It is a most interesting fact that many who continually denounce christianity and christians nevertheless seem to continue to quote and side with Jesus himself. The reasons behind this fact can take us into a twisted network of rabbit trail discussions, many of which are most unhelpful. In my conversations with friends and coworkers, both in and outside the christian community, I have often fallen into the trap of trying to reconcile the two seemingly opposing halves of this situation. And yet lately, instead of just eagerly lunging at the bone of argument, I have seen it as a doorway into more meaningful conversation.
There comes a point during any good tough hike when the rigor and the pain flip you into a different mental mode. The aching muscles and dwindling mental energy narrows your focus: keep moving. One foot in front of the other. Get to the end. This is actually a good picture of how we often tend to function in our daily lives. We are working for something. Some ultimate end. Some point of satisfaction. Something that will make it all worth the struggle. Underneath the repetitious wheel of daily life we have a bedrock purpose that keeps things turning. Sometimes we may even forget about its existence. But that doesn’t diminish its ever present influence throughout our days and minutes and weeks and months. On this point both Nietzsche and Darwin were right – life is a continual struggle. We are always reaching forward.
The other day, as I was rocking my daughter to sleep and reflecting on how much I love her, I stumbled upon a striking realization. There was a phase in my parenting life, perhaps a year ago, when I really sought to hurry through the whole toddler bedtime routine. Every evening was a race with the clock to get her down nice and early and enjoy the freedom of spending time with my wife without constant interruption. But lately, things have changed. I have really started to enjoy those twilight bedtime minutes.
There is nothing that is more powerful or fulfilling to the human heart than to be gripped by love. Nothing else fills us with the satisfaction and meaning that we get when we are tied in our heart to others and feel the irresistible drive to seek their joy and wellbeing. We can do a great many things in life. In the end however, if we are simply left alone with our pile of toys and trophies, we find that they really mean nothing on their own. Unless we have someone with whom we can share the joy, unless we have those who give us reason to be better and stronger people, the sense of fulfillment dissolves helplessly in our hands.
It is quite a complex thing to be a human. We are, in many ways a walking paradox. On the one hand we are small and limited to physical existence. We are bound by space and time. We can only do one thing at a time and be in one place at a time. You cannot be both in the garden and in the library. You are either here or there. The alarm rings. You either get up or you don’t; get paid or don’t get paid. This sense of limitation is in many ways what it means to be human. Even when you live in a great city, you have your routine, your particular coffee shops, park benches and people. This embrace of our daily physical limitedness is perhaps most powerfully summarized in all those special things we call “home”.
The idea of the resurrection of has been criticized and mocked from the very earliest days of christianity. Jesus debated with the Sadducees – a group of Jewish scholars who generally dismissed the possibly of the miraculous or supernatural. When Paul spoke with the Greeks in Athens, they listened to his argument, up until he got to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Then they just mocked and dismissed him.
Some of the most powerful drivers of human history and civilizations are rooted in the deepest longings and needs of the heart. Just think of the stuff that fills the news today. Equal rights. Justice. Freedom. Dignity. Beneath the clutter of the headlines that fill the newsfeed, these are the core drivers of all that surrounds us. We are humans are built with certain longings and affections that cannot be rationalized away. Its just how we are.
The question of pain and suffering has been on my mind lately. It is a hard question. One that seems to push any worldview and philosophy beyond its boundaries. Anywhere we look to find a satisfactory answer, we find that the issue in question looms larger than our own powers of comprehension. Sure, some may have purely intellectual ways of answering the question, but they aren’t answers that satisfy the longing of the soul. They are answers “from the view of the balcony” and are not likely to satisfy the questions of the weary travelers on the road.
What is the pathway to real faith? This is one of the questions I have been mulling over in my mind as I have read and studied this past couple of years. This is a question asked by both people of faith and people who consider themselves not religious. Perhaps you are at a place where you are seeking God. You have seen a real living faith in some of the people around you and you are trying to find out how to get it yourself. Perhaps you are already a christian and you are trying to understand how you can most effectively share your faith with the people in your life. From many different angles, many different people ask this question quite often.
In the past week, Michael Gungor has come out criticizing the idea that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death (a death in our place). The argument he makes is an argument that echoes the concerns of the modern heart, a concern for the violence of ancient religion and their entire notion of a blood sacrifice that had to be made to appease the gods. Bloodshed is a problem often associated with religions throughout all history. Bloodshed is an an utter and tragic horror. It is in many ways the epitome of all that ugliness that fills our world. Gungor therefore argues – what kind of God would require bloodshed to bring about healing and redemption?
Today we live in an aching and divided world. We are longing for real healing, real answers. Contrary to the predictions of the past less and less people seem to embrace the position that states there is no God at all. The vast majority of us believe in a “higher power”, a “force”, a “presences” – a version of God through which we long to come to view of reality that will help us find the path to real healing to all that is fallen and aching in this world. In view of this we understandably recoil as we consider the bloody religions of the past and present. We don’t want violence. We want peace. We want love. We want reconciliation.