In my last post I said:
I do believe in a universe created by a God who cares for us and wants to know us. I really do believe that Jesus Christ came as the embodiment of God and that his death was the price for my sin and for yours. I do believe in a life of constant transformation as we seek God through prayer and other spiritual disciplines. I do believe in the church as the hope of the world when it’s at its best.
Ultimately in deciding on what we believe, we also decide what we are willing to make peace in not understanding. I do not understand why, if a loving God created the universe and wants to know us, things happen that are completely sick and God is so often hard to find. What I’m clear on is that I do not believe life is an accident or that God is an impersonal force who doesn’t care about us.
Believing in transformation as I do, I cannot account for why it does not happen more dramatically and more often in the lives of more people. But I’m clear that Christianity is not a list of do’s and don’ts that we either conform to or burn in hell.
I do not understand why the church, which has potential to be the hope of the world, has so often gotten it wrong. [In place of “it” it seems you can substitute just about everything, if you’re willing to claw around at enough points in history.] But I have seen dramatic life-change happen often enough that I’m positive that’s ultimately what the church is supposed to be up to, in spite of how often we trip over ourselves and make messes of all kinds.
I do not understand what heaven will be like and why we should want to go there, or what hell will be like and why it makes any sense that God would have anything to do with anyone going there. But I’m clear that heaven, whatever it looks like, is wherever God is. And hell isn’t some place of actual fire and brimstone, but rather merely the absence of God. To whatever extent a person lives with God right now, he or she is in a kind of heaven already (even in this life), and to whatever extent they live without God, they are in hell — or at least a precursor of it.
Finally, I don’t know if I’m 100% right about everything I believe. But I think perhaps I’ve gotten it better than those who think the best way to deal with uncertainty is simply to believe in as little as possible. I’m not a Buddhist, and I don’t think Buddhism reflects reality better than (or even as well as) Christianity. But I do know that in the face of a diagnosis with a potentially fatal illness, the Buddhist who manages to find peace and face it with dignity and strength is better off than the agnostic who believes this life is all there is and panics at the thought of one day not existing (not that all agnostics do). It’s not a crutch. The person who plans on driving 90 miles an hour (or at all) is wise to wear a seatbelt – things might get pretty rough. The person who plans on dying one day might be wise to live in light of that reality – things will get pretty rough. Hell, things are gonna get pretty rough while we live. It’s not a crutch to buckle up and enjoy the security it provides, both while we are “driving” and on that inevitable day when we each have our “final accident.”
The best measure of a belief system is what it ultimately does for, and to, the one who embraces it. And I do not just mean in this life. The Christian should not only die better, he should live better as well. That is why I believe Christianity has not really been practiced by many people, even those who call themselves Christians. Many who call themselves Christians may perhaps die better, but are not really living better. In the words of G.K. Chesterton,
Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting as it has been found difficult and left untried.
Though I do not believe Christianity is a harsh and difficult lifestyle, I do believe actual Christianity as taught by Christ has not often been tried, or really even taken seriously. Why that is is another thing I don’t know.