Awhile back, some poster on a Christian discussion forum who had a habit of teasing the Christians said something about how Christianity is a faith built on guilt and fear. And I read that, and my mouth kinda hung open for a moment. And I realized how diametrically opposed that is to the truth of my faith. Because when he said “guilt and fear”, the lyrics to one of my favorite songs echoed in my head:
No guilt in life, no fear in death: this is the power of Christ in me.
Because while those who worship the Triune God are all over the spectrum on many issues, there are certain, central things we all believe – certain, central things all our versions of the Bible teach, and which, if we deny them, mark us as Not Really Christian After All. One of them is this: A Christian is ultimately absolved of all guilt, and has nothing to fear.
Now, acting on that is an entirely different issue. We’re human. If anything, we’ve got short memories and are easily distracted, even before you factor in how quickly we believe in lies. We are not the world’s only hypocrites – and there’s more than enough people who claim Christianity but haven’t worked that part out. We’re imperfect, and as long as we live in this world we’ll continue to be imperfect. But just because we get it wrong doesn’t mean that the teaching itself isn’t right.
That Christians may be wrong doesn’t mean Christianity itself is wrong.
And my life is far from perfect. I can list my flaws, and I’m sure I don’t know all of them. Given that I believe that after I die, all the mysteries of the universe will be revealed to me, I fully expect to find out that I got at least one thing spectacularly wrong. But I also believe that God in his grace has shown me what it means to be his follower, and to see, just a little bit, how wonderful my faith is supposed to be.
For me, this is what it means to be a Christian: to know, first, that there is a God who created the universe in harmony and beauty, and complexity beyond anything I can comprehend. That I am part of his creation, one of the human race, created to love him and be loved by him, and to love each other, to build and create and have family and culture, art and science, to discover the universe and invent cool things, and be stewards of nature. That God, being a God of diversity, created me to be unique among all his children. That God, being a personal God, desires to know me as his friend, daughter, disciple, and lover.
Second, that our entire race has rebelled against him, wanting to be independent of him, and to value our individual selves above him. Because of that, we’ve made ourselves deaf to his song and blind to his light, and we stumble around in a fog, still possessed of a deep desire – and capacity – for everything good, but irresistibly drawn to evil. Like a book comes alive in the mind of the reader, and a song comes alive in the skill of the singer, our whole purpose is fulfilled by him, and we’ve cut ourselves off.
Third, that instead of trashing us and starting over, or brainwashing us into slavery, God has let us have our will, yet has also taken it upon himself to make a way back. He took human form, lived among us as one of us, showed us what it meant to be perfect and human at the same time. Then he suffered a cruel death, enduring the fullness of the consequences of rebellion: complete separation from the God we were made for. Being infinite, his sacrifice is infinite: more than enough for all of us. And then he proved that there was nowhere and in no way that he didn’t have power: he physically came back from the dead.
And this is what it means to be a Christian: that being faced with the choice, I’ve picked the universe where there is a God who loves me and wants me back. Where everything I am is valuable to him. Where my talents and desires and skills – even my weaknesses – have meaning beyond anything I could imagine. Where my destiny is not limited to what I can envision. Where every wrong thing, every cruelty or act of apathy, every self-centered, prideful, or stupid thing I’ve done doesn’t need to be swept under the rug, hidden and forgotten, because it can actually be used. Where every good thing I’ve experienced, every joy and every mercy is just a glimpse of the reality of joy and love and mercy and fulfillment. Where every bad thing that happens to me can be transformed into something good. Where I can choose do and say things that are right and good, which will have repercussions beyond my life, that I might not even see, but I know they’re there, that I can affect the entire universe for the better. And I know by my own experience that the more I do so, the more I devote myself to God, the more myself I become. That contrary to the lie that gnaws at my brain, becoming “Christlike” doesn’t mean being a cookie-cutter. Because if God is infinite, then being “like him” can be expressed in infinite ways – and being “like him” just means taking the wrong notes out. In the ever-changing symphony of the universe, I am one unique and potentially breathtaking song.
And where it’s not just me. Being a Christian means having something fundamental in common with complete strangers. If they too are Christians, people from whole different cultures and languages, people I may meet once and never see again in this life, people of every age and the whole spectrum of experience really are my brothers and sisters. I can go up to one of them and mention my faith, and they understand. And I understand them. Because there’s this thing that’s way down in the very pit of my heart, and they have it too. It’s recognition in the face of a stranger. When you’re an introvert and an outsider in so many ways, the experience is mind-boggling. I keep thinking I’m singing a solo when someone comes along with a song so different from mine, and it turns out we’re in harmony. And the music is even more beautiful.
Being a Christian has not meant the end of my doubts and fears, and certainly not the end of my imperfections. But it is the answer to them. God and his word are the answer to what I am and why, and what I am supposed to be. The “Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything” may hinge on “know[ing] what the question is”, but in the real world the opposite is true. Knowing what the answer means reveals the nature of the question, and I’m still working that one out. I’ll never be done.
In this day and age, we find ourselves doubting that the question exists. This then is what it means to be a Christian: knowing that not only is there a question, there is an answer.