The Religion of Jesus requires us to understand ...

Jesus and Men's Failures

Toyohiko Kagawa: The ministry of Jesus had one peculiar feature: He limited His religious mission to the sick, the weak, the poor, the wanderers and the sinners. That is, Jesus penetrated into the essence of the universe from the pathological aspect. In this chapter we will consider how Jesus and the God of Jesus strive to remedy the failure and weakness of mankind. It may be a good plan to study Jesus and the failure of mankind from two aspects: the failure of enterprises, and spiritual degeneration.

In 1919 I saw many business enterprises collapse because of the economic depression. The manager of the Kobe branch of a firm, which had £10,000,000 capital, fled by night, and a man who paid taxes to the tune of £11,000 annually had to leave his mansion, which had cost many thousands of pounds, and for the erection of which the dwellers in seventeen tenement houses had been forced to leave and their houses had been torn down. This man had henceforth to confine himself to his country house. Some people became nervous breakdowns as a result of the failure, others tried to pacify their worry by taking drugs. During the past ten years nearly five thousand people have tried to drown themselves on the Suma seashore alone, while Kegon waterfall and the crater of Asama have taken the same number of lives. There are many tears in human life. Thousands of people fall on the right, and hundreds of thousands on the left, and many cut off their lives when only half-grown.

What, then, is failure; and what is success? It is important to know the meaning of these words. Some people define success as having much money. But they suffer because of having too much of it.

What definition did Jesus give to "success"? He said that true success is to complete one's life. It is to attain to eternal life; all else is failure.

Even what seems successful from the outside, if it has no foundation must collapse. There are many instances of things which look successful but really are not. Napoleon marched into Moscow leading an army of hundreds of thousands of men; but when he saw from Sparrow Hill that the city was all on fire, he wept. In the moment of his great success, he tasted the bitterness of defeat. Afterward, when exiled to St. Helena, he said one day reflectively to a certain count who was waiting on him, "I am a great failure; but Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth, is a world-conqueror." Napoleon realized that his great success was, after all, a great failure. The triumph achieved by military power was not a real triumph.

For fourteen years Confucius occupied the seat of the prime minister [of part of China], but his life was not successful. When he threw away his position, and left the government service, he found success in its true meaning. Thus people who seem to be successful are in many instances failures.

Again, some people fail because of their lack of faith. One day a father brought to Jesus his son who had been a lunatic, to be cured. But the disciples could not cure him. And when he brought the boy to Jesus he was at last cured. Seeing this the disciples came to Jesus apart and asked, "Why could we not cure him?" Jesus said, "Because of your unbelief. For verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt. 17:20-21).

When we lack faith, our enterprises often fail. The great achievements of the world's history have almost always started from some great faith. It may seem strange to say it, but it is a fact that the Suez and Panama canals had such an origin. The first people who talked of Socialism, beginning with Saint-Simon, were all imbued with the religious spirit. In particular the disciples of Saint-Simon were deeply religious. And among them Enfantin (Encyclopedia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Vol. 21, p.198) especially thought that religion and science must be harmonized, and that the ideal life is one in which this has been achieved. Ferdinand de Lesseps was influenced by Enfantin, and thought that true social service could not be accomplished without religion, and it was he who opened the Suez Canal. He afterward set about to construct the Panama Canal with the same thought.

There is no commoner phrase in Japan than "shikata ga nai," "it can't be helped." Everybody uses it. But we must be people who can say, "It can be helped!" no matter in what circumstance we may be. A man often deceives himself by saying he has faith, and at the same time saying, "It can't be helped!" If you advise a person leading an irregular life to be a little more careful, he will say, "This has become a habit; it can't be helped," and in saying so he will consider he has justified himself. He is an example of what is called character-determinism.

Ferri of Italy, who wrote on the psychology of women criminals, said that those who became criminals after twenty-seven years of age have little hope of reformation, because their characters are determined. But as long as our free will works even a little, we must never be resigned. We must find some way out. Paul taught us Christian omnipotence: "I can do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). We must learn faith-omnipotence. We must not too quickly accept "character-determinism."

When you say to a man, "You must not go into bad paths," he may answer, "This is my inheritance. My father did this too, and degraded himself. It can't be helped." In Ibsen's play, The Ghost, the father had a liaison with the housemaid, and when the son did the same thing, the mother thought, "This is the ghost of the father." Nothing can be helped if you make it a ghost.

But faith is omnipotent. We need courage to remove mountains. Faith is a lever. With this one lever even the earth itself can be prized up. While we have this faith, we need have no fear of failure.

