It was Henri Nouwen who once said that every human being has to wrestle at one time or another with the fact that we are alone in the world. We, as human beings, apart from the facades we promote about ourselves and our eloquence of words and all the things we have to make us feel more important than we are do not ultimately matter. When it comes down to it, we are all but broken people trying to hide our aloneness, our brokenness, our meekness. Christianity, then, he says, is not about hiding this brokenness or denying it, but using this brokenness as the source of one’s strength. It is from this meekness, this aloneness, this broken place we find ourselves that is precisely a strength for those of us who believe. After all, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, emptied Himself taking on human flesh and suffered and died on human cross and before it all took place cried out in anguish in the garden only to ultimately resolve, ‘Not my will, but your will be done,’ speaking to the Father. There is a tension there that we rarely speak of in the life of Christ and in our faith and in our own lives, if we’re honest.
Jesus is fully God and fully man, and we believe as Christians in the historic, orthodox, monotheistic, yet, trinitarian faith. God is One in three persons. It is the truth and a mystery at the same time. Even when you’ve studied up and covered your theological bases and argued away at this truth, there is a measure of mystery that exists in our faith and this is one of those places. We believe that Jesus is God even in His life on earth, but at the same time there are times in His life where it would seem that He is very much alone. When he alludes to who He is during His life, people want to kill Him. When He works at His Father’s will, His family and friends try to prevent Him from doing so and even deny Him. One of the more pivotal and challenging moments in His life was in the garden before His arrest when He was praying intensely, even weeping tears of blood, as He was on the verge of the full weight of the punishment of sin about to be placed on Him and as the apostle Paul said, “…he that knew no sin became sin…” Not only did He take the punishment of sin on Himself, but He became sin, He who was and remains sinless, innocent. There is a tension in the life of Jesus, a tension of being alone and never alone simultaneously. There is a tension of power as of the only Son of God and a tension as a man from Nazareth in Galilee. There is a tension of living the embodiment of the perfected love of God for sinners and the complete and utter rejection and hate put upon the One sent to love who is indeed love, as John says. God is both transcendent and personal. He is distant, but also near. There is a great deal of tension in our faith, when you think about it.
Now, for there to be a tension in the life of Jesus, the person and work of whom are the center of the Christian faith, it cannot be that there is no tension in the life of the everyday Christian. We live in a world where we are both friends and enemies of nearly everyone we meet. How often do we think of this, though?
We are of the world, but not of it at the same time. As our Lord is not of the world, but in the world. We are native aliens, ‘resident aliens’ as Stanley Hauerwas words it. When we sit in a coffee shop we can think on the one hand we are just in a cafe as if these realities that we believe don’t exist or matter, OR we can sit in a cafe and realize that we are very nearly as undercover spies sent to subvert that which is considered ‘the norm.’ We are called as Christians to not only recognize the tension in which we find ourselves uniquely in many ways, but to use it as a source of strength and operate within that very tension as Jesus did. Of course, if we reside in this frame of mind that we are spiritual beings thinking solely about deep doctrinal and spiritual truths all the time we will find the world a very odd place, and we will likely be viewed as being ‘holier than thou,’ possibly not unlike the Pharisees and Scribes in the Bible. Then again, if we reside in the frame of mind that we are just like everyone else going about doing ‘the norm’ and just living and getting by day to day, than we have effectively proven that we are living for one world and not the other.
The challenge, as John Stott words it, is that we live ‘between worlds,’ never fully in one or the other, but we reside in the tension of being at home and not, present but though only God is transcendent we can ‘rise above’ situations per se, we can look out the window of the cafe and see people walking the streets seeing the clothing they are wearing and observing the mundane and occasionally funny things they do while also seeing them not simply with our own eyes, but through eyes of faith observing that there are people when stripped of their fancy or non-fancy clothes, stripped of their ideologies, stripped of their theologies, stripped of their biases, stripped of all these things the world sees them for they are at the end of the day another person who however undeserving of the grace of God desperately needs the love of God in their life. So, they are a neighbor in a people of the world frame of mind, but they are the enemy with eyes of faith however it is as an enemy that we show the enemy the love of God as we work in the ministry of reconciliation. This is God’s work fully on display in Christ, but handed down to the Church to go out and proclaim the love of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News, that great salvific work of the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah who has come to save enemies who would see Him put to death.
We are in a unique position to proclaim this news because we all were at one point these very enemies of God. We were the cause of the problem which is sin and it is because of our very human problem that God sent Jesus into the world to take on flesh, live a sinless life perfectly obedient to God the Father, suffer and die on a cross at the hands of those He would die for while forgiving them in the process, and rise from the dead bodily in 3 days so that sin and death might be destroyed first in Him, and for all who believe in Him to be enjoyed as a sample before death and most fully after death. As William Wallace said, or at least Mel Gibson in Braveheart, ‘All men die, but not all men truly live.’ We all die because of sin. It’s consequences are death and they are observable, but life in Christ brings a taste of the life that is to come through no fear of death and no guilt from sin and then after death there is indeed a bodily resurrection that awaits us as well described in 1 Corinthians 15 and a beautiful new heavens and new earth that Christ will create described in Revelation 21 and 22.
I am writing about this tension and our need as Christians to view the world with both sets of eyes or glasses. We need to view the world not simply with the temporal eyes we’ve been given, but also with the eternal eyes that we’ve been graced with in Christ, our eyes of faith. We too often forget our mission and our purpose in the world as Christians, and that is precisely why we need to continue to be told the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded that we are not alone in this great mission in the world, but that there are others like us who believe and are willing to proclaim the Gospel to us and help us along. We are not strong enough to go it alone. This is why we are not called in Christ to be islands to ourselves, but we are called to community with other believers to represent that heavenly world of which this world can only get a whiff of before losing it’s scent for lesser things. However, in reflecting not only that perfect image of Jesus Christ to the world in our imperfect selves but also showing the world what the community of God looks like this side of Heaven, we give the world a taste of something truly better, truly greater, truly eternal, truly godly. Too many churches reside in one frame of mind or the other, they are too pious and not willing to get their hands dirty in the mud of the earth around it or they are too earthly and are not able to taste the sweetness of that foretasted godly community in this world as they are more enamored by the present world. We need churches that reside within both worlds and we need Christians who don’t simply care about eternal realities but also present needs of others. Jesus cared for the marginalized and poor, the widows and orphans, the sick, and healed them, but also cared greatly about the eternal truths and realities about the deeper purpose for which He came and all these healing and miracles were but signposts for that greater truth – God came to save sinners.
As we kick the dust off our feet from 2012 and begin to put on the new clothes of a new year in 2013, may we look not at others who we can so quickly and so easily deconstruct and point out problems, but may we look at ourselves both physical and spiritual, and ask ourselves, ‘With what eyes am I viewing the world?’ and ‘How might I be able to better serve both my neighbor and my brother in the year to come?’ ‘Am I both broken and full, emptied and glorifying?’
Happy New Year!
Grace and Peace,