Thursday, 28 May 2015

FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 633 27 May 15 GOD’S DNA


A DNA test has confirmed that Jesus is the Son of God! How could the priest not delight in it? Still…does it make sense? And, if true, what would follow from it?

It seems Jesus’ purported DNA comes from the Shroud of Turin. A long linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man. Believed by many to be Jesus. Most unlikely but…assume it is authentic. You check its DNA traces and…what? Does the molecule display ‘God’s material’, as someone exults online? Alas, God is not made of any ‘material’. God is not made of anything. If he were, he would not be God but something else. An idol, perhaps. Or some finite entity or energy or freak. Once again, God is not that.

St Athanasius’ Creed affirms that Jesus Christ is both God and Man, ‘yet he is not two but one Christ’. The human and the divine essences coexist harmoniously in Jesus’ person. Two natures, united but not confused. The divine does not absorb the human and vice versa. Heretics like Paul of Samosat (a courtier of Queen Zenobia of Palmira, city now unhappily occupied by ISIS) held that Jesus was a special human person whom God only used as a minister. Such Jesus’ DNA would have shown no trace of divinity, therefore.

Another heretic, Apollinaris of Laodicea, reacted to Paul of Samosat by teaching the contrary. In Jesus, Apollinaris has it, you would find a human body but no soul – that was replaced by the Logos, the Spirit or Operation of God. The Logos however, being divine, does not consist of matter or molecules so again, how could divinity ever be detected?

Famously, the DNA molecule resembles a spiral staircase, or a double helix. The helix is ‘right-handed’, i.e. it coils in a clockwise direction. What, say, if Jesus’ DNA showed a helix coiling the other way? Remarkable but…what would it prove? Left-handed helices have been produced experimentally but…so what?

Possibly the problem is caused by translating Hebrew concrete ideas and language into technical Greek metaphysical categories. Christians sought evidence for Jesus’ divinity first not from philosophy but from Old Testament prophecies. Isaiah refers to the Messiah as Immanuel, ‘God with us’. The Prophet Micah even suggests a Messiah pre-existing creation, hence divine. Psalm 110 has Christ majestically seated ‘at the right hand of God’.

Other evidence emanate from Jesus’ critique of the Jewish Law. When Christ said, referring to himself, that ‘The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’, he asserted his supremacy over the Old Law given to Moses on Sinai. He had the right, as God’s son, to modify what his Father had established before him. That shocked many pious Jews because to alter the Law implied that Jesus of Nazareth had revealed himself as Son of God. And so he did.

Examples could be multiplied. Jesus’ tough pronouncements about the Jerusalem Temple, his miracles, his power to forgive sins, his transfiguration, his resurrection and ascension – these are dynamic, Scripture-attested data, not logical lucubrations. Obviously, they will not persuade those determined not to be persuaded – they never did. Even some hard-hearted eye-witnesses of Jesus’ wonderful healings ascribed them to the action of devils!

Radical Christians like the scholars of the Jesus Seminars reject a supernatural Jesus. They prefer to see him as a sort of wandering Zen Master, a spiritual rebel or iconoclast. That is not new. German idealist thinkers like Hegel understood Christ as a rational, ethical figure, bringing a message of inward moral authenticity, a challenge to Hebrew rabbinical legalism. Later, theologian Rudolf Bultmann conceived Jesus’ person as embodying a call to crucial existential choice, risk, authenticity…you get my drift. Present-day sceptics have ditched even that thin pubulum. Regardless, they all postulate a Jesus with a purely human DNA. Divinity these unbelievers and scoffers they have long given up, like belief in Father Christmas or King Arthur.

Another trendy but reductionist school of thought falls back on Wittgenstein. On a device he describes in the Philosophical Investigations. It is about ‘seeing an aspect’. You can see an illustration now as one object, now as another. You see it as you interpret it. Wittgenstein draws the seemingly simple, childish figure of something he calls ‘a duck-rabbit’. You can see it as a rabbit’s head or as a duck’s head but not simultaneously as both. (Actually I think I can!) Then an aspect ‘dawns’ on you. A revelation, an epiphany or, to  call it less grandly, ‘the penny drops’ effect. Upshot, you can see Jesus Christ as both and divine, at the same time.

Of course, this is not about anything physical or supernatural. It is only an analogy. A seductive one, though. So, forget about cells, chromosomes, DNA sequences, all that. What matters is total commitment to the dual aspect, the illumination dawning on you. You give up all you have, give it to the poor and follow Jesus. Kierkegaard, Heidegger or Bultmann? Or Pope Francis, maybe?

In conclusion, what if, for real, Jesus’ DNA was uncovered somewhere? Examined by a scientist, what would it show? The simple answer: nobody knows. A philosophical voice inside me whispers: ‘It is a category mistake. Christ’s divinity could never come through in a lab.’ But there is also another voice: ‘Look, don’t be dogmatic. Isn’t God the God of surprises? What if the results surprised us?’

What indeed!

Revd Frank Julian Gelli

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