Monday, June 15, 2009

Christ in Modern Life

One thing which every believer in Christ must eventually face is the claim that their faith is not real because it is not relevant. That is, we live in an age of increasing secularism, where every virtue promoted by Christians is also promoted by men who have no interest in receiving Christ as their Lord. The argument they present, based on decades of hearing it over and over, is that Christianity offers nothing better than what is offered through personal devotion to morality. A Muslim, for example, is capable of being just as moral as any Christian, a Buddhist is equal in morality to any Christian, even an atheist can claim the same moral bearings as any Christian. And the trick to the argument is that they are correct, but only because they compare their position to Christianity, not to Christ. What is missing in their comparison is the personal presence of Christ in the believer’s life, the one-to-one correspondent relationship between God and Man through the Divine intercession of Jesus Christ. Theocratic Muslims speak of Jesus but deny His Person as the Christ, as do orthodox Jews. Buddhists deny the personhood of God altogether, as indeed do the atheists. God is problematic for many people, so they rebel against Him without seeming to, by focusing on the imperfect human rather than on the perfect Lord. This is the same mistaken assumption used ever since the beginning, where men deny the Lord while claiming only to challenge human assumptions and imperfect claims. Those who do not accept Christ do so thinking that the fault lies in believers’ not submitting proof by human standards of the truth of Christianity, never seeing that this is rebellion against God by nature, the demand that God submit to human tests and conditions. The unbeliever commonly retorts that this amounts to a demand for submission to a claim without evidence, which oddly enough is exactly what nominal Islam demands but not Christ; the thing about the follower of Christ is not submission without evidence, but belief based on a completely different order of evidence. And therein is a hint about how eternal life happens.

I am forty-nine years old, with bad knees, slow reflexes and all the accouterments of age and a few surgeries. I live with an abdominal cancer which is incurable but otherwise leaves me alone for the most part. If I were given the chance to live forever in the nominal sense, I’d really hope for some way to significantly upgrade my physical body. Living forever with the body of a young adult or a youth is a mush different proposition to getting by with a middle-aged or senior body. Whether from hope or perspective, therefore, it would seem that eternal life is not merely extending the physical existence to an infinite duration. This by the way is also why I reject reincarnation – what is the point of repeating the same situations and decisions over and over again – simply doing something again does not mean you will make better decisions or navigate the maze perfectly, especially when you do not remember what happened the last time?

The plain fact is, we all sin. All of us. If you think you’ve never sinned I can’t hope you would understand, because you are still in denial. Most of us are able to admit that we sin, whatever definition we want to give to the word. For me, it’s about whether we do God’s will, but another meaning that can be used in a similar way is whether we hurt someone else. Everyone hurts other people, usually without intent but sometimes deliberately, which we usually try to excuse by claiming the guy deserved it. At best it runs into trouble as soon as we start thinking about it. A lot of people try to get past that by lowering the standard of good – no one is perfect, so it’s acceptable to be imperfect. That only diminishes us, however, and cheapens the virtue of those few who earnestly try to live as well as they can, seeking perfection even if it is impossible. The very meaning of heaven, to live and dwell with God Himself, means that such cheapening of goodness is impossible, it runs counter to God’s will that we should be perfect as He is perfect.

In the modern world, God is cast as irrelevant, a quaint notion from a bygone era, in the same class as fairy tales and mythology. Religion is tolerated as an idiosyncrasy, whimsy rather than an important quality to the person, while the clear exercise of faith is often harshly suppressed and attacked. This is to be expected, given the inability of the modern world to address the nature of faith, let alone its mission and demands. I wrote earlier that Islam and Buddhism, along with all the other religions and philosophies, predicates its reasoning along nominal human thought and beliefs, while Christ alone stands for personal rebirth in a new identity, not merely forgiven of sin or continuing in the same old life, but recreated in perfection where the old life not only has no punishment, but is shed forever in favor of a perfect personage. There is, quite literally, no way to explain this new reality in terms that would make sense in this world. This is one reason why faith is the essential component for the Holy Spirit.

Let me put it this way. If someone were to say to you that you could buy your ticket to heaven for a certain amount of money, you would very likely reject that notion immediately, and for good reason – a heaven based on human wealth would be no heaven at all as we understand the word. The same could be said if one were to suggest a heaven based on physical strength or attractiveness. So, it clearly becomes apparent that a heaven which some people could achieve through pure opportunity rather than virtue of something available to everyone but aligned with pure goodness rather than human avarice and selfishness. Consequently, the dogma of every religion is necessarily a false key to the kingdom of heaven, since such dogma is immutably linked to intellectual comprehension. There are no secret teachings or words of power, because if such things existed, the lucky or intellectual people would have an inside track to heaven ahead of anyone unable to receive a good education or who might have an intellectual handicap. We must, as Christ explained, become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Our intellect, like our bank accounts, physical strength, or any other superficial quality, is only of small value, useful if the heart is aligned with God but a trap to lure the unwary towards idolatry of their own desires. The Holy Spirit moves on highways of faith and by direction from God alone.

The modern world asserts individual control and decision, more than at any time in the past. Yet the essence of human identity is our need to become something greater than ourselves, a role which we cannot accomplish on our own effort or initiative. The modern world asserts human ability to solve any problem through ingenuity in innate goodness, though anyone who lives long enough will see the fatal flaw in such claims. The modern world imagines that things progress ahead and anything from the past is inferior to the present and the future, while the hard-learned truth of experience shows the existence and precious value of the eternal and the ancient. We march ahead in pride towards finite and mortal prizes, and so never notice that while God walks along with us, we turn our backs to Him time and again, and so we also turn away from the greater goals and purpose for which we were ordained.

This world mocks the solitary lives of monks and nuns, and treats active clergy as outcasts. The believer who demonstrates an active faith will be viewed with suspicion, whether he is Christian, Muslim, Mormon, or what have you. God speaks to us all, but one to one as He did with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah, yet speaking to all humanity through each of us. God speaks with absolute authority and power, yet is absolutely rejected by all but a few whose hearts focus outside themselves. In this, the choice is as it always ways and ever will be.

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