What is a Human Being? Part 3

“To err is human,” or so the saying goes. When someone gives into temptation or makes a mistake of some kind, such a person will often say, “Well, I’m only human after all!” In other words, when we think of what it means to be a human being, usually we include all the ways in which we fall short of some kind of ethical or behavourial standard. To be human is to be finite and flawed. Such a way of seeing human nature is well-engrained into our cultural consciousness. We’re all aware of our own personal shortcomings and of the shortcomings of humanity as a whole. To put it in theological terms, the Christian doctrine of sin is empirically verifiable. There is evidence aplenty that you and I do not always live up to who we ought to be. We disappoint and are disappointed by one another. This is, in part, what it means to be a human being. Yet, secular people in our culture are often loath to admit that the source of the problem is the human heart itself. Many hold the belief that human beings are intrinsically good and that we learn poor behaviour or give into sin on account of our environment.

For this reason, the pride of the secular mind is believing that we can arrive at the solution to our own limitations. We can be the architects of our own utopias. The more effective our education systems and the more advanced our technology, the more we can mitigate human finitude and weakness. Usually those with this view conceive of this happening at a societal level. It’s not us as individuals that are problematic as much as it is our economic, govermental, and social systems. And while Christianity recognizes that there are larger–say, systemic–problems at play in our world, it also points to the individual human heart as the primary location for the human predicament.

At the same time, Christianity is all about redemption. Acknowledging that we are sinful, Christianity tells a story of spiritual transformation. The arc of the biblical narrative bends towards hope: hope that no matter how broken we are, we needn’t remain this way. However we experience our flawed human nature, the promise of God told through the trajectory of the Old and New Testament is that we can be forgiven for the ways in which we have brought hurt into the world; and that we can also experience the kind of spiritual change that diminishes this hurt and its effect on us and those around us. We can experience personal, spiritual change. That is, if we seek to do so.

As it happens, this change is possible because God himself comes into our world as a flesh and blood human being. Without going into all of the complexities of trinitarian doctrine, Christianity teaches that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, becomes a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus is the incarnation of the divine Son of God. He is both fully divine and fully human. For our purposes here, this is important because it is in Jesus that we see humanity as God has always intended. Jesus is fully human; we, in fact, are not. More, it is our very brokenness that prevents us from being fully human. To err is not what it means to be fully human; it is, however, what it means to be a human being in need of restoration. Put another way, if we want to know what it means to be fully human, we need to look to the person of Jesus.

More specifically, in Christ we see who we are supposed to be. Through the transforming power of the Spirit in our lives, we are to become more and more Christlike. That is, we are to become more and more free from the power of sin and more obedient to God. Our very desires are to be transformed so that we want what is sinful and evil less and less. It’s about living in complete and joyful freedom in relationship to God and one another. It is to become who we were created to be. Think of these words from the apostle Peter:

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.

2 Peter 1:3-4

Through God’s power working in us we can come to share, as Peter says, in the divine nature. This is what allows us to experience forgiveness and freedom from sin and healing for our brokenness. It’s what frees us not only from sinful actions but sinful desires. Through Christ and the Spirit we can become who we were made to be in the presence of the Father. We are to exhibit what Scripture calls the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), characteristics that describe the person of Jesus. Indeed, in the very next verse Peter shares a list of spiritual qualities believers ought to display that is very much like the one Paul shares in Galatians 5:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-9

In view of what I wrote about in part 1 of this series, that each of us is made in the image of God, it is also of profound importance that Christ is described in Scripture as the image of the invisible God. The image of God in human beings was broken through sin and disobedience. In Christ we see this image perfect and complete. And it is through his redemptive work and the sanctifying work of the Spirit that the image of God is us can be restored.

Of course, this process is life-long. Only in eternity–when we have been raised by Christ to enter his kingdom–will the imago Dei in us reach its fulfillment. Only then will we be complete. Only then will we be fully human. This means that in our lifetimes now, we will in various ways continue to struggle with our limitations, sin, and brokenness. Those of us who are “in Christ” are moving in the right direction but only with his return will we reach our destination and achieve our final telos. As the apostle Paul says: For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:3-4). It is with the parousia of Christ that we will also see ourselves (and one another) for who we really are.

Given that this series of posts has been about looking at what it means to be a human being in light of the conversations in our culture surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, and especially the transgender movement, what does the possibility of our restoration in Christ have to say to this?

First, there’s no reason to deny that there are people who experience an inner-sense of self out of step with their biological identity. Until recently this was known as gender dysphoria. However, acknowledging someone’s feelings as genuine to them does not automatically prescribe a particular course of action, medical or otherwise. Seeing the many stories of families being torn apart because the parents did not want to affirm their child as transgendered is both disturbing and immensely sad. This seems to me to be indicative of the various ways in which the tendrils of human brokenness insinuate themselves into all the nooks and crannys of our lives. Clearly, there are people in our world who believe that somehow they are trapped in the wrong body. What we do about this and what we do for these people is a very important conversation to have. Unfortunately, in my country, thanks to the recently passed Bill C-4, it is unclear whether having certain views or even having conversations about these matters is even legally permissable.

Second, human sexuality and identity is broken but there is hope for healing and redemption. The process of redemption that Christ invites us to enter is one that will continue until the day we die. Part of what this means is having to live with aspects of ourselves that remain outside of God’s purpose for us. For example, someone who experiences same-sex attraction may have to live with that desire even after coming to faith in Christ. There’s no guarantee of complete transformation in this life. No doubt different people with same-sex attraction may experience sanctification to different degrees. Each of us has to deal with temptations and sinful desires and forms of brokenness, though the Spirit of God indwells us. Indeed, God by his Spirit is renovating the hearts of those who have come to faith in Christ, but not altogether overnight. One day we will be made completely new but we live between the now and the not yet.

