Let me set the stage for you.
It's right around Passover in the year 7 or 8 CE, a nice spring day in Nazareth. There's going to be wedding the next day; all the preparations are ready. There are three characters in our little scene:
- Levi, who is called Biff: the protagonist, and narrator. A Jewish boy, apprenticed to his father as a stonecutter, about 13 years old. Funny, irreverant. (Hopelessly) in (hopeless) love.
- Joshua: another young boy, again around 13. Very philosophical, and incredibly wise for his age. Kind and honest. Biff is his best friend.
- Maggie: a young Jewish woman, also about the same age. She's the bride in this wedding, betrothed to Jakan, the son of Iban, a Pharisee and important member of the Sanhedrin. As appalling as at might seem to us, remember that 13 or 14 was a routine age for marriage in the Promised Land in those times.
Right. So, to contine, Maggie is (not-so) secretly in love with Joshua, and Biff is (not-so) secretly in love with Maggie. Biff is also in love with Joshua's mother, Mary, but only in a sort of mainly joking "she's my backup wife" sort-of way. So anyway, it's the day before Maggie's wedding, and she asks Biff to get Joshua to meet her that evening. Joshua knows it's so Maggie can profess her feelings for him. He knows he can't carry through on anything he might feel for her, so he asks Biff to go in his place, and pretend to be him, so Maggie's feelings won't be hurt.
I fell backward on the ground and there was in my head a bright light, and the rest of the world existed in the senses of touch and smell and God. There, on the ground beside the synagogue, Maggie and I indulged desires we had carried for years, mine for her, and hers for Joshua. That neither of us knew what we were doing made no difference. It was pure and it happened and it was marvelous. And when we finished we lay there holding each other, and Maggie said, "I love you, Joshua."
"I love you, Maggie," I said. And ever so slightly she loosened her embrace.
"I couldn't mary Jakan withoutI couldn't let you go withoutwithout letting you know."
"He knows, Maggie."
I thought she might scream, that she might leap up and run away, that she might do any one of a hundred things to take me from Heaven to Hell, but after only a second she nuzzled close to me again.
"Thank you for being here," she said.
- excerpted from Lamb, by Christopher Moore
If you haven't figured it out already, Maggie is better known today as Mary Magdala, or sometimes Mary Magdalene. She is the one, scripture says, who found Jesus' tomb empty the first Easter morning. She was with him in his last days, and one can assume, through much of his ministry as well. Joshua is just Greek for Jesus, so it's not that much of a stretch. And Levi, who is called Biff is Jesus' childhood best friend.
Purists would complain that the character of Biff completely fictional, and that including Jesus as a character in a story with extra-marital relationships (for which he is in part responsible) is nothing short of blasphemy. I think they're wrong. Though very little is written about it, it's very likely that Jesus lived a largely normal childhood, had friends, played, and did everything else a normal child did in the first century.
There's something about the humanity in this portrayal of Christ that I like, that he was one of us. The book as a whole is, of course, wickedly funny, and I recommend you find a copy of it at your local public library, and read it just as soon as possible.
But that brings me to my recent crisis of faith. Did Jesus' humanity appeal to me in this portrayal because I already think of him as a person? Am I so unsure in my faith that I can't even say for sure that Jesus was the Son of God? Was Jesus anything more than a worker of miracles, a man of wisdom and kindness and acceptance, and a prophet of God?
I've puzzled over these questions for a little bit, and haven't come any closer to finding answers that work for me. I still find church (when I go) to be a place where I feel at home. I'm surrounded there by by a love largely rooted in a God that maybe none of us is understanding correctly, speaking about and listening to fallible scriptures written by people with biases and prejudices just like us, singing hymns of praise with memorable tunes, and words of questionable accuracy. It's a comfortable place, but having said what I just have, my presence there feels almost quasi-apostate.
It's not that I have a problem in my relationship with God. He or She, and I, are doing just fine, thank you very much. We even talk once in a while, though it's not as often as I feel I should. My trouble is, the belief system to which I allegedly adhere places the divinity of his Son front and centre. While I can accept and believe (without proof, I might add) that God exists and that he loves me, the precise nature of his son seems... insignificant.
When I was still discerning for ministry just a year ago, one question I was asked was to describe what I believed God was. And I said, "I believe that God loves me, and all the rest is crap." It just doesn't matter. It would seem that Christian doctrine disagrees with me.
How do I put Christian doctrine as it exists, and my fractured, shattered belief system back together?