A guest post from the Revd Ron Keynes
I had the experience of preparing a young married woman for Confirmation,. She was married to a man who was somewhat bitterly atheist insisting that the classes be held at their home so that he could have the opportunity of decrying all the Christian baloney that he expected to be presented to the candidates. It made life hard for the several other adults in that group, though it was something of a steep learning curve for them. As each gathering dealt with various issues, he began to have his say, and then there was a chance for our views to be presented. I remember quite vividly the situation when it came to discussing the Story of the Fall, and the underlining of the fact that even Hebrew faith was dealing with what tends to be called the human dilemma, that this young man started to listen. When it came to the Cross and reconciliation, the husband began to see that, not only did the Faith present a response to an issue to fundamentally human, but also had a significant answer, that the bellicose responses began to assuage.
It was not long after that, that the same man stopped me in the street one Saturday morning, and asked if it were possible for him to change sides! You can imagine the delight of the wife to find that her husband would be confirmed alongside of her; you can imagine my own delight more than 30 years later, to be told that both those two had continued on their Christian pilgrimage! It was not ‘religion’ that convinced that young man, but the relevance of the reconciliation process.
After a lifetime of preaching, teaching and Bible Study – and exploring the wonderings of other people, it has been an interesting business when one finds that other people, much older and wiser, had been seeing things the way that had been occurring to me also. I remember, in College, having been stunned to read a book by Bishop Stephen Neil, then a Bishop in the Indian Church, underlining the strong point of contact between Christian Faith and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist people was just this business of reconciliation. I had been concerned about the apparent oddity that the Christianity of the time and place where I grew up was more concerned with ‘personal holiness’ and seemed to produce little other than a refined form of selfishness.
If there is one huge and overwhelming issue that dogs the whole history of this planet, (and seems to be moving towards a drastic and destructive goal,) it is that human dilemma that seems to parallel ‘Murphy’s Law.’ Hatreds between individuals, groups and cultures – yes and even religions – manage to produce constant crops of destructive outbursts and wars, exacerbating the terrible conditions under which millions of people live. Greed and selfishness have people and people set at conflict with each other, with no regard given to the opposition. They are there to be destroyed. And the millennia of human history attest to the constant breaking out of such terror.
(There will be those who will cheer at these words, certain in their own minds that the great cause of this trouble lies at the feet of religion. That rather stupid and cheap shot may have some currency when it has to be said that there are those people on the lunatic fringe who provide enough examples establish the case in a way. However, the reality lies in the fact that those who indulge in such ugliness have distorted whatever Faith it is they profess, and in doing so have rendered their subject unrecognizable. There never has been any guarantee that humans will profess properly the Faith they ‘own,’ and distortions are far too common and damaging.)
Should there be some answer to this tragic state of affairs, then one would have thought that the person who invented the solution would make the traditional millions. The greater tragedy is that Someone has, whilst having no interest at all in the possible profit. But too many of His followers can only see that Jesus has saved them from Hell when in reality that Lord of ours offers answers to a far more immediate threat anyhow.
Read the Bible (dare I say it) sensibly and you will see that it is precisely this issue that is the focus from start to finish. From Genesis 3 and its diagnosis of the human ill, to Revelation which offers a goal to the people of the late First Century, who had the challenge of failing to see Jesus as Lord, because all the blandishments of Rome and commerce was blinding them to rather lesser goals. Genesis 3 is actually pointing up the fact that the real problem with us humans is, to put it in the Biblical terminology that we all want to be God and rule the rest of you. Those ancient authors were far from silly, and were certainly not naive. Actually, it is stunning to see that people of such a remote and unsophisticated (?) period of history had the insight to see the real issues.
Both the Old Testament prophets, (Isaiah in particular) realized and articulated the need for Someone to show the way, in real life and in real time. Isaiah 53 – one of the Servant Songs – doesn’t get the picture entirely right, but it is a clear and remarkable insight into resolution of the problem. And Jesus lived it, in life and on the Cross, showing the costly but effective path to reconciliation: and that much of that cost would have to be borne by the reconciler, not the offender. Here, of course, lies one of the real reasons why the ‘Jesus’ approach to reconciliation has tended to be disregarded. Humans are far less willing to follow in a direction that would seem to be rather demeaning to a proud person. But that is rather the point: pride is one of the great barriers to reconciliation, because ‘I prefer to blame the party of the other part,’ and that blocks the process.
Neither time nor space permits a complete look at this, but it is important to realize that the Cross of Christ is not just there to provide me with forgiveness. It is there as the process, par excellence, that restores the peace, provides justice and enables people to get along together regardless of what lies behind them.