Third, since we are each a work in progress, it is up to God and not to us which part of ourselves (and others) he chooses to restore first. What I mean is this: if someone experiences the sense that they are in the wrong body or a same-sex attraction or another sense of self incongruent with God’s design, we shouldn’t assume that this is what God plans to work on first. We are complicated creatures, and God knows perfectly well what keeps us from enjoying fellowship with him. Indeed, what someone else sees as my more egregious shortcoming may not be what I experience as my biggest struggle with sin. More important than helping someone with what we think they ought to change or work on first is listening to them, demonstrating the truth and love of Christ, and leaving the work that has to happen in their heart and in their lives to God. Not that we can’t ever offer spiritual direction, but we ought to do so with humility and grace and compassion. Yes, we may have some wisdom, but God is wisdom.

Underlying all of this, of course, is my assumption that the Christian story–the biblical narrative arc of creation, fall, and redemption–is the story. I believe that this story is the human story. All of our lives fit into this story. You fit into this story. God wants to tell his story through your life. What this means is that understanding ourselves as human beings begins with who God has revealed himself to be and how he has created us. For each of us, there will be ways in which our desires and our thoughts and our choices do not line up with God’s purposes for us. This includes how we see our sexuality and gender identity. But because God created us out of the infinite abundance of his love, he also makes it possible for us to be realigned with his purposes. And this is so through Jesus the Christ, the one through whom and for whom all things were made. This includes you and me. Therefore, if we want to know what it means to be human in the fullest sense, it is through Christ that this is revealed and through him that we can begin to have the fullness of our humanity restored.

The Spiritual Journey Part 4: Belief, (Un)Certainty, and Why Everyone is a Person of Faith

After my three recent posts on construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction, I had a few extra thoughts I thought worth sharing.

To begin, this whole process of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction is all about going through a time of serious doubts regarding your faith. It’s a period of profound questioning, one many experience. Some find that they lose their faith altogether. All you have to do is Google “Christian deconstruction” and you will find several examples of prominent Christian leaders and celebrities who have recently deconstructed but not reconstucted their faith. They have left Christianity completely. Others who go through such a season reconstruct their faith so that it is more “progressive,” which means reimagining or even jettisoning some traditional Christian beliefs.

But it is possible to go through this process and simply become more resilient and confident in your faith.

It all depends on how you go through the process, the resources you find to help you, and whether or not you are willing to be honest about your questions and are also willing to doubt your doubts. Especially if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, and know a lot of committed believers who are living out their faith with integrity, you should be willing to take your time. You owe yourself (and those who helped you construct your faith) that much.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this is a simple and neat process. It’s not necessarily a straightforward, linear path. Nor do I want to give the impression that once you enter the reconstruction phase that all of your questions and doubts will go away. I think part of the experience of this process is not so much ridding yourself of all questions and doubts, but of learning how to deal with them in a more mature, honest way. That is, I think our doubts and questions as Christians are a part of being on this spiritual journey.

Of course, there are some who want an absolute 100% certainty when it comes to questions about their faith. They want definitive, unassailable proof that God exists, that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that what the Bible says is reliable and true. Beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Here’s the thing: we can’t be that certain about anything. Not in a modern, scientific sense that people often mean. I would even say that it’s even unreasonable to expect that level of certainty. Indeed, I think this is even true of scientific knowledge. Not only that, but proof is not the same as evidence. I would say there is plenty of evidence that God exists, that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that the Bible is reliable and true. But can I 100% prove it? No, I cannot.

But there’s more to it than that. We’re not merely intellectual creatures. It’s not just our rational thoughts that determine how we handle doubts and questions as people of faith. Our experiences, our relationships, our emotions, our temperaments–all of these things bear significantly on how we approach big theological, spiritual, philosophical, and existential questions.

Think of it this way. You might be familiar with the so-called “new atheists,” people like Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. Well, the truth is, there was nothing really new about the intellectual arguments these writers used. In fact, in some cases their arguments were quite poor and demonstrated very little understanding of religious faith and the intellectual case that can be made for faith. What was new was the vitriol with which they wrote and spoke. There was almost an anger, or at the very least a deep disdain for religious faith and belief. This is particularly true of Dawkins. Given this, I have to wonder if there is much more going on than simply intellectual questions and arguments.

Whatever their reasoning is for their atheist stance, there is definitely an emotional, personal dimension to their attacks on religion. Or at least it seems that way to me.

Consider the following words from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel: “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

So when it comes to doubt and decontruction, remember that it’s not always about ideas. And I think we know that. We know people–maybe you’re one–who have left faith behind because they’ve been hurt by other Christians. Perhaps a trusted pastor has broken that trust in a profound way. Or maybe something in their church experience has made them question their faith. There are people who go through deconstruction who do so precisely in reaction to a legalistic upbringing or a painful experience.

And a process of deconstruction and reconstruction might very well mean having to come to terms with issues that are personal and emotional rather than theological or intellectual. Because of a poor experience of growing up in the church, what you were taught to believe is guilty by association. This fact speaks powerfully to how the credibility of what we believe depends significantly on how our lives reflect (or fail to reflect) that belief. No wonder Paul tells Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16).

And anyone having a conversation with someone for whom this is their experience needs to proceed with great sensitivity. If someone says they don’t believe in God or that Jesus is true, it’s quite possible that what they are saying is about something else much deeper. This is really about that. About the fact that someone in their church abused them when they were young. About the fact that though they grew up in a Christian home, their parents were strict and cold. About the fact that when they expressed doubts or asked questions, they were told to simply believe or were criticized for having weak faith.

Deconstruction is never only intellectual. Often there is something else going on.

That said, let me add this: being disappointed in a Christian leader doesn’t disprove the resurrection of Jesus. Having had a negative church experience doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t reliable and true. The worst of childhood experiences with respect to church and faith needn’t permanently lead anyone to reject belief in God.

So while we our experiences can have a profound impact on our faith, we cannot base our faith (or lack of it) purely on our experiences. When we find that our experiences fall short of our faith, intellectual, historical, and theological arguments and reasons can genuinely help us to trust God.

