Ray Bradbury, in his book The Illustrated Man (which you can read in almost its entirety at the provided link) wrote a short story called ‘The Man’. I first read this story while working the night shift at a mental health clinic over a year ago. I wasn’t really a fan of science fiction at the time, but it was the night shift, I had finished my paperwork, and my friend Matt gave me the story to read to pass the long lonely hours the night shift tends to supply. This story did at least two things to me that night. First, it made me a fan of sci-fi…at least sci-fi written by Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Second, it confronted me with a question that I would say really is THE question: What do I believe about Jesus, the man?
The story begins with a rocket ship landing on a distant planet in some distant solar system. The rocket ship and crew had been traveling millions of miles through space, looking for life on other planets. When they finally land on the planet they had traveled millions of miles to find, nobody comes out to meet them, nobody in the nearby alien village seems to care. The captain sends a lieutenant into the town to see what’s going on and the lieutenant returns with interesting news. The day before they landed, a Man, a Man for whom the town had been waiting a long time finally came. The Man healed the sick, and spoke wisdom, and brought a peace of mind to everyone who met Him. Since the Man came the day before, the town wasn’t really interested or impressed with the rocketship landing.
I don’t want to give away the rest of the story, because its not very long and Bradbury tells it much better than I could. But the effect ‘the Man’ has on the village and the various crew members of the rocket is deeply profound, in both good and bad ways.
One of the things that strike me constantly, which is explored beautifully in this story, is how people react when they are confronted with Jesus, the Man.
In my spiritual walk, in my reading and studying and ‘coffee house discussions’ about faith, I tend to stick more to theology and doctrine. I like discussing what Paul or Peter wrote, or how Luther and the reformers changed theology, or C. S. Lewis and how wonderful his books are, or (my personal favorite) what is wrong with the church today. I like these discussions because I think I feel safe in them. I’ve always excelled in the book smart type things, so I get a sort of comfort discussing things that are abstract and intellectual.
But when I read stories like the Ray Bradbury one, I start to squirm a little. The fear is subtle at first, just like how the fear enters your body during the first climb on a roller coaster ride. You are only vaguely cognizant of the crazy ride ahead of you right when it takes off. But as it slowly climbs, the exhilaration/panic becomes more and more real with every click of the coaster car. For some reason, whenever Jesus gets brought up, not the abstract spiritual Jesus, but the Jesus who walked around and ate and cried and laughed and pooped like all the rest of us, I get painfully uncomfortable.
I recently read that story again. The pastor at the church my wife and I attend just started a series on the life of Jesus. And, as is expected, I can feel the safety and comfort I have in most spiritual conversations wither away and I become that seven year old kid again climbing the first arch of his first roller coaster.
But I think I’m starting to figure out what makes ‘Jesus, the Man’ so difficult for me to face sometimes. Relationships with books and abstract ideas are controlled, predictable, and easily quantifiable. Although it may take time, I (or anyone) could lay out in a controlled way the tenants of Christianity, why we believe those things, and how those things instruct us to live. Relationships with humans, even if the human is God that gave up His godship to live as the perfect man among us, are extremely messy, incredibly unpredictable, and absolutely impossible to quantify.
‘Jesus, the Man’ is so difficult because, unlike theology or philosophy, I don’t know where He is taking me. I don’t know what bump or what zoom or what drop is waiting around the corner of my relationship with Jesus.
But that very fear, that very uncertainty that Jesus brings with Him, is exactly why a relationship with Him is worth pursuing. It is exactly the reason why I run back to Him over and over and over again. Jesus, the Man, offers me something that no dogma or ideal can ever give me…and that is a living and active relationship.
Jesus is an enigma to religion. He is what makes fools of “religious people”. He is the Rock that good meaning people continually stub their tow on.
After reading the Ray Bradbury story, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question again. What do I believe about Jesus, the Man? Who do I think He is and will I walk with Him?
After pondering and thinking about it, the best answer I can give to the question “Who’s the Man?” is that I don’t know Him as well as I’d like, but I’m really looking forward to getting to know Him more. I’m pretty scared at times, but I’d rather ride the roller coaster Jesus will lead me down and than live a safe, calculated religious life.