If God exists, how would a person gain access to him, her or it? How would divine knowledge or relationship be revealed or mediated? At one point in the narrative of Robinson Crusoe, Friday explains that he has never met God because this is left to the old men of his tribe who pass on divine messages to the rest of the people. Crusoe observes:
…there is priestcraft even among the most blinded, ignorant pagans in the world; and the policy of making a secret of religion, in order to preserve the veneration of the people to the clergy, is not only to be found in the Roman, but perhaps among all religions in the world…
The Bible both critiques and affirms the notion of priestly mediation.
In terms of criticism, Jesus saves his harshest words (see Matthew 23) for the religious hierarchy of his day who delighted in outward religious ceremony but were ignorant of God and sought personal power rather than truth or love. Christians are not ignorant of the fact that religion can be used to manipulate and coerce. Jesus, Martin Luther and many observers, both religious and otherwise, condemn such ‘priestcraft’ for the sham that it is.
Indeed, priestly power is so often and so terribly abused that it is enough to make a person suspicious and cynical of all such claims. However, the Bible ultimately upholds and affirms the notion of priesthood by pointing to the person of Jesus:
There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
Here is a priest who claims to be able to speak on behalf of God because he is God come in the flesh. Here is a priest who claims to provide a way to God, not by good deeds, ritual or payment but through confession of sin and faith in his own sacrificial death. Here is a priest whose big claims are backed up with behaviour and teaching marked by power, truth and selfless love rather than impotence, secrecy and selfishness. Here is a priest worth considering.