Another important point to consider is that everyone has faith. None of us believes everything we believe because we have 100% incontrovertible evidence. Being a scientist takes faith, being an atheist takes faith, and being a Christian takes faith. Life requires trust–in someone, in something, in that which is outside of ourselves. Life requires holding beliefs that we cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt. Living otherwise is sheer nonsense and impossibility. It’s never a question of whether one person has faith while another does not. Instead, it’s a question of where (or in who) you place your faith.

The Christian life always includes questions and doubts. Because none of us who follow Jesus can lay claim to having perfect or comprehensive knowledge of everything–including what we claim to believe. Yet we can still have good evidence. One intellectual position–atheism or Christianity–may be more persuasive to someone for various reasons. I believe Christians can make a persuasive case for their truth claims. For that reason, I also believe that this is the reason we can make it through periods of deconstruction with a robust, defensible worldview. That said, as in deconstruction, more is at work in this process than intellectual arguments. Christians who seek to build up and defend their faith, and persuade others of it, need more than well-thought out theology. We need to trust that God is living and active and will draw those to himself who are open to him. Because, ultimately, faith is not an accomplishment, but a gift of the living God to whom our faith ought to be directed.

The Spiritual Journey Part 3: Reconstruction (Playing LEGO with Your Faith)

My 12 year old son Eli loves LEGO.

Indeed, for the last couple of years we’ve gotten him a large LEGO set either for Christmas or his birthday. He’s got a 12-inch LEGO Yoda, the Avengers quinjet, and the Batman batcave. When he opens a new set, gets out the rather large manual, he patiently and meticulously assembles all the pieces into an impressive whole. And when it comes to the big LEGO sets, once finished he puts them on display.

That’s what we call construction.

Now, there’s one thing we all know about LEGO. It doesn’t take long before a prized creation gets dissembled, its manual misplaced (or ignored), and the pieces mixed in with all the other miscellaneous LEGO pieces you have.

Thus, deconstruction.

Then the fun begins. You get to use those very same pieces to build something new. You take what you’ve been given and make it your own.

In other words, reconstruction.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it gets us going in the right direction.

During the construction stage, we receive the building blocks of faith. Others we know and trust implicitly pass on their beliefs. Because we trust them, we assume the beliefs they’ve handed on to us are true—that they are trustworthy and reliable.

When we find ourselves going through deconstruction, questions and doubts lead us to rearrange and even get rid of some of these building blocks. While this is happening, we’re not sure what will be left or what it will look like. It can be difficult and disorienting.

But like I said previously, this is a normal process that a lot of people go through.

For some, however, it leads to the abandoning of the Christian faith altogether. All the building blocks of faith end up in the trash can or packed away in a box never to be reopened. Believing nothing from their upbringing is salvageable, they post on Facebook or Instagram that they no longer believe. Sometimes along with a serene image of themselves sitting on a lakeshore under calm blue skies. Shades of Psalm 23’s lead me beside still waters, except without the Good Shepherd anywhere in sight.

But where does this process lead? Where can we expect or hope to end up? That brings us to reconstruction. In his book After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing it, A.J. Swoboda describes reconstruction this way: “Having asked, challenged, and prodded, we return a second time to the same faith we were handed . . . after doing the complex and exhausting work of putting it through the fire.”

When it comes to reconstruction, I need to point out that this part of the spiritual journey is only possible when we go through deconstruction honestly. Only if we are asking our questions sincerely and seeking genuine answers will we arrive again where we once began, this time with the roots of our beliefs having penetrated that much more deeply into the soil of our hearts and minds.

The truth is, some jettison their faith not for theological, spiritual, intellectual, or ethical reasons. Instead, they do so because they simply want to live how they want to live, sleep with whomever they want to sleep with, make choices which make them happy, without worrying about what God, the Bible, or the church has to say. This is not healthy deconstruction. This is the rejection of the Christian faith. And they are most decidedly not the same.

All those years ago, when I first began wrestling with what I believed, there were a few things that really helped me. For starters, I began reading the Bible. I took university classes on the Bible. I actually bought my first Bible! Thankfully, my professor was actually a Christian even though I was attending a secular university (Mount Allison). I learned about the history of the Bible, the different literary genres of the Bible, and of course the actual content of the different books of the Bible.

So don’t let your questions about the Bible keep you from reading it. Perhaps you need a fresh way to engage the text of Scripture. Purchase a new study Bible, like the ESV or CSB study Bible. Or pick up a “Reader’s Bible.” This is the kind of Bible that removes all the chapter and verse divisions which are not part of the original manuscripts, allowing you to read it without dissecting it into disconnected bits. Many different translations offer Reader’s Bibles. You can also subscribe to Bible Gateway and you will get access to all kinds of Bible dictionaries, commentaries, devotionals, and atlases. Buy Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. It’s a classic book that is accessible and helpful.

In other words, make use of resources that can help you understand the cultural, literary, and historical aspects of the Bible.

On the one hand, the Bible’s basic, foundational story about God and salvation are easy enough for a young child to grasp. On the other hand, how each story, character, and book of the Bible fits into this foundational story isn’t always simple to grasp. We all need help to understand.

Something else that was key for me was community. While going through this process I still went to church. I got involved with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. I spent time with other believers, including people my own age from a variety of church backgrounds. I had other people of faith encouraging me. I didn’t isolate myself or reject the church. Even during the season when I didn’t know what church I could be a part of anymore. This meant that as I was wrestling with my questions, I wasn’t alone.

For some, it might feel strange to go to church when you’re struggling with what you believe. Perhaps seeing other people who don’t have your questions makes you feel awkward. Could be you think that you wouldn’t be welcome if people were aware of your doubts. But while I can understand and imagine some situations when a person might stop going to church for a time, cutting yourself off from your family of faith will leave you spiritually vulnerable. We always need people in our lives who are there to listen to our doubts, ask us tough questions, and to encourage us. Maybe you’ll discover someone else in your church who not only has asked the same questions, but has thought through their answers too. I’m guessing they’d be glad to share.

