RUNNING AWAY FROM ADVENTURE
A conformist church
The distinguished Ghanaian sociologist, Dr K. Busia, gave some interesting material on the views about organized Christianity held by the majority of his sample in Birmingham. His book Urban Churches in Britain shows that common complaints were as follows. 'The church speaks mumbo-jumbo - not to, but over people.' 'They are upper class: not my kind.' 'They are so awfully dull. They never seem to do anything exciting.' Those three complaints, of the class structure, the inward orientation, and the dullness of the church are often repeated, and must be taken very seriously indeed. Perhaps the most damning of the three, not least in the mind of young people, is the third. Christianity is dull, solid, respectable. It is the Establishment.
It is in many ways a misfortune to have belonged to a culture, Western Christendom, which has been dominated by the church. In Britain, moreover, the church is 'by law established' and there are advantages in its close association with the State. But this can hardly be calculated to endear it to the young man full of reforming zeal, radical ideas, and a disposition to react against all that is old, conventional and dull.
This estimate of Christianity may also be due to the fact that, in Britain at least, a revolution in church going habits has gone on during the past thirty years or so. It is almost certainly true that there has been a decline in real Christian belief and devotion since the end of the nineteenth century. But for the first generation of the twentieth century Christian standards were desired for society as a whole, and these were backed up with occasional churchgoing by the older generation, themselves very often the children of believing (and maybe narrow) Christian homes. But the churchgoing did not mean a great deal to them. It was just one of the things that was 'done' by that generation. It is an engaging example of the Englishman's unwillingness to be extreme in any respect, that in the years up to the Second World War it was deemed socially improper not to go to church at all; but it was thought equally surprising and quaint if one went too often!
The children of this generation of occasional churchgoers are the young people of the seventies. Quite apart from the natural battle between the generations, which would lead the teenager to reject church if his Dad went, there is an additional reason for the present reaction. Very often 'Dad', if he was the typical Englishman of this period, remained entirely unchanged by his religion. It made not the least difference to the way he behaved on Monday whether or not he had been to church on Sunday. His visits to church did not influence his business ethics or make him a more pleasant chap about the home. Is it surprising if the younger generation regards such churchgoing as hypocritical?
Harold Loukes collected some characteristic attitudes of young people to religion in his revealing paperback Teenage Religion. The shrewdness of their exposure of mere churchianity needs no underlining. 'Every church has the same atmosphere-a dead atmosphere', said one. Another saw through the merely conventional religiosity of his father's generation: 'The main body of the congregation nowadays goes to church because "it's good for you", not because they are religious.' A third thought most churchgoers were out to stock up some capital in the bank of heaven: 'You find nearly all old people going to church because I think they want to get on the good side of God before they die.'
This attitude of rebellion against the conformity of churchgoing is to be found throughout the whole kaleidoscope of society. It is even there in the public schools, those bastions of the Establishment, where agnosticism is now fashionable and compulsory chapel on the way out. In the sixties Bishop John Robinson was a hero not because they read his book Honest to God, but because the Bishop represented that rarity on the episcopal bench, a man who was against the Establishment But what if Honest to God had been published in the late seventies? How much attention would it have attracted in the schools today? Probably very little. These boys now take it for granted that Christianity is an institution which props up the status quo.
A revolutionary movement
This view would have astounded the early Christians. They belonged to a burning revolutionary movement headed by the most adventurous and challenging of leaders. It is a terrible indictment of the church that it has succeeded in giving the impression that somehow Jesus was a gentle, orthodox figure, on the side of bourgeois values, faintly defensive and somewhat conservative. We have tamed Jesus, fossilized him, imprisoned him inside conventional churches and institutional religion. This is a crying shame. It is a slander on Jesus Christ, and it is the precise opposite of the spirit he intended to instill in his followers.
What has happened, I think, is this. Some people's religion is indeed, as we saw in the last chapter, a form of escapism. It is soft and feckless, rather than tough and adventurous. And much of what goes on in the churches feeds such an attitude. Many of the hymns that we sing 'Art thou weary, art thou languid, art thou sore distressed? . . .', 'There is a blessed home beyond this land of woe . . .', 'Abide with me . .', 'Brief life is here our portion . . .', Jerusalem, my happy home,' are scarcely exciting; they look forward to a state of passive bliss. The very absence of challenge in the hymns the churches sing and the things the churches do is eloquent explanation for the shortage of teenagers in those same churches.
