I have shared this before, but I have questions about everything. I wouldn’t even say that I question my faith. I question life. I have existential questions constantly running through my mind. They’re not necessarily super intelligent questions. I’m not super well-versed in philosophy, physics, or science. I am just like that four year old that is constantly asking “why?” about everything. The difference is that the four year old’s inquisitive nature cultivates wonder. My inquisitiveness can sometimes cultivate doubt.
In the midst of my wrestling, I have found encouragement in the reminder that Israel, the name of a person by which a nation is known today, means “one who wrestles with God.” The people of God in the Hebrew Scriptures became known by this name. I find comfort in that. That, it is like part of this relational journey with God to wrestle with Him.
I have also found swirling around in my head of ideas and questions a couple of things that seem to be true. True in an observable and transcendent sort of way. I have observed that love is a really essential part of our lives. It is, according to psychologists, a need. We need love. Closely connected with love, I have observed that things like forgiveness and compassion are extremely powerful. They also seem to connect us to our shared humanity.
Love, Kindness, Compassion
I can’t help but think about the trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Since I have kids, I have not gone to the theaters and seen the movie. I did watch the trailer and have heard that it is a really powerful movie. Part of why it is so powerful is because it tells the story of a man, Mr. Rogers, who really loved people. So much so, that they actually felt loved after having spent time in his company. This movie is inspiring people and giving them hope because… because we need love.
I think about the scene in the last episode of season one of This Is Us. (We never got past season 2 because I needed an emotional break from the show). One of the main characters is Jack. Jack and Rebecca are parents of triplets, only one of the three died at birth. They adopted a third child who had been left at a fire station. Early on in their marriage and parenting Jack developed a drinking problem. Rebecca confronted him and Jack got a grip on his habit. He steps it up. The show depicts him as being someone who every woman wishes her man would be as both a husband and father.
Jack is an amazing dad (at least as far as I got in the show). Part of his drive is that he wants to be a better dad than his father had been. He wants so badly to not be who he is afraid he truly is inside. He seems to have it under control until years later he and Rebecca get into a fight. Jack leaves the house and ends up at a bar. He has his first drink in years.
Part of the conflict between him and Rebecca is related to a co-worker of hers. There is a guy that Rebecca is singing with at gigs who seems to be making moves on her. Jack shows up at one of her shows drunk and punches the guy out. Rebecca is ashamed and angry. Jack also. He ends up packing his things and going to stay at his best friend’s house.
The last episode of the first season Rebecca shows up at his best friend’s house. She had reflected on their arguments and realized that they were committed to their marriage above all else. She knocks on the door and as Jack opens it she begins her speech,
“I shouldn’t have let you leave. And not because all of the beautiful things you said, but because that is not who we are… …I know I am not deeply unhappy and I am not unfilled and you’re not an alcoholic and you’re not your father.” “Becca, you don’t know everything about me…” “Yes I do…” “No, Becca you don’t. I’m drunk right now. I have been drunk all day. I have been drunk for weeks. And, I thought I had it under control like the first, but I have a problem Becca. And I have hidden it from you for a very long time. And I’ve hidden from my kids. And I need to get a handle on it before I can walk back into that house. I’m sorry. Baby, I…Im very embarrassed. And I am very sorry. But I need to fix this. On my own.” At that he shuts the door, only to hear a knock a few moments later. “Get in the car. Get in the car Jack. You are my husband, and I am your wife and if you have a problem we will fix it together. I just need you to get in the car so we can go home. “
This scene, along with several others in this show, has a way of capturing something in our hearts that resonates. Something on a deeply human level. The grace and forgiveness and commitment displayed in this emotionally charged scene resonates with something in my soul.
This show and countless other stories, movies and accounts of self-sacrificial love ring true. Something in us knows that grace, forgiveness, generosity, love, compassion, kindness, hope, sacrifice, and faithfulness is true. As I sit here I think about the movie Wonder and the “Be Kind” movement. I think about Les Miserables and the part where the priest extends grace to Jean Valjean. I think about the sentiments around the Christmas season. I think about how we know that people and kindness and generosity matter more than stuff. There is something about love that transcends our unique stories and connects us to the rest of humanity in a way that is profoundly beautiful.
I have also observed that many of the things the Bible would call sin actually have destructive consequences that come to fruition in this life. Sometimes there seems to be “sins” as the Bible calls them that some would argue are subjective and arbitrary. Some would argue that they don’t harm anyone or anything. I don’t really agree with this sentiment, but let’s pretend I did agree with part of it. There are enough other evils in our world that produce life-destroying outcomes to cause me to take seriously some of the Scripture’s warnings and prohibitions.
I don’t know anyone who would argue that greed, selfishness, or gossip aren’t harmful to other people on some level. There is objective evidence that addictions to substances bring about so much harm. Not only are the loved ones of an addict affected, but most people who struggle with a substance addiction that I have known have some deep wound in their own life for which they are self-medicating. You don’t have to be a far-right, conservative Christian to know that pornography has negative effects on our relationships, our psychology, and our ability to engage in intimacy.
Think even about Scriptures seemingly antiquated notion to not let profane things come out of our mouths or not to curse other people. We miss the point if we think this has to do with four letter words and dirty jokes. The point is that when we use our words to dehumanize other people, or we use our words flippantly, it can actually cause harm. We know this is true as we study bullying on social media and gossip in the workplace. I have come across stories of teens and even adults who committed suicide in part because of the hurtful words others were saying about them.
What the Bible teaches is sin actually bears bad fruit. It’s not just some religious idea. I have actually seen it played out in reality countless times. As I have ministered to people and listened to their stories, I have found that so many people carry deep wounds. These wounds are almost always caused by something sinful another person did to them. Sometimes, the way they have responded has also been sinful. I can’t ignore this reality and simply believe in some sort of post-modern idea of progress. I can’t pretend that I don’t believe sin actually does produce what the Bible says it does—death.
The Bible also offers a hope that answers both of these realities—our need for love and our need to be healed of sin’s consequences. The answer is Jesus. Jesus answers our deepest longing for love and forgiveness. Jesus is God’s revelation of His great love for us. The questions of our value and worth are answered in Jesus. Likewise, the issue of our sin is dealt with on the cross.
It was Watchman Nee who, writing about the atonement, said , “Lord, I do not know fully what the value of the blood is, but I know that the blood has satisfied Thee; so the blood is enough for me, and it is my only plea.” I don’t fully understand the atonement to be honest. Sure, I can pull out my theological terms and doctrinal statements, but at the end of the day it is a mystery. But, a mystery that I have observed has the power to change lives.
I don’t fully understand it, but I know that I have seen people change once they accept that God loves them and that His grace is for them. That they don’t have to earn their value or jump through religious hoops to earn God’s love. When they realize their past can be forgiven and that their hearts can be made new. I have observed that Jesus actually changes people.
I have observed that once people realize the radical love and grace of God that is available to them through Jesus, they also start to live differently. Not to earn God’s love, but because of God’s love. They start forsaking things they once tried to find pleasure and fulfillment in. They start living differently. I have seen their lives positively impacted as a result.
Maybe, love, compassion, grace, forgiveness, and even morality are mysteriously transcendent because they are indicators of something mysteriously and eternally true.