“…we are somehow broken, marred, off-balance. We “miss the mark” – even the ones we impose on ourselves – and too often that means we constantly hurt others, and perhaps do far worse things than “merely” hurting them.
It is just a step from this internal revelation of our own brokenness to understand that we cannot fix ourselves, and, by corollary, no one else can fix us either – at least no one else who is just like the rest of us.
When Jesus said the Son is the only way to “be free indeed”, he was trying to tell us that we are simply so broken in ourselves that, without him as our source and our center, humans can and will never know or experience freedom – not in any truly complete and healing sense that will last forever…
For the early disciples, things were much more difficult than anything we face here in the post-Christian West where the name of Jesus still has significant recognition. The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness many western believers have are the result of centuries of holding a privileged position in society and a preponderance of cultural influence for over a millennium. Now that is largely gone and we don’t know how to cope. We’ve forgotten how to begin again.
The post-Christian cultural revolution in the West I have been describing in its Canadian context is the same which has swept Europe, the United States, and Western outliers such as Australia and New Zealand. Many of the European states have a barely breathing remembrance of Christendom, despite the appearance of oddities such as political parties calling themselves “Christian Democrats”. Churches are largely museums and cultural artefacts, even those still kept open for religious functions among the remnant of Christians. Such ceremonies are seen as living lessons in sociology and anthropology by their State benefactors.
But what if that is really a small part, an atom or molecule, of the great story of meaning that is bound up in the great Whole, what we are meant to portray – the Story of Love and Bonding and Creating?
When I walk among the trees, down a path, over a field, through a garden; when I stand on a mountain- or hill-side, when I feel the gentle summer breeze and the cold snap of the winter wind on my face, when I plunge into the rushing water of the river or the rolling waves of the sea, when I gaze enrapt into the eyes of a newborn, or those of the one I specially love, when I stand awestruck under the starlit vault of the heavens, everywhere and in everything, from the least blade of grass to the most awesome, lofty white pine back of my home, from the weary face of the commuter on the bus to the happiest child with the best surprise in her hands, I see the Creator! (The Holy Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible is feminine, if you didn’t know!)
The great illusion is that somehow the old imperialist ways can be married to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace as “Christendom” and produce the Kingdom of God. In the New Testament that Kingdom is described as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”, the “peaceable Kingdom” where justice and mercy kiss each other and oppression and violence are banished for ever. The early Christian witness to their persecutors was “see how they love one another” not how they condemn and slaughter one another, let alone the unbelieving pagan masses.
Think about any mountain-top or peak experience or achievement your have ever had. Maybe it was finally breaking through in your career or chosen role in life and getting the recognition and reward you longed for and felt you justly deserved. Maybe it was winning the heart of “the One” and believing your “live-happily-ever-after” dream was coming true. Maybe it was winning a big competition, or the big championship, the gold medal, the highest individual honour in the that thing you are really passionate about! Maybe it was an heroic act that wowed the people all around and astonished even yourself in the doing – and still does when you think back on it. Maybe it was the “eureka” moment of your conversion to God when you decided to live to honour the Creator.
…by the end of the Fourth Century CE, the Imperial Church had emerged full-blooded, while the original sense of Jesus calling His followers apart to follow a different path was far from lost among millions of his followers who looked with alarm on this heavy-footed march into full-blown political and social involvement of the most injurious kind for a movement supposed to lead people into the Kingdom of God rather than a holy-water-sprinkled repurposing of “Caesar-is-Lord” (even of the Church) as per the Roman (morphing into Byzantine by that point) model.
What the US brand of ultra-Evangelicalism most resembles historically is the fanatical Crusaders who believed that killing those who refused to accept Christ or opposed the preaching of His message was both just and essential if His Kingdom is ever to be brought into the world. There is none of the humility and self-understanding of being a fallible sinner that might even betray the Master that we find in the Apostles or the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Fathers (and Mothers) of the ancient Church. There is no hint of the first believers who “turned the whole world upside down” and shook the foundations of the Empire itself by turning the other cheek, turning back to be crucified with his people, as Peter did, or heading to Rome to face the Emperor himself even if it meant death, as Paul did. There is no hint of “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and persecute you, and so you will prove yourselves to be the children of your Heavenly Father”.