Freud was perfectly right that all men oscillate between the death urge and the life urge. One has only to reflect on the conflicting emotions that arise in the mind when it is time to get up on a cold winter morning to appreciate his point. What many churches have failed to realize is that in the teens and twenties the life urge very much predominates over the other. Christianity ought, accordingly, to be presented in terms of the challenge, the ideal, the adventure of making the very most out of life by putting the maximum into it. Instead, we find it presented in terms of the death urge, with the accent on duty, on conformity, to accepted patterns of behavior and speech, on sitting silent while the clergyman preaches and prays, on the comforts of the life to come, on the wisdom of sitting loose to the things of time and space! Is it any wonder that this makes little appeal to full-blooded young people? Is it any wonder they think Christianity dull and boring as well as useless ?
A radical leader
But the death urge is certainly not the main emphasis in Christianity. It is part of the Christian message, sure enough: for Christianity claims to be relevant to a man from the cradle to the grave. There is, therefore, room for understanding Jesus as gentle, meek and mild. There is room for dwelling in the everlasting arms which encompass the dying man. But that is not the main note struck by the teaching of Jesus nor by the activities of the first Christians. Jesus was as adventurous as any radical in his teaching and in his attitudes to life. His most scathing assault was on the priests whose vested interest was to keep the people 'a little civilized by religion'. He was the avowed enemy of that religion which was the opiate of the people, and of the religious men who prepared the prescription.
It is not too much to see parallels between official religion in his day and in our own. It was on the side of political and economic conservatism: the traditions of the past must not be broken, the Roman occupying forces must not be annoyed. He split wide open this canny attitude. On the economic side, the Jews of his day believed that material prosperity was the signal mark of God's blessing on a man. Yet Jesus was penniless, and apparently was content to be so. He warned men not to lay up for themselves ephemeral treasure on earth, but to be rich towards God, rich in love, in faith, in mercy and prayer. He instanced the rich fool, who thought he could gain lasting satisfaction from money-until the night when the God who gave him life took it back again, and he lost all that he had lived for. He told men it was more happy to give than to get: what was that if not a revolutionary attitude towards wealth? Jesus of Nazareth can hardly be accused of being on the side of the financial status quo. And if some of his followers have been, it is the measure of their disobedience to their Master.
What of the social conservatism inculcated by contemporary Jewish religion? The typical rabbi was convinced of the superiority first of the Jews to all others, then of the Pharisees to all Jews, then of the Jewish male to all women. The punctilious religious leaders, so careful to wash ceremonially before meals, and to tithe even their garden produce, despised the am ha-aretz, 'the people of the land', who could never aspire to saintliness: they had neither the time nor the learning to carry out the religious niceties of their mentors. The Pharisees looked down on them. They despised the common people, the women and children, and most of all the Gentile 'dogs'. Judaism was as caste-ridden as Hinduism.
But Jesus would have none of this. He ate with the outcasts as freely as he did with the Pharisees. He was as concerned for women and children, lepers and the mentally deranged as he was for learned lawyers and revered priests. He had no time for formalism and hypocrisy, for washing ceremoniously before dinner or wearing special clothes to eat it. He refused to fast from habit or for effect; but only when need arose in the service of God or men. He taught that it made no difference where you worshipped God so long as your heart was right in his sight. He saw more faith in a Gentile officer than in the 'brood of vipers' which constituted the Pharisaic clergy. Hardly a social conformist in matters of religion! That is why the top people hated him so much. That, in the last analysis, is why they hounded him to death. He was much too uncomfortable a nonconformist to live with. Either he must go or they must.
So far from being a tame conservative, Jesus of Nazareth was a peaceful though highly adventurous revolutionary; he was a radical to his fingertips. We shall consider five aspects of his very novel and demanding teaching.
Novel teaching about God
First-century Judaism had domesticated the Almighty. He had been cut down to a comfortable size. He remained the God of the whole earth in theory, no doubt; but in practice he was merely the God of Israel. Jews thought of Israel as God's son and the Gentiles as outsiders, dogs, sons of the devil. Jesus calmly reversed this estimate! So far from being sons of God by virtue of their descent from Abraham, some at least of the Jews made it plain by their attitudes and actions that the devil was their father. Jesus argued (in John 8) that if they were, as they proudly claimed, sons of God, they would listen to him for he had come to give them the fullest possible revelation of the heavenly Father. Instead, they plotted to kill him. In so doing, Jesus pointed out, they were showing their parentage from the devil who was a murderer from the beginning. In ways like this Jesus brought home to his hearers the unwelcome truth that the devil had got just as firm a grip of Israel, the Chosen People, as he had of the Gentile world.
But once he had dispelled this hard-dying illusion (as frequently met with among educated people of the twentieth century as it was among religious Jews of the first) that all men are sons of God, Jesus went on to show that God was so gracious, so loving and merciful that he as longing to accept all and sundry into his family. God does not write off the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. He cares so much for them that he goes out to seek them. That is the indelible picture of God which Jesus gave to the world.
