I posted this back in February, but it is a question that I still think about from time to time. So, I thought I’d repost this and see if some of my newer readers have any thoughts on it.
Did Jesus Want to be Liked?
A friend and I have been carrying on an interesting conversation about whether or not Jesus wanted to be liked. So, with his permission and a few slight edits, here is some of that email exchange.
Friend: “So today while I was visiting my counselor, who also happens to be a Christian, he asked me a philosophical question and I’ll pass it along to you for your response. He asked, “Do you think Jesus wanted to be liked?” I answered no, that while it would be nice for Him to be liked, He was more interested in telling the truth which He knew would be counter-cultural and eventually lead to His death. He didn’t court favor with people…He simply told the first disciples to follow him…there was no wooing of them to His service outside His divine nature. And I also pointed out the many who supported Him while He was meeting their needs and then turned their back on Him afterwards. Then there were the crowds who were fickle calling Him king and Messiah on the way into Jerusalem and Crucify Him a week later. Was Jesus seeking popularity? No. I think He was seeking to reveal the truth about man’s need for a relationship with God and knew what His eventual fate would be. He appreciated those close to Him, but that wasn’t a “need”. The counselor was surprised by my answer. Do you think it’s not orthodox or am I just totally off the wall here?”
Me: “Let me think about this some more, but my first response would be that the gospels are primarily written to suggest that Jesus is the Risen Messiah of God rather than any kind of expose as we find in modern psychological biography.
I do think we have clues that point to Jesus’ needs (which I do believe is a very orthodox position, since we consider him fully human as well as fully divine – to take away his human needs would either be docetic and deny his humanity or gnostic and hate his humanity: remember human comes from humus or earthiness). John 21 suggests Jesus wants Peter to love him, John 11:35-36 seems to suggest a deep friendship with Lazarus. We make a fine point between being liked and loved, but I believe Jesus did want to be loved. Presumably we like those we love.
Let me think some more, and I’ll get back to you. However, feel free to press back on any of these points! God bless!”
Friend: “There is a basic human need to be loved. Evidence the scientific experiments where apes were raised with wireframe and cloth mothers as opposed to an actual ape female mother. When the love wasn’t able to be returned, the apes exposed to the non-ape mothers became anti-social and withdrawn. So given that Jesus was fully human, you almost have to assume that he too wished to be loved. However would the close relationship with his Father account for the love that he needed so therefore he didn’t seek the human companionship enough. He is described as a friend of tax collectors and sinners in Matthew 11:19, but he also referred to the guard who came to seize him in the garden as friend. So it could be describing a relationship or simply an acquaintance. I’ll let you handle the Greek exegesis on that. As for liking those you love, there are times when the people you love are very unlikable. Take for example when your kids are driving you nuts. You still love them, but you don’t necessarily like them at all times. Or when dealing with the poor or sinners, you love because you are commanded to love, but they can be quite unlikable at times.
I think ultimately, to take away the docetic or Gnostic aspects that would be implied, there probably is a need to be liked, but solitary monastics could live without the company and be quite content, so why not Christ?”
Me: “OK, maybe God’s love is “enough,” but then why would the great commandment be the twofold love of God and neighbor? God’s inner-triune love is complete, yes. However, it is an effusive love that spills over and receives loving worship from humanity too.
I don’t know that solitary monastics are the best example either. Monasticism at its finest is a hospitable community of love, rather than a bunch of ascetic “navel gazers.” Christians haven’t always been exempt from gnostic and docetic tendencies, monastics included.”
Friend: Is the love of neighbor as yourself an agape love or a phileo love and can you have that kind of phileo love without liking someone?
Me: I think we make far too fine distinctions between the two. Semantically, especially in John 21, they are more similar than many amateur exegetes have suggested over the years. Check out this link for a discussion of that.
Friend: What about a serial killer….could you love Charles Manson? Moving beyond disapproving of what he’s done and really liking him? I realize the extreme nature of this example, but could if someone hurt your daughter and you found it in your heart to forgive as we are commanded and even to love him or her because they are created in the image of God, could you ever “like” them? I don’t think it’s amateur exegetes who make a fine distinction…the Greeks did…which is why there are three words to identify different kinds of love. You also might want to follow this link to read C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on this topic from Mere Christianity.
Me: I think we’re talking about a different question now than whether Jesus wanted people to like him. But who’s counting?!
We’ll see where this goes from here…any thoughts out there in the blogosphere?