The Bottom Line

01.02.12 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[1]

As I write this, the New Year is barely twelve hours old.  It still has that ‘new year’ smell.  I survived the New Year’s Eve jumble – no parties or festivities.  Not that I’m opposed to them.  It’s just that Connie and I think it’s festive enough to stay awake until midnight.  Didn’t watch “New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Special Guest Kathy ‘keep your finger on the 7-second delay button’ Griffin”.  OK, so I added the 7-second delay part.  But it’s true.  Didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions.  No moments of post-excess clarity.  According to surveys, 82% of New Year’s resolutions aren’t kept anyway.  Of course, that doesn’t keep the Jenny Craigs and Weight Watchers from secretly turning up the guilt level in their advertising at this time of year.  Yep, they actually increase the number of ‘guilt pixels’ they put into their commercials; next thing you know, you’re dialing 1-800-JENNY.   I know it’s true because I read it on the internet. 

It may be that I’m not very exciting or just getting too old to care, but really, it’s just another day.  Other than the significance we attach to it, isn’t going from December 31st to January 1st just like going from March 23rd to March 24th or July 10th to July 11th

Sometimes I wonder if all the energy around New Year’s isn’t just a way for us to hype ourselves up for another year.  Looking for something to distract us as we trudge through the long winter months.  Convincing ourselves that anything new is better than the old. 

But not everything changes.  In fact, it’s best that some things don’t.  Like our faith.  I know it might seem unfashionably quaint given today’s “never look back” mindset, but as we’re busily celebrating a New Year and promising that we’ll make changes to better ourselves, we would be wise to remember that truth is still truth. 

It’s easy to slide into a subtle ambivalence toward things we take for granted.  It happens in many areas of life, including our faith.  So we need to ask ourselves - in our desire to gain acceptability do we compromise our core beliefs so we won’t come across as bigoted or fundamentalist in the marketplace of religious ideas?  In trying to overcome the guilt we feel because of the excesses of some Christians and Christian leaders, do we seek to repackage Jesus into a cool, divine hipster in skinny jeans and black nerd glasses?  Has worship become a show with state-of-the-art multi-media, lights and sound and the focus on our performance?  As the last power chord of the worship song ends, we raise our fists upward, “This one’s for you, Jesus!”  But the spotlight’s still on us. 

Maintaining fidelity to the foundational elements of our faith isn’t necessarily cool.  It isn’t sexy.  It won’t help you lose weight or be more popular or give you whiter teeth.  But those elements are what define us as followers of Christ and if we don’t maintain them with vigilance we risk compromising everything we say we hold as truth.  I’m not talking about whether Jesus turned the water into wine or grape juice - who cares?  I’m talking about whether or not Jesus is the only way to God.  Is he the way, the truth and the life or not? 

We have just come through a year that has seen a number of challenges to the basics of the faith.  Early on Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” sent shock waves throughout the evangelical world by challenging traditional notions of grace, salvation and hell.  Bell’s goal was to present his "case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude."  I agree that mystery is often an underappreciated characteristic, especially within evangelical circles, but there are some tenets of the faith that must be non-negotiable and chief among them is the issue of salvation.  Our physical bodies will die and decay, but our souls live forever.  Every human soul will achieve eternal life.  So is the Word true when it says Jesus is the only way to eternal life with God?  If so, and humankind rejects the substitutional atonement his death and resurrection provide, is it not subject to an eternal life separated from God?    

I was thinking about this the other day in relation to the recent death of author and journalist Christopher Hitchens.  Hitchens described himself not as an atheist but as an “antitheist” – the difference being that the antitheist is an individual who is relieved that there is no evidence to assert that belief in God is correct.  I wondered what God thought of him; was God impressed with Hitchens’ intellect and the logic of the arguments against his own existence?  Would God, just to prove him wrong, allow Hitchens into heaven, to experience with surprise the joy of eternal life?  Would God ever bend the rules?  What about other notable skeptics?  Take Stephen Hawking, the British physicist and cosmologist.  One of the most brilliant scientists of our generation but an avowed atheist, who once said that belief in heaven is a “fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark.”  Boy, God could really show him a thing or two!  Would God ever make…an except…? 

I was stopped short by a voice in my head that said, softly but firmly, “No.  What is, is.” 

Truth is truth.  Knowing God means eternal life with him.  Rejecting God means just the opposite.  I don’t understand how it works; I can’t answer every question a skeptic may ask.  Even the most educated theologians and philosophers can’t resolve every objection made by people who don’t follow Christ.  But – we believe.  We have faith.  And because of that I will gladly place my trust in things I cannot see.  Like Jesus.  A cross.  An empty tomb.

It’s a sobering thought.  We all know people who are not following Christ.  They may be immediate family, people we work with or casual acquaintances.  They may have addictive personalities; they may have a different sexual orientation; they may be so unlike us that we don’t even want to associate with them.  But if we believe the Word of God is true and that Jesus is the only way to God, we must bring Christ to them in a way that is loving, non-condemning and filled with hope.  That may mean more than sharing our faith from a polite and safe distance.  It means resisting the temptation to offer simplistic answers to complex problems and expecting people to suddenly see their need for God and drop to their knees in repentance.  It compels us to meet them where they are and be the gospel to them. 

Now that’s scarier to me than trying to lose 10 pounds and keep it off because it requires a vulnerability on my part that I’m not comfortable with.  The gospel calls us to be more loving than we think we can be.  It means offering grace, forgiveness and mercy to people who don’t deserve it.  It means sharing their burdens and suffering.

But it all comes back to that one question:  do we believe the gospel is true? 

As we take our first steps into this new year, can we leave behind the reinventing and repackaging?  The change that doesn’t matter?  The carefully-crafted veneer designed to appeal to the senses and emotions?  And instead, reaffirm these simple truths:

That the gospel is God’s Word to mankind.

That Jesus is the only way to God and eternal life with him.

That there is indeed a heaven and a hell and those who perish without knowing Christ will suffer the worst possible consequences for their decision.

That we are called to be the light of Christ in this world, to share his love with respect, dignity and compassion and with constancy amid change.

People’s lives literally hang in the balance between heaven and hell every day.  Think about it.  Because that’s the bottom line.

Happy New Year.   

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on 01.11.12 Abby commented

This is really good. I love the part about guilt pixels LOL. I read part of it in my Humanities class and we talked about ultimate truth and why people believe what they do. It was cool. Thanks.

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