Authenticity of self in the hands of the Christ

12 11 2013

So this week I was wondering how Jesus felt about (probably) never having tasted bacon (or ham, baby back ribs or crackling.. for that matter. It didn’t last long, these things seldom do, but it raised in me the question of importance. This could hardly be less important for the creator of the universe but to us, walkers on this fallen world where the apparently insignificant perplexes and confounds us.

How many of us ‘love’ chocolate, or wine, or crunchy nut cornflakes (some of you just smiled then)? Do we also embrace melancholy, or become consumed with the pain of suffering for others, like those in a Filipino hurricane. Yes we may assuage our guilt by reference to it or an easy tick on a facebook update. Some will even cough up money to feed/clothe/shelter those survivors. Fewer still will pick up a hammer in Pandacan or cuddle a newly orphaned child in Quezon City, but some do. In the same way, Christ challenges us to view ourselves through his prism of unnatural love. ‘Unnatural’ because, since the dawn of clothed man, it can hardly be considered common or instinctive to love others until it hurts us. Christ knows first hand what this feels like in a way that Buddha, Mohammed or Jim Morrison never did.


The parables of Jesus, as well as the accounts of actual events in His life often leave us to ‘fill in the blanks’ about the conclusions we should make. The antithesis of an American sitcom, where life changing decisions are made in a couple of lines of dialogue and the ‘moral’ painted black and white before the final credits (just in case you missed it). No, Jesus makes us internalise His kingdom, to weigh our own hearts and minds against the confronting truth and we either sear our conscience and justify our way out of there or we break and burn, are reduced to nothing and then the agape fills the void. Thus, after the telling of the parable of the good samaritan, Jesus asks, rather than tells, the conclusion:“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36). The pharisee directly asked, replies “The one who had mercy on him.”

How many (apparent) Christians have reduced Jesus to a philosophy or a set of moral codes? Can we grow closer to Christ by getting angry supporting a ‘justified stance’? If this were the case then Jesus could well have gone a little softer on the Pharisees and Sadducees who had real (and, to some extent, justified) issues with Roman coins and the image of Caesar on them, a demigod to the Romans and a clear violation of the second commandment in their eyes to carry around in their belts. Ironically, they seemed to have more of these coins than most Jews, because they were, by most accounts, independently wealthy compared to the populace.

Other Christians, in order to find meaning and purpose take snippets of the Bible (like Jeremiah 29:11) and their devotions from the ‘nicest and simplest’ subsection of the New Testament and deceive themselves into thinking that God is there for them, not the other way around. God has ‘more for you’, God has a (unique, special and awesome) ‘plan for your life’, God is there to complete you and make it all better.

Unsurprisingly, this ‘gospel’ draws no one closer to agape. The kingdom of God finds a locked portcullis in the lives of those who have taken on gluttony, greed and hedonism as a witch doctor takes on the skin of a dead animal, looking ridiculous and hiding in a carcass.

No. In contrast, I have become convinced the older that I am that Jesus is so fundamentally confronting than any other belief under which people worship because he demands that you come to terms with your existence, making meaning in this life you have and in reconciling yourself to God and others. Indeed, the journey starts with yourself and dealing with the despair you cause to yourself and others when you worship yourself. You worship your preferences, your individuality, your rights, your body, your insatiable desire for people to compliment you, your unkind words, your violent acts, your selfish sex. There is no such thing as ‘doing what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else’. People are social, we are interdependent, you can’t not affect anyone else. Tell that to families of drug addicts, aborted babies, children who have gone through divorce.

When we weigh ourselves on the scales of a Holy God, all of us are found wanting. Jesus needs us to feel that realisation of falling short. Like the relief of an adulterer who had been living a lie and now confesses or an embezzler caught fiddling the books or crooked cop tried for bribery..  the charade can end and the pain of humiliation is felt in equal measure with utter relief. The web finally ends. So it is when one realises their existence in the face of a most Holy, yet most gracious God. You are so broken but so exhausted with the years of sweeping guilt under the carpet (because society had told you that you shouldn’t feel guilt, hell, it damages your self-esteem, FFS!). The thing is that our beliefs don’t shape reality, it is usually the other way around. We all end up with a huge pile of crud swept under the rug and no amount of indulging yourself, or even convincing yourself that Jesus has a ‘plan and a purpose’ will move that crud. He requires your, full, devoted, authentic attention with that dirt. The Law of God, that schoolmaster that brings us to Christ, shows the filth on your life and the truly inadequate and selfish person you are. When that rock falls on us, the charade is over and we can find meaning.

So what is this meaning? The parables of Christ show us clearly that the ‘kingdom of God’ must develop in our lives, the practical outworking of agape in the lives of others for no personal gain. Alfred Adler is a lesser-known psychodynamic psychologist who coined the little-known phrase: “Gemeinschaftsful” (once you’ve tried to pronounce it you get a clue about its surprising lack of popularity). Its concept, however, is rather profound. Adler postulated that human existence and associated meaning is tied to an obligation to be a useful part of a human society. Further, he suggested that psychological disorders were the result of failing to achieve Gemeinschaftsful, in other words, failure to find a place in society to contribute.

If Adler was onto something it may go some way to explaining the plethora of mental disorders we seem to encounter in the Western World. In truth, the constant search for gratification, the hollow acceptance of others, escape through chemicals, sex with little regard to its consequences and an obsession with being more content, more comfortable and having more leisure time to conveniently get tempted into more sin is the very last thing we need.

Instead, by realising that we, as individuals MUST find our identities and meaning for our lives ONLY to be released from the shackles of our own self-importance. This can happen in the most profound way when the Holiest of Gods is prepared to accept you as the faulty, dysfunctional and dirty human being that you are at no higher price than admitting as much and asking forgiveness. Grace is arguably the most profound concept in the history of mankind, not surprising because I remain convinced that mankind didn’t invent it.

Once we realise the damage we cause by trying to build ourselves up, make ourselves comfortable, assuage guilt, ‘forgive ourselves’ and commit spiritually culpable negligence by failing to achieve Gemeinschaftsful, we can do something about it. Thus service to others is not merely another ‘badge’ for your obese ego or a means of working off your guilt but the glorious, wonderful opportunity to love until it hurts with agape.

As Bono Vox so clearly puts it, in the song One:

“we get to carry each other, carry each other”

Bono intentionally uses the word “we get to” not “we’ve got to”  in this song. It is a privilege that justifies our existence, not a burden to be endured.

In this sense, what matters then is not some destiny, or destination, some special role or title or purpose to stroke your ego and add to the crud under the rug. God could not be less interested in your “special purpose”. You have the same (priceless) purpose that Christ himself had: to give yourself up a sacrifice for others (Ephesians 5:25), to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19) and, most importantly, to worship no other gods (Exodus 20:3).

This post is a little out of the ordinary for File 13, but expect that, from time to time, in a site that spends a lot of time in the surreal. In the words of Bono, once again “Am I buggin’ ya?… I don’t mean to bug ya.” *wink*