14 April 2014
5 questions about Judas that can help you make the most of Easter
by Krish Kandiah
As we enter Holy Week, the subplot of Judas in the passion story is one that has always troubled me. Was Judas a kind of robot assassin sent to kill Jesus? Is he the most pitiable man in all of history? Or is he the ultimate super villain? In my new book Paradoxology, I reflect on the story of Judas as one of the many paradoxes in scripture that can help us draw closer to God. The story of Judas raises important theological and philosophical questions which, if we wrestle with them, can help us to engage with God at a more profound level.
1. Was Judas a robot?
There are mornings when I wake up and I am half-way to work. I have somehow been on autopilot as I have woken up, gotten ready for the day, cycled to the station and boarded the train. By the time I make it into London and I am standing on the escalator taking me into the underground system I feel like automaton: a cog in the machine that is the economy. This feeling is not restricted to a rather sleepy commuter with the recent crop of science fiction movies such as Oblivion, The Edge of Tomorrow, Elysium and the Robocop remake cinemagoers are seeing big questions about the relationship between technology and humanity, between programming and free will. The Judas Paradox raises this question too. Was Judas a robot assassin who had no choice but to kill the Son of God? Was his Deocide programmed into his DNA or his destiny before he was born or did he have a choice? The Judas Paradox brings the Bible into contact with a recurring theme of human experience.
2. Did Judas have free will?
The question of Judas's free will raises complicated questions for Christians. But we are not alone in wrestling with this debate. Atheists too have to give an account for this challenge. Outspoken atheist commentator Sam Harris argues in Freewill: "Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control."
The problem is the relationship between our chemistry and our choices, between our brain and our mind. Although we feel like we have choices some atheists like Harris argue it is a myth and an illusion and yet still for example assert the copyright over their writings as they claim to be the author of their work which would indicate some creative and decision-making abilities.
In the Judas story we see a paradox in play. Judas feels responsible for his actions in betraying Jesus hence he eventually, wracked with guilt, commits suicide. But the Bible is clear that the death of Jesus was part of God's plan for rescuing humanity as Peter explains in Acts 2:23. The Bible affirms both human free will and responsibility and also God's rule over the universe. The fact that it is difficult to reconcile the two together is not a deal-breaker in the rationality of the Christian faith as every system of thought has these dilemmas – atheism included.
3. Is Judas a warning for churchgoers?
Churchgoers ought to be nervous when they read the story of Judas. Proximity to Jesus was not guarantee of allegiance to Jesus or spiritual maturity. Judas was one of the inner circle of apostles. He spent around three years on the road with Jesus, witnessed his miracles in person and was personally discipled by Jesus and yet none of these things guaranteed his perseverance in the faith. Often Christians live as if their job is to simply turn up at church and it is the church's job to make sure they grow spiritually. But the Judas paradox shows us that there is still an onus on us to play our part in our spiritual formation.
4. What does Judas have in common with Burger King?
One detail of the Judas story that seems particularly pregnant with meaning is the fact that when Judas decided to betray Jesus he was given 30 pieces of silver, which is the exact amount of money that someone in the ancient Middle East would have been given if someone accidentally killed their slave. Jesus failed to measure up as a slave to Judas' desires and agenda, and so Judas conspires to get him killed. It's a cruel and bitter twist in the gospel story – a great wrong, done to a man who did not deserve it in any way.
Like the promise fast food chains like Burger King offer their customers that you can "have it your way", we have come to expect that Christianity delivers to us what we want when we want. Just like Judas we have got a role reversal problem. Christianity is about us becoming servants of Christ not Christ being at our beck and call. Jesus has already served us by dying on the cross in our stead, now we respond to him by becoming servants of Christ.
5. Is it ok to have questions about Judas?
As a young person with a lot of questions, sometimes I came across three standard responses:
1.If we could understand God then we would be God
2.God works in mysterious ways
3.Get on with your colouring…
When I have taken on the role as Sunday school teacher myself I have been tempted to use the same approach. But exploring the riches of the Christian faith means being willing to struggle withits complexities. We will not always be able to come up with a neat answer or a knock down proof. But perhaps it is sometimes when we wrestle with the tough parts of our faith we discover what it is like to have an authentic relationship with God.
Krish Kandiah is executive director: churches in mission at the Evangelical Alliance