But some people who have faith lack patience. Man's work always needs time. Therefore we need patience. Japanese people lack this, and so are always changing. They study Kropotkin for three days, then Socialism for three days, and then try reading the Bible for three days. Franklin said that three moves are as bad as being burned out. I have a friend who moves once a year, and he says it is like travelling. There are many Japanese young men whose faith moves in the same way.

I lived in the slums for eleven years and nine months and did not move at all. I prefer a life that digs deep and straight like a drill. Some people may be called church-vagabonds, who are always going round and round to different churches. The Christian faith cannot be fully tasted in one or two years. Even a husband and wife, if they live together twenty or thirty years, and endure each other, will have at last a pleasant taste to one another!

Justin Martyr was once called before Caesar in Rome and required to burn incense before an idol. He was an old man and almost dying, but he refused to do it. "What matter!" he cried, "I have believed in Jesus for a long time. How can I throw away my faith? I will follow Him to the end." "Follow Him to the end!" Anyone who keeps his faith to the end will be surely saved.

Napoleon called Jesus of Nazareth a success. But truly Jesus Christ was a failure of failures. When He died He had nothing but a coat, a girdle, and a seamless gown; and the Roman soldiers divided these, and cast lots for the gown. His end was the Crucifixion. To-day we glory in the Cross, but in those days it was the worst form of capital punishment.

If you have even once been taken to prison, you will know that it is no pleasant thing. An ex-convict cannot go abroad, and people do not trust him. I have been three times convicted of having so-called dangerous ideas, and fined fifty pounds by the court. It is not a happy experience.

How can a life which ended on the Cross be called successful? To-day we worship the Cross. But really we would not like to be crucified. In the last part of the sixth chapter of John, it is written that many of the disciples went back from Jesus, and the number decreased until only twelve were left. And Jesus asked them, "Will ye also go away?"

And at the last Judas betrayed Jesus. And the remaining eleven, who were supposed to be trustworthy, were the sort of people who slept and realized nothing of Jesus' agony. Only a few women followed Him to the end. Women have a stronger tendency to conservation than men, and they incline to hold on to anything good. Much is to be expected of women in the spreading of Christianity.

Jesus Christ was crucified as a failure, and His disciples all ran away from Him. But, nevertheless, Jesus Christ did not call Himself defeated. Jesus was a success, though apparently a failure. There are many who think themselves successful, and do not realize that actually they are failures.

Once I visited the home of a shipping millionaire with the chief editor of the Osaka Nichi Nichi newspaper. This house, a villa at Suma, was larger than a palace. It was said that the owner spent £600,000 to build this house in the style of Momoyama. It was a grand mansion, built of ancient cryptomeria wood. When I went to that house, I asked the editor, "What will the owner do with this house?" He replied, "He will confine himself in it!" At that time I was living in a house six feet square and found it quite comfortable.

When Kropotkin was in prison, he walked five miles a day in his cell. This was because, in St. Petersburg, the air is damp, and he would run the risk of rheumatism if he took no exercise. When I was put in the Tachibana prison in Kobe, I followed Kropotkin's example. My cell was about six feet square, and I could walk about six steps. I walked in the cell for about two miles every day. Thus I could think of my residence as being two miles wide!

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews could say, "Be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5); while St. Paul from prison wrote, "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content." (Phil. 4:11)

Jesus Christ spent his life in destitution and had nothing to the last moment. But nevertheless the Crucified One was the most successful man who ever lived. True success is to succeed in, to inherit, life. The truly successful man is the one who can enjoy the life of God. So long as you suffer because of crucifixions, destitutions, or persecutions, you can do nothing.

To-day the teaching of Confucius has become old-fashioned, and the old morality has died out, and there is no new morality. And the word which is always being loudly repeated is "Success." But it is not success merely to be a student sent abroad by the Ministry of Education with a princely salary of thirty pounds a month. I know a young man in the slums who gets up at five in the morning, studies till six, and then goes out to work in the enamel factory all day long. When he comes back in the evening he goes out to preach on the street every evening. He had no time he could call his own, and continued this program for four years, yet I do not consider this young man a failure.

Why is the Christian Church of to-day powerless? Christians should consider carefully the cause. One of the members of a labor union in Kobe pawned all his clothes and gave the money to the Union, and when more was needed was ready even to sell the mats covering the floor of his house to help along the strike. When Japanese Christians become dead in earnest enough to sell off even their house-mats for the sake of their religion, Christianity will have power. The churches of the present have not got as much zeal as have the labor unions.

