Onward Christian Socialist
By Terry Wynn
"Lord, the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining;"
Graham Kendrick (1950 - )
THE POST-CHRISTIAN WORLD
If it's not easy being a Christian, if it's not fashionable, if peer pressure means that some of those who go to church do not mention the fact and if it's not considered socially "in" by the intelligentsia of society to have a faith, why do people bother? Why do millions give of their time and talents to work for God? Simply because they want to, not necessarily because they need to. I would like to think that all Christians worship God because they love Him and not because they fear Him. I know that's not true but it's the former who gets far more fulfilment from life than the latter.
The Christian is far from perfect, has all the human weaknesses and often does and says things when he or she should know better. With our God-given free will we live our lives, at times frustrating God our Father in much of what we do.
A lovely lady I know was once talking to me about the problems and worries of teenage and post-teenage children. "You have to let them live their lives," she said, “parents are only there to pick them up each time they fall." It's true, and that's how God is with us, always there, never growing old, always understanding, at all times loving and forgiving.
Colin Morris illustrated this extremely well when he spoke of God's silent approval. He said: "Silent approval. That's the way the world is; that's the way we grow and learn. This is why a wise parent steps back and allows the child to take the first faltering steps; this is why a good teacher doesn't lean over the shoulder of a pupil and say 'Do it this way, do it that way'; this is why a wise boss isn't always nagging his workers. Silent approval.
"Have you ever been to the cinema with someone who's seen the picture before and insists on giving you a running commentary on it? ‘Now, you see, that fellow 's got a knife and when the butler comes through the door ... and of course he's not really the butler, he's an imposter ... you're going to love the next scene ... that's when the vicar gets done in ... but of course it was the organist who did it.’
"Imagine a world in which the divine author of this drama we all call 'life' insists on talking us through it. Where would the suspense be? Where would the surprise be? Where would the adventure be? What is the point in making people capable of dreaming and then giving them nothing to dream about? Why would God make us able to do great things and then not give us the freedom to fail? Say to us that there are no more mountains to climb, that there are no more symphonies to write, that there are no more discoveries to be made and light will go out in the human mind. To be human is to reach for things beyond your grasp, or life isn't worth the candle. We are allowed to grow and to develop and to fulfil ourselves because we do not have a nagging God who stage-manages the whole operation.
"Faith, you see, is a two-way business. We talk much about our faith in God, but there is another faith operative in our lives and that's God's faith in us, and one expression of that faith in us may be His silent approval - or the silence of God might be the silence of communication.
"Now I would have thought that as a contradiction until my computer went on the blink the other week and I lost all my punctuation marks - full stops, commas, semicolons, capitals, the lot! All I had were great chunks of text - endless streams of words and I suddenly learned how important silence is in communication. For that's what punctuation marks are. They are the symbols of silence; where you pause; where you stop; where you hesitate; where you ponder.
"All great artists are masters at speaking through silence; the object left out of a picture just where you'd expect it to be; the void in architecture; the caesura (that pause in the middle of a line of verse); the note withheld in music. Recall, for example, those four thundering 'Hallelujahs' in the 'Hallelujah Chorus', three of them and then a pause that seems to go on for ever, and then the crashing fourth - but in that throbbing silence is an unspoken 'Hallelujah' as piercing as any of the others. Most of the profoundest things that happen to us, happen in silence. In silence we love; in silence we pray; in silence we worry; in silence we wait; in silence we despair. Silent communication.
"I once heard a German Christian talking about being at a bus-stop in l937 when the Gestapo came along and took a Jew out of the queue behind her and made him stand on his own, and the friend said, ‘What did you say?’. She said, ‘I didn't know what to say, so I went and stood by him silently.’ Now you could preach a dozen sermons on the evils of anti-Semitism and not one of them would be anything like as eloquent as that act of silent communication.
"Ah, you say, but how do we know it's the silence of communication? Supposing Heaven is silent because it's empty? In everyday life you know the difference between live silence and dead silence.
"You go into a restaurant and see two couples at adjacent tables and both are silent, but there is all the difference in the world between the two forms of silence; in one case the silence is a void and in the other it's a living presence. In one case they're silent because they've nothing left to say and in the other they're silent because they don't need words. You know the difference between living silence and dead silence, because unless you're very lucky, you've been there."
Too many people, especially young people, have no sense of direction. I don't mean they keep literally walking into doors but they don't know what they want from life, they don't know where they are going. They find temporary solace in booze, in drugs, in mysticism, but at the end of it, after the hangovers or the cold turkey or the psychological problems, they find they are still searching, still trying to discover what they want from life. Unfortunately, Christianity is not the first thing they look at, but I believe that the answer for all their problems can be found in the Christian faith and the words of Jesus in the New Testament.
I suppose the reasons why it isn't an automatic first stop for young people are at least threefold. One is because we live in a post-Christian society (not that we ever lived in a Christian one) where Christianity has been the basis for Western civilization's culture, ethics and laws, but for many it is seen to have served its purpose. But do we honestly believe that society is loving, caring, compassionate and peaceful; does it no longer need reminding of what Christ taught?
Secondly, Christianity is portrayed as boring. Maybe the churches, especially the lively ones, should begin to strike back. In this day and age, TV is the best medium to do that. I dread the thought that American style, all sterilized, all teeth, all glitzy TV shows could become the norm in the UK. However, I do believe that there is plenty of good worship, discussion and practical help that emanate from a variety of denominations for TV to be interested. At present, there is very little that the modern generation can see that makes it think, I want to know more about that.
