Friday, September 08 2006
"Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through the dismay." Mere Christianity
I had an English professor during my first year in college who very snidely remarked one day in one of his lectures that "Christianity is a very comforting religion for those who are looking for that sort of thing." His point was that those who face the supposed "real facts of the universe", that we have come from nothing and are moving toward nothing, are much braver than those who do not face such "facts".
My professor got it wrong on at least three points. First of all, "facing the facts" has nothing to do with bravery. It is a matter, simply, of intellectual honesty, or the lack of it.
Secondly, it can hardly be stated as a "fact" that we are, as human beings and as a universe, moving from nothing to nothing. The study of what lies behind the beginning and possible end of the universe is not a matter for scientific investigation but rather for philosophical exploration. God cannot be proved or disproved.
Thirdly, as C. S. Lewis rightly points out, Christianity does not begin in comfort. It begins with the dismay of being told you have a fatal disease. Only when you accept the heavenly doctor's diagnosis can you move on to hear and understand the comfort Christianity has to offer.
Contrary to what my English professor thought, I believe that Christians are among the bravest people in the world. Christians are brave like the child who submits to the parent who must pull a nasty looking thorn out of the child's finger, even though it is going to hurt like anything. It is hard to hear that one has the poisonous thorn which the Bible calls "sin", and that the thorn is going to lead to death unless it is removed. One would rather ignore the thorn and try to work around it as best as possible because having the thorn removed is not comfortable at all. Christians are honest because they are willing to face the fact that they have a nasty thorn in their finger, and they are brave because they are willing to submit to the heavenly doctor, who is also our heavenly parent, to have the thorn removed.
The choice is not comfort or dismay. The only sensible choice is the one which Christians make: dismay which leads to comfort. The Apostle Paul faced the kind of dismay we are talking about, and thus went on to know the comfort which only Christ can offer. He summarized the experience of both in one sentence:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23
"Lord, do not give me over either to my human ignorance and weakness or to my own deserts, or to anything, other than your loving dealing with me. Do you yourself in kindness dispose of me, my thoughts and actions, according to your good pleasure, so that your will may always be done by me and in me and concerning me. Deliver me from all evil and lead me to eternal life through Jesus Christ." St. Anselm 1033-1109