the same way that Jesus viewed God. Jesus said that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “It is the spirit that gives life” (John 6:63) to human beings. An individual’s “spirit” is the “life” or “personal self” that a person perceives within his or her physical body. Christian Deists believe that the “spirit” in a human being comes from, and is of the same essence, as God’s “spirit.”

It is the “spirit” within our bodies that gives us consciousness and the power to “reason.” Reason is the ability to “think logically” about what we perceive through our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. It is through the power of reasoning that we analyze and evaluate what we perceive through our senses concerning what is happening to us and around us. Then, based on our evaluation, we use our mental power to decide how to respond, and to initiate any physical and/or verbal response to what we perceive.

Christian Deists believe that God created the world to operate on its own and be governed by natural laws. These natural laws are inherent in the design of whatever exists. Human beings are designed to live in accord with two basic laws which can be discovered by any human being within his or her own nature. Jesus discovered these laws within himself and called these laws “God’s commandments” (Matthew 22:37-39).

2. NATURAL LAWS. “Natural laws” are the ways that God intends for the world to operate. Various natural laws are inherent in different things. For example, the planet called “Earth,” on which we live, is designed to revolve around the Sun at precise distances that allow life to exist on Earth. This is controlled through the natural laws of “gravity.” Likewise, the laws of gravity enable us and all other inhabitants of the Earth to remain on this planet instead of being hurled into outer space as the planet Earth zooms at 67,000 miles per hour around the Sun.

Also, natural laws are inherent in the design of seeds, soil, and rain that enable plants and trees to reproduce and provide food required by human beings. From our own observation of ourselves, we know that our “happiness,” or personal satisfaction in living, is determined by whether we choose to live as we have been “designed” to live. Jesus identified two natural laws by which God intends for human beings to live: (1) love for God and (2) love for “neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-39). Failure to love is destructive to ourselves because we are acting contrary to human nature.

3. LOVE. Jesus used the word “love” to mean “respect for” or “appreciation” for God and “neighbor.” Respect for God is based on the recognition that our individual life is a gift, from God, to be enjoyed and to be invested in making the world more enjoyable for all others. Respect for God also includes caring for the natural resources of the Earth that God has provided for the maintenance of life.

Love for “neighbor” means respecting the value of every human life. As a Jew, Jesus had been taught to “love your neighbor as (you love) yourself,” as stated in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 19:17). But this law only required Jews to love (value) their “Jewish neighbors,” defined as “sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:17), and any “stranger” who “sojourns (lives for awhile) with you in your land” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Jesus expanded the definition of the word “neighbor” to mean ALL persons, including persons who are different from ourselves, and even persons whom we consider to be our “enemies” (as seen in the parable of the “good Samaritan,” Luke 10:30-37).

Jesus defined the word “love” to mean “do good” to others. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). “Love your enemies and do good …. for He (God) is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

As God is good to all persons, we must be ready to “do good” and “be merciful” to all persons, even those whom we consider our “enemies.”

It is important to notice that “love your neighbor” should be “as (you love) yourself.” Respect or appreciation for oneself is something that God expects of us. Our own life is valuable and is to be appreciated. We show our respect for ourselves by the way we treat our bodies and minds as valuable. Living in a way that is harmful to our physical and mental health shows a lack of appreciation for the life that God has given to us.

4. KINGDOM OF GOD. Jesus used the term “Kingdom of God” to refer to wherever God’s will is obeyed. Jesus prayed to God, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). As a Jew, Jesus originally viewed the Kingdom of God in a nationalistic way. According to their tradition, the Jews believed that God had promised their ancestor, Abraham, that his descendants would have a land of their own if they were obedient to God. Jews equated the “Kingdom of God” with the political “Kingdom of Israel” and attempted to establish it by military force. The Jews were defeated and controlled by Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and the Roman Empire.

