Monday, November 08, 2010

Why Christ?

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Ephesians 1:11-23 Luke 6:20-31

Continuing an exploration into the Church's relationship with the Lord as the Body of Christ, the logical first question to settle is, "Why Christ?" since the New Covenant of the Holy God comes to us by way of Christ Jesus. Trying to answer this overly simplified question, however, raises even more questions than I had previously proposed:
• Why did Christ come?
• Why did Christ die?
• Why did Christ rise from the grave?
• Why will Christ come again?
• Why discipleship?
• Why does any of this matter to me now?

I have often been accused of "over-thinking" religion and faith, but these questions have to be answered by disciples for this reason: they help to lead us into equal parts of the total Christ experience, which is to say that Jesus' teaching ministry, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His return, and His relevance cannot be separated one from the other. To believe in Christ is to accept and embrace His totality WITHOUT making Him to be a "god" unto Himself and without separating His death from His life. It should be very difficult to believe one can be "saved" by His blood while removing oneself from the totality of His life.

Questions are inevitable. It is a mistake to believe asking questions is somehow sinful or foolish or that we express a lack of faith by daring to ask questions. To follow Jesus is to be fully engaged with Him and with all of creation THROUGH Him. Besides, we are surrounded by a sea of non-believers who would like to have relevant answers to their questions, but the Church - by way of her members - has relegated that position of responsibility to the world and its temporal responses to eternal questions.

Statistics indicate that over 90% of Americans at least acknowledge the existence of a "higher power" even though they do not call that "power" by any name. It is more inconceivable that the world simply came into existence from nothingness than that the world we know was divinely created, an order called into being.

The 17th-century French writer and deist Voltaire was a product of, if not a contributor to, the Enlightenment, the age of religious reasoning. He expressed his personal theology in this way: "What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason."

This was deism, a belief only in that which is physically evident and from which logical conclusions can be reached. It is a good start from which questions will come, but it is incomplete. Voltaire, apparently like most Americans today, had no problem with a "supreme being", even insisting upon its necessity in order for creation to make sense, but he had a particular suspicion, if disdain, for Christianity and its seeming perpetual and generational metamorphoses based entirely on opinion and "hearsay" (his perception of Bible writings).

For Voltaire, and others like him before and since, Christianity is far beyond any sense of reason. That a Man was falsely accused, tortured, and murdered for His beliefs requires no faith; recorded history is filled with such stories. But to believe this same Man was three days dead in a sealed tomb and then resurrected - and all for a Divine purpose within the reasonable "created order" - goes far beyond reason. So we enter into the realm of faith and draw closer to an answer to our question; "why Christ?" In fact, we need to know why all these things even matter if Christ matters at all.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). So faith is an evaluation of the present reality measured against the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven, an abstraction for most because the present reality can often be so overwhelming. Things of the Kingdom of Heaven are somewhat lofty especially for those who are currently - and perhaps perpetually - economically disadvantaged. Or are suffering marital and other family problems. or have just lost a job and the only thing on the horizon in real terms is the possible loss of one's home, that last bastion of safety and sanctuary. Why Christ for them?

Reality can be pretty harsh when things are not going the way we want them to go, so reality is a little hard to overcome with promises of "heaven". And if we are going to be theologically honest with those who are facing such calamities, we cannot promise them that reality is going to change anytime soon. Devoting one's life to Christ and choosing to become a disciple is not going to change reality, but faith will enable us to work through reality with a new perspective. But those who have come to equate Christ with cash or other financial "good luck", like the TV preachers seem to promise with carefully selected Scripture passages, are in for some severe disappointments.

The so-called "Beatitudes" are more focused on and directed to victims of religious persecution than on lofty promises of a better life such as a job, a home, a new car, or unearned wealth for everyone because for all that Jesus offers in terms of future blessings, He is rather demanding in challenging us to "love", to "bless", and to "pray for" those who seek to do us harm *IF* we are standing firm in and suffering for the faith especially when our impulses, our natural inclinations are to "strike back" when threatened or harmed in any way. So Jesus is speaking to the faithful, "His disciples" as stated in Luke 6:20. He has a specific audience. But He is also answering our question for us - IF - we are willing to listen carefully - AND - believe He is offering something far more substantial than what we can see in the moment.

St. Augustine believed in a created order of hierarchy. Within this created order is the need to reach "higher" rather than "lower". In other words, we move closer to "completion" - toward what we were created to do and to be - as long as we reach up rather than stoop down. So for all the gold we could possibly have, we are still lacking within this divine order because we have yet to reach higher. In fact, Augustine would maintain that if our goal in life is to acquire even more gold, for instance, we are always going to come up short because "we will ... be incapable of loving anything else properly since we will expect from these lesser things what they are unable to deliver" (Good Ideas, Wilkins, p 113).

St. Augustine maintains that the "created" order and what we might consider to be the "natural" order (the "food chain"), are in conflict with one another, we with our worldly ambitions, natural impulses, and strivings for a better life against the Lord's created order and the purposes for each level. When that divine order is distorted, evil occurs and a disconnect between the Divine and humanity exists. But Augustine maintains that "happiness is only discovered in a properly aligned life in which the HIGHER things are given priority" (Good Ideas, Wilkins, p 113).

Jesus came to realign the divine order by giving us a reason to reach higher rather than to settle for lower. It is, according to Augustine, the difference between "good" and "evil" (no middle ground!). Such disconnects from the divine order are evident when we react to a given situation according to how the world, our cultural standards, our society, and even our parents have conditioned us to react ("You don't have to take that stuff!!", "Fight back.").

Our level of perfection, the Divine Image in which we were created, is diminished when we pursue anything less than the very Face of God. The promises and blessings of the Beatitudes are contained in our willingness to settle for nothing less than the Lord, to settle for nothing less than the "perfection" of the human soul, recognizing there really is "more"; it just is that the "more" we think we need will not be found on this earth.

Faith substantially requires a certain disconnect from reality in that we realize that Jesus calls us to something much higher in the Eternal Kingdom rather than the temporal world. It is our measure of "completeness" by which we are identified by the condition of our souls rather than by the condition of our current predicament. Reality is what it is, but Christ is more. In Him, so are we.


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