The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr (Part one)
My notes on Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ
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‘I dedicate this book to my beloved fifteen-year-old black Lab, Venus... Without any apology, lightweight theology, or fear of heresy, I can appropriately say that Venus was also Christ for me.‘
So opens Richard Rohr’s just released book, The Universal Christ. If I’d read this statement fifteen years ago, I would have absolutely viewed it as heresy. Or dangerously liberal. But over the last fifteen years, my own journey of faith and spiritually has led me to the point where I can now appreciate what he’s saying.
That’s not yet to say that I can see Christ in all things as clearly as Rohr can. But I’m on the same path now. And instead of viewing that path as dangerous or taking me away from God, I see it taking me to a deeper, fuller, more complete faith.
One of the main points Rohr makes in the book is to do with what Christian’s call the ‘incarnation’. Most Christians associate this with the coming of Jesus to live among us as humans. Rohr points out though that the coming of Jesus is the second incarnation. What is the first? Creation.
'Creation,’ says Rohr, ‘is the first Bible, and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written.’
All creation reveals God. Long before Jesus came and long before we had the Bible. Since the beginning of time, everything visible has been an outpouring of God. And the word for this ‘presence’ that’s before, within, and beyond all things is Christ.
If this is true, the implications are huge. Many Christians view our world as bad. Our ‘salvation’ messages revolve around fleeing this earth, and getting to heaven.
But, if we don’t view the whole world as sacred, we then find it hard to see God in our everyday world. Nor can we love or respect it. Hence many Christians don’t show any interest in issues like global warming. Why care about this planet if we’re going to heaven soon?
Rohr says that recognising the divine in every thing is key to both mental and spiritual health, as well as contentment and happiness.
How are we to understand the difference between Christ and Jesus though? This distinction is at the heart of the book. And Rohr points to various Scriptures that point to the Christ being around long before Jesus was born.
So, in Rohr’s view, Christ is God, and Jesus is the Christ’s historical manifestation in time. Together, Jesus and Christ give us a God who is both personal and universal.
'Jesus is a map for the time-bound and personal level of life,’ writes Rohr. ‘And Christ is the blueprint for all time and space and life itself.’
This, clearly, is not something that is easy to wrap our rational minds around! Rohr recognises this. He argues too that much of recent Christianity has focussed on trying to get people to mentally assent to certain beliefs. But he is calling us back to a simpler trusting in a God who is inherent in all things.
And this God, this Christ in all things, is why Rohr could see Christ in his black Labrador. And seeing is the key word.
Reading Rohr over the last few years has made me realise how little I see. He truly sees Christ in all things and it comes through everything he says and does. It’s that kind of seeing I crave. To see the sacred at the heart of every thing. Whether that be my own dog, all of nature, or the people all around me.
What if salvation was more about a new way of seeing than believing certain theological propositions?
I’ll be writing some more notes inspired by this book over the next couple of weeks.