Jesus Christ spent all He had for His movement. He said to a rich young man, "Go, sell all that thou hast, and come!" (Matt. 19:21) Jesus seems to have been a very successful carpenter. In the apocryphal Gospels it is written that Jesus made the throne for Herod's palace. He might have become a nouveau riche if he had not given it up for a religious movement. But Jesus chose not this way to so-called success, but the road which led to poverty and to the Cross. And there He gained true success.

If you are a failure now, it is your best chance to come to Jesus. A man I know opened a trading company at the time of the war, and was almost mad with joy because he made £400,000. But when the financial panic came he failed badly, and had to close more than ten of the branches of his company. When I saw him about that time he said to me, "Mr. Kagawa, a good time has come to me! I am attending church from now on!" And indeed after that he became really in earnest and has been going to church ever since.

So if you are involved in some sort of failure in your everyday life, in a disappointing love affair or in an economic problem, it is a good opportunity for you. God takes advantage of your despair over failure. If through the power of Jesus you can rise up again, the success will compensate your failure billions of times over.

We pass next to the question of spiritual degeneration. This invariably comes from yielding to temptation. Temptation comes to every one. It is sure to come in both the spiritual and the material aspects of the life of man. Jesus had an interesting experience of temptation.

According to Matthew, the problem of the first temptation was that of bread. For forty days and forty nights Jesus had fasted, and so was truly hungry; for the moment, bread would naturally be the thing uppermost in His mind. Jesus did not dally with this temptation. He kept His own clear attitude in a wonderful way, and drove it back.

For us, too, there is bound to come a time when we have to think of bread. For a young man, the time when he can depend on his parents passes, and like a young crow leaving the nest, he goes out to seek food for himself. When we are left to walk by ourselves, then the problem of bread becomes a very real one, for it touches our very life. It is then that we meet the temptation to "make these stones into bread." (Matt. 4:3) Many people - hundreds of thousands of people - lose their way at this point. Lenin stops short here.

To secure true development of character, we must have economic independence. For every one of us, the problem of bread is becoming a heavy burden. But Jesus said, "Man cannot live by bread alone." But just at this point there arises great argument. Extreme materialists such as L. A. Feuerbach say, "Man is Bread which eats. Man moves by means of eating bread. Therefore man is moving bread." Historically, that which has given us such an interpretation is Marxian materialism. According to Marx, civilization changes as the manner of production of food changes. So if the food problem is solved, all other things will be changed accordingly. This may not be untrue. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21). When man's heart degenerates, it inclines in that direction.

Not everything in man's life is summed up in the problem of food. Anyone who thinks that a civilization can be founded on bread alone makes a great mistake. No matter how much bread there is, it cannot produce a man: it can only nourish him. Life exists before food. Man's life comes from the very origin of life. Therefore civilization does not follow the forms of production. All social life follows the action of life.

Man never lives by bread alone. We must be convinced of this.

The second temptation of Jesus was, "If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down" (Matt. 4:6). Young men like to jump. When they get to about the third year of Middle School, it seems foolish to them to stay and study, and they want to run out and jump off somewhere. Country boys want to come to the city.

In the second chapter of Goethe's Faust there is a young man called Euphorion. It is said that Goethe intended this young man to resemble Byron. This young man becomes tired of having two legs, and wants to fly. His mother Helena tells him that if he flies he will be killed, but he will not listen to her. And getting permission from Faust to do so, he flies up and dies. Everyone wants to fly in his youth.

When the blood is boiling in the spring-tide of youth, Japanese young men also are given to flying. They say, "Look at Russia! She is jumping ahead." In evolution there is the theory of mutation. Gradual evolution is troublesome! Labor unions are tedious! So with one leap they want to jump over every obstacle. Monogamy is old-fashioned! And they experiment with free love, and such dangerous acrobatic feats, and think that God's angels will meet them in mid-air and bear them up!

Jesus was tempted to cast Himself down, but He rejected the temptation and answered decisively, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." We too must be very careful. We must not jump down even if we feel we are a son of God. Some people need this kind of advice. I receive many letters. They complain about many things, as, for example, "It seems foolish to me to study in school. I cannot bear to do it any more. I want to come to you and live in the slums." But we must not jump out recklessly from our present situation. We must think out some means of doing things without jumping.

The last temptation was that Jesus should submit to the power of evil. Whoever sees the glitter and glamour of the city from a high tower feels its lure. Isn't it easy to make millions in the city by sharp practice? Many have succeeded in so doing. By submitting just a little to evil, it is not hard to pass through life. Yet Nezumi Kozo, the famous thief, made on an average only fifty-seven sen a day by stealing; so is it not really more profitable to work and earn a day's wage?