In Jesus’ time, the Jews were ruled by the Romans. Jesus joined the religious/political movement of John the Baptizer calling for the reestablishment of the “Kingdom of God” (Kingdom of Israel) to provide peace, freedom, and plenty for the Jewish people. As he preached the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” Jesus came to recognize that persons of all nationalities yearned for the same good life that the Jews were seeking. Jesus began preaching a new kind of “Kingdom of God” based on love for all people. Jesus called for people to repent (turn away from) their lovelessness so the Kingdom of God could become a reality in the hearts of individuals and in society.

Jesus’ new view of the “Kingdom of God” was considered heretical by the Jewish religious leaders, and Jesus was considered a Jewish revolutionary by the Romans. Jesus was crucified, as a political revolutionary, by the Romans but he survived his brief crucifixion and met with his disciples for a short time before leaving them. Some of his disciples believed that Jesus would return as the Jewish “messiah” during their lifetime but this did not happen. When Jesus’ teachings were recollected and written between the years 70 CE and 100 CE, it became apparent that the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus envisioned was different from the “Kingdom of Israel” that the Jews expected.

5. GOSPEL. The word “gospel” means “good news.” “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14). Eventually, Jesus came to view the “kingdom of God” as coming “on earth” as people followed God’s “commandments” or laws of love for God and for each other. This is the “gospel,” or message, found in the parables of Jesus. Unfortunately, after the time of Jesus, a man named Paul began preaching another “gospel” based on his belief that Jesus had died (by crucifixion) like a lamb was sacrificed in the Jewish temple to atone for the sins of people. Paul never claimed to have seen or heard Jesus, except in some kind of “vision” after the time of Jesus. Paul’s “gospel” promised “eternal life” to those who believed Paul’s theory about Jesus. Paul’s message was rejected by the Jews but was received by many Gentiles (non-Jews) in Asia Minor and Greece.

Paul established congregations, or churches, that later assumed leadership in the Christian movement after the deaths of Jesus’ closest disciples. Paul’s gospel, as modified by church councils, eventually became dominant in Trinitarian churches.

6. SIN. “Sin” is a word that refers to disobedience to God. Since it is God’s will for human beings to love God and love each other, any failure to love is “sin.” We sin against God if we fail to appreciate and use our life as God intends for us to use it, or if we fail to take care of the natural resources of the Earth on which life depends. We sin against other human beings if we cause human suffering or if we are indifferent to human suffering, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37).

7. REPENTANCE. “Repentance” was a central theme in the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus proclaimed that “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” he said “Repent” and believe this good news (“gospel”). The word “repentance” means “turning away from.” It is used in relation to “sin.”

Jesus defined “repentance” by his parable of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-24). The process of repentance includes:

1. The recognition of and acceptance of personal responsibility for sin.

2. A sincere feeling of remorse and sorrow for having sinned.

3. A conscious decision to stop the wrong-doing.

4. An actual “turning away from” the sin. This is a change of direction in behavior.

5. A confession of sin and a humble request for forgiveness. The request is made to God and (if possible) to any person who has been hurt by the sin.

6. An offer to make amends for the hurt that was caused by the sin.

Jesus said that we should “believe in the gospel (good news)” that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” The reign of God is a reality here and now for those who commit themselves to love God and to love each other. How do we know if we are committed to God’s way of love? We know by our experience of “repentance” whenever we fail to love.

If we have chosen to follow God’s natural laws of love, we will experience remorse and sorrow whenever we fail to love. This should lead us to repent (turn away from) such unloving behavior and to seek forgiveness. If a mentally competent person is not committed to following God’s natural laws, such a person will not feel remorse or sorrow over a failure to love.

The ability to repent of any failure to love is evidence that a person is truly committed to trying to follow God’s will for us to live by love.

8. FORGIVENESS. In his parable of the “unmerciful servant” (Matthew 18:23-35), Jesus taught that God will forgive us of our sins in the same way that we are willing to forgive those persons who repent of their sins against us. In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus makes this same point, “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4).

Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Also, Jesus said, “If you forgive men their sins (against you), your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their sins (against you), neither will your Father forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Christian Deists reject Paul’s theological theory that God cannot forgive sin unless the “death penalty for sin” is paid by Jesus’ dying as a “substitute” for humankind. The theologian Athanasius, the architect of the Creed of Nicaea (325 C.E.), adopted Paul’s theory of “salvation by the death of Jesus” and this “substitutionary theory of atonement” became central in Trinitarian churches.

Christian Deists believe Jesus who taught that God forgives us of our sins if we repent of our sins and we are willing to forgive those who sin against us. Christian Deists totally reject Paul’s “substitutionary theory of atonement.”

Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13). Here, Jesus is quoting the Hebrew prophet Hosea who claimed to be quoting God: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

9. JESUS. Christian Deists believe that Jesus was only a human being. Jesus described himself simply as “a man who told you the truth which I heard from God” (John 8:40) but Jesus did not make any exclusive claim to “hearing” the truth from God. Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God’ (Isaiah 54:13). Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45). Jesus only claimed to know the truth in the same way that “all” can know the truth about how God intends for us to live.

Jesus did not claim to be “God.” Those who claim that Jesus is “God,” or “the only Son of God,” usually quote John 10:30 where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” But those who claim that Jesus was more than a human being fail to read John 17:11 and John 17:21-23 where Jesus explains what he meant by being “one” with God.

Let us examine John 10:30-38. “(Jesus said,) ‘I and the Father are one.’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him (to death). Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law*, ‘I said you are gods?'” (*Note: Jesus is quoting Psalms 82:6, “I say, You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”)

“(Then Jesus said,) ‘If he (the psalmist) called them gods to whom the word of the God came, do you say …. ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said that I am (a)** son of the God? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father’.” (**Note: Greek manuscripts do not have a definite article “the” before the word “son” so this should be read as “a son of God” not “the son of God.”)

The unity, or “oneness,” that Jesus claimed with God did not mean that Jesus claimed to be God because Jesus prayed that his disciples “may be one, even as we (Jesus and God) are one” (John 17:11). Later, Jesus prayed that his followers will “all be one, even as Thou, Father, are in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me. The glory which Thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as Thou hast loved me” (John 17:21-23).

The “oneness” that Jesus had with God was a “oneness” that Jesus wanted his followers to have with each other, with Jesus, and with God. According to Jesus, it is through our love for God and each other that we experience a “oneness” with God and each other, and we come to know that God “hast loved them (us) even as Thou hast loved me (Jesus).”

Although Jesus spoke of spiritual unity that he and we can have with God and each other, Jesus clearly distinguished between himself and God.

When someone addressed Jesus as “Good teacher,” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Jesus refused to be called “good” like God.

Jesus prayed to God on many occasions. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup (danger of death) from me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt'” (Mark 14:35-36). Jesus’ “will” was clearly separate from God’s “will.”

Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has Himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49). Jesus did not claim to have the same authority that God had.

Jesus told his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Jesus claimed that he did not have equal status or rank with God.

When Jesus was being crucified, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabschthani ?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Here, Jesus felt “forsaken” by God. Jesus clearly viewed God as Someone other than Jesus.

After he emerged from his tomb, Jesus was surprised to see that he was still alive on earth. He told Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God” (John 20:17). Here, Jesus refers to his relationship with God as being the same as the relationship between his “brethren” and God. Again, Jesus did not claim to be God.

There are other verses in which Jesus distinguishes between himself and God, including John 14:1, 14:24, 14:31, 15:15, 16:28, and Matthew 20:23.

Jesus was conscious of his “inner self” or “spirit” within his physical body, just as every human being is conscious of one’s own “spirit” within. Jesus viewed this “spirit” as coming from, and having the same essence as, God. But Jesus did not claim to be more that any other human being. Jesus viewed God as the Source of the life-giving spirit that is in every human being, including Jesus himself.

