Christianity is frightening. It is not for the timid.
The ancients knew they could not control their world and thus offered sacrifices to the gods in an attempt to exert some control.
We moderns have deceived ourselves. We think that we control ourselves, our environment, the things and even the people that surround us.
It is this, our self-deception, which makes Christianity so wild and dangerous.
That faith can be only the gift of God emphasizes the scandal of our human condition ~ the scandal of our absolute dependence on Him. I have to depend completely upon what very largely I do not know and cannot control. ~ H.A. Williams
This giving up of ourselves to that which we cannot control is terrifying. It is a blind leap into the void.
Yet our belief that we can have some control over our own lives is really just a shutting of our eyes to reality, a whistling in the dark.
We cannot control what happens to us. We are able to control only our response to what happens, and a giving over of ourselves to that which we cannot understand means giving over the only thing we are capable of controlling.
It is a giving up of all control. And in return, it is a wild kind of freedom, a dangerous adventure to which the ending is known but not all of the steps along the way.
Listen to them argue. Watch as each shakes her head and smiles condescendingly while the other is speaking passionately about what she thinks is right. It often seems that surface level respect doesn’t go very far. Those who support each group seem to vilify the other, speaking out ugly words of disrespect and hate. There will always be someone with whom we disagree, someone we are vehemently sure is wrong.
What do we do with this? What do we do when we disagree, both with those we call brother and sister and with those who do not believe? We are exhorted by our leaders and our culture to be tolerant to those around us. Everywhere we turn we are pleaded with to show tolerance to anyone who is different, anyone who thinks or behaves differently than we do.
And what does that tolerance look like? We are told by our world that we are to stay open-minded, that we are to live and let live, that we should not put up any claim to truth. We are told by the world surrounding us that we can disagree with anyone we want, can believe anything we like, as long as we keep it to ourselves.
This is what our world says. But what about us? Is this what we who are Christ followers are called to be? Tolerant? Is this really all that we can manage, all that we can aspire to do? Tolerance is easy. It doesn’t require anything of either party. It relieves us of all responsibility. It costs us nothing. Tolerance shrugs its shoulders and walks away, leaving you to your own devices. Tolerance doesn’t care.
“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” ~ Matthew 22.39
Love is much harder. Love costs our comfort and our time. Love affirms the reality of the other person, culture and way of life. Love takes the trouble to get to know the other person and find out what makes them beautiful. Love wants what is best for that person or culture.
It was love that brought the world to oppose an apartheid regime in South Africa, not tolerance. It was love that lead Martin Luther King to pursue civil rights, not tolerance. It was love that drove William Wilberforce to lead the British parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade, not tolerance.
It was love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf, not tolerance.
We live our lives in contact with people who are different. We are surrounded by those who look, dream, think, and believe differently than we. We therefore must pray for strength to choose the harder way. If we are to be Jesus to those around us, if we are to make a difference for Him in this world, we must have the strength to choose love rather than tolerance.
“Love must confront Tolerance and insist, as it has always done, on a better way.” ~ Tim Keller in Generous Justice
Why is love so much harder than tolerance? Why does it require more from us? Part of the reason is that love is asks us to be discerning. Love sometimes asks us to work toward change yet sometimes asks us to see the gray in others rather than viewing the world in black and white alone. It is difficult to see in gray. Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view. Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown. Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
The more we meet people who were raised differently and the more we read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more we begin to catch a glimpse of how much our view of God, of the Bible, of the world around us is colored by our own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding. Tolerance allows us to be lazy, to choose what we believe and let others walk on their own path. Love requires that we listen, that we look at those before us with wisdom. As we take the time to know another and love them, we begin to realize that there is something even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy. We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words. Rather than those who disagree with us being the enemy, being one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are mostly just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like we are.
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps we are the ones who are wrong. Grace. It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely. We spend so much time either being determined to get it right at the expense of our relationships or trying so hard to tolerate the differences around us that we quit looking at the person with whom we differ. Yet when we look closely and intently we can see the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before us.
My older two girls have been a little crazy lately. Their emotions have been all over the map and they bounce from playing beautifully together to screaming and crying and hitting in less than a nanosecond. I’m not sure why it has been so extreme lately, but one thing I’m learning as a parent is that often the thing behind the wildly veering emotions is their goal for the moment.
A child’s main goal, as well as a major goal for the rest of us if we are honest enough to admit it, is to please themselves. They haven’t yet learned the paradoxical truth that when playing with others, if you want to keep the pleasure of the play, the goal must be pleasing the other person. If a child continues to aim toward their goal of pleasing themselves, they instead begin aiming crazily at different targets every few minutes, and end up not hitting any of their goals but hitting their sister instead.
It seems as though staying focused on your main goal in life should be easy. Yet as often as we adults act like children, we quickly discover that it most definitely is not easy. Instead of continually aiming at the goal of pleasing God, we aim instead too often at the pleasing of ourselves and begin careening from thing to thing, from emotion to emotion, and we end up hitting those we love best.
I love how one of our Church Fathers, Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–298 – 2 May 373), describes this as a charioteer who forgets where he is supposed to be driving his horse and instead simply drives as fast and as hard as he can. He says that such a charioteer would “often drive against those he met, and often down steep places…thinking that thus running he has not missed the goal – for he regards the running only, and does not see that he has passed wide of the goal.”
Athanasius says that this is the source of all evil: the changing of our goal. We turn away from God and drive ourselves toward other things, often not even seeing that we have missed the way.
When I am careening from one activity to another, seeking after success for my children; when I am veering from one emotion to the other, leaving my family as casualties in my wake; when I am uncertain of what I should do next, then I have changed my goal and am not even aware that I have done so.
I am more like my children than I like to admit. I have trouble keeping to my goal, to my purpose in life, but often I can see the signs and often those signs help me to raise up my head, look for how far away from my goal I have strayed, and ask God to carry me back into the race again.
Hopefully I can teach my girls how to do likewise.
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3.12-14
I love how much truth can be found in fairy tales and myths. I love that God chooses to give us glimpses of Himself and His Word in the words of storytelling throughout time.
We often view Christianity as rules and laws, as limitations on our freedom. We wonder why God puts so many limits on our fun. I recently experienced a switch of perspective.
I am reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. In his book, he points out that in fairy tales, there is always an “if”. You may go to the ball IF you return by midnight. You may marry the princess IF you never let her see a cow.
All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend on one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden. ~ Chesterton
Everything beautiful and glorious that cannot be understood is dependent upon a condition that equally cannot be understood.
In fairy tales, this does not seem unjust. If Cinderella asks her Fairy Godmother why she has to be home by midnight, the Godmother may reply “why should you go to the ball for any amount of time?” If the miller asks “why can’t I let the princess see a cow?” the fairy may reply “why should you get to marry the princess at all?”
Fairy tales never focus on the condition. The condition is so small as to seem irrelevant. The focus is on the dazzling, the wild, the fantastic vision.
We don’t focus on the vision. We focus on the limitation. We wonder why we must not get drunk instead of marveling at the beauty, the deep color, the richness of the wine. We wonder why we must only marry one person instead of living in wonder at the existence of sex.
No restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself…keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman…It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. ~ Chesterton
What a beautiful change of viewpoint! To look not at the limitation but at the wonder of the permission. To not complain about being asked to keep our words pure but to wonder at the startling glory of language. To not gripe of not being allowed to eat all that we desire but to be astonished at the wild and vast expanse of color and taste of food. To look upon the dazzling, wild, fantastic vision.
In Christ, all is made sacred, so search for Him everywhere. Look for Him in the stories and fables, in the myths and fairy tales that you read. You will find Him there.