When Jesus of Nazareth was thinking of His Messiahship, this temptation pressed upon Him.

As in a phrase of Carl Liebknecht, we must make it our aim to have "no compromise." No matter how straitened may be the circumstances into which we fall, we must have no compromise with evil. Even if by compromising we seem to be successful for a time, such a life is bound to end in failure. There is no need for us to reason about the evil. It is enough to reject it as decisively as Jesus, Who said, "Get thee hence, Satan!" (Matt. 4:10) If a high salaried position is offered us which involves compromise with evil, if we want to be disciples of Jesus, we must make no such compromise. To do so is sin.

Some people, however, say that the religion of the twentieth century should not be talking so much about sins. But if we think of God, of our ambitions, and of the straight current of our life, the essence of sin becomes clearer.

Jesus pointed to the perfection of the Heavenly Father as our ideal of perfection. If I ought to climb up to a hundred feet high, and stop at thirty, I am a sinner to the degree of the difference. Anyone who is meant to be a king, and stops at being a village headman, is losing as much value as a king minus a village head. Jesus Christ said a tremendous thing. If the omnipotent God is our Father, and the perfection of the Heavenly Father is our ideal standard, we must not stupidly stop half-way.

Except for a short period in ancient Greece, it is only since the time of Wordsworth that Nature has come to be expressed in art. In ancient art there was very little depicting of Nature; and where it existed it was very obscure. It was since the time of Wordsworth, who loved God, that Nature was restored to art as a lovable thing. When God is loved, for the first time Nature seems to us a lovable thing.

When God and man are fused together, then man can be fused to Nature. For the people who live the life of perfection, and love God, sickness, persecution, imprisonment and any other things will never be irritating, because theirs is the life which lays hold on the power which controls all Nature. Paul said, "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

Everything is mine! The mountains, rivers, stars - all of them - the Centaurus, the constellation nearest the earth, is mine also. Orpheus is mine, the pole-star is mine! This is much more progressive than Communism. Instead of Kyosan-shugi, common-possession-ism (= Communism), I call this Shinsan-shugi, "God-possession-ism."


But if we have all these riches in God, at the same time we need to remember that human personality is by no means completed. "God is the one perfect Personality" (Lotze). A college student once came to me and said, "I cannot conceive of a personal God." He was quite true. It is difficult for an imperfect personality or a faulty personality to understand the personality of God. Since God is a perfect, a completed personality, we can only indistinctly see Him through our broken personalities. In proportion to the completion of our personalities He is revealed to us.

Our personalities are extremely imperfect. So one who possesses half a personality had better get together the other half. That is why there are man and woman. Each has some lack in his or her personality. Neither can be completed alone. Nor is it possible for one individual to do everything alone. We have to learn that since we ourselves have faults we must also forgive one another.

Trying by himself alone to be the executive of both the judiciary and the administration, Moses became a sufferer from nervous prostration! Jethro could not bear to see this, and so proposed division of labor or decentralization. For the same reason Lenin found Russia hard to manage alone. We, all of us - you and I - are imperfect, and so we must combine our good points and help one another.

Many people do not see each other's good points, but only their weak points, and speak ill of them, saying, "But So-and-so has such-and-such faults." The very word "but" is often used with this criticizing meaning in Japan. They think that unkind gossip is valuable criticism. Some people speak ill of the Churches. But we should always be seeing the better sides of things. Paul said, "Hold such in reputation," (Phil. 2:29) and often praised others. We must always be forgiving each other's sins. This is the best way for the completion of personality.

In saying "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish," (Luke 13:3) Jesus gave a warning concerning the degeneration of all mankind. Since the first man failed in his spiritual life, the whole history of mankind has been twisted out of its proper direction, and from generation to generation its wanderings have become deeper. But when we compare ourselves only with each other we do not understand how far we have degenerated. Others looking on can see it.

In the Chicago Natural History ["Field"] Museum there are skeletons of men with extraordinarily long-headed skulls. The reason why their heads are so long is that when they were babies their heads were lengthened by putting two boards on either side of the head. The natives of a certain ancient period had this queer custom. But the capitalistic culture of to-day is also very queer. People want to exploit others! Simply in order to get rich, its natives exploit any sort of possessions of other people. When we shall look back upon it from the perspective of a more advanced period in the future, this period may seem to us to be like the long-headed civilization.

Whole generations often go astray. And if in such an age we do not have the revelation of God, the consciousness of the true way to live, and of sin, will become blurred. In such a time we must fix our eyes upon some pure personality and imitate it.