I’ll also say this. If you find yourself in a period of doubt and wrestling, identify the questions you have. Write them down. Be specific. Try to capture in words as best as you can what is making you uneasy about your faith and what you were taught to believe. Do the work of going after answers to those questions. Is your struggle with the reliability of the Bible? Find resources to help you with that. Is it a particular doctrine? Find out what the Bible and the Christian tradition has historically said on the matter. Is it how Christians deal with certain social and cultural issues, like human sexuality? I can help if you don’t know how to find such resources.

And remember, like Pastor and author Timothy Keller once said, “Doubt your doubts.” In fact, go read this article Keller wrote a few years back. In it he discusses five doubts you can doubt. His books, The Reason for God and Making Sense of God are both fantastic, though the first is much more accessible than the latter.

Know this: God can handle your doubts and questions. They don’t surprise or anger him. In Jude 1:22 it says to have mercy on those who doubt. Surely, if Scripture tells us to have mercy on those who doubt, God’s mercy for those who struggle with doubt and questions must be infinitely vast. Keeping this in mind throughout the process is also very important. You can bring your hard questions to God. You can still pray, even when you’re wrestling with your faith and not entirely sure of everything you believe.

One final thought. Even if you’re not someone who has doubts and questions assaulting your heart and mind, it’s still a good idea to build up your faith and to increase your understanding of the Bible and Christian theology. Don’t wait until you begin struggling with your faith.

Romans 12:2 says Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

1 Peter 3:15 says in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

When we learn to do this well and in the midst of Christian community, then we will discover that on the other side of deconstruction not only is our faith intact but stronger and deeper than before.

The Spiritual Journey Part 2: Deconstruction (Or Playing Jenga with Your Faith)

Last time I talked about receiving the building blocks of faith, the stage of the spiritual journey we might call construction. How we begin to become people of faith because of other people of faith. Beliefs get handed down. And at least for a period of our lives, we accept these beliefs without difficulty or question.

For many, however, there inevitably comes a time, an occasion, or an experience that raises doubts. Questions pop up. Bits of what we’ve inherited seem to make less sense. Or how we’ve practiced our faith no longer seems to work.

“Why do we believe this?”

“Does the Bible really say that?”

“Do I have to ignore science to believe in God?”

“I really don’t want to go to church anymore.”

“Why should I believe in God, Jesus, and that what the Bible says is true?”

Or maybe we see stuff happening in churches or the larger Christian world and have trouble squaring that with what Christians say they believe. Christian leaders you admire make big mistakes. Your congregation gets into a fight over something stupid, revealing the spiritual immaturity beneath the facade.

Or maybe someone in the church hurts you. James says that the tongue is a fire (James 3:6). A thoughtless comment or a personal slight has led to many exiting churches. And because churches already are often places where difficulties, conflicts, doubts, and questions are handled poorly, those involved may feel badly but are either unable or unwilling to pursue reconciliation.

All of these questions and experiences, left unaddressed or dealt with poorly, can turn someone into a spiritual and theological refugee. All of these things can cause us to enter that spiritual wilderness we call deconstruction. Deconstruction means going through a season of profound spiritual and theological questioning and doubt. It means no longer being sure of what you were raised to believe. It means entering into the process of trying to figure out what you believe and why you believe it.

It’s destabilizing.

It’s painful.

It’s scary.

And yet.

It can also be good. Quite possibly necessary. It’s a process whereby you can actually grow and mature in your faith.

For me, it was an opinionated friend who had recently became a Christian, and while reading the Bible began comparing what it said to what different Christian denominations, including Catholicism, taught and believed. Let’s just say this led to several conversations between the two of us, conversations which were hard for me but still forced me to think through what I believed.

When I began to question some of what I was raised to believe, it felt like the ground underneath my feet was shaking. And when what you thought was firm ground begins to crumble, it’s hard to know where you stand. I was experiencing an epistemic earthquake of sorts. Whatever building blocks of faith I had received during my childhood, faith now felt like a game of Jenga. Would the whole thing eventually topple over, leaving me with nothing left to believe?

During this period I felt anxious about what my Mom and other members of my very Catholic family would think if they knew that this good Catholic boy was no longer sure about ideas like transubstantiation, the male priesthood, and praying to Mary and the saints. Piece by piece, I was pulling apart my Catholic upbringing. It was like living a double life. While at university I felt free to question and to explore, whenever I was home or visiting family I kept a tight lid on what was going on in my head and in my heart. Not only was my family thoroughly Catholic, for whatever reason I didn’t feel free or able to express my doubts or to share what I was going through. My being an introvert could very well have had something to do with it. But I also think that there was this underlying sense that you were just to accept what you were taught. Don’t think about it. Don’t express doubts or questions out loud, because they are not the stuff one brings up in polite company.

Here’s the thing about deconstruction. There is a healthy way and an unhealthy way to go through it.

Over the last few years, there have been several stories of prominent Christian leaders not only going through deconstruction but leaving the faith behind altogether. Often they cite a perceived conflict between science and faith, issues around sexuality, or other ways in which their faith comes up short against large, cultural questions and issues. It’s as though they had been living in some sort of impenetrable Christian bubble and were woefully unprepared to handle the intellectual and existential challenges that living as a follower of Jesus in our society involves.

Even more mystifying is the impression they give that somehow these questions and challenges are a huge surprise. Truth is, none of the hard questions we can ask about our faith, about the Bible, about Jesus, about church, and about God are new. Thoughtful Christians have been asking them for about two thousand years. And this means we have a long tradition of people wrestling with all the issues that cause people now to deconstruct their faith that we can draw upon for wisdom and counsel. We are never alone in our questions.

But then I wonder if this is how some of these people feel. Alone. Maybe they grew up in a church that didn’t allow questions or gave unsatisfying, simplistic answers. Perhaps they were never given spiritual and theological resources, to say nothing of the wise pastoral counsel, that would have helped them traverse the difficult terrain of deconstruction.

