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.