An age when people do not read the Bible is always a decadent one. In the Middle Ages, when the Churches degenerated, it was because it was considered dangerous to read the Bible. But Wycliffe, Huss, Savonarola, Luther and Calvin read the Bible again, and through them there was aroused a religious revolution. When Bibles are distributed generally in society, and people again look to Jesus as the only personality Who never wandered, and as the revealed God, then the age is bound to be revived. Through imitation of Christ our way of life will once more return to the right track.

When I say, "We must be saved," it means just this. We cannot see how far we are degenerated at present because we do not look to Jesus as our criterion. An insane person is one who does not recognize the condition of his own mind; he cannot do so until he has recovered from it. But many people to-day do not recognize how far they have gone astray from God, and think themselves to be righteous. It is the present condition of mankind to be terribly unconscious of their sins.

Some people will protest. that it is an anachronism to-day to speak of the power of redemption. But truly it must be said that anyone who does not believe in a religion of redemption is still very much of a lunatic. Jesus Christ actually experienced it. We find redemptive power in Jesus' experience. This is a sphere which cannot be understood by people who stop short with the religion of Nature.

Religion passes through various stages before it comes to be a religion of redemption. From the first stage of the Nature-religion which worships mountains, rivers, the sun, and other things in Nature, it evolves to the social religion which evokes the tutelary [guardian] god; then next comes the stage of sorcery or spiritualism, of prophets, and the religion becomes psychological.

If psychological religion does not develop morally, there occurs division of personality, and there is danger of the development of the sort of peculiar religion that is now popular in Japan. The religion of redemption is that which develops from psychological religion. Among religions which have reached the stage of redemption there are some which are utilitarian. But the religion of redemption, which Jesus Christ established, is of God's agony against cosmic evil - God's effort to restore straying mankind through His great suffering for cosmic evil and through Jesus' pains of crucifixion.

Jesus Christ experienced this in His life. We find the power of redemption in Him. This is a thing which cannot be understood by people who remain on the level of Nature-religion. Jesus said, referring to His death, "This is My blood of the New Covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). By this He meant that the blood He shed was a proof of the new promise. It was not mankind's promise to God, but God's new promise to save mankind.

Some people think that the death of Jesus was a bribe for the devil, or for reconciliation with God. But I take the meaning of Jesus' death humanistically and personally. The true deep meaning of redemption is that Jesus apologized to God for all the failures and sins of mankind, taking responsibility for them upon Himself. We find in this suffering of Jesus, from Gethsemane to the Cross, an everlasting blessing. Since such a great love was revealed in Jesus, we cannot help but have our ancient wounds healed by clinging to this grace.

In a drama named Henry VIII, by Shakespeare, Henry VIII changed his wife four times. But it was Archbishop Cranmer who signed the unrighteous divorce certificates. Afterwards he greatly regretted what he had done, and said, "I helped the king's immorality with my hand. How much better if I had done something good with this same hand for the sake of God!" When he was burned at the stake he said, "This hand, this hand which helped the king to his degradation, let it burn first." And he held it in the flames, which later were to deprive him of his life. Jesus said, "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that the whole body should be cast into hell" (Matt. 5:29).

A gambler called Mizuno, when he was converted and became a Christian, cut off his fingers with a hatchet, saying he could not get away from sins if he had his hand. But it is our heart, and not legs and arms, which we have to cut off. To return to God, we must eliminate some part of our heart. Origen was castrated lest he should fall into sin. We must castrate our heart. At the same time, we must pray not to enter into temptation.

Once a woman taken in adultery was brought to Jesus. People asked Jesus, "Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Should such be stoned?" (John 8:4) Jesus answered, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." They, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one. Jesus said to the woman, "Hath no man condemned thee? Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more." And He forgave her. Jesus thus had sympathy for all the sins of mankind.

For materialistic failure, He said, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) To the tempted He said, "Pray that ye enter not into temptation." (Matt. 26:41). He showed sympathy to the fallen and degraded: He did not take a critical attitude, but said that He had come to save. Finally, He thought it an element in morality that men should forgive each other; for all mankind lives in this imperfect world.

Chapter 2 of "The Religion of Jesus" by Toyohiko Kagawa, translated by Helen F. Topping, London, 1931

Toyohiko Kagawa, "The Religion of Jesus":
Chapter 1. The Knowledge of God
Chapter 2. Jesus and Men's Failures
Chapter 3. Jesus and Prayer
Chapter 4. The Death of Jesus - Its Before and After
Chapter 5. The Relation of Jesus to His Disciples

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