When something is abstract, it exists as little more than a concept in our heads.
Jesus is often abstract to me.
Now before you’re write me off as a heretic, consider my company. In his famous Oxford group, “The Holy Club,” John Wesley developed a list of insightful accountability questions. Tagged onto the end–#21 to be exact–is a question that has both haunted and helped me since I first encountered it:
Is Christ real to me?
Now to even include such a question assumes that, no, Christ was sometimes not real to Wesley, but, yes, he so wanted him to be. And wanted it enough to warrant the weekly interrogation of his soul. My hope and expectation is that he often answered yes, and that’s part of why we still know his name today. But a greater reason for his echoing life may be that sometimes he answered no, and was affected enough to admit it.
On any given day I talk to, sing for, speak of, and write about Jesus. I articulate him as my “Lord” and my “Savior”. But in the repetition of churchianity he so easily becomes my “Concept”. Impersonal. Transactive. Just consider my answer to Jesus’ own version of the question,
Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)
I mechanically respond with correct theological premises, just like Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Not all bad. Certainly the proper start. But abstract orthodoxy alone fails to fully prepare me that I will one day meet this Man face to face. I don’t want to greet him as a mere acquaintance. I want to have known his face. I want him to have been real to me.
I think Peter often saw this strange striving in those who had never looked into Jesus’ eyes. Why else would he later write these tender, reassuring words:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9)
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Away from the abstract, on to the Man. May Jesus be real to us this day.