On more than one occasion Jesus pictured God as throwing a party, in which he made full and generous provision for all who would come. The respectable and self-righteous turned down the invitation to this great feast, while the folk who knew that they were utterly unqualified poured in with glad amazement. Is that not a wonderfully adventurous picture of God, as one who is prepared to accept all who are not too proud to come? Is it not a wonderfully adventurous picture of Christianity? No matter of dull virtue or precise ceremonial, but a great supper, a party? That may be a surprising conception of the Christian faith; shame on the churches if so. But it is unquestionably the true reflection of the teaching of Jesus. The God he revealed cares for men, comes to find them in their lostness, and satisfies them once he has found them. That is the Christian God. And any assessment of Christianity which does not come to terms with this description of God is not adventurous enough; it is too cramped, too dull, too conservative.
Searching assessrnent of man
Jesus was no less fresh and challenging in his teaching about man. Two opposite estimates of human value were current in his day, as indeed they still are today. Jesus rejected both.
One tendency was to depersonalize man. Life was cheap in the first century. The sick, the aged, the outcast: people shrugged their shoulders. But Jesus affirmed the dignity of man. Mankind was made by God, loved by God, sustained by God. A man was of more value than many sparrows, though the heavenly Father was concerned for them too. We have seen in chapter two how Jesus asserted the value of man and acted on it in his every attitude to other people. He was concerned to help the poor, the underprivileged, the diseased. They mattered very much to him - just as much as the well-to-do, the religious and the important. That was radical teaching and practice in those days, and it is adventurous enough today, when in the West bigger and bigger mergers tend to reduce man to a mere cog in the economic machine, while in the East totalitarian ideologies reduce him to a pawn in the political and social scene.
But if Jesus protested vehemently against the current devaluation of man, he was just as strongly opposed to the tendency which had come into Judaism from the Greek world, to glorify man, to regard him as the measure of all things, almost to deify him. Jesus saw man as a temple, to be sure, but a ruined temple. Quick though he was to notice and commend the good in his fellow men, he nevertheless unveiled, as nobody had done so devastatingly before him, the latent possibilities for evil within human nature. It came out quite casually in phrases such as, 'If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children.' It emerged in stories such as the son who deliberately left his father's home and then ran away to waste his life with corrupt companions in a foreign country. It blazed out in his scorching denunciations of men's false motives when praying, fasting or giving to God. It appeared, with breath-taking candour, in his condemnation of the lustful look as the source of adultery, or the bitter word as the origin of murder.
This realistic assessment of the weaknesses of human nature stands out in startling contrast to the starry-eyed optimism about man's loving heart and golden future which was current then as now in progressive circles. A few years ago I was struck by the naivety of the Annual Report of the then Metropolitan Commissioner of Police to the Home Secretary. He wrote, 'The most distressing feature in the rise of crime today is that neither the absence of real poverty, nor the progress in methods of dealing with delinquents have done anything to reduce the volume.' The Daily Telegraph, commenting on this Report, admitted that it, too, was baffled by the increase in crime, now that poverty, once almost universally adduced as its chief cause, has almost disappeared. But there would have been no need to be baffled, were we not so drunk with the achievements of mankind, particularly in the technical sphere, that we have become blind to the truth, so clearly taught by Jesus, that evil deeds have their root in the human heart, and that the varied troubles of our world all proceed, in the last analysis, from inside human nature.
Such was Jesus 's remarkable assessment of mankind. Man is not junk -he is made in the image of God, and matters to God. Neither is man divine-he has within him the seed of every variety of evil. In setting such a high value on man, yet penetrating so shrewdly to the source of his weaknesses, Jesus gave an unconventional and unpopular but highly realistic evaluation of the human scene. We have only to look at the daily newspaper (if introspection is too painful) to be convinced of its truth.
Staggering personal claims
Jesus is unique among the teachers of the world in that he had so much to say about himself. Others taught extensively about God, but did not make extravagant claims about themselves. Mohammed might say, 'Allah is one, and Mohammed is his prophet', but he never laid claim to anything approaching deity. The same might be said of Confucius or Buddha. But this is just where Jesus Christ is so different. He did not conform to the normal pattern among religious leaders of teaching some new thing about God, or way to God. He dared to assert, 'No one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son and those to whom the Son may choose to reveal him' (Matthew 11:27). What a fantastic claim! It is very similar to that in John 10:1, 9, 'In truth I tell you, in very truth, the man who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is nothing but a thief or a robber... I am the door; anyone who comes into the fold through me shall be safe.' Jesus laid claim to be the way to God in person.
