Dan Doyle writes about how the challenges of modern Christians mirror those of early Christians.
Many of the “thinkers,” the gurus, the intellectual sceptics and cynics of our age are quick to argue that somehow we are better than all those who are of the past, that the past has little or no meaning for we moderns, and certainly, nothing to say to us. They believe that we moderns know more, that we are more advanced, that we have science to guide us. If it cannot be seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled, it is not real, it does not exist. We live according to the philosophy that ” proof is in things only.” We won’t believe in anything that is not provable by experience, or worse, by my “feelings” about it.
But the fact is that we are not different. Listen to the people in the crowd in this passage from John’s Gospel:
“The crowd said to Jesus: ‘What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, it is not Moses who gave the bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ So they said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.'” (John 6:30-35)
The people who saw Jesus in the flesh were sceptics par excellence, they were cynics in the most recognizable of ways. They could not rise above their doubts, could not imagine Jesus to be any more than the usual charlatan going about soaking the poor for their few pennies by telling them some stories and performing a few magic tricks. This was so because, like many in our own time, they instinctively understood that, if they began to believe in this Jesus, their world would be turned up-side-down. They knew that they would no longer be able to carry on with their lives in the manners to which they had become accustomed. They would have to change—-everything.
The dilemma for the people at the time of Christ was no different than it is for modern sceptics and cynics. They pursued immediate pleasure, constant comfort and peace as assiduously as modern man does. The fact is that modern man is no more pleased, comfortable, or peaceful than those people who were challenging Jesus to his face in this Gospel passage.
Modern sceptics are so unsure about the truth that they doubt all accepted opinions. They do this out of a false sense of freedom, and out of a philosophy that says everything is ‘relative.’ They think themselves courageous for facing life stoically, like some solitary, existential hero. They say that nothing can be trusted, all is absurd, I must simply endure with my head held high in the face of the awful winds of uncertainty. Because nothing can be meaningful, their own lives lack meaning and purpose. For to have meaning and purpose one must believe in something; one must believe that what one is doing, that the goal that one seeks, is real, meaningful and therefore, life has purpose and meaning too. We can only act meaningfully and purposefully if life is real, if there are such things as truth and the common good. If everything is relative, if all things are merely a matter of my feelings, or my solitary experience, then there can be neither meaning, nor purpose in anything.
The modern cynic represents someone who has gone from knowing nothing to believing in nothing. What could be more meaningless than believing in nothing? If the self and the self’s feelings, or nervous reactions to stimuli within and around the self is all there is, then love, compassion, mercy, justice are all private delusions and are, therefore, meaningless concepts, products only of the solitary ego, with no social context at all. This is why the modern concept of “social justice” carries no weight, has no purpose, or real meaning. It is not understood in the context of a transcendent reality, but merely in and through the individual’s, or particular group’s, emotional responses to uncomfortable immediate stimuli.
A Christian knows that life is full of meaning, that love, compassion, mercy, and justice are not just concepts, but the real bread of life. In Jesus we see the fullness of reality. Because of Jesus we know that there are such things as truth and goodness, and common sense. Because of Jesus we know that we do not exist alone, separated from God. Because of Jesus we know that life has true meaning and purpose. What is that meaning and purpose? It is to know, love, and serve God in this world so that we may be with Him in the next—forever.
To know God is to know the Ground of Being. To know God is to know the truth. The truth is that we are fallen, that we sin, that we are in need of God’s loving mercy. In Jesus we see this loving mercy in the flesh. To know God is to know that we are not lost. We know that though we are often prodigal, when we turn back to God, He will always welcome us back with open arms. Because of Jesus, we understand not just our need for God, but our duties toward our brothers and sisters. We know that life is tough, but that we have an Advocate in the Holy Spirit. We know that in serving the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked, that we are serving Christ himself, and that in doing the good, though we may be ridiculed and even persecuted, we are keeping good alive and active in the world and we are cooperating with Jesus in the salvation of the world.
The bread of life, Jesus, nourishes us in our efforts to live the Christ life. Because of Jesus we have come to recognize that it is not life that is absurd, but sin. To turn away from God, from the known and knowable good, is absurd. We know that we can depend on God’s grace to strengthens us, to encourages us to carry on, yes, even in the awful winds of uncertainty. Because we partake in the bread of life, we are never hungry, never thirsty. Even in the desert of rejection, even in the hell of persecution, we are fed and we are never thirsty. Because we believe that everything and everyone is meaningful, we also believe that everything done in service of the good, in the name of Jesus, is purposeful. For a Christian the world and everything in it is real and everything becomes meaningful and purposeful in the light of Christ.
We Christians must remain faithful to the truth we have come to know in Jesus then. The world needs us to do so. The world of the sceptic, or that of the cynic can have no future because it has no meaning or purpose. Because the Christian believes and has faith in the Author of all that is, meaning and purpose is real. The darkness of the sceptical and cynical world is pushed back by the light of the meaning and purpose that can be seen in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and in the lives, words and actions of Christians. Jesus is the light of the world. The Christian Church must then be a city on the hill, a light to the world in every age. Individually, as Christian believers, we must not keep that light under a bushel basket, but put it up on the stand of our lives lived out in this world. (Matthew 5:15) Life has purpose for a Christian; it is to serve God by serving our brothers and sisters. Life has meaning for a Christian because it is connected to eternity.
Let us live our lives in the fullness of meaning and purpose then. Let us live for Christ in all that we do. Christ calls us to do so. The world needs us to do so. Let us then go forth in the courage of our faith revealing the eternal meaning and purpose of life to a world desperate to see it. Thanks be to God!