14 October 2011

alive in the absolutes

Grey area is all around; we are surrounded by it.  The Christian philosophers have been screaming truth for more than one or two generations, knowing that the distillation of absolutes would lead to the ultimate undoing of the church and its mission.  Those who have decried the relativism of the postmodern culture may have caught the attention of some, but we still witness the abandonment of clearly defined parameters of right and wrong in the work of the church.

And this been a significant contributor to the failure of the church to bring about the kingdom of God.

Mostly it happens in the name of grace: we do not want to be known as a people who are close-minded and demanding, but rather considerate and compassionate.  These are good qualities, to be sure, but sentiment does not make for right and wrong.  There must be something more; the fruit must come from the Spirit and not from our emotional warmth.

One of the most striking aspects of Jesus is that a reading of his life according to Scripture does not yield the pseudo-neo-hippie that we wished he would be for us.  He remains the god-man who became emotionally and spiritually involved, many times angrily, because of the seriousness of the war he was waging against the darkness.  Evidently, when dealing with death it will not do to offer words of encouragement and make every attempt to understand all sides.

Yes, Jesus was full of grace and compassion.  But he also was the Word incarnate - the truth, the absolute, the essence of God - intent on bringing life more abundant into a broken and hurting world.  He loved people, but was not too fond of all of their choices of self-destruction.  (He was less fond of choices that brought others closer self-destruction.)  And so, while he at all times operated in love, he stood on the absolutes of the divine character.  We see this in the Torah (or Word), but we see it in the very life of Jesus, if we indeed consider him to be the incarnation of God.

While the world wishes to see in shades of grey all of the ethics and morality that make up the human experience, those who follow Christ should be able to recognize blacks and whites, even when life forces the in-between shades upon us.  This does not make our work easier.  In fact, seeing things in black and white should make it more difficult, thus providing a further narrowing of the path that the few will find to life.  Let us make no mistake about it, this is the very reason why shades of grey dominate - absolutes demand something from us, and it is easier to play with spiritualized sentiments than it is to live out the requirements of truth.

Let us not forget that within the absolutes there is life, and the death to our moral consciousness is found in the fog of relativism.  This is true even when it is masked in the (over-abused) name of grace.  For we are called to be agents of gospel more than we are to be people of grace in the first place.  And gospel, properly understood, does not leave room for make-it-your-own ethics.  It is instead the absolute proclamation of the definitive and universal lordship of God's Messiah over the entire world.  That is the source of our message, our hope, our ethic, and our life.

I am quite amazed at the number of Christians (many of whom are certainly well-meaning believers) who have abandoned the work of the gospel in the name of grace, giving free reign and license for the loss of Christian character and conduct in our churches and ministries.  Of course, we could avoid such loss if we could only remember that we are not raised to new life in the name of grace, but in the name of Jesus - who taught us what true grace looked like.  Indeed, a kingdom unlike any other and a life more abundantly lived in the absolutes of faith.

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