It is almost that as we live as Christians, as we try to serve God each day with a whole heart, there is another story going on besides us. We are very much aware that we are meant to be in the world but not a part of it. There is then the spiritual man, the person who is fully aware of God and His laws and who wants to live in God’s ways, and there is the carnal man, the person who quite naturally leans towards vice and sin, the person who God is drawing out of the world to Him but who at the same time is enticed by one thing or other in the world. Welcome to the Christian experience!
The struggle for Christian living could be explained in a number of ways. I suppose a real crisis of faith happened in the mid-19th century when Charles Darwin refuted biblical beliefs completely and gave us a new story for our origins. We were nothing more than glorified and smart apes, apes that evolved from mammals, mammals that crawled out of the sea as fish with limbs, and fish that I suppose evolved from amoebas; or so the story goes. So, on one side were the creationists and on the other side were the evolutionists, both arguing often eloquently for their side of the story, the story of mankind in effect. We are still in the midst of this argument, and the battle still rages on in some quarters. Then we have Karl Marx. I sense that with both Darwin and Marx, there was antipathy towards religion partially because of the power wielded by the religious authorities, the religious hierarchies, who just like other worldly powers had wealth and privilege and authority, with no one seemingly able to challenge them. Is this what God wants for Christians; a few people at the top of a hierarchy telling everyone what to believe, or does God want intimacy with everyone calling him or herself a Christian, a relationship rather than religion?
The struggle we have as Christians trying to make sense of the world and trying to make sense of the suffering we endure just simply living as Christians often reflects the struggles of vast numbers of people around the world. How fortunate we are, those born into wealthy Western democracies; even the poor often live well in the West, and we can honestly say that the majority of us live any way we choose, dress any way we like, think and say anything we want and pursue any course of action we want to; we have freedoms that many other people scattered around the world simply do not have. For us as Western Christians then, the struggle is more spiritual, more emotional even, a battle between our godly nature and our earthly nature, a battle between what we know is right and true and what we know is wrong and ultimately illusory. Even though we know the world is full of vice, sin and disordered desires of every kind, we struggle with our sinful nature, our sinful feelings, and because of this we are far less than we know we could be. At the same time, all humans err and make mistakes, even the best of us, and we are all drawn now and again to what is wrong and sinful. Even Christians can have problems with each other sadly. ‘Brothers, I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to have factions among yourselves but all to be in agreement in what you profess; so that you are perfectly united in your beliefs and judgements.’ (1 Corinthians 1:10 NJB)
The carnal man, the worldly person, has enough excuses not to believe in God even though all around us there is marvellous evidence of a benign Creator at work. It really does take more faith to believe that all life and all that we see is just a glorious accident, rather than a purposeful creation! ’And this is the false argument they use, 'Our life is short and dreary, there is no remedy when our end comes, no one is known to have come back from Hades. We came into being by chance and afterwards shall be as though we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke, reason a spark from the beating of our hearts; extinguish this and the body turns to ashes, and the spirit melts away like the yielding air.’ (Wisdom 2:1-3 NJB) Even way back when, there were people who didn’t really believe in anything, and in so doing sometimes used it as an excuse to do what they liked when they liked, to follow their own desires and whims wherever it took them, even regardless of the detriment to themselves and others.
Looking For Peace
When a Christian looks for peace, they should pray for it and also read the Bible too; we should also have an attitude of peace about us, an attitude that means that mostly whatever happens we look for a peaceful solution to all things. It isn’t putting up the white flag and surrendering for an easy life, it is living each day with inner peace so that we can have peace with other people around us and peace in general. Peace then isn’t just a word, it is a lifestyle that Christians should cultivate. In peace, we might find what we have been looking for all our lives, and peace is a reward and a treasure in itself. Of course, the problem with some human beings is that in peace they become bored, and they start looking for things that will excite them or stimulate them in some way, often by doing something questionable or sinful. ‘In time, our name will be forgotten, nobody will remember what we have done; our life will pass away like wisps of cloud, dissolving like the mist that the sun's rays drive away and that its heat dispels. For our days are the passing of a shadow, our end is without return, the seal is affixed and nobody comes back. 'Come then, let us enjoy the good things of today, let us use created things with the zest of youth: take our fill of the dearest wines and perfumes, on no account forgo the flowers of spring but crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither, no meadow excluded from our orgy; let us leave the signs of our revelry everywhere, since this is our portion, this our lot!’ (Wisdom 2:4-9 NJB) Sometimes those who don’t believe in God make their own desires sacred, and instead of living a purposeful life, choose to waste what latent talent they might have by riotous living and doing what they want when they want; we’ve all been there I suppose though! The refusal to believe in a divine Creator can be an excuse for someone to be as selfish and as self-centred as they can be, with the belief that nothing really matters and nothing really means anything in the end. I am not saying every atheist or unbeliever is like that, not at all as there are good, bad and indifferent in every group of people, just that if you don’t believe there is a God and laws created by God, the sky can be the limit. I notice a tendency amongst some unbelievers that they want to eradicate Christian belief completely or marginalise it so that it has no bearing on society or culture anymore. This seems a shame, as we all have so much to learn from each other. ’'As for the upright man who is poor, let us oppress him; let us not spare the widow, nor respect old age, white-haired with many years. Let our might be the yardstick of right, since weakness argues its own futility. Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing. He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.’ (Wisdom 2:10-13 NJB) Many ordinary atheists no doubt live quiet normal lives and leave people to themselves. But when powerful people don’t believe in a loving God, nor in any rules or divine retribution, they can act cruelly towards other people. Let us be honest here, the way capitalism often operates in the world is of powerful people oppressing those without power in some way and often for commercial gain of one kind or another. People in high places often profess a belief in God, but the way they act in regard to other people and the way they behave in public and in private tells you another story. The Pharisees proclaimed themselves godly men, but Jesus usually condemned them as hypocrites. Where do we see this tendency today?
