Friday, July 31, 2009

The Great Escape

His eyebrows furrowed, he bit his lower lip in concentration. Long moments passed, his brain actually felt like it was burning he was thinking so hard. How had he not thought this through before? The questions troubled him, they were upsetting even and they shook beliefs he considered to be fundamental to his identity. Soon his stomach began to twist as the stress spread through his body. He clenched his fists, his shoulders stiffened. Then—then the moment came, and with it bliss and peace. “I guess I just don't know.” He smiled to himself and sighed. The dissonance would fade, the storm would pass overhead. He had successfully ducked another critical moment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Label Me Christian (Wait, What Does That Mean?)

What above all else characterizes a Christian? The Republican party? Opposition to abortion and gay marriage? Is it creationism vs. evolution(ism)? Is it morality? The 10 commandments? The location of the 10 commandments in public places? Is it boycotts of offensive/immoral movies? Is it 7 steps to how to live life to its fullest? Is it don't drink, don't smoke, don't chew (or go with girls who do)? If one were to take a poll of non-Christians—heck, if a poll were taken of Christians themselves—what would be said to be the defining characteristic of a Christian? What would be that sine qua non of Christianity?

Dare I venture to say, it's the Gospel that sets Christians apart? Call me “Captain Obvious” if you want, but this is a point I feel more and more compelled to spread. Christians ultimately are not set apart by their political or moral views or by their personalities, they are set apart by the salvation accomplished on their behalf by the Son of God dying on the cross. They are set apart by their Savior, who rose from the grave, conquering death and paving the way for all those who believe in him to follow thereafter. They are set apart by realizing once and for all that they themselves bring nothing to the table, their only hope is the grace by which God saves them, through the faith that he gives them as well.

If you could see yourself through the eyes of all those who know you, those who interact with you day in and day out, what do you think would stand out? Would you find out that people see you chiefly as a Republican? A social conservative? A creationist? A moral and principled person? Or would they see you as a sinner, saved by a glorious Gospel of grace?

Or from a different angle: If you had only five minutes to talk with an unbeliever of radically different views than you (maybe take a second and envision what that would look like in your case), what would you ideally want to spend that time talking about? If you amazingly managed to change their minds on every view they had but they leave knowing nothing of the Savior who can save them from their sin and wretchedness, how much has really been gained?

So what's the point? My point is not to denigrate politics or morality, nor is my point that it is wrong to talk about anything besides the Gospel. My point is that the most important thing about Christians is that which truly sets them apart, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Shouldn't that be what people know us for?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weeping With Those Who Weep

C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed in the midst of grieving the loss of his wife. He reflects on why her death should be causing him not only to mourn, but also to doubt in substantial ways his own faith. In chapter 3, he reminds himself that he had always known that such sorrowful things occur daily in the world. Nothing unexpected or unusual occurred in the passing of his wife. Though this time the unfortunate event had happened to himself, and not someone else. Lewis writes that his faith would not be so shaken if his concern for other people's sorrows had been real concern. He goes on to say, “If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.”

I found this comment to be shockingly insightful, at least in regard to my own heart. How much do I actually care about the sorrows that go on in this world, especially when they extend beyond my immediate circle? When a child, whom I have never met, suffers through a rare illness, how much do I really care? When a young woman somewhere is kidnapped, raped and killed, am I yet showing “real” concern? When the world's headlines are filled with injustice and murder, how can I possibly react to it all with any level of sincerity?

I find in these scenarios that I simply cannot handle the vastness of the suffering and tragedy this world affords. The sheer magnitude of earthly problems alone overwhelms me. I understand that I cannot in and of myself solve the world's problems, but more than that, I cannot even mourn them properly. Many have perceived their own smallness when they look at the night sky, at stars that stretch deep into the blackness of space. I find new conviction of this smallness, and of its powerlessness, when I dwell on this world's sorrow. Like the seemingly innumerable stars of the night sky, so also the tears and wailing of this world stretch on further than I can comprehend.

But my problem extends beyond inability. The problem for me is not just that I can't properly mourn this world's suffering, it is also that I simply don't. Frightened by the clamor of the world's trouble, I shut the door to my heart rather than open it even a crack to the flood of tears that awaits outside. I fear that sort of grief, I fear its life consuming nature. I fear being kept awake at night as I pray first for those I know and then all the sorrowful things I know of as well. I fear that my small heart cannot bear such a load.

Jesus grieved. He grieved at his friend lying cold in the grave. Though Lazarus would soon be miraculously raised, Jesus wept. Jesus was grieved in Gethsemane, to the point of death the Scriptures add. In the face of his impending arrest, torture and execution, Jesus was deeply grieved. Is it too much to also say the Father grieved as well? In that great exchange of Jesus' righteousness for the wickedness of his people, would not the Father grieve the marring of his spotless Son? If Christ wept for sinful Lazarus, would not the Father have mourned the perfect one's death?

In these divine examples, I find inspiration. But inspiration without compliance will only result in further condemnation, won't it? It will only be one more time in which I sin and fall short of the glory of God. I need more. In my inability to pray and mourn for the world, I find profound new depth to Romans 8:26: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Perhaps the faithful ministry of that Comforter can convert even my halfhearted despair for the world into a fit intercession with the King. Perhaps presenting my fearful and closed off heart—my sinful heart—to Christ provides one more opportunity for him to declare, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”