What is more, he asserted that he had a relationship with God which no-one had ever claimed before. It comes out in the Aramaic word Abba which he was so fond of using, especially in prayer. Nobody before him in all the history of Israel had addressed God by this word. For it is the intimate, family word that a child might use of his Daddy. To be sure, Jews were accustomed to praying to God as Father: but the word they used was Abhinu, a form of address which was essentially an appeal to God for mercy and forgiveness. There is no appeal to God for mercy in Jesus 's mode of address, Abba. It is the familiar word of closest intimacy. That is why he differentiated between his own relationship with God as Father and that of other people. He never said 'Our Father', aligning himself with his disciples, but rather referred to 'My God and your God, my Father and your Father'. He was Son of God in a quite different sense from other men who were merely God's creation. This word Abba was the heart of the good news he had come to bring; it told that he had a unique filial relationship with God, and was prepared to share it with the utterly unworthy, if they committed themselves to him. Professor Jeremias, commenting on this remarkable word in The Central Message of the New Testament, summed up its significance in these words: 'Here was the man who had the power to address God as Abba, and who included publicans and sinners in the Kingdom by authorising them to repeat this one word, "Abba, Father".'
The passage of time from the first century until now has dulled the sense of shock that claims like this must have made on his contemporaries. Nothing like them had ever been heard before; nor has it since, for that matter, outside the walls of a madhouse. Here was a Jewish peasant teacher saying in sober, earnest tones, I give men eternal life, and they shall never perish; 'no one shall snatch them from my care. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father's care. My Father and I are one' (John 10:28~30). He told a puzzled disciple, 'Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14:9). John later explains the relationship of Jesus to his Father as that of a word to a mind, the form the unseen intelligence takes in self-expression (John 1:1). The writer to the Hebrews put it memorably when he said that Jesus, the Son, corresponded as closely to the Father as radiance to the sun, or as the impression to the seal (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus laid claim to nothing less than sharing God's essential and eternal nature when he said, 'Before Abraham was born, I am' (John 8:58; see Exodus 3: 14 for the background to the phrase). There is no getting away from the greatness of the claim Jesus made here. It cannot be watered down. The Jews were themselves well aware of this, and tried to stone him out of hand for blasphemy. It was the same when he defended his Sabbath activities by saying that his Father was ceaselessly at work. 'This made the Jews still more determined to kill him, because he was not only breaking the Sabbath, but, by calling God his own Father, he claimed equality with God' (John 5: 18).
Such were the breathtaking claims of this unique man. He told the Jews, not that God would judge them at the Last Day, but that he had committed all judgment to the Son (John 5:27). He called on his hearers not to return to God, but to come to him (Matthew 11:28). He did not proclaim, like the Buddha, 'This is the way: follow it', but 'I am the way' and 'follow me' (John 14: 6; Mark 1:17). He did not promise that God would eventually pardon, but he proclaimed forgiveness here and now on his own authority, 'Son, your sins are forgiven' (Mark 2:5). Wherever you look in the Gospels or, for that matter, any of the early Christian writings, the claim is the same. It is put in different ways in different books. The first three Gospels express it in a different way from St John. But the inescapable point remains: Jesus Christ is the centre of his own message. He, and he alone, can bring men to God; because he, and he alone, brings God to men.
The claims considered
Now when considering the validity of these claims several points must be borne in mind. First, the context of such assertions. They were made before the most hostile audience imaginable. Nowhere else in the Mediterranean world of the day did you find an exclusive. monotheism. The Jews were ridiculed for it, albeit humoured in it by their Roman overlords. But at least they stuck firmly to it. Over centuries they had slowly, and painfully learned this lesson, that there is but one God, the God of the whole earth; he had chosen to disclose himself to Israel, and Israel accordingly refused to tolerate any image of God, let alone any person making divine claims. So monotheistic were they that when an indiscreet Roman governor entered Jerusalem with his legionary standards (bedecked with a few medallions with images on them) there was a riot, and the governor, Pontius Pilate, was angrily cautioned for his provocation by the Emperor Tiberius.
That was the climate in which Jesus set about claiming nothing less than deity. And what is more, he got men to believe it. Lots of men. Not just the simple fisher folk of Galilee, but shrewd tax men, intelligent scholars, a whole company of priests, and even, after a time, members of his own family. It is a sobering thought that the Christian movement which makes these extreme claims for Jesus arose in the most inimical soil possible, the hard ground of monotheistic Jewry. All the earliest converts to Christianity who came to acknowledge that 'Jesus is Lord' (and 'Lord' was the name for God himself in the Old Testament) were Jews! That is a fact which requires some explanation if one is disposed to reject the claims of Jesus about himself.
