One of my favorite quotes comes from the TV show Angel. The title character, who is working towards redemption from his past, tells one of his friends, “We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be.” I love this because it sums up one of the driving purposes of my life: to be the change I wish to see in the world, to demonstrate in my own being how things can be different, better, more beautiful.
It seems especially applicable because of my faith. We who follow Christ are to live as though the kingdom of God has already been established here on earth (which it has), while we look forward to the fulfillment of that kingdom (which is still coming).
I've started to think that people may have taken some lessons from this sound theology which triggered one of the most persistent, annoying, and personally troubling issues the modern church faces. The church, its authority or its people, sets itself up as having the answers to everything: to fiances and relationships and nature and worship and art.
Yet much of the church also refuses to consider with an open heart the problems they strive to address. The patriarch Jacob wrestled with God, demanding blessing. Instead of following his example, we relegate questions, demands, and struggle, and all answers that don't sound like the ones we have received, to the dustbin of unbelief.
Here's a secret: we have never been told all the answers. Nor have we ever been told that answers are what we have to give the world.
What do we have, then? Not just good news of being rescued from the wrecks we can make of our lives, although that is true. The good news that Christ himself preached was more far-reaching even than that. He did say, “Repent,” but only because “the kingdom of heaven has arrived!”
What does the kingdom of heaven look like here and now? I'm not sure I know. I think it's different for every person (at least in the details), but one thing I am sure of: we are not called to give codified answers to all the problems of our day. The Bible does not even contain all those answers; nor could any prophetic word from God in this moment.
If either of those could, it would eliminate the need for love, for interaction and friction and warmth.
And love is what we are about, what Christ was about. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Seeking to know God, following Christ, does not often provide us with simple or direct answers. Think of the disciples, trailing after Jesus through Galilee and Judea, never sure what he was going to do next—break the Sabbath by healing someone, talk to a Samaritan woman (scandal!), make waves stand still, curse hypocritical teachers of the law. The simple answer they hoped for was revolution, led by Jesus, to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression.
He never gave them that. Instead, he gave them himself, a friend and brother and teacher; gave them his death, that horrific ending of all their hopes; and then gave them his resurrection from the dead, that unbelievable turn at the end of the story, pointing out a new path.
Following Christ may not give us answers to the questions of our hearts, or the questions we see in the world around us. What it does is give us is a link to Love himself. To the Creator can see us for who we are and are meant to be, who can shape us, and who can hold us through the struggle to get there. Not only through our direct connection to God, but through each other, mind and body and spirit.
This is why I am beginning to believe that if I create in my head an image of the world as I think it should be, oriented towards what I perceive as God's design, I must take care to not reject by default what I can learn from struggling next to my fellow humankind. It is too easy to slip into the safety of rules and definitions, at the cost of real living. But neither can I stop thinking, wrestling, praying, and pursuing God and his plans for our world.
Both life and the definition of life, love and learning to describe love, are important. Both are from God; either one, alone, can self-destruct.
In Letters to a Christian Nation, agnostic author Sam Harris mentions Jainism, a religion with a clear statement of purpose: to do no harm. It would be nice, he says, if Christianity had such a clear statement.
But we do: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Or as Paul rephrases it in his letter to Galatian church, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Having answers to distribute is not the point. Jesus distributed miraculous bread and fish to the crowds, but only as a passing grace. Full reconciliation and redemption of humankind was his goal, and it required more.
All possible answers fade next to the truth of love when it is active among us.