I’m guessing some feel embarrassed, guilty, or afraid of their doubts and questions, like somehow they are unfaithful and inadequate as believers for having them. Being honest and vulnerable about what they’re going through is too costly. “What will other people think and say?” “Will I be criticized and judged?” “If I don’t believe in a literal 6-day creation, will my church revoke my membership?”

So is it any wonder some simply decide to cut and run?

If that’s the unhealthy way to go through deconstruction, what’s a healthier way?

There’s a few things I would say. First, realize that everyone–and I mean, everyone–experiences doubts and has questions. If they say otherwise, I really wonder if they’re being honest: with themselves and with others. The point is, you’re not alone. Or you don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to come up with answers all by yourself. Nor do you have to feel ashamed or afraid. Questions and doubts are–and hear me on this–perfectly normal and even to be expected. Having doubt isn’t a lack of faith but perhaps is the surest sign that someone has faith. After all, you’re doubting something, aren’t you?

As a pastor, I would want people in my congregation to feel comfortable asking me their difficult questions. I don’t want them simmering in doubt but not addressing it. I don’t want people to hold onto their theological questions out of fear or guilt. Ask your questions. Speak out loud.

Another point to make is that Christianity also has a rich tradition of wrestling with and working through serious doubts and difficult questions. There are plenty of books that can help. Check out C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity or Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God, for starters. Read A.J. Swoboda’s new book After Doubt. I’ll warn you, though. You may very well have to do some work and push yourself a little more to think a little deeper than you are used to doing.

And while there is so much more to say about deconstruction that this little blog post can’t possibly hope to address, I will say one last thing. God is with you in your doubts and questions. It’s one thing to worry that you’re going to disappoint your family or your church, but it’s another thing altogether to worry that you’re going to disappoint God. Maybe we say to ourselves, “God wants me to trust him. He calls me to believe. And if I have doubts and questions, then he’ll be disapppointed in me.” We think having doubt is a failure of faith.

Let me say this: You can never disappoint God because you have honest doubts and questions. Never. Case closed. Full stop. Put that notion out of your mind right now. It’s a satanic lie, an absolute falsehood that, if we believe it, actually keeps us from growing in faith and walking with God more closely.

More to the point, God invites us to wrestle with our questions. See a time of deconstruction as an invitation from God to go deeper in your relationship with him. Let your questions drive you to your knees in prayer. Be willing to take the time to work through your questions. Have patience with yourself and with God. And stay in a worshipping Christian community. For goodness sake, don’t isolate yourself.

Roughly 30 years ago I began to feel the theological ground under my feet quake. I found myself unsettled and uncertain. Questions and doubts filled my mind. It wasn’t an easy process. It took years. Some of the building blocks of faith I received I have discarded. Not everything I was taught to believe do I still believe.

Yet I am still here. I still follow Jesus. The core of my faith has only gotten stronger. Do I have all of my questions and doubts resolved and answered? Not hardly. Do I still wrestle with God? Most definitely. But I am standing on much more solid ground. And part of that solid ground is the freedom of being able to address rather than hide from the questions that I find myself asking.

Next up we’ll talk about reconstruction.

The Spiritual Journey Part 1: Construction (Receiving the Building Blocks of Faith)

We all have beliefs, ideas that we hold to be true and that matter deeply to us. I have beliefs and you have beliefs. Like me, you have beliefs that underlie the way you live, relate to other people, the decisions you make, and how you understand whatever is happening in the world around us.

And just as we all have beliefs, we can also have our beliefs challenged at times. Sometimes we experience such a significant challenge to our beliefs that we find ourselves disoriented. Maybe our beliefs begin to shift or change in light of something new we learn or something we experience.

Even though I am a Christian, not everything I believe has remained static for the last three or four decades. Our beliefs don’t all remain precisely the same for our entire lives. Some beliefs deepen, others we discard.

I’ve been reading A.J. Swoboda’s new book After Doubt, and in it he talks about the different stages of faith or the spiritual journey. He describes them as construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. While reading his description of the spiritual journey, I realized that I saw myself. I thought to myself, “That’s how it was for me!”

Over the next few posts, I am going to talk about these three stages of faith. Of course, the spiritual journey isn’t neat and tidy or easily quantifiable. To divide it into 3 “stages” is somewhat artificial. At the same time, it is a helpful template to understand our experience of faith and belief.

So, the first stage is this: construction. Or think of it as receiving the building blocks of faith.

In my case, I was raised as a Roman Catholic. And in a lot of ways I assumed the beliefs of a Catholic without ever really thinking through those beliefs. I was taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer, so I prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I was taught the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, so I accepted that understanding of the Eucharist. Etc., etc. For years, it never occurred to me to think about or practice my faith any differently.

After all, this was the faith of my Mom and all of my extended family. Being Catholic and being a Melanson went hand in hand. Church was part of our spiritual DNA. In an important sense, I was born Catholic. But it means that for the first several years of my life, I accepted uncritically the faith and spiritual practices that were given to me. I was receiving the building blocks of faith.

Not that I didn’t have or ask questions, but any questions I had during this stage were almost always about how things within the Catholic tradition worked, like “Why don’t priests marry?” “Why do we do things this way?”

And there’s nothing wrong with this stage. Everyone goes through it; everyone has to go through it. While each person born into a religious tradition eventually has to make the decision to own their faith (or not), initially we need to learn the ropes, take the first few steps with the help and example of people already on the journey. Our faith has to begin somewhere, usually because of someone.

It makes me think of 2 Timothy 1:5. The apostle Paul is writing Timothy, and says this: “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.”

Timothy, then, grew up with a believing grandmother and mother–and they are the ones who spiritually nurtured Paul’s protege and planted the seeds of faith. Those early years gave Timothy the building blocks of faith. He would have to grow and mature as a believer, but this is how it began for him. And so it is with every person of faith.

As a Dad (not to mention a pastor!), I often think about how I might be failing or succeeding in instilling faith into my children. I want them to become people of strong, personal faith. And I sometimes get these little glimpses that tell me much of what they believe they only believe because I and my wife believe it. To some extent, they’re a little more like parrots than songbirds. They are repeating what they’ve heard, not singing their own tune. They are receiving the building blocks of faith.

