Tuesday, May 17, 2005

For Getting the Point

Funny in life how one starts to notice a pattern forming. On Monday, Dawn Eden saw one of those two visionaries at the train station.

I confess to a certain... weariness when I see stuff like that. My first, unworthy thought usually runs, "Thanks for making my job harder." Or as Gandhi put it, the thing that kept him from converting to Christianity was the Christians.

From within it's simple to see why, because we are sinners and aware of it (more or less). We can see the gains Christ makes in our lives. We know it is His power and not our own that motivates us to live the Gospel. But from without, people see the flaws and presume that they disprove the message. They don't consider that it just disqualifies US, and that's why Christ came in the first place - to requalify us, in so many words. And they aren't really convinced that they need a cure like that. A typical conversation with a friend of mine once ended with him saying, in effect, "I'm a good guy, so what does Jesus offer me?"

And it was hard to answer that. If I'm interested in just being good, then there's a certain standard of decency that isn't terribly hard to adhere to; informed by Christian virtue and honed by practice, we can all be reasonably good. In that sense, Christ's demands are by definition unreasonable. He doesn't want nice people. To borrow Screwtape's words, he wants "saints, gods, things like Himself." He wants us to surpass our own expectations and goals because they are too meager compared to what He's made us for. 'Good' isn't 'sanctified.' (In one of our bible studies, someone noticed wonderfully that Christ calls the weak and lowly, not the strong and proud - and intends to give them out gifts far greater than mere power and goodness: holiness, righteousness, joy, and peace.)

Picture not playing your regular numbers the one week they hit and pay out millions. Recall some small kindness you withheld from sheer indifference, only to never have that chance again. Multiply together and raise the result to an infinite power. That is the essence of "Turn or Burn!" At Judgement, knowing that it was all there for you but you couldn't be bothered, must burn. It's true, as far as it goes, but it goes so very little distance: about the stretch from nose to navel. No wonder people find it so unappealing. The real journey is yet to even begin: all that lies beyond, the One we turn to, and His description of what life with Him in eternity will be - again, because it must be that good, an essential consequence of our salvation and not a cherry on the sundae. But for someone who already 'has it all right,' it's hard to see it that way, and easier to regard Heaven as no more than a neat extra.

I know people see evil in the world and question God, believers the same as skeptics. But I look at the offer Christ makes and the utter stupidity I show in my halting reply to Him, and I think that He must love us dearly to offer anyway.


The Barking Spider said...

Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, IN THAT WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS, Christ died for for us."

I'm relatively cleaned up today, but Christ didn't die for the Tampajeff of today. He died for that whoring drunk who spent his nights staggering down KaiserstraBe in the mid-eighties. He died for me on my worst day.

I am a free man. There is nothing I can do to cause God to love me any more or any less. Yet I try harder every day to follow Him more. Why? Thankfulness? Gratitude? Love? All three?

Joel said...

Nightfly, this is one staggeringly good post. I absorbed C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain twice in a row recently, and what you write here reminds me strongly of some things that Lewis said.

And it reminds me of a scripture I encountered the other day, the one where Christ said to scribes, Pharisees, disciples, all: "It is not what goes into a man which defiles him, but what comes out of a man." Here was the Lord of Heaven standing as a man among the people of this world, trying to deliver to us an essential, important fact about the way that things have changed.

To put it in the language you used, God's law had been externally focused until this time; essential about the pursuit of being good. The law is a pass/fail course where the two grades handed out are "good enough" and "not good enough."

Suddenly, in one breathtaking statement, Christ moved the bar which was always just outside our reach; he moved it miles above. The Screwtape quote you cited is terribly appropos.

Fantastic post.