Second, consider the author of these claims. He was a very humble, modest man, a peasant teacher who sought no honour for himself. He liked ordinary people, particularly the downtrodden and underprivileged, the poor and sick. He was a friend, no less, of tax gatherers and the most unrespectable members of society. There was no suspicion of pride about him. Indeed, he exposed it ruthlessly in others. It is, of course, possible that he was mad, so taken up with his own importance that he suffered from a form of megalomania. That is not unknown. Hitler had it; so, probably, did Napoleon. But it is an exceedingly implausible explanation once you take in the total character of Jesus into account: his balance, his sanity, his ethical teaching, his self-sacrifice, his love, his concern for others. Very few people have ever read the Gospels honestly and come away saying 'The man is mad'. Such a conclusion savours too much of running away from an uncomfortable truth that Jesus was what he claimed to be. C. S. Lewis disposed of it succinctly. 'The discrepancy', he wrote in Miracles, 'between the depth and sanity, and (let me add) shrewdness of his moral teaching, and the rampant megalomania which must lie behind his theological teaching unless he is indeed God, has never been satisfactorily got over.
Third, it is worth remembering the impact of those claims of his. Men were unable to resist the challenge they brought; they found themselves driven into one of two camps. We do not find people praising Jesus in the Gospel story; we do not find them commending him. ' Either they responded to Jesus with the love and devotion they would accord to God himself, or else they tried to kill him. They did not say, as many who have run away from this evidence and tried to evade the dilemma have said, 'Jesus Christ was the best of men.' That is an assessment which nobody at the time seems to have made about him. They were either for him, as Son of God, or else violently against him.
Sometimes the very act of killing a man is a form of escapism. In this case it certainly was. They could not bear his teaching and his character, and so they hounded him to death. Imagine the situation The Jewish religious leaders had been publicly exposed by the teaching of this un-ordained peasant. (If you want to see the extent of those denunciations, read Matthew 23.) They were not, we may be sure, grateful for such painful home truths They did not cherish loving thoughts towards him in their hearts. If they had known of any piece of mud that they could have thrown at him and made it stick, they would gladly have hurled it. Indeed, we know they did - at his trial. But even so, their accusations would not agree in detail; the mud did not stick. When Jesus asked an infuriated crowd, infuriated because he had claimed equality with God, 'Which of you convicts me of sin?' there was no reply. How acutely irritating for his opponents to be rendered speechless! So they ran away from the implication of his sinlessness (that he might, after all, be claiming no more than the sober truth) and determined to rid themselves of his uncomfortable presence by killing him. An entirely understandable and utterly conformist reaction to the radical claims of Jesus.
New light on death, in theory and practice.
Our tame, mollycoddled society has come to regard death as the greatest of all misfortunes that could happen to a man; something to be deferred as long as possible, then to be glossed over with soothing. periphrases. We are not only afraid of meeting death, we are afraid of talking honestly about it. It is the forbidden subject of conversation in today's runaway world.
There is a most striking contrast to all this in the teaching and attitude of Jesus. He did not see death as the greatest disaster that could happen to a man. Far from it. Because he knew death was not the end, he taught men that there were circumstances in which it was preferable to continued life on earth. He called those happy who were willing to be persecuted and killed for their testirnony to him and the good news of the salvation he had brought for men. But he went further. He said that death was the only gateway to life in any sphere. Just as the seed of wheat was useless unless it fell into the ground and 'died', so it was with a man's ego, his character, his existence. Jesus enunciated the profound paradox that if you hold on to your life and your possessions, you will inevitably lose them; if you renounce them, you will find a new liberty, a new life opening up.
It is all very well to talk like that. Several of the world's great leaders have done the same. But did Jesus carry it out in practice ? Actually, his behaviour in this matter was even more adventurous and radical than his precept. Jesus died as a young man in the prime of life. He died one of the most agonizing deaths man's inhumanity to man has ever devised. He died voluntarily: there was no need for him to venture back into the lion's mouth at Jerusalem, where the massed echelons of his religious antagonists were just waiting for him. But he 'set his face resolutely towards Jerusalem'. He told his puzzled followers that, like the good shepherd, he would lay down his life for the sheep: 'No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.' This is heroism indeed, but it is not the half of what Jesus did. He had lived with this shadow over his life for years, almost throughout his public ministry. We read early on in Mark's account how the nationalistic Pharisees and the quisling supporters of the puppet king Herod had made an unnatural alliance to eradicate Jesus (Mark 3:6). This is entirely credible. Jesus had embarked on a collision course with officialdom. Only one outcome was possible, and he knew it well. Yet he continued with his wonderful teaching, his gracious work of healing and love, utterly unconcerned about himself and totally at the disposal of others.
Even this was not all. Time after time in the Gospels we find him forecasting with remarkable precision the death he would die. In a sense this was not too difficult a piece of foresight; rejection by the rulers would inevitably lead to a capital charge before the occupying Roman power, and when the Romans executed a lower-class native of an occupied country they crucified him, after scourging him first. Jesus would not have needed even to be a prophet to anticipate this much of his fate.