It could be said that some Christians condemn those who don’t believe; it could also be said that some unbelievers condemn Christians too. ‘In his opinion we are counterfeit; he avoids our ways as he would filth; he proclaims the final end of the upright as blessed and boasts of having God for his father. Let us see if what he says is true, and test him to see what sort of end he will have. For if the upright man is God's son, God will help him and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.’ (Wisdom 2:16-18 NJB) It seems that the carnal man is implacably opposed to the spiritual man, that our carnal nature is completely at odds with our growing spiritual nature. At the same time, it appears that some atheists and unbelievers and some Christians and believers are more and more at each other’s throats and seem not able to live side by side and live and let live.
‘My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.’ (Ecclesiasticus / Sirach 2:1-5 NJB) Serving God is an honour, but sometimes when we look at the small print, or the more obscure scripture, we might find that at times just serving Him isn’t so easy. Or we might find that for some reason serving Him becomes difficult for one reason or another. Whatever happens to us, we should be prepared to hold fast to God, to have complete faith in Him and to live in His ways and be law-abiding. It is as if in these moments of trial and tribulation that we are between sinning and between God, we are in No-man’s land in effect. We are neither here nor there. We yearn to be with God, but God has other plans. We are being drawn out of our sinful lives and towards a better relationship with God. I found that when I decided to totally and wholeheartedly serve God with all my heart, soul, mind strength and being, God was in no hurry! Why should this be? Surely God wants all sinners to repent and come back to Him. He is offering us a choice: to worship God, or worship the world. Many of us are disillusioned with the way the world is run and operates and we find refuge in God. When we finally decide to come back to God, it is as if He puts us on trial, to test us, to search us out and to see what we are made of. He is in no hurry and neither should we be; indeed, one of God’s ways of testing us is to see if we have patience, patience to endure, patience to persevere and patience to remain good people even when things do not go exactly as we would have hoped. In this No-man’s land then, this furnace of humiliation, we should hold our heads up high, do the things we know are right and have complete faith in the Lord. ‘Such by God's mercy is our ministry, and therefore we do not waver but have renounced all shameful secrecy. It is not our way to be devious, or to falsify the word of God; instead, in God's sight we commend ourselves to every human being with a conscience by showing the truth openly.’ (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NJB)
The prize of obedience is reconciliation with our Creator, peace restored perhaps after many years of suffering and struggling and living in sin, reconciliation with Him who has called us out of all the earth, and also reconciliation with family and friends and even enemies. The word is reconciliation. ‘As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone.’ (Romans 12:18 NJB) We are not meant to go out of our way to be at odds with other people, even though what we believe and have faith in is irrelevant or even abhorrent to some people. We are meant to be in the business of serving the Lord; what other people do, or don’t do, is entirely up to them. Even if we meet devout atheists or devout evolutionists, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should pick a fight with them! Look at the scripture above, listen and learn something.
Some Christians are devout law-abiding citizens, which can be a good thing; but sometimes even those who devoutly uphold the letter of the law can become swollen with pride and a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. I expect we’ve all known people like that; perhaps we’ve even been like that ourselves. The law in effect was really made for law-breakers and sinners, people who’d gone off the rails and lived in sin; it does nothing but show us where we’ve gone wrong and where we might go wrong. Moses was a great man who was given the Law, to hand to a backsliding and sinful Israel. Jesus however fulfils the Law; we are meant to live through the Spirit of Grace and not by a provisional set of commandments, however good they seem. ‘He has given us the competence to be ministers of a new covenant, a covenant which is not of written letters, but of the Spirit; for the written letters kill, but the Spirit gives life.’ (2 Corinthians 3:6 NJB) We live under a new covenant, new terms and in the New Testament age then, not bound by all kinds of rules but to live under grace through a relationship with God. It doesn’t mean of course we can then live in sin, Heaven forbid, but that what was Law becomes love, and what were written rules becomes relationship.
We’re all often waiting for something to change; for situations to get better, for more money, a new job, a new life and perhaps even a better relationship with God. Maybe before we change everything and everyone else, we need to change ourselves first.