Honestly, there are times when I have to remind myself of where I was at their age. Because you have these worries as a parent. Am I doing a good job at teaching and modeling what it means to be a Christian? Or do I simply assume I am? Somewhere in the back of my brain there are insistent questions: “What if they reject what I’ve tried to teach them?” “What if they walk away from God and from the church?”

And the truth is, they might. At least for a time. That is, faith cannot always remain inherited faith. As the saying goes, “God has no grandchildren.” Whenever a person is raised in a Christian home, there comes a time when they have to make their faith their own. That will be as true for my kids as it was for me.

Although we all receive the building blocks of faith, religious or otherwise, each of us has to do something with those blocks. The spiritual journey of coming to hold our beliefs begins with construction.

Take a moment right now and think about your core beliefs. How did you come to believe those things? If, like me, you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he is the Son of God, where did you get that belief? How did you receive the building blocks of faith? Who passed those building blocks on to you?

Or to put it another way: how did your journey of faith begin?

Next time we’ll take a look at what is called deconstruction.

The Struggle with Doubt as a Sign of Faith

To struggle with one’s faith is often the surest sign we actually have one.

A.J. Swoboda, After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It (2021)

By quoting from A.J. Swoboda’s new book, I’m sort of cheating. Because I’ve not read it yet. It just arrived in the mail today.

But I am looking forward to reading it. Partly because I’ve heard him give a few interviews about it on podcasts and my impression is that he treats the subject with honesty and depth.

Though not only for that reason.

You see, I’m attracted to books like this because at one level I’m always wrestling with doubts. With questions. With what I was raised to believe and what I’ve held to be true for the majority of my 48 years on this planet.

I’m the kind of person who wants and seeks answers to big, hard, profound, life-altering questions. I listen to apologetics podcasts, read books that pertain to subjects I struggle to understand, or that help buttress my faith with encouragement, sound biblical interpretation, and good rational arguments.

And at the risk of offending someone out there, the “just believe it because the Bible says it” simply doesn’t work as a response to genuinely difficult questions. At least not for me. Besides, for someone of my temperament, that approach only manages to push the question a further back: Why should I believe the Bible is trustworthy? How do I know it is reliable as a source of truth about God? Again, I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are utterly reliable, and are the revelation of God. But I also believe I have good reasons for believing this.

Do I ever seriously doubt my faith in the person of Christ, you ask? Well, I don’t think that’s quite the right question. Instead, it’s much more about, say, building up my confidence in the historical reliability of the resurrection. Or about wrestling anew with the problem of why God—who we believe and confess is loving and all-powerful—allows so much pain and suffering in the world.

And sometimes the struggles aren’t simply intellectual. Doubt is also an emotional experience. We feel the weight of hard questions. Not only do we want answers for our minds but our hearts too. After all, as Christians we live in the real world as flesh and blood human beings, as vulnerable to tragedy and fragility as anyone else. Faith doesn’t shield us from pain; instead, faith ought to be what gives us perspective right in the midst of it.

To be honest, when it comes to believers who say they have never had any doubts, I confess I am skeptical of such claims. Have they never wrestled with anything they believe, with the hard questions of a family member or neighbour, or with a particularly tricky or difficult biblical passage? Or is it that they‘re somehow content with staying at an elementary Sunday school level of understanding?

Granted, in the same way that I’m predisposed to wrestle with hard questions and to find simple answers unsatisfying, others are not. Not everyone is cut from the same spiritual cloth. Even if I find it hard to understand Christians who never wrestle intellectually with their faith, no doubt some Christians I know find me equally odd.

And of course there’s a difference between seeing a problematic passage of Scripture that you’re not sure what to think about and finding yourself struggling to believe as a Christian. One’s confidence as a follower of Jesus doesn’t only come from the intellect and the ability to figure out what the Bible really means here and there. That is, our faith and our confidence as believers also comes from our experiences of God, and our relationships with other Christians who love and support us.

In other words, as Tim Keller says, the Christian life “requires both intellectual and emotional engagement: head work and heart work.” Some might need one more than the other, but in some measure we all need both.

All this to say, experiencing doubt is not an indication that someone lacks faith. It might well be that such an experience—entered into intentionally—will actually grow our faith and steady us in a world full of questions. Think of doubt as God’s invitation to think more deeply about him and to draw more closely to him.

Here’s the thing: none of my doubts and questions have come close to derailing my faith. No, my faith isn’t perfect. Questions remain. Yet somehow my experience of wrestling with doubt has only strengthened me. But that’s in many ways because of my willingness to face the questions rather than avoid them or pretend they don’t matter. And because I’ve been intentional about seeking out resources that provide help and encouragement—both for my head and my heart. So if you find yourself struggling with doubt, with hard questions about what you believe, realize that you’re not the first and that there are ways of dealing with doubt that strengthen rather than undermine your faith.

My Favourite Podcasts

I really love podcasts. I listen to a bunch, some more often than others. Here are some of the ones I especially appreciate:

Christianity and Hard Questions

Unbelievable: One of the best apologetics podcasts out of the UK. Usually involves debates between a believer and atheist /skeptic or between believers who hold different positions on various theological issues.

Apologetics Canada: A homegrown podcast on various ethical and theological issues and how we respond to our culture. One of the only podcasts that deals with these things from a Canadian perspective.

Christians and Culture

The Holy Post: Hosted by Veggie Tales creator, Phil Vischer, writer/speaker Skye Jethani, and others. Tackles cultural issues from a Christian perspective in a humorous, winsome, and thoughtful way.

The Movie Proposal: Skye Jethani and Josh Lindsey review movies and TV stories from a faith perspective.

Christianity and Struggles

Mid-Faith Crisis: Two Christians out of the UK with two points of view chatting about how to live as a person of faith when you are questioning your faith. Funny, thoughtful, and a good example of how to have a conversation when you disagree. Even I disagree with these guys about some stuff, but I still enjoy them!