Jesus believed that when a human body dies, the person’s life-giving spirit returns to God. When Jesus thought that he was about to die on the cross, Jesus prayed to God, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), trusting God’s care for the future. This is the prayer that Christian Deists should pray, trusting in God’s care beyond the life we have now.

Deists believe that God designed human beings to love (care for) each other, and if a person tries to do this, and repents of failures to love, that person will enjoy the inner peace that comes from satisfaction with oneself in this life, and will have reason to hope for another life from God in the future.

Bible Study and Prayer

I have written other essays relating to the practice of Christian deism as a personal religion. In the essay, “Christian Deism as a Personal Religion,” I focused on what it means to “love God” and “love neighbor” as we live each day. I also focused on repentance by us, and our forgiveness of others. In the essay, “Christian Deists: Christians Without Churches,” I focused on the meaning of worship “in spirit and in truth.”

In this essay, I will try to address the subjects of Bible study and prayer in the practice of Christian deism.

In regard to “Bible study,” my focus as a Christian deist is on the teachings of Jesus found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. Preceding these books in the “Bible” is the Hebrew Bible, which Christians erroneously refer to as the “Old Testament.”

The Hebrew Bible presents the story of a primitive people (the Jews) struggling to survive in an environment of conflict with other nations. In that conflict, the Jewish leaders clearly believed that “might makes right” even if it meant the slaughter of innocent women and children of other nations in the Jews’ pursuit of a land of their own (Numbers 31:13-17). What makes this even worse is that this brutality was allegedly done in obedience to “God’s will.” Although there are some valuable passages in the “Old Testament,” these are too few to be of much value to a Christian deist.

Following the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the book called “The Acts of the Apostles” provides some history about the early years of the Christian movement, at least as it was viewed by the writer about fifty years (or more) later. The remainder of the “New Testament” includes letters that Paul (a Jew from Tarsus) wrote, expressing his interpretation of Christianity which varies significantly from the teachings of Jesus. Also included are some letters and books, by unknown writers, reflecting late first Christian century theology, much of which was influenced by Paul.

Finally, in the New Testament, there is a book called “Revelation” predicting an imminent end of the world to encourage persecuted Christians to hope for a “new heaven and a new earth” after the destruction of “evil doers.” This fantasy writing continues to inspire modern-day “end-of-the-world” fanatics to lead their followers to disappointment (at best) and destruction (at worst). Christian deists should view this book as useless.

In reading the books of the New Testament, a Christian deist must put each idea to the test of reason. The basic theology of Paul, with his idea of the crucifixion of Jesus being a sacrifice to pay for the sins of humankind, should be summarily dismissed. However, a Christian deist can identify with Paul’s statements about faith, hope, and love in the letter called First Corinthians, chapter 13. Unfortunately, the scope of Paul’s love did not include persons of a different sexual orientation.

In studying the life and teachings of Jesus, a Christian deist should keep in mind that Jesus was a human being like ourselves. Some of his ideas simply express the cultural views common among Jews two thousand years ago in a pre-scientific age. Some ideas, such as “demons” causing epilepsy, have no validity. The idea of a “devil” tempting and misleading people is also a sign of that time, and has no place in a religion based on reason.

Let me say this clearly: If you find an idea in the Bible that does not seem reasonable to you, you do not have to believe it. God gave you a mind to use, so use it.

In the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus began his career as a Jewish revolutionary who was seeking liberation of the Jews from the Romans, but Jesus gradually came to recognize that the rulership of God (the “kingdom of God”) on earth would not become a reality by military force but by the gradual recognition of God’s laws “in the heart” of individuals. This concept was too “unorthodox” for his compatriots to accept at the time, but Jesus’ view of the “kingdom of God” came to be understood later when Jesus’ teachings, especially his parables, were collected.

