For me, Jesus symbolizes two widely disparate ideas: profound, selfless love and soul-crushing shame and fear. The compassionate, endearing side of Jesus gets a lot of press, so please excuse me if I don’t mention that part of the story. I want to mention why I have a few problems with the idea that Jesus is kinder, gentler son of cranky ol’ Jehovah of genocidal fame.
First, Jesus symbolizes hell for me. No one mentions Hell in the Hebrew Bible, at least not in the sense of endless torment for the wicked. Prior to the arrival of Jesus, the Bible is actually pretty vague about the state of the dead. The word translated as hell in the Old Testament (×©××•×œ or sheol) is also often translated as grave. For the ancient Hebrews, Hell and the grave were synonymously defined as the place of all the dead, not just the wicked dead.
Between the Old and New Testaments as the Greeks were spreading their culture throughout the ancient world, it seems that some part of the Jewish culture adopted the idea of a place of torment for the sinful dead. Jesus introduced the idea of hellfire into Abrahamic religion. (e.g. Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:45,47; Luke 16:19–31)
I doubt that we can truly blame a single man named Yeshua of Nazareth for introducing this idea into Jewish culture, but he is emblematic for me of the adoption of the idea of hellfire because his followers made Hell the nightmare it is today: an eternal punishment for sins committed during the finite span of mortal life—a punishment out of all proportion to the crime.
And then there’s Satan and his minions. Though Christianity didn’t create the idea of malevolent unseen spirits, it did nothing to quell its spread. Christianity in my life taught me to fear the temptations of legions of demons.
Jesus also introduced the idea of thought crime. He was the first totalitarian. He declared that simple bodily appetites and emotions were sinful. (Matthew 5:22,28) Jesus could have been the leader of Eastasia punishing people for crimethink. I waged war on myself in Jesus’ name. He taught me to hate myself because I couldn’t control the stray thoughts and desires that crossed my mind. I spent my years as a Christian trying (but never quite succeeding) to feel Jesus’ love. At the same time I lived in fear and shame because of his cruel teachings and the doctrines of many of his followers. He has never apologized for the unnecessary pain he put me through.
In short, I’m much happier now that I’ve diagnosed Jesus as having bipolar disorder. Now if he’d only take his meds.
[This post was inspired by Eddie Lee's recent comment.]