A short meditation...
Nowadays, I do a lot of my religious meditation/thinking by looking past the historical/literal sense of things and trying to see the concept behind it. This helps me come to grips with the doubts that have plagued me lately and gets me past trying to figure out what is historical and literal, and helps me look for what the point is behind any particular doctrine.
In doing this, I reached a point where I realized that the message that we call "the gospel" is, at its core, an affirmation for humanity.
Imagine being part of a religion in which the level of commitment and requirements are high, so high that the average person probably can't meet them financially, or morally. Imagine being part of a culture that describes itself in terms of being "chosen" and yet your history and Scriptures are full of stories that record your failures, every exile, every instance of rebellion, every rash decision by your group's important leaders, and every threat and warning delivered by prophets threatening God's judgement.
That's your identity...being part of a people crushed under the Roman boot probably because it's punishment for a large-scale spiritual failing. After all, that is the way that every national calamity has been portrayed for the last 800 years or so.
Now imagine that someone appears with a message, and the message is that none of that matters. That God accepts all those who want to be accepted. That God is not angry, but wants relationship with people. That the burden of commitments and requirements and meeting all of God's expectations is no longer carried by you and your nation.
Christian doctrine places all those burdens on Jesus pretty early in its development, making him the bearer and fulfiller of commitments and requirements, but just think about what it means for the people of that time and place and with that history to be given this message.
Now, imagine for a moment that someone comes to you personally and says,"I know all the times you have blown it and screwed up and been less than you should be....but I just want you to know that you, and your life, have value and worth and acceptance in my eyes."
That is a powerful, life-affirming message. And that is what Christianity provides whether or not we believe in all the literal arguments put forth by Christian apologists.
Somehow, this message gets lost in some of our incarnations of Christianity. The message becomes one that was for "those people" in the first century; Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and lawyers. Yet, we are the same as "those people", we have only exchanged the Jewish law and pathos for our own law and pathos.
So what were "those people" waiting for? They wanted vindication, a messiah that would prove that God ultimately hadn't abandoned them, that they still were His "chosen" people, his beloved Jacob.
That is exactly what the story of Jesus provides, permission to feel free. Permission to feel loved. Permission to feel forgiven, even if you hadn't met the expectations that you, yourself, hold.
The permission to let go of what you thought had to be.
The permission to move forward, in a different direction.
And that's powerful.