Surprised By Grief: The two hosts, having experienced profound loss themselves, reflect on how to deal with grief as people of faith.

Christian Theology

The Bible Project: These guys have also done a ton of fantastic videos that are free on YouTube. Lots of deep dives into the books of the Bible and themes and topics in the Bible.

Mere Fidelity: Deeper conversations on various theological topics between 3 or 4 theologians. Very well done.

Ask NT Wright Anything: NT Wright is one of the premier New Testament scholars in the world today. Here he answers questions sent in by listeners. Hosted by Justin Brierly, host also of Unbelievable.

Theology in the Raw: Hosted by Preston Sprinkle, who interviews various Christian leaders and teachers on a variety of topics. Sprinkle has written a great deal on LGBTQ issues from a traditional Christian view on sexuality and personhood.

Obviously, these podcasts reveal my tastes. There are others I also listen to occasionally. I’m sure you could suggest others. But perhaps one or two of these might bless you and encourage you. If you want to share your favs with me, put the link in a comment.

Lenten TV Fast Update Part 2

On recent Saturday mornings, my son Eli and I have been watching The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon on Netflix. Most recently we watched a bunch of episodes of the Marvel show WandaVision on Disney+. After that I would sometimes watch an episode or two of Law & Order.

But now I won’t be doing any of that until after Easter.

Now, I confess that I know exactly what it’s like to spend a few—maybe even several?—hours watching TV, and then afterwards having this feeling of, well, waste.

More specifically, it’s the feeling that my time spent passively enjoying a show didn’t really add anything to my life. I might very well have enjoyed it, but I don’t take anything away of value. At least most of the time.

But when I use that same time to read or perhaps work on a blog post, my mind and my heart are more actively engaged. I get something from it. It adds something to my life, to my day, to my imagination, to my sense of accomplishment. It has value beyond the time spent doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I probably will return to watching superhero cartoons with Eli once Lent is over. Indeed, I love doing that with him. I will probably also watch other kinds of TV again.

At the same time, I hope and pray that my experience of Lent—and of fasting from TV—will change my attitude and my habits.

In the meantime, I will take full advantage of not watching TV to do other things that are both enjoyable and life-giving.

Religion and Politics Part 3: Living By a Different Narrative

“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Luke 6:27–28

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay,” says the Lord.  But “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.” Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:14–21

If only our political leaders or, perhaps more importantly, those who demonize or canonize them, would take the above words from Scripture seriously. Knowing a perverted form of Christianity (in the form of “Christian nationalism”) had a role in last week’s attack on Capitol Hill is no less than sickening. And if the sight of “Jesus Saves” banners alongside “Trump” banners carried by people storming the Capitol building–which led to five deaths!–doesn’t lead to serious self-examination, I can’t imagine what would.

Political leaders, obviously, are also culpable. Whatever anyone makes of the alleged voter fraud in the 2020 US presidential election, it’s clear to me at least that since election day President Trump as conducted himself in an entirely egotistical, narcissistic way. No humility. No grace. No dignity. The last few months alone taint any semblance–however small–of his accomplishments while in office. He’s done himself no favours, and to that end has done a disservice to his country.

It doesn’t end there, though. Now having impeached President Trump for the second time, the Democratic Party shows itself to be no less prone to pride, division, and to be more interested in power than the interests of the nation. Really? With less than a week to go in his presidency? And now the possibility of a senate trial after Trump has left office? What an auspicious way for Biden’s first term to begin. So much for healing the division.

So much of what really motivates politicians is behind the curtain. Media interviews, tweets, soundbites, carefully crafted statements–none of this gets to the truth in an honest and truthful way. Yet the curtain is, to my reckoning, transparent, if not by design than certainly through the rhetoric we hear from the left and the right.

What happens to a nation, to a community, when those who hold polar opposite views are unable to see one another as genuine human beings? What happens when rhetoric completely overtakes dialogue? What happens when all each side of the political divide seems capable of is attacking their opponents and self-righteously defending themselves?

Let’s face it, the emperor has no clothes.

But those of us who are concerned about the welfare of our neighbourhoods, communities, and our countries don’t have to subscribe to the narrative of political opportunism, vitriol, and sensationalism. Especially those of us in the church of Jesus. In fact, if we take our Savior seriously, we absolutely cannot. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. There are no caveats here. No exceptions. No footnotes or small print.

The words of both Paul and Jesus invite us into a different, more life-giving narrative. Think of the apostle’s words from the passage above from Romans: Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Those supposed followers of Jesus who stormed the Capitol or who sought revenge by impeaching a president whose term is basically over reveals hearts that have indeed been conquered by evil. One of the worst kinds of evil is that which is thoroughly convinced of its righteousness. It’s the kind of evil that seeks potentially good ends but by whatever means available.

Eugene H. Peterson, in his book The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, says this: “The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way.” In this book he talks about how means and ends need to be congruent when we talk about following Jesus. He says it better: “To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us.”

Living by a different narrative, one shaped by life in the kingdom and following Jesus, means unsubscribing to the idea that politics–the ways of conducting ourselves as a community and seeking the common good–necessarily involves hating our enemies and doing whatever we can to defeat them. More than that, if succeeding in politics and having our way–even if we think it’s the best way–means we have to plunge our souls into this abyss, we’re actually better off losing the political fight. Jesus, after all, did say something about losing our lives in order to save them. In his kingdom victory may well look like defeat, but perhaps recognizing this is the start of not only saving our souls but loving our enemies.

Religion and Politics Part 2 (Or How to Have Perspective When the Whole World Seems Crazy)

(Note: This is a reflection on American politics from the perspective of one Baptist pastor living in Nova Scotia, Canada. So take my thoughts however you like.)

So for several days I’ve been trying to process what recently happened in the US Capitol last week. In many ways, it seemed both unreal and unsurprising. On the one hand, it felt like the culmination of four years (but especially the last year) of political chaos and partisan in-fighting; on the other hand, who would have believed that a riotious mob would invade the Capitol Building, causing not only injury but the deaths of five people, in an attempt to protest and perhaps overthrow the results of a presidential election?

