Last Thursday I wrote about the difference between perception and observation/reality. That piece forms the basis for the discussion I want to undertake here. The reason I am a Christian, the reason I have held my Christian faith dear for the vast majority of my lifetime, lies in one simple fact. Christianity starts with a single observation/reality – we are not good people.
Most theologians argue Christianity begins, and ends frankly, with God. That’s a fair theological point, I agree with it theologically. But God is like the wind, only indirectly observable – known by effect, not direct observation. The fact that we are not good people is directly observable; we see it everyday.
Oh sure, there are people we call good, people who largely are good, but somewhere even in them is a failing of some sort. There may be people in whom we see no fault, but I assure you its because we do not have a total picture. I am quite certain that in your life there are people you consider good that have let you down at some point. In point of fact, is not realizing that your parents made mistakes the defining line between childhood and adulthood?
The rest of Christianity falls into line when we deal with the observation that we are not good people. Every other religion and philosophy I know of relies on us to somehow make ourselves better. But Christianity, starting with the fact we are not good, brings something from the outside in to make us better knowing that a hole in a wall cannot patch itself. It is that fact alone which makes Christianity the only real hope mankind has.
Let’s examine the observation that we are not good people. Pretty much everything we do turns sour at some point. What relationship in your life has not required some repair at some point? The Roman Empire fell. Even things we do in an effort to be good Christians – like church – ends up with corruption. Do I really need to review the particulars there? Socialism, which seems so wonderful on paper, has resulted in corruption every time it has been tried. The examples from literature are immense. I think of Lord of The Flies where left to their own devices a group of boys turn into killers. In Crime and Punishment we read about a man, a decent man, talking himself into murder. The Scarlet Letter, properly viewed, is a story about heaping corruption on corruption. The overbearing punishment seems to somehow justify the mistake made by Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne, but it does not change the actual fact they screwed up. We all make mistakes.
If we observe ourselves carefully instead of allowing our perceptions to paint us as somehow innocent then we have no choice but to see that we are flawed creatures – all of us, everyone. And with that observation, Christianity starts to make perfect sense. At yet it seems there is no place more difficult to tell our observations form our perceptions than when it comes to such self-evaluation. It’s just hard to face our flaws.
And that is where Christianity become beautiful. Rather than heap condemnation upon us for our flaws, Christianity offers love as a means of overcoming those flaws. All that is necessary for that love to work is that we be honest about the flaws. This morning I pray that we rest in that love rather than allow our perceptions to fight against it.