The third reason why young people don't seek Christianity, is a natural reaction against the establishment. Come to think of it, I don't suppose that young people have been different throughout the ages. It would be hard to imagine, in any era, which young person would run to church to sit in a boring service.
I know people who say they can bring up their children to respect others, to live good lives and to be "good" people, without the need of religion. I don't doubt that. But children don't always follow the paths of their parents - for instance, my own kids don't go to church. What guarantee have any of us that our children will turn out to be as we want them to be? Also, like the story of the single coal in Chapter 6, acting as individuals will not generate goodness in society as a whole, that's why people join voluntary organisations and political parties in the hope of doing good.
However, there is a difference between being good and being committed to a faith. A European MP colleague of mine once said to me, "You Christians really annoy me when you always think you have a monopoly on goodness." If I ever gave that impression, then I apologise, because goodness is displayed in many non-Christians, often far better than many churchgoers. But! Good work is secondary to the primary aim of giving back to God the acknowledgement that He is Creator of this wonderful universe, of this beautiful planet and of each of us individually. The Christian's duty is not just to do good works; the task is to do more than that.
The Christian believes that God sees and hears all we do. For those who don't believe that there isn't a problem - they can do what they want in life. But, you may say, if the non-believer does wrong, his or her conscience reacts. Well, in one sense this is an admission that there are powers of good and evil in the world and that life is a battle between the two. C.S. Lewis, in "Mere Christianity", does a good job of explaining this.
Any Humanist who has got this far in this book, must be foaming at the mouth at the above. The one thing I like about Humanists is that they seem to spend more time talking about God than I do. Every letter they write to the newspapers keeps reiterating that God does not exist. If he doesn't, why bother keep going on about it?
Wallace Hamilton has a story about Colonel Robert Ingersoll, who was an American agnostic. Ingersoll went around the United States, lecturing on the impossibility of God, and he had a great climax to every lecture. He would take out his watch and he would look at it and he would say, "If there is a God, I defy him to strike me dead in the next five minutes."
He'd look at his watch and as the seconds ticked by the tension would grow, and it would grow, and it would grow. Then he'd snap the watch shut, put it in his pocket and stalk off the stage. Unfortunately, on one occasion, the whole effect was spoiled by one of the greatest preachers of the time, Theodore Parker, who was in the body of the hall. He called out, "Does Colonel Ingersoll seriously imagine that he could exhaust the patience of almighty God in five minutes?"
Humanists don't need prayer to sustain them and help them through life, the Christian does; the Humanist doesn't need a personal relationship with God because He doesn't exist, the Christian does; the Humanist wants to make life better for mankind in their very short lifespan, the Christian wants to go further.
If all my arguments are baloney, then the atheists or Humanists can laugh in my face, and often do. They are the ones who should be asking why Christians, battered by all around them, hold on to that faith.
Baloney it may seem to be but the mystery of creation and the life and death of Jesus remain of immense interest for countless millions, even those who don't go to church or profess a faith.
Look at the best-sellers list of books over the years, whether it is the one about the origins of the universe by Hawking, or the one that claimed, in the sixties, that Christianity was a cult that got high on magic mushrooms.
In mid-l992 three new publications came out, all of which will make nice profits for the authors and publishers; all of which are well researched, we are told, yet all of which came up with different conclusions. You would at least think that the anti-Jesus lobby would get their act together and give us one acceptable alternative, instead of scores of options. In one it is argued that the Church of Christianity was an invention of St. Paul and if it wasn't for him we would never have heard of Jesus. Another denies the Resurrection - which is par for the course - and claims that he didn't die on the cross but was revived, married Mary Magdalene, fathered three children, got divorced, remarried and died when he was in his seventies. The third claims he did die on the cross but it was a heart attack that finished him off, not the actual crucifixion.
There is a fourth book, but this time a novel. To quote from the "Independent" book review of 29th August, l992, it could cause widespread offence. In “Live from Golgotha", Vidal, as St. Timothy, retells the Gospels for the television age while having a homosexual affair with St. Paul. It has been compared to a Christian "Satanic Verses". Vidal's publisher, Andre Deutsch, admits that the book satirizes the Bible. "I can imagine church people being upset by it", a spokesman said. "Not many people are left unscathed, especially Christians, but I doubt many Christians will read it". So what's new? It is written, like countless others before, because the publishers know it will sell and make a lot of money. Just reflect on the words of Colin Morris in Chapter 5:
"Some scholars say that our society is now maturely secular. Chance would be a fine thing! We are riddled with religiosity; awed by astrology; eerie about exorcism; phased about fate; gone on ghosts; spooked by the supernatural. The human response to the transcendent may be sublime, it may be ridiculous, but it is invariable. You cannot breed it out of us."
I never have understood the way that Islam reacted to the "Satanic Verses". My contention is that a faith is far stronger, far more everlasting than a book that attacks or ridicules that faith. With Christianity, it is happening all the time. Sometimes the Church deserves to be lampooned, sometimes it needs bringing back down to earth; but at the end of the day the books and the authors will be forgotten. They came and they will invariably go once they can't make a profit. The New Testament will continue to be read long, long after all the others have disappeared. The Christian knows that and has a sure belief in it. I have a sneaky feeling that the Humanist knows it too.
That's why people bother being Christians.
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