The really remarkable thing is the interpretation he gave to his death. He said that he would 'give his life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10:45). He was using evocative language full of meaning both to Greek and Jew. The word 'ransom' had long been associated with the freeing of slaves in the ancient Greek world. A slave was set free for ever once a costly price had been 'paid by some benefactor. His death, Jesus suggested, was that costly price which would win liberation from the slavery to wrong doing which shackles the will of Everyman. That word 'ransom' meant even more to the Jew. It cast his mind back to the rescue from Egypt which constituted Israel as a nation. They were liberated from bondage and death in Egypt on the night of Passover. The twelfth chapter of Exodus recounts the story. Each household in Israel escaped the destruction which befell all the firstborn in Egypt by killing a lamb and painting its blood above the door of their houses. The death of the lamb, coupled with reliance on its efficacy, saved the Jews on that historic night, and they left Egypt for ever, on their way to Cannan, the land of life and liberty. Jesus was using language associated with that crucial event in Israel's history when he spoke of his death as a ransom.
However, as the prophets had so clearly seen, Israel was still the victim of evil and wickedness within, although she had been rescued from the external domination of Egypt. What she needed was someone to ransom her from her sins. This need gave rise to one of the most sublime poems in all literature, Isaiah 53, in which the suffering Servant of God, himself utterly righteous and sinless, voluntarily bears the sin of many in order that they may be put in the right with God. He identifies himself with what they are, in order that they may share what he is. That, Jesus declared, was the destiny he had come to fulfil. Innocent and perfect as he was, he proposed to identify himself with the evil of men, taking responsibility for it in his own person, so that they could share his own status and character before God. It is the very principle of life through death which he had stressed in his teaching. But it is even more wonderful than that: for it is our life through his death. The whole Bible makes it clear that man's rebellion against God has very serious effects. It cuts us off from enjoying life with God, and nothing we do can right this situation. But what nobody can do for himself or for another, God himself has done for us all-such is the meaning of Christ's death. Jesus has restored the broken communications between mankind and God, though it cost him his own life to do so. He tasted the God-forsakenness proper to men who had deliberately forsaken God, when he cried on the cross, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?' He took responsibility for the sheer wickedness of men so that we might go free. He died, that we might live. What fantastic courage! It brought from the lips of Paul the wondering cry of amazement, 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners.'
Could Jesus have done anything more superb than that7 Anything more appropriate to our deepest need? Because he dealt once and for all on the cross with the fundamental issue of man's relationship to God, we can face our Maker and our Judge unafraid: provided, that is, we have enlisted in the ranks of Jesus.
New horizons to living
The urge to live is the deepest of our instincts. We not only hang on to life, we want to wring the last drop of excitement out of it. We all have our different recipes for making the most of life-success, respectability, influence over other people, money, and so forth. None of them can be said to be an unqualified success, if one may judge by the number of dissatisfied people one meets. What is more, the real enjoyment we do derive from our chosen pursuits is often spoiled by fear, loneliness, worry, disappointment or sheer beastliness (our own or other people's). Despite all our enthusiasm about living, we have not yet found the key to a really satisfying life. Jesus, on the other hand, does seem to have possessed that secret. The records we have of his life are unanimous in presenting us with a picture of a man who was always at peace, always happy in the relationship of love he enjoyed with his heavenly Father, always concerned for the well-being of others, always in control of himself, never lonely even when alone, -never worried even in a crisis. It is a life which has haunted the greatest artists and the most profound thinkers from his day to our own. If he had said something about what makes life really satisfying, it would be well worth paying attention to.
In fact, he has said a great deal about this subject. Nowhere did he put it more succinctly than in a prayer of his recorded in John 17:3: 'This is eternal life: to know thee who alone art truly God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.' Those words strike a note which is both familiar and unfamiliar. On the one hand Jesus is saying that the key to living is meeting; that personal relationships are the most important and satisfying things in life-the meeting of two minds, the friendship of two colleagues, the love of man for woman, the devotion of parents to children. That makes sense and it is not new. But the shattering, new thing that Jesus is asserting is this. Personal relationships must include God if they are to be lived to the full. So far from making life dul1 and crabbed, a living relationship with his Creator makes a man's life free and wonderful.
There is much talk these days of God being dead. The god who used to plug the gaps in our scientific knowledge is certainly dead. The comfortable benevolent god who took all decent middle-class Englishmen to heaven but was not too fussy about the rest is dead too. The god of 'church on Sunday and live as you please the rest of the week' is dead. And a good thing too. But the One who is the source both of the universe and human personality, who is the sum of all that is good and beautiful and true, this God is not dead. He is the living God, and he is concerned for us. He made us. He sustains us. He loves us- so much that he wants to come and share life with us. And when that happens, a new dimension is added to living. Jesus called it eternal life' in order to emphasize not so much its duration as its quality. How is it possible, we may wonder, to 'know thee who alone art truly God' in this sense of personal relationship ? The answer lies in 'Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent'.
