Telling our story requires contrasting terms. Our vocabulary must reflect narratives of good and evil; love and hate; beauty and cruelty; life and death. Themes of dignity and depravity are relentlessly recurrent in all cultures – at all times — in all lives.
- Why do we need words of contrast to explain ourselves?
- Wouldn’t it be great if we only needed terms of honor and dignity to tell our story?
The necessary vocabulary for telling a truthful account of human history must include descriptions of deep, dark depravity.
On a personal level
Although we all experience times of happiness and peace, thoughtful and honest people know that things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Why do we share this intuitive sense that things were meant to be better? Some will say it’s about an evolutionary kind of survival. But even if that is that case, is a narrative of survival enough for explaining the physical and metaphysical realities of human existence?
Even when our lives are in a joyful season, so much around us (and within us) reminds us of corruption and sadness.
God has shown kindness to humanity and testified to His existence by giving common grace blessings to all people. He gives “rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides us with plenty of food and fills our hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17).
The birth of a baby is a moment of great joy. Marriage can be a beautiful relationship filled with joy. When husbands and wives treat each other with honor and respect, happy and healthy homes bless human life and enrich communities.
But when these same relationships are filled with selfishness and neglect, as one has observed, there is no misery so miserable as a miserable marriage. Everyone pays a price when relationships break down — particularly the children.
We live with tensions or terms of contrast.
People do are better off when governments pursue true justice tempered by mercy. But when governors are greedy and selfish, people groan under the oppression.
When what we call natural disaster destroys a community, human responses range from heroic to calloused indifference to barbaric.
Why are things as they are?
Some just say, “It is what it is.” But this is not enough to satisfy me. I want to know more. Where did our story begin? If we had a good beginning, where did it go wrong? Where is it going? How will it end? Can we find answers to these questions? Or, do we just ride out our time making the best of it until the grim reaper visits us?
Struggling with what he felt to be the exasperating enigma of existence, the frustrated Scottish writer, Richard Holloway, groaned in honest reflection,
“This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”
Where can we find answers?
There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to the deeper questions about suffering, life and death. Most efforts to explain the human story are either simplistically naïve in their utopianism or forced versions of scientific reductionism.
I have found only one source to be wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to address the innate longings of the human heart.
This deeply satisfying source (to surprisingly) invokes irrational reactions from people — usually from those who know little about it yet feel surprisingly justified in rejecting it. Mere mention of this source (especially and ironically) in academic settings invokes an arrogant and condescending ridicule based on ignorance.
Those who take this source seriously are treated by haughty academics as unenlightened simpletons. But, sadly and ironically, those who react this way never offer thoughtful alternatives for answering the important questions.
The source I look to offers truths that range from simple and accessible to complex and mysterious. It speaks to a child and challenges a scholar. It covers the physical and metaphysical realities of life as we know it. It reaches into time and eternity. It tells us where we came from, why we’re here, and offers a realistic accounting of what went wrong. It connects with universal longings by revealing where to find hope for a better future. It addresses universal human needs of forgiveness, freedom, security and peace.
The source happens to be the most widely circulated and best-selling book of history.
The One who offers hope
The main character of this book came from eternity to humble earthly circumstances for the purpose of a brutal death that would conquer death. We’re repeatedly told that his death was a redemptive sacrifice for all people.
He transformed countless individual lives and human history itself more than any other person who has lived.
Jesus introduced himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, who was and who is to come. He said, “I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18). The source is the Bible and the main character is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ remains the most amazing person who ever lived on this planet. Although born in obscurity over 2,000 years ago, the world can’t escape his legacy and global influence. No individual comes close to the impact Jesus made on humanity.
How amazing is it, for example, that this seemingly obscure person— from an even more obscure period of history—continues to make the front page of many non-religious magazines every Easter and Christmas?
Another set of terms are needed
Jesus Christ is so amazing that he can only be fully explained by using terms that defy normal categories. We need a vocabulary that reaches beyond our reality and one that shatters so many of assumptions.
What do you do with one who:
- fulfilled ancient prophecies in his birth, life and death?
- predicted his own death and resurrection?
- claimed to exist before Abraham was born?
- claimed the right to forgive sins?
- claimed that he would be the judge of all people?
- claimed eternal duration for his words?
- claimed equality with God?
- claimed the ability to give eternal life to those who believe on him?
We simply don’t have a category for Jesus.
- Virgin birth?
- Promised return?
It’s too much for us to fully wrap our minds around. It demands a God who “breaks in” on the natural order. Jesus Christ is so extraordinarily unprecedented that he shatters our categories and demands our worship.
Some people find the central message about Jesus a bit difficult to accept because it involves exclusive claims about the only way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6).
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (I Timothy 2:6)
The sacrificial death of Jesus is repeatedly emphasized as something offered for the sins of the world, for all men; for the whole world (see: John 3:16,17; I John 2:1-2), but this inclusive demonstration of God’s love is the only way to be forgiven and accepted by God.
Seven truths about the reach of God’s love
- God has demonstrated his love for all people (John 3:16).
- God desires the salvation of all people (I Timothy 2:3-4).
- God has made provision for the salvation of all people (I John 2:2).
- God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
- God will hold all people accountable for their response (Acts 17:31).
- God takes no pleasure in anyone’s rejection of his love (Ezekiel 18:23,32).
- God will save all people who place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
We recognize the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1 – “There is a time to be born and a time to die.”
We understand by experience what scripture teaches when it says,
- “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
- “Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
We cannot hide from the reality of death. Yet Jesus transforms our understanding of death. He said,” Because I live you also will live (John 14:19). He promised, “…everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Do you believe in Him?
The story offered in the Bible covers four main themes that address the whole account of reality. First, there is creation: the good; secondly, the fall of humanity: the evil; thirdly, redemption, the new; finally, restoration: the perfect.
Here we find truth about dignity and depravity; the finite and the transcendent; time and eternity; dust and glory — God’s word through the words of men offering words of life.
This amazing book with all of its complexities is a treasure for humanity!