Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Great Illusion

‘…We do not appear to travel well. [My wife] comes up with migraine headaches with air pressure changes. I have my own phobias about the U.S. so I tend to make an emotional mess of any visits south of here. I am appalled at what the U.S. has become. The Nazis have nothing on what the U.S. is becoming and what it is yet to become. That is likely a longer story than I care to discuss right now…’

A friend from my college days with whom I have come back into contact after a period of literally forty years wrote me the above in response to my question about whether he and his wife have traveled much. They, along with a handful of other friends and myself, migrated to Canada in the early 1970’s with the intention of setting up an intentional community, a commune. They also migrated to avoid the Vietnam War draft. My number in the draft lottery was too high, and I was never called. We were all student radicals, at least we thought we were, and also spiritual seekers. As it turned out, my career as a student radical was a shallow copying of others, what we have since learned to call being ‘a poser.’ All of us, after an initial tangle with ‘New Age’ religions, turned to Christ and became Christians. Me, at first an Episcopalian and then, after twelve years, a Greek Orthodox. My friends, various denominations ranging from Pentecostal to Roman Catholic, and anything in between.

The onset of old age brings with it a clarity of vision unknown to the years of youth or even middle age to some, and to others, the confirmation of ‘truths they always knew.’ It has been my observation, now that I am here at the threshold of my ‘golden years,’ that people really don’t change. It seems that we remain in some sense till our life’s end what we always were, and the end of our lives proves our beginning. This is expressed in a different way in the Bible, something like ‘by how a man ends we can know what he was,’ though I cannot at the moment cite a particular verse or book. This flies in the face of the current wisdom of Christianity which states that when one accepts Christ, one becomes a new creature. One changes. By this is usually meant, all of one’s former life is cast aside and gradually replaced with the ‘Christ life’ because now Christ lives in him. All this has the support of scripture, and of course, it is true, though not for all of us, maybe not even for most. The object of Christianity for many people thus becomes, whether consciously or unconsciously, the acquisition of virtues and—I hate to say it—material increase. Once these ends are sufficiently achieved, one either ‘rests on his laurels’ or leaves Christianity altogether. This is what I call ‘the Great Illusion.’

Where I stand now in my relationship to Jesus Christ is the same place I stood when He found and chose me as a disciple, at the age of twenty-four. In one year’s time it will have been forty years. It seems to me that I have the same joy, and wonder, and enthusiasm for the Lord that I was given at the moment of my ‘epiphany’ experience. That may or may not be true. Like everyone else who has ever been born, I am a great actor, and I also like to believe my own tales. My life will be revealed more and more for what and who I am or was as I move closer to my own bodily death. This does not bother me, because I see that it is how ‘Judgment Day’ comes upon us, and if that’s how God wants it, I am content. In fact, I want what I am to be revealed, because I am confident that He who made me, called me, and sent me, will in the end redeem me. ‘I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.’ This is what I mean when I say ‘in God I trust.’

For me, Christianity is not a program of self-help or moral improvement. It isn’t a regimen of discipline that will make me worthy to ‘acquire the Holy Spirit.’ It doesn’t depend on church membership, on my personal confession of faith, or on the good deeds I do. It’s not God’s stamp of approval on all my petty prejudices, phobias, and preferences. It doesn’t give me the right or authority to command, direct, or worst of all, judge those whom I may consider inferior to me (though they may only be different).

Christianity is to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen to, no, to hang on His every word. It is to leave my water jar at the well of negativity and go to Him who is the well of positivity, that is, of indefatigable goodness, of life, temporal and eternal, and having received that which only He can offer, to give away, to distribute, to all others, that same goodness He has given me.

Light and life, it all amounts to this. If I am a Christian, is that what others experience from me? Is my life a bushel that has hidden the lamp, or is it a city set on a hill that cannot be hid? We want to defend and excuse ourselves when we fail to be ‘the light of the world’ that Jesus tells us we are. Something always gets in the way, but ‘our heart is in the right place,’ and in a pinch, when pressed, we will ‘give our testimony’ and confess before men that ‘Jesus is Lord’ verbally, come what may. Yes, we are convinced that one sentence of religious jargon, especially if it comes straight out of ‘God’s Word,’ will make up for all the negativity, judgmentalism, prejudice, and uncritical self-justification that we pride ourselves in, calling it our ‘Christian walk.’

Small wonder, then, that the ‘unsaved’ world prays to the God it doesn’t believe in but instinctively and regretfully knows is there, ‘Lord, save us from your people.’ The Great Illusion instead of the Great Commission. How can it be that the world understands better what the Truth is than we do? We, the Christian people, like the Ninevites, not knowing our right hand from our left, numbering in our millions, not to mention all our cattle.

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