Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

After you die, you go to be "with Christ," but your body remains dead. Describing where and what you are in that interim period is difficult, and for the most part the New Testament writers don't try. Call it "heaven" if you like, but don't imagine that it's the end of all things. What is promised after that interim period is a new bodily life within God's new world.

I am constantly amazed that many contemporary Christians find this confusing. It was second nature to the early church and to many subsequent Christian generations. It was what they believed and taught. If we have grown up believing and teaching something else, it's time we rubbed our eyes and read our texts again.

[Arguments about God are] like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining.

At the heart of Christian ethic is humility; at the heart of its parodies, pride. Different roads with different destinations, and the destinations color the character of those who travel by them.

Christian ethics is not a matter of discovering what's going on in the world and getting in tune with it. It isn't a matter of doing things to earn God's favor. It is not about trying to obey dusty rulebooks from long ago or far away. It is about practicing, in the present, the tunes we shall sing in God's new world.

Christian living means dying with Christ and rising again. That, as we saw, is part of the meaning of baptism, the starting point of the Christian pilgrimage.

[Christians] must become, must be known as, the people who don't hold grudges, who don't sulk. We must be the people who know how to say "Sorry," and who know how to respond when other people say it to us. It is remarkable, once more, how difficult this still seems, considering how much time the Christian church has had to think about it and how much energy has been spent on expounding the New Testament, where the advice is all so clear. Perhaps it's because we have tried, if at all, to do it as though it were just a matter of obeying an artificial command--and then, finding it difficult, have stopped trying because nobody else seems to be very good at it either. Perhaps it might be different if we reminded ourselves frequently that we are preparing for life in God's new world, and that the death and resurrection of Jesus, which by baptism constitute our own new identity, offer us both the motivation and the energy to try again in a new way.

First, we break bread and drink wine together, telling the story of Jesus and his death, because Jesus knew that this set of actions would explain the meaning of his death in a way that nothing else--no theories, no clever ideas--could ever do.

For the Deist ... prayer is calling across a void to a distant deity. This lofty figure may or may not be listening. He, or it, may or may not be inclined, or even able, to do very much about us and our world, even if he (or it) wanted to ... all you can do is send off a message, like a marooned sailor scribbling a note and putting it in a bottle, on the off-chance that someone out there might pick it up. That kind of prayer takes a good deal of faith and hope. But it isn't Christian prayer.

God has committed himself, ever since creation, to working through his creatures--in particular, through his image-bearing human beings--but they have all let Him down.

God is the one who satisfies the passion for justice, the longing for spirituality, the hunger for relationship, the yearning for beauty. And God, the true God, is the God we see in Jesus of Nazareth, Israel's Messiah, the world's true Lord.

God's plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was "very good." Rather, he intends to remake it. And when he does he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. That is the promise of the Christian gospel.

How does it happen that, on the one hand, we all share not just a sense that there is such a thing as justice, but a passion for it, a deep longing that things should be put to rights, a sense of out-of-jointness that goes on nagging and gnawing and sometimes screaming at us—and yet, on the other hand, after millennia of human struggle and searching and love and longing and hatred and hope and fussing and philosophizing, we still can’t seem to get much closer to it than people did in the most ancient societies we can discover?

It is a matter of glimpsing that in God's new creation, of which Jesus's resurrection is the start, all that was good in the original creation is reaffirmed. All that has corrupted and defaced it--including many things which are woven so tightly in to the fabric of the world as we know it that we can't imagine being without them--will be done away. Learning to live as a Christian is learning to live as a renewed human being, anticipating the eventual new creation in and with a world which is still longing and groaning for that final redemption.

It is central to Christian living that we should celebrate the goodness of creation, ponder its present brokenness, and, insofar as we can, celebrate in advance the healing of the world, the new creation itself. Art, music, literature, dance, theater, and many other expressions of human delight and wisdom, can all be explored in new ways.

I've met people in the last year or two who have stopped going to their local church because people have started singing new songs and dancing in the aisles. And I've met others who have started going for precisely the same reason. It's time to give ourselves a shake--to recognize that different people need different kinds of help at different stages of their lives--and get on with it.

[Jesus] is, at the moment, present with us, but hidden behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture, and our work with the poor, when the veil seems particularly thin. But one day the veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God's new world will at last be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities.

Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world ... That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God's new world, which he has thrown open before us.

Many of the questions we ask God can't be answered directly, not because God doesn't know the answers but because our questions don't make sense. As C.S. Lewis once pointed out, many of our questions are, from God's point of view, rather like someone asking, "Is yellow square or round?" or "How many hours are there is a mile?

That is what worship is all about. It is the glad shout of praise that arises to God the creator and God the rescuer from the creation that recognizes its maker, the creation that acknowledges the triumph of Jesus the Lamb. That is the worship that is going on in heaven, in God's dimension, all the time. The question we ought to be asking is how best we might join in.

The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world ... The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.

The church isn't simply a collection of isolated individuals ... we need to learn again the lesson that a hand is no less a hand for being part of a larger whole, an entire body. The foot is not diminished in its freedom to be a foot by being part of a body which also contains eyes and ears. In fact, hands and feet are most free to be themselves when they coordinate properly with eyes, ears, and everything else. Cutting them off in an effort to make them truly free, truly themselves, would be truly disastrous.

The debate that has been conducted in terms of "creation versus evolution" has gotten caught up with all kinds of other debates, and this has provided a singularly unhelpful backdrop to the would-be serious discussion of other parts of the Bible.

The great drama will end, not with "saved souls" being snatched up into heaven, away from the wicked earth and the mortal bodies which have dragged them down into sin, but with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, so that "the dwelling of God is with humans" (Revelation 21:3).

The only sure rule is to remember that the Bible is indeed God's gift to the church, to equip that church for its work in the world, and that serious study of it can and should become one of the places where, and the means by which, heaven and earth interlock and God's future purposes arrive in the present.

The point is this. The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are the highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way. The present world is good, but broken and in any case incomplete; art of all kinds enables us to understand that paradox in its many dimensions. But the present world is also designed for something which has not yet happened. It is like a violin waiting to be played: beautiful to look at, graceful to hold-and yet if you'd never heard one in the hands of a musician, you wouldn't believe the new dimensions of beauty yet to be revealed. Perhaps art can show something of that, can glimpse the future possibilities pregnant within the present time.

Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.

We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically in a Church, where the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love, and to promise what we already desire.

When Jesus's followers asked him to teach them to pray, he didn't tell them to divide into focus groups and look deep within their own hearts.

When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven't yet really understood who he is or what he's done.

You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.