Jesus lived a full, adventurous, supremely happy life. He surrendered this life on the cross, freely and vicariously for us, as we saw above. But that was not the end of the matter. During his ministry Jesus had repeatedly forecast that he would rise from the dead (see, e.g., Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). He was as good as his word. He did rise from the dead. The evidence in favour of this astonishing fact is overwhelming. If you wish to see a journalist's scrutiny of it, read Frank Morison's Who Moved the Stone? Professor J. N. D. Anderson's The Evidence for the Resurrection gives the approach of a leading lawyer to the evidence, which he regards as utterly compelling; a thoughtful theologian's study is provided by Archbishop A. M. Ramsey's Thc Resurrection of Christ.
Jesus rose triumphant from that cold tomb of death. God raised him, partly in order to vindicate his claims to deity (see Romans 1:4' 'declared Son of God by a mighty act in that he rose from the dead'), partly in order to show that he had been victorious in his battle with the very root forces of evil and having borne the worst that evil could do to him, had emerged alive, as the compelling proof that wickedness will not have the final word in God's world. But one of the most important purposes of his resurrection was this: in order that he could share life with his followers anywhere in the world or down the centuries. A Christian is a man who has encountered the risen Christ and shares life with him. He is not someone who is following a dead leader, or trying to live by the Sermon on the Mount. No. He is someone in whose personality Christ has taken up residence by his Spirit. So fundamental is this that St Paul can say 'If a man does not possess the Spirit of Christ, he is no Christian'. It is this indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in their lives which makes new men of Christians. It is this which transforms their characters, and changes them, albeit slowly and laboriously, into likeness to Christ.
And of course, that is Christ's exciting answer to the problems of anxiety, fear, and so on which, as we saw, spoil our enjoyment of life. The Christian is not lonely, because he has with him the one who has promised 'Be assured, I am with you always, to the end of time'-and this makes an enormous difference in situations which would otherwise be unbearable. Men like Richard Wurmbrand testify to the presence of Christ with them in prison and torture for their faith, as the one factor which saved them from going out of their minds. The Christian is not disappointed, because, although he gets his fair share of misfortune, 'we know that to those who love God, . . . everything that happens fits into a pattern for good' (Romans 8:28, Phillips). Whatever his circumstances, he learns contentment in them, for the logic of Hebrews 13:5 is irresistible: 'Be content with what you have; for God himself has said, "I will never leave you or desert you".' Nor does worry bite insidiously into the Christian's peace of mind. He shares his concerns with his ever-present Friend, and has learned the wisdom of St Peter's advice, 'Cast all your care upon him, for it matters to him about you.' Best of all, the weaknesses and sinfulness of the Christian's own nature are gradually healed by the Spirit of Christ: the fruit of that Spirit's presence is increasingly felt as 'love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness' and the rest of those attractive qualities grow in the Christian's life The things that deform our characters are progressively removed, and the Christian is free to live life to the full, as he was intended to, sharing his experiences every day and hour with his Maker, Redeemer and Indweller If there is any answer to the deepest enigmas of life which is more radical, more exciting, more adventurous than that, I should like to hear of it. It is certainly not the genuine Christians who can be accused of running away from adventure. Is it not rather those conformists who are loath to commit themselves to such a 'high octane' quality of life?
Such was the teaching, such the living of Jesus of Nazareth. To follow him is certainly costly; it will demand involvement, love, self-sacrifice But it draws the best out of a man. Like all revolutionary leaders, Jesus offers blood, tears, toil, sweat. And as with Garibaldi and Churchill, men responded if they had the courage, if they possessed the spirit of adventure. Such a challenge touched off the spark of endurance, of risk, of initiative in them; they accepted the challenge, and they never regretted it.
It is worth reflecting on the type of people who first responded to Jesus. Few of the soft inhabitants of southern Palestine, few of the smug priests, few of the dignified rulers, few of the safe Establishment. It was the rough-tongued, wild-tempered men of Galilee who had the courage to follow him. He could do something with the life and energy, the impulsiveness and foolhardiness of these men, whereas he could do little with the tame decorum of the 'religious'. It is still the case today that the most dynamic Christians are usually those who have been won from atheism or apathy, in contrast to those who have always been brought up in church circles. For Christianity is the faith for men who are prepared to swim against the stream. It is the religion for radicals.