Now, let us think about prayer. What is the meaning of prayer to me as a Christian deist? Put quite simply, prayer is communion with God. Jesus taught that “God is spirit” and it is the “spirit that gives life” to us as individuals (John 4:24 and 6:63). In other words, the essence of God and our own being is spirit. This is not an idea that originated with Jesus. Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Heraclitus over 500 years before Jesus, recognized that a “creative intelligence” (they called “logos”) was responsible for the creation of order in the world, and for the creation of “intelligence” in individual human beings. In other words, there is a “Mind” which we call “God” and we each have a “mind” through which we can communicate “mind-to-Mind.”

Prayer was important to Jesus, and we can learn much from how Jesus prayed. Usually, Jesus prayed by himself, away from the company of others (Matthew 14:23; Matthew 26:36; Luke 6:12). Sometimes Jesus prayed in the presence of a few close friends (Luke 9:28; John 17:1). Jesus cautioned against making a public display of prayer (Matthew 6:5) and he urged his disciples to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

Jesus urged his disciples to pray simply. He said, “And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases …. for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

Some Christians have a misconception about prayer based on their reading of Jesus’ statement (Mark 11:24), “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and you will.” Many Christians are disappointed when they fail to receive what they pray for. Some blame themselves for not having a strong enough “faith,” or belief that they will receive what they have prayed for. Others blame God for failing to keep Jesus’ promise.

The truth is that Jesus often taught by hyperbole (exaggeration). In the verses preceding Mark 11:24, Jesus told his disciples, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:22-23). This is an example of a hyperbole to express the importance of faith in God when we pray. But even Jesus did not believe that whatever he prayed for would come to pass.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he would not die (“let this cup pass from me”), but he prefaced his prayer request with the words, “If it be possible” (Matthew 26:39). Here, Jesus recognized that sometimes what he asked for in prayer was not possible. We, too, must accept the fact that sometimes what we seek is not possible. Nevertheless, we may not know what is possible or not possible, so we should express our hopes in prayer. Believing that something is possible may be a deciding factor in something becoming a reality. Personal faith has been proven to be a factor in healing some illnesses, but not all illnesses can be healed by faith. And faith healing is not a substitute for medical treatment.

To me, prayer is more than just “talking” to God. It is also “listening” to God. I do not mean that God’s voice will come “out of the clouds,” but I am convinced that God can help us think of some solutions to our problems. Prayer provides a means of focusing our attention on problems in a way that may open our minds to possible solutions. I have prayed about a problem at bedtime and have awakened to find a possible solution in my mind the next morning. Perhaps this is the way God communicates with us.

I also believe that prayer is a channel through which we can receive strength to cope with our problems. Jesus told his disciples to “pray that you may have strength” so they would not be “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34-36). The Hebrew psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

I believe that prayer is not just “communication” with God. Prayer is COMMUNION with God. In some way when we direct our thoughts to God in prayer, we join our individual spirit with the Spirit that gives us life. The Hebrew psalmist claimed that God spoke these words, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Without saying a word, we can pray by just being still and knowing that God is with us.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray by giving them an example which we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13).

As we know, Jesus viewed God as being like a loving father. In this prayer, Jesus distinguishes God from a human father by referring to God as a heavenly Father. Then Jesus expresses respect for the sacred authority of God by using the words “hallowed” (sacred) and “name” (authority).

Then Jesus gets to the heart of the prayer by seeking the coming of God’s kingdom (rule) on earth, which Jesus equates with “God’s will.”

The request for “daily bread” is a recognition of the fact that we are dependent on God for the very basics for life (such as bread) that come from what God provides (such as seed, earth, rain). This recognition of God’s gifts is also an implied expression of thanksgiving to God for these provisions. Thanksgiving should always be a part of our prayers.

The request for God’s forgiveness of our sins (our failures to love others) is directly tied to our obligation to forgive those who repent of their sins against us.

Finally, the prayer concludes with a request for strength to resist temptation to do evil, and a request for help in protecting ourselves against those who would do evil against us.

This prayer is a good model to guide us in our own praying.

This short essay certainly does not cover all that should be said about Bible study and prayer, but I hope that it is enough to suggest an approach consistent with our beliefs as Christian deists.