Now we come to it: what’s the point?
I’ve shared most of my life’s story about how Christ healed me, and I’ve shared reasons along the way about why I believe Christianity to be true.
But so what?
Being healed from trauma and my own brokenness sure beats continuing to go around bleeding all over everyone I love, and the same is true for you, but why does God place an emphasis on healing? What’s he up to?
In a word: redemption.
Redemption is one of three large themes I think God has been up to in the world, and these themes serve as the meaning of life – if the Christian God is the author of everything in existence, then this is his play, and we are part of the cast. What his ultimate purpose is remains somewhat a mystery (what does he have in mind once everything that is currently wrong is set right?), but we do know one thing we are learning now that will with certainty be eternally important.
The three themes are redemption, war and love, and love is the eternal centerpiece.
These three are interwoven, for it is God’s love that motivates redemption, and redemption is necessary because we are at war.
The Fall of humanity as depicted in Genesis, whether historically literal or allegorical (and, really, I don’t think it matters), is more than simply Adam and Eve betraying God by eating forbidden fruit – they are tricked into this act in the midst of a war by God’s enemy as depicted as the serpent, a former archangel, Satan.
We don’t know why there is a war. We don’t know why an all-powerful God permits the continued existence of evil that he could snuff out instantaneously. We just know that there is a war, for now, and the corruption of humanity came as a result of it. And as caretakers of creation, with humanity’s Fall, the rest of creation likewise fell into death and decay.
To understand the spiritual significance of the cross is to understand Christ’s central role in reversing the Fall, reversing Adam’s mistake, and not only making a way for each of us to reestablish communion with God, but likewise all of creation.
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved” (Romans 8:19-24, NIV).
It is the Christian’s job, therefore, to be agents of redemption – to work to facilitate the healing of ourselves and the earth. This earth was entrusted to our care, and we are to be instruments in bringing about its restoration.
Redeeming our fellow man and our environment is not optional for the Christian.
The Christian also can not ignore that we continue to be at war. Scripture promises that this war was won by Christ on the cross and is only yet awaiting the final stroke to fall, but until that time, battles rage on.
To my detriment, I long maintained that I could be a bystander on the sidelines while the battle went on around me, but there are no bystanders in a battle: either you are prepared to fight or you will be rolled over in the heat of combat. But we are not fighting our fellow man.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:10-18, NIV).
Perhaps if I’d understood this truth more clearly and deeply as a child, my panic episodes would have taken on a different context – the enemy was not myself, as I believed and as I allowed to bore deep within my soul and alter my identity. I was being attacked: the thoughts and fear did not originate with myself.
Learn to see your own struggles in the same way. Surely we do bring a lot of trouble on ourselves, but much of what we are fighting against is not a result of self or other people (directly), but rather the influences the powers of darkness are weighing on both. The correct response to win our fights is thus to confront those powers head on.
But where the war will one day finally be over and redemption will be complete, love is forever.
Love is not God, but God is love, and love properly understood encapsulates both redemption and war – we engage in these out of love, because of love. I am moved to redeem myself, others, and creation and to fight against darkness to free myself and others because of love.
Love is an abundantly clear centerpiece of scripture, but what it actually is is oft misunderstood.
“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV).
“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another…We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us” (1 John 2:11, 14-20, NIV).
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-9, NIV).
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, NIV).
If scripture is our basis for defining love, the above selections show it is more than emotions and even more than action. Author Dallas Willard states the New Testament claims love is actually a source of action.
“Love is an overall condition of the embodied, social self poised to promote the goods of human life that are within its range of influence. It is, then, a disposition or character: a readiness to act in a certain way under certain conditions…Such love is holistic, not something one turns on or off for this or that person or thing. Its orientation is toward life as a whole. It dwells on good wherever it may be found, and supports it in action…Our aim under love is not to be loving to this or that person, or in this or that kind of situation, but to be a person possessed by love as an overall character of life, whatever is or is not going on…I do not come to my enemy and then try to love them, I come to them as a loving person…
“It cannot be said too often that love is not desire, and not delight. Desire and feelings generally have a different nature than love, and if we don’t understand this clearly we will remain helpless to enter into love and to receive it ourselves. Desire and feelings fall into the domain of impulse, not that of choice. They aim at their satisfaction, not at what is better and possibly best. Choice considers alternatives and weighs what is best. If its vision is broad enough, it will find what is good and right. If it is surrendered to God, united with his will, it will be able to do what is best. That of course is the nature of love. It seeks what is best…Love, then, is a condition of the will embedded in all fundamental dimensions of the human personality. It is not something you choose to do, but what you choose to be. The will is your capacity to originate things and processes. It is the executive center of the self: the heart or the human spirit…
“If we want to do the things scriptures say, we must change the sources of action in the human self [change the will]. For example, Peter tells us to ‘put aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander’ (1 Peter 2:1). Understanding something of the condition of love that is required to do this, we look for the sources of malice…just to illustrate, malice or desire and intention to harm is often rooted in how we think about the persons concerned: our images of them, the inferences we habitually draw about them, and so forth. Perhaps we see them only as an obstacle to our desires, or as less than ‘human,’ as worthless. Perhaps we need to take steps toward seeing them as objects of God’s love, or as beings of intrinsic value…That will, in turn, require changes in how we think about our world and our self. All of this may be helped along by getting to know them, seeing what their life is like, or serving them. Now the question becomes, not just will we love them, drop our malice, but: Are we willing to make those changes in our thinking, willing to allow God to help us do it?…That is where the will comes into play. It is not the growth of ‘will power’ we are looking for in spiritual formation, but transformation of all dimensions of the self under the direction of God, through a will surrendered to Him and applied appropriately to bring about personal change.
“Now that we understand all of this, we can seriously undertake to become persons possessed by love, as love is explained above. Love ceases to be an intimidating and impractical ideal and becomes something we can see progress in day by day, week by week…We can undertake actions that remove the barriers to love that reside in the various dimensions of the self. They may reside in the will itself, ultimately the root of all the resistance to love: the will as a stubborn resolve to have one’s own way, to control others, and to be exalted…[we] have to surrender self-will as [our] governing principle, a hardened resolve to have one’s own way. [We] will have to yield [our] will to good and to God, and learn to seek what is good for others as well as one’s self…” (“Getting Love Right” by Dallas Willard).
Sadly, one of the largest groups of people in need of truly grasping the above are American Christians themselves. I have been utterly disgusted by the seeming unwillingness of those who call themselves Christian to reach for any empathy in love towards those they politically, morally or religiously disagree with. They have forgotten that their war is against the powers of darkness, not against other people, and while surely darkness can influence others (keep in mind, including yourselves, Christians), it is not others themselves we are fighting.
I suspect Jesus himself had incredibly good reasons to avoid getting involved in the worldly politics of his day, despite the numerous occasions referenced in scripture when both his disciples and his enemies would try to draw him into political debate and controversy. Perhaps it’s in part because if the follower of Jesus obeys his primary command to love God and others correctly, then everything else becomes moot because it is encompassed within the directive to love – if the church numbering over a billion people loved the other six billion people in this world the way we are supposed to, the politics of this world would take care of itself because people who are loved make loving decisions.
The meaning of life is to love God and others in this way, to wage spiritual war and seek the redemption of others and the earth within this rubric of love. Anything else is at best a distraction and at worst an active antagonist against our vocation to love.