Thursday, April 8, 2010

More thoughts from Simply Christian (which I always type "simply christina")

Sometimes a barrel of truth can run off of you like water off a ducks back, like it could have stayed in the barrel, and you would have been fine either way. Sometimes a drop of truth can change your life.

“At the heart of the Christian ethic is humility; at the heart of its parodies, pride. Different roads with different destinations, and the destinations color the character of those who travel by them.”

-N.T. Wright, Simply Christian

This idea has become one of those hugely-important drops of truth for me. Last summer I underwent a period of intense doubt. My self-talk sounded like this: If we are longing for Him to come again, what good did His first coming do for us now? I need something more than heaven and hell. What is the evidence of His salvation now? How do I know that my experiences with God have not been self-fulfilling products of my longings?

A good friend helped me through this doubt, and I clung to one thing that came up in our conversations. He explained that He has known many Christians, with lives full of compelling morality and care for others on one hand and with radiant inner beauty, peace and humility on the other. He explained that he had known very many non-Christians who lived admirable moral lives, but there were very few who along with this morality were characterized by inner beauty, peace and humility. The idea struck me as something new that I hadn’t considered, something that seems true, and something that points to the gospel as true; as a proof in the pudding.

So just last week I came across this same idea from N.T. Wright, which confirms to me the truth of what I’ve been suspecting for almost a year now. The idea responds to my doubt as follows:

If we are longing for Him to come again, what good did His first coming do for us now?

Jesus saves us now and changes our lives now, not just for some future destination. He takes the good we try to do and makes it better than we could hope. At the same time, He makes us to be more moral. All the while, He gives us peace and humility as we travel our paths following Him.

What is the evidence of His salvation now?

a. The peace He has put in me. I might be able to do some of the same good things I can do as a non-Christian, but I could never provide myself with peace and humility. My efforts to manage life on my own, without God have been laughable.

b. The change He makes in other people’s lives now. Not just the change in right behavior I see when someone “gits religin,” but the change that happens on the inside of converted people that shines out and that they couldn’t hide if they wanted to. The friend of mine who came to Christ and heard the birds sing for the first time since he was a boy; the lady at our church who just two years ago looked like the embodiment of depression and whose face and hugs now light up our little congregation.

How do I know that my experiences with God have not been self-fulfilling products of my longings?

I suppose “knowing” in the objective sense is not an option for me, here. I must take the evidence in front of me, including my experiences with God and either believe or not believe. When I try hard to look at Christianity objectively, as if I had nothing to do with it, Christ being God seems far-fetched. But when I look at the world around me and the daily miracles that are popping out like buds on a tree, I find this world itself to be just as far-fetched. The types of miracles, gifts and mercies I have found to be the heart of creation, run parallel to those found in the Bible, and I do believe they come from the same Source.

I’m getting off the subject. The subject is this idea that Christians are on a better path, a path that ultimately makes them better people than they would have been if they were not Christians. The subject is also that this idea holds tremendous import for my doubt. It suggests that Christianity is more than just a defensible “rival conception of God,” but is actually true. For me, it is something like proof.

The thoughts going on in my head right now sound something like this:

Is it true that the path of following Christ takes our good works and begins to play behind them an accompaniment of humility, peace and joy? Is it true that doing these same good works, but on a different path, leads one to pride, self-conceit and despair?

I invite your input.


Brian Stipp said...

I should clarify that I am not suggesting that Christians are better people. I think everyone knows examples of very bad Christians and very good non-Christians. But if the claims of Christianity are fully true, I’m thinking it stands to reason that heading in the direction of full truth will end us up better than we would have been heading in the direction of semi-truth. And I see evidence of this; in the lives of people I know, the Christ-life really does make people better in both morality and in inner beauty.

Joel said...

So...what is the benefit? ...that we get a better quality of life while here on earth? I don't think that cuts it. I would say the things mentioned so far are perks (really good ones) that come with a relationship with Christ...but is it really at the center of what really, ultimately, eternally matters?
What if there were no perks...wouldn't it still be undeniable that He is Lord?

Brian Stipp said...

Thanks for responding thoughtfully.

What is the benefit of being a Christian?

I am a Christian because Christianity is true, not because of any benefit or perk it will bring me. To assent to faith in Christ because I've weighed my options, and this option will hook me up most, both in this life an the next, doesn't seem right. It seems to run against Christ's teachings and example of denying ourselves to find life, and also against the Christian understanding of trusting God.

My original post isn't about guaranteed perks for Christians. For those who follow God long enough, hard enough and with enough faith, I notice that in them we often see lives of both moral and inner beauty. I'm saying that this is one piece of evidence, and for me a weighty one, that the Christian path is the path we as creatures are meant to be on.

As far as the "wouldn't it still be undeniable that he Lord?" I guess I don't think it undeniable. I alluded in my post to periods of doubt I have undergone, which in the end have always strengthened my faith. My doubt always stems from wrestling with the question of His Lordship. Sometimes it takes all the faith I can muster to confess it.

Joel said...

You have shared some wise thoughts. i started down a dangerous path beginning with "nothing matters except Christ" (not an un-true statement), but that leads to stripping the value from everything i have been wired (by my Creator, no less) to think is valuable. What makes more sense to me now is that there are many valuable things that are truly only made valuable when they are placed in the proper perspective.

i watched my son and daughter dance and sing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in our home. i praised God on the spot for my beautiful children and the joy we all felt...and then thought "but this doesn't really matter, does it?"
Of course it does! That moment, my family, our joy; all of it points to Him and glorifies Him! Valuable.
However, all of that is garbage if i rely on that to save me. An obvious point, but one that was driven home that day for me.
Our Creator does not want us to pretend all of His creation and all of our emotions and desires are worth nothing...He just wants us to see that none of it matters or makes sense without Him giving an order to it all.

Joel said...

Does our relationship increase our morality and inner beauty? My question is: by whose standard?

Brian Stipp said...

By whose standard? This is an important question. I have been raised and had my thinking formed as a Christian. I cannot dissociate myself from that thinking in order to judge inner beauty and morality by another, less biased standard. There is no unbiased standard. So I have to judge what is truly beautiful by the only standard I've got.

But the standards I'm describing and envisioning when I think about inner beauty and morality are humility opposed to pride, service of others opposed to oneself, being honest when it is possible to lie. these are truths written on the human heart - truths that can be profinated and warped, but that seem to shine through as true and valuable, regardless of one's spiritual upbringing.