a non-linear story, biblical authority, by grace, C. S. Lewis, Christian community, Hendrick Hart, N. T. Wright, Redemption of Creation, Robert F. Capon, Spirit Power, the Christian story, World-flight
Two Central Convictions
Is there a central conviction which ties together everything? Not quite. Years ago Hendrick Hart was Senior Member in Philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Ontario. I was once a part of a conversation in which he explained that he tried to have as few “undoutables” as possible in his life. He thought he had narrowed the list of things he would never doubt down to two. He said, “One is, God is utterly sovereign over his creation. He never misses a thing. And the other is, God loves his creation, including me, very much.”
Right there and then, forty years ago, I decided to try out those two convictions as my own and I have thought long and hard about them ever since. They remain to this day the two “undoubtable” convictions which I hold as foundational. I like to believe they are behind everything else I believe and think. I have been known to challenge associates and students to show me when I hold too tightly to something which does not proceed from one or both of these convictions. For instance, is the Bible a reliable and authoritative repository of the Word of God? It might not be but it follows that if God is sovereign and loves his creation, he could and even would preserve a written repository of his story where those who want to can find it and work with it.
Following from Conviction to Implication
There are many other implications which follow from these two convictions. For one, what I called the “pinball analogy” in my series on Hope-filled History. Is the meandering, seemingly random experience of the Christian community in fact a guided and empowered journey toward the kingdom, fully come? If God is sovereign, then we may say that however random the progress of the kingdom’s people may appear, God is still behind it. And if God ultimately loves his whole creation, then even the most carnal, brutal and craven acts of God’s people over the centuries serve us now as repentant, humbling, learning experiences and opportunities for growth and the accumulation of wisdom. Will we Christians repeat anything like the Spanish Inquisition? Not if we pay attention to our history. Will some Christians engage in another military crusade in an attempt to wrest control of the former holy land from Muslims or Jews? Not if the people of God take their long and painful experience into account.
If My Two Convictions Are Right
What is the future of the people of God? It is the story of the scriptures that God created the earth as a habitation for those who will love God, love each other and love God’s whole creation fully. As N. T. Wright has said it, we humans are the project managers of God’s creation. The story begins in a garden (of delight) from which, over the ages, we develop a city (of God). I am convinced it is our job not to get ready for life in heaven – assuming anyone could figure out how to prepare for life in such a foreign environment – but to live on the earth so as to bring the faithful ways of God, of heaven, down to the earth. That is a full-time job for every person in every community of life in every walk of life in every area of life. In the end, I suspect, the Lord Jesus will finish what we start. However, regardless of how hard it may be or how tangled the webs of human intrigue and devilish deception may be, we are to begin. Hendrick Hart, whom I quoted above, used to say we do not build the kingdom by our efforts. We erect “signposts toward the kingdom.” That would certainly be a start.
The Communal Practice of Conviction
I am also convinced we are to engage in kingdom sign-building together, as communities of faith. Not as churches, mind you. As communities of faith within each given vocation. The institutional church cannot transform medicine and the modes of its delivery. Persons within the healthcare profession, however, those who truly know the difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be because together, they exercise Holy Spirit-powered discernment within their area of expertise; they can build kingdom signposts in healthcare, if they will.
The institutional churches are perfectly suited to leading us in Worship and in Celebration. They should do that, better and better, to the glory of God. However, only teachers and other educational professionals know what is really wrong with our educational systems and environments. They alone can lead the way toward the transformation of education.
Where do we live? I mean, what kind of homes do we inhabit? Are the apartment buildings and the single-family houses of our present cities and suburbs the best places for Christians to make their homes? Since so much of our life is meant to be a shared life, what would quads of eight-plex dwellings look like where each unit had certain rooms which were private family space but other spaces were shared eating, meeting and recreational spaces? Might some of the units be appropriate for couples or singles, for either the young or elderly, and others be better suited to families of four, six or eight people? Might such architecture lend itself to the development of communities of faith in which all sorts of un-looked-for synergies might develop? You bet they would. However, I am a Bible teacher, not an architect and the one from whom I first heard this idea, James Olthius, Senior Member in Ethics (now retired) at the ICS is, like me, a teacher. We need Christian designers of living spaces to cease being conformed to our individualistic world and lead us all into good, pleasing and perfect living spaces.
Medicine, education, architecture? How about modes of transportation? What about money management and estate planning? How would Christianly sensitive manufacturing be different from what exists now, not to more than mention sustainable agriculture or water conservation? How would the zoning of land for various uses be affected by Christian values? Slavery is illegal in every nation on earth because Christians in an earlier generation fought hard to make it so. So, in a world where an estimated 27 million people are still enslaved, how about eradicating the practice of slavery? You see, Christians are only going to think about these on-earth things when their focus shifts from leaving the earth behind to bringing heaven down to earth. Our convictions matter for our living.
The Trouble with Convictions: When They Collide
So, my foundational, undubitable convictions are, God loves me very much, along with everything else God has made, and God is completely in charge. These are wonderful and tremendously comforting convictions until I am in trouble. Then I am caught every time in what I think the apostle Paul was after when he told his protegé Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith.” When I am in severe pain or in financial or legal trouble, when I lose my home to a fire or a tornado, these two liberating, comforting, most basic convictions are nearly impossible to hold at the same time. It is a fight. If I am going through a hellish time, after-all, how can God love me and be powerful and yet do nothing about it? If my life has become intolerable to me, then either God is powerful but does not care or God cares very much but is powerless to do anything about my situation. The good fight of faith, then, is to hold these things together: even when, Job-like, everything comes crashing down.
C. S. Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain, but later, once he had lost his wife, he repudiated the book as containing shallow platitudes. Tom Wright says he once wrote a book where he tried to answer the problem of evil (Evil and the Justice of God) but he later suggested he thought he had fallen short. R. F. Capon wrote The Third Peacock. All of these books are good as far as they go. The truth is, God knows all about our troubles, God could fix them but God does not do so, not in spite of, but because of God’s great love for us. No book, no explanation, can go far enough to explain that. Perhaps Jesus could have written the definitive book on pain and other evils, especially after his business with a Roman cross. But perhaps to no good purpose, because you and I must have gone to our cross and come through it to understand.
I am reminded of a famous Mother Teresa quote: “I know God will not give me any trouble which I am unable to bear. I just wish God did not have such confidence in me.” Amen, sister!
Having been in great pain and having seen much evil, I remain sure we are to hold on to the sovereignty of God and the love of God, come what may.
My next post? What do I live for?