Lessons From the Gnostic Gospels
A great tragedy in the Christian movement centuries ago was a shift that moved Christianity away from an emphasis on contemplation and the importance of the work of the Spirit as a primary means of connecting with the Divine.
The shift took centuries, but in the end, a Christian faith based on reliance upon correct beliefs, entrenched dogma, and of course, the importance of agreed-upon practices and the "right" interpretation of Scripture emerged.
All of this took place alongside the creation of institutions designed to protect all of these things at all costs.
At the risk of oversimplifying things, the people who valued a more Spirit-led approach to the Christian faith lost to those who were more about doing than being.
Thankfully, their writings did not fade away, nor did their influence in certain corners of Christianity. So we have them, even though the dominant forms of Christianity still do not embrace them completely.
I've been reading through portions of what is commonly known as the Gnostic Gospels recently, and I've been amazed at what I've found. These writings represent centuries of Christian communities that based their practices and beliefs upon them.
For example, there is this passage from the Gospel of Thomas that speaks explicitly to a more inward approach to connecting with God--an approach that involves self-awareness and surrender:
When you understand yourselves, you will understand everything. Then you will realize that you are God's children
I absolutely love this.
It speaks to the importance of contemplation, reflection, and a reliance on the work of the Spirit in our lives. It also speaks to the universal vocation of Christ to restore all things to God.
You might think that Jesus said similar things in the Gospels that made it into the Bible, and you'd be right. But those sayings have been misinterpreted and taken out of context for so long that it's hard for us to see them at times.
And generally, those interpretations have been pretty exclusive in their claims about who and how Jesus saves.
What if we began to think about our relationship with Christ in the way outlined by the Gnostics? How would it change how we feel about ourselves and the people around us?
When we realize that each of us carries the spark of the Divine, the kingdom of God, the very Spirit of Christ within us, it could very well change every aspect of our lives.
We would begin to see ourselves in a different light and learn what it means to show ourselves grace, grant ourselves mercy, and know that we are worthy in the eyes of a loving, grace-filled God.
We might also begin to see others--even those with whom we disagree--as image-bearers of God, filled with the presence of the eternal, universal Christ, and worthy of love and forgiveness.
Additionally, our exclusive claims of Christianity might also be expanded so that we begin to see more people become interested in Jesus, who he was, is, and is to come. If I am so bold, they might come to realize the Christ within them already.
I encourage you to explore the Gnostic Gospel writings and to know that for centuries our siblings in Christ lifted them up and used them as a guide to lead them toward an expansive view of God.
May their words, and these words today, inspire you. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.