[NOTE: Your favorite blawger in his posting on Maundy Thursday yesterday cited scriptures that he meant to attribute to John 13: 1, or 1-2, and other portions of John 13, and stoopidly and inaccurately cited them as being from John 1--an indication that he was suffering from an enormous brain toot or just plain sloppy self-editing. Yesterday's posting has been edited with some corrections, better late than never.]
Christ died on the cross on “Holy Friday,” or what came to be known in Christian theology and tradition as “Good Friday.”
Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of blood cancer years ago.
Here’s Wiman, who has been intimate with suffering, on “Why I am a Christian”:
“I’m a Christian not because of the resurrection . . . and not because I think Christianity contains more truth than other religions . . . and not simply because it was the religion in which I was raised (this has been a high barrier).
“I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
“The point is that he felt human destitution to its absolute degree; the point is that God is with us, not beyond us, in suffering.”
Me, I would say I’m a Christian for the same reasons as Wiman and his take that Christ felt our “human destitution” to the Nth degree; his belief that God is in solidarity with us in our human pain and suffering here and now–that God is with us and not just “beyond us.”
However, I would say that I am a Christian both because of the resurrection and because of Christ walking with us through or darkest valleys of pain and suffering, sharing the weight of the crosses we bear.
And here’s a few more random thoughts as to reasons, I suppose, that I define and identify myself as a Christian:
I’m a Christian because I see the “atonement” as “at-one-ment”–as God in Christ being “at one” with us in the inevitable pain and suffering of life. But also because I believe in new life and all the theology and symbolism of the resurrection.
To me the resurrection isn’t just about life after death and anyway, even Paul himself referred to resurrection from death after the heart stops as “a mystery.”
The resurrection is about the transformation of, say, a bitter and hateful hurt into a new and loving and kind and compassionate heart–in this life. A Klansman who once inflicted pain and suffering on people of color can find himself resurrected with new life on this side of the Kingdom of Heaven, growing into the sort of Christian who fights against the evil of racism. Such transformations from evil to good–such resurrections–such seeming miracles--can, and do, occur.
This too is why I’m a Christian–miracles of all kinds are all around us. We’re too blind to see or, sometimes, to recognize them for what they are.
* * * *
God presents us with all kinds of “new” lives and rebirths–and second chances if not more chances it may take to be truly “born again” into something good and kind and gentle, compassionate and understanding, tolerant, and liberated from of the burdens of slavery to wrongdoing and immoralities and untruths and phoniness of all kinds.
I’m a Christian because I believe in the Christian concept of redemption.
I’m a Christian because I see God as being on the side of grace, on the side of forgiveness, mercy and all those second and third chances.
* * * *
Here’s another reason:
I’m a Christian because I believe Christ gives us hope and refreshes us, running counter to all kinds of cynicism. (I like to think of myself as a “tamed cynic.” For sure, it’s a battle sometimes to keep the cynic in me from going wild though.)
Hope, I’ve come to see after all these years, is always fresh, while cynicism becomes stale and dry in a hurry.
It’s probably why I hate the cynicism in others so much.
I can do cynical with the big boys of cynicism.
I was a reporter, for God’s sake.
* * * *
I’m a Christian because I see God’s grace as being averse to every form of destruction–averse to war, poverty, racism, intolerance, greed and exploitation of humans in all its terrible forms.
I’m a Christian because I see God as being on the side of all that is constructive and good.
God is love. God is grace.
Nothing about love and grace can possibly be destructive.
Love and grace can only be uplifting and life-giving; love and grace can’t possibly be about tearing down and destroying.
That said, humans and even way too many Christian humans–granted–have torn down and destroyed in the name of God. No Christian can deny the dark side of the church and Christians throughout history.
But then, all human beings can be just as attracted to darkness as to light, whether believers or not believers, Christians or non-Christians.
We all have the light and the darkness, the evil and the good within us, and battles between the two are usually being waged within our hearts and, if nowhere else, in our subconscious minds.
As I always say and always will–we’re all saints and sinners, all broken people in need of God’s endless love, grace and tender mercies.
Graham Greene’s masterpiece of a “Catholic” novel, The Power and the Glory, which I’m reading, has a cruel police lieutenant determined to wipe out every priest and every trace of Christianity in southern Mexico. (It’s based on history from the last century, BTW, and many of the characters based on real priests and real Mexican authorities who tried to wipe out Christianity and Catholicism.) This evil policeman makes it his mission in life to find and destroy the last priest in southern Mexico and kills one person from every village he rides into trying to flush out the “whiskey priest” he’s chasing down.
And yet this evil policeman gives a little money at one point to that very priest–whom he doesn’t recognize from a previous encounter in a village–as an act of charity to a man he believes to be harmless and down on his luck.
Greene’s great novel–on everybody’s list of one of the best novels of the last century (including the late and great American literary giant and Christian John Updike–makes the point in powerful ways that there really is good and evil, and somewhere a sinner and somewhere a saint, within us all.
* * * *
The Christian cross is not a reminder that God inflicts suffering or pain or misery on us, because God doesn’t inflict suffering or death on anybody (my italics for emphasis).
I for one would want nothing to do with that kind of monster God.
The point is that God walks with us through all our darkest valleys of grief and pain and suffering. God is in solidarity with us in our struggles in life.
For sure, pain and suffering and evil are all parts of life. But people (even Christians!) tend to rush to judgment of God when a child falls from a tree and dies, asking what kind of God could even allow such a horror.
But no one questions the law of gravity in the living, breathing, natural world that God created–complete with natural laws of the universe.
Theology 101 has it that the law of gravity won’t be suddenly and divinely reversed to save a child’s life.
And then there’s the judgment against the horrible God who allows a child, let us say hypothetically, to be run over by a drunk driver. But it’s not God who makes a choice to drive drunk and puts the lives of children and everyone else at risk. A driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol, who kills a child, has made a tragic choice in his or her free will–free will being the gift or the curse to make our own decisions and choices, and then to live with our decisions and choices.
God created us as humans who can make choices; He/She didn’t create us as puppets dangling from a divine string–or as so many robots being remotely controlled from on High.
So bad things will happen even to good people and the Christian cross symbolizes the fact that whatever bad and awful things we suffer, God feels and has felt through the bloody, tortured body of Christ in the flesh.
With that I’m in 100 percent agreement with Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry magazine who has known pain and suffering all too well, up close and personal.
But I would have to say I’m a Christian also because of the resurrection. And I would agree with Wiman that I’m not a Christian because I believe Christianity holds all the truths about life and God and that, therefore, other religions are just wrong and contain none of God’s real truth(s).
All the major faiths bring something illuminating and enriching to the table.
* * * *
None of of what I’ve said here is anything like a definitive reason as to why I’m a Christian, but rather all that I’ve said here says something about the reason(s) I am a Christian.
I suppose if pressed to put it succinctly I would say I’m a Christian because I see God as love, and love is all you need.
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