[Originally published on Wilson Station June 6, 2011.]
I wrote this recently in response to a friend’s self-confident writings about why he had left the Christian faith behind. It was one of many back and forth communications we have had. It is not a perfect argument for God, or some well-crafted Atheist-busting syllogisms. It is, I suspect, more a cry of pain than of logic. That understood…
I am deeply saddened when anyone’s journey takes them away from Jesus toward anything else. Yes, there’s ambiguity involved in such stories, because in some folks’ cases the faith they were handed was so torqued, bore so little resemblance to the beating heart of the Suffering God-Man, that they had to almost abandon it and start over. But that said, at some point in these matters — and I fear it comes so soon — the decision to not believe is made. Jesus is so easy to abandon. He will not stop us (no matter what the “once saved always saved” folks or anyone else says). He is humiliated daily by humankind, ignored, forgotten. It is so seductively comforting to be able to let go of his hand, which though promising to keep us, will lead us where we do not want to go and will not allow us to forgo the cross. We too must suffer… unless we let go of him for comfort now.
And so the Christians tend to turn Jesus into a dashboard gawd, one not all that much different than a rabbit’s foot in pocket or muttered incantation to ward off the evil spirits. And while they do that, the skeptics (who really ought to know better than Christians what Jesus’ call means is suffering) also choose the comfort of unbelief.
Jesus is so easy to leave, like the poor and ugly husband left by the beautiful woman who has many young and handsome admirers. He is so easy to leave, yet not so easy to altogether forget. The new habits of unbelief, whatever their shape takes for the specific individual in question, will not wholly guard him from the hauntedness, the lonely places where his presence alone brought us warmth or hope.
Death is the end of this life. I have seen it in my father’s face as it turned yellow after his last agonizingly slow breath. Death trumped him; death trumped me, the helpless watcher, now in line for my own final exit. Death I have seen, and death stands over against all human achievement, all human glory, all human arrogance and power and wealth. Death is the end of all philosophy, all art, all music, all cleverness of intellectual pursuit, all science. Death. Period.
And with death comes loss of meaning. We are all moving toward death. If it is the end, then let’s not play at creating morals or “right” or “wrong.” What sort of mental self-mutilation are the philosophers who believe we’re all trapped in a materialistic universe engaged in? The more one digs with the meager tools we possess, the deeper the reality that if we are alone, we are also completely without meaning or significance. All of that is nothing more than opinion — human opinion. So, listen to music, make love with one or a thousand people, indulge in far-ranging and poetic conversations — but in the end, as do Kierkegaard’s banqueters — smash the plates, tear down the curtains, savage the banqueting hall. The play is over.
When I appeal to my experience at conversion and in the thirty-eight years since — which you seem less than impressed with — I appeal to data more readily to hand than most of the data such “religious” conversations churn up. I know I met Christ. You do not know that. If I am very tender-hearted toward Him, I will be humbled by default. (That is, I needn’t look for crosses — if I obey what I know to obey in Christ, suffering will come to me!) But I know something in the deepest way one can know it — with a synthesis of heart and mind unlike anything except perhaps the “knowing” one speaks of between husband and wife.
Yes, there is Joy in faith. I have known it, and I will know it. But this past season of my life has been fairly dark. And in that darkness I see silhouetted more clearly than ever the relationship in my heart, mind, and soul that makes sense of all others. Jesus is this pathetic man’s beloved. If I am not a liar, then Jesus is true. If my life speaks of reality, then Jesus is that reality. If my life speaks of tenderness or hope or love of neighbor, then Jesus it is who bears these fruits through my meager life. I have nothing else to offer you. I have no grand apologetic. I only have Christ Himself, and what human being cannot fall in love with this most lowly God of all Gods? What human being cannot find shame — yet also hope — in the Gospel Story?
There is no hope in any other.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” This is what he said once, and says still. Will you love him? That is the question. And it always will be the question.