I believe there is a soft streak in many young people today. They are ready to poke fun at their friends who take their religion seriously, allowing it to make them generous and loving, self-sacrificing and pure. But they have not the courage to follow them. It is easier to stay on the side-lines and jeer. The magazine Newsweek devoted an entire issue in 1965 to the student generation; the conclusion it came to was that the students, on their own admission, although so radical in their talk, were depressingly conformist in their behaviour. They did not have the guts to be different. 'Flaming moderates', the Editor of The New York Post called them. Rebels without an ideology, they anticipated, quite rightly, that for all their audacious ideas, they would turn out just like their parents, worrying about the job, the mortgage, the children, social standing, and how to get out of the rut! What is true of the modern young American is no less true in other countries. I was speaking on this subject in a South African university, and after my talk a fine, strong, handsome young man asked if he might print my address in a student magazine. I looked him in the eyes and asked him what he was going to do about the adventure of aligning himself with so challenging a leader as Jesus Christ. His eyes fell, and he muttered, 'I haven't the guts'. He wanted to print the talk, but he shrank from getting involved.
This holds good for many people today. It is not that they don't believe or can't believe that the records about Jesus are true, or that he can make a great difference to those who trust him; many of them have friends who have become Christians and they have noticed the difference in them. It is really a matter of 'guts'. They haven't the courage to give themselves to a costly, demanding Christian programme: they prefer to remain on the side of the Establishment, pursuing economic and social security. It is surprising to find the absence of moral courage among people who are often physically very brave; but so it is. They would rather risk death in a moon probe than step out of line with their friends by doing anything different from the crowd. They lack the courage to live dangerously with Christ, instead of safe and sound with the rest. For discipleship can be dangerous; it can mean social ostracism, even persecution; and it can lead a man or woman with excellent prospects at home to give them all up in order to be of service to a developing country. It is altogether easier to avoid that sort of risk by sitting in the ranks of the agnostics (not the atheists, by the way: it is safer to be an agnostic, as one of the students interviewed in .Newsweek admitted, just in case there might turn out to be a God after all !). I have found the lack of moral courage to be a notable characteristic both of the sixth-form and of the university opposition to Christianity which I have met. As Oxford friend wrote to his father about his friends, 'The problem with most of them, I discover, is not to convince them that Christianity is true; many are honest enough with themselves to admit they are convinced; yet they are not honest enough with themselves to act on what they believe.'
Compare this craven attitude with the adventurous courage of a Sudanese Christian pastor whose news I recently received. This man has experienced cruel persecution from the soldiers of the North of the Sudan. The theological college of which he was a member was overrun in the middle of the night and was razed to the ground. Some of the students and staff were killed; others escaped into the bush. They had no possessions, no food apart from what they could gather in the forest. His wife gave birth to a child during their arduous trek to a neighbouring country.
Eventually this man came to England for a while, and we heard his story from his own lips. Was he discouraged ? Did opposition and destitution cause him to lose his faith in God's love and goodness ? Far from it. He found more joy in the adventure of sharing hardships with his Christian flock than in enjoying the comforts of conformist England. Back now in a part of the Congo adjoining Sudan, he is ministering to his exiled compatriots. He lives with fear: 'Our hearts were in fear at the troubles in the East of the Congo, because it was very close, and our fear was, "Can we enter again in the bush to hide ourselves?" . . . We at moment live in peace. We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow.' He lives with poverty: 'The Lord has been so kind to us in this country through friends. He has supplied our need, even though it means cutting out some of the things like breakfast, tea, lamp oil, yet we still praise him for his kindness.' But he lives with joy, joy at the presence of the Lord with him, and joy at the growth of the work of the Lord through hirn. 'The work of God among the Sudanese refugees scattered has gone very well, and many people have been baptised: for example in the area of ---, I baptised 409. In Congo as a whole almost in these past three years of refugee five thousand have been baptised.... Praise the Lord the church in Congo has been so friendly to us even though they are not of our society.'
The pressures on a white South African graduate I recently met are more subtle. She is a Jewess who has become a Christian. I gave something of her story in Man Alive! She has since written to tell me of her seventeen-year-old sister's conversion to Christ 'My father won't allow her to go to any Christian meetings or church services at all. He won't even allow her to meet Christian friends of mine. The opposition is tremendous. He simply won't see reason at all. He can't realize that nothing he can do can stop her being a Christian.' Talking of her own experience in three years of Christian living she continues: 'I praise God for these years of joyful service It hasn't been all plain sailing, but by far the biggest encouragement has been my sister's conversion. . . . A Jewish girl M - H - has also been converted, so it looks as though God is revealing himself to his own Jewish people. I can't wait to start working full time among my own people, telling them of their Messiah and Saviour. I spoke at a girls' school recently, and five Jewish girls came up to me afterwards.'
Such is the joy, such the toughness of following the adventurous programme of Jesus of Nazareth. I wonder how many of those who read these lines will have the courage to live as a Christian. Dare you rebel against the tacit rebellion against God in which you have been living, accept his free pardon, and enroll in the toughest revolu1ionary force there is, under the finest leader ever? Or are you content to contract out of adventure: and remain like so many other conformists, on the side of the Establishment, of social and financial conservatism, but without Christ the radical?
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