I began another, altogether different blog post in an attempt to work through my thoughts on the matter. While writing it, I ended up more frustrated, and feeling like I was both saying too much and not enough. Because the events of last week and the whole process of the 2020 US election leading up to it is profoundly complicated.

And now to see the Democrat Party moving towards impeaching President Trump once again, nine days before he leaves office, it’s clear that political partisanship and privilege are going to “trump” reason and humility. So much for moving forward in a manner that might bring healing to a hurting, crippled nation. All this will do is further incite those who remain angry and disenranchised with respect to government.

Enough is enough, isn’t it?

One of the most concerning aspects of the current turmoil overwhelming the American body politic is the alignment of much of so-called evangelicalism with the political right. For many Christians, there is no significant distinction between being a Bible-believing follower of Jesus and being a Republican. Indeed, given that roughly 80% of evangelicals reportedly supported the election of Trump both in 2016 and 2020, this alignment appears to have reached its nadir.

Without having to recap the long, complex history of US politics and religion, I feel compelled to make the following observation: American evangelical Christians have for too long put an unwarranted amount of hope in politics and political leaders.

We live in a climate where, apparently, every election is the election or the most important and consequential election in American history. Make the wrong choice, vote in the wrong president, and it could spell the end of the Republic. Certainly this is the impression we’re given by political pundits in the media.

Don’t buy what they’re selling. Not only because it’s likely wrong and is obviously a script drafted to procure ratings and profits, but because it’s extremely unhealthy for your soul.

This is what really concerns me in all this. If we as Christians get so drawn into politics that we find ourselves simply parroting the political rhetoric of our choice and demonizing those who don’t share it, we will end up dehumanizing ourselves and those with whom we disagree.

I’ve felt this pull. Over the last couple of years as I’ve followed and been frustrated by both Canadian and American politics, I’ve found it temptingly easy to reduce this or that politician to labels. Yes, it’s convenient to be able to summarize quickly someone with a word–“liberal,” “conservative,” “right-wing,” “conspiracy-theorist,” leftist radical,” etc.–but what does this do to us? Not only does it make us more dismissive of others, but it can also make us much less patient and compassionate towards other people. Including those who are different.

In my last post, I mentioned how politics is one of those taboo conversation subjects because it always ends up in arguments. I think this happens especially when we have found ourselves so invested in politics that it ends up, perhaps unconsciously or unintentionally, as our ultimate horizon of meaning. In other words, politics can become someone’s ultimate source of meaning. Only through the political process can we improve the human situation. Politics done rightly is the answer to life’s problems. Partisan politics emerges when, at the very least, there are competing views on how we should solve those problems through the political process. Varying political systems also reflect this: democratic, republican, tyrannical, autocratic, fascist, socialist, monarchist. All are political systems with profoundly different beliefs about how to deal with civic life and the problems we face as a human community.

That leads to the crux of the issue: when any given political system becomes–unconsciously or otherwise–our ultimate horizon of meaning, unrest, division, and turmoil are the likely result. Because no political system, no matter how well-executed and no matter how just, can ever serve as the solution to the human predicament. This is true whether we’re talking about racism, sexism, poverty, exploitation, crime and violence, environmental abuse, or anything else.

Given this, is it any wonder that we are where we are? Aren’t riots, protests, contested election results, and political polarization simple confirmation of what happens when politics becomes the only means by which we believe genuine human transformation–both individual and corporate–can occur?

Why? Because the very people trying to solve the human predicament through politics are themselves the source of the predicament. That means any system we try and set up to solve human problems will inevitably at some level be caught up in and participate in the predicament.

Put more simply, politics can’t save us. Political leaders can’t save us. The next election can’t save us. Loyalty to a particular party or cause can’t save us. The next piece of legislation can’t save us.

And even though most Christians understand this, I don’t think most Christians live this way, act this way, or even talk this way. Not when, as I said, up to 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump in two presidential elections.

Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s complicated. I understand why there are Christians who voted for Trump. I also get why many didn’t.

And I’m not saying we shouldn’t follow or engage in politics. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use the political process to effect positive change. Nor am I saying that we should ignore cries for justice and the need to stand up for truth and for what is right, to live by our convictions.

But like I said, my real concern as Christians engage in politics is that we do so with a sober and humble perspective not only on what we can achieve through this process but on what we think we should try and achieve. The political process is as flawed as the human beings engaging in it.

Let’s not put all of our apples in the political applecart.

We will be disappointed in our politicians. We will see policies we agree with and disagree with come to pass.

Let’s not so invest ourselves in the politics of our time that we end up angry, cynical, and insensitive. Like any other human endeavour, politics comes with profound limitations.

Unlike the Israelites, let’s not demand a human ruler in place of God.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.” When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand wrong, so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning me and worshiping other gods. 

1 Samuel 8:4–8

And let’s not trade our eternal inheritance for immediate satisfaction or results like Esau.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field exhausted. He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was also named Edom. Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die, so what good is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to Jacob and sold his birthright to him. Then Jacob gave bread and lentil stew to Esau; he ate, drank, got up, and went away. So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29–34

When human beings lose (forfeit?) the perspective of eternity and transcendence, and we’re left with only the here and now, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that not only do we more earnestly invest in political answers to the human problem but that we also find ourselves profoundly discouraged and even dismayed when these answers fail us. Many people, it seems, will take to the streets with rage when that happens.

As a follower of Jesus, I have to remind myself, and conduct myself according to the fact, that I live within a much different horizon of meaning, one bracketed by the humble coming of Christ in the manger and the glorious return of Christ at the sound of the archangel’s trumpet blast. Such an ultimate horizon of meaning–based as it is on the kingdom of God–relativizes all earthly rulers and authorities. Bearing this in mind, even while engaging in politics in one way or another, is what not only will give us perspective as followers of Jesus but protect the well-being of our souls in the process.