Sigmund Freud famously argued that scientific advance has led to a radical reevaluation of the place and significance of humanity in the universe, deflating human pretensions to grandeur and uniqueness. Before Copernicus, we thought we stood at the center of all things. Before Darwin, we thought we were utterly distinct form every other living species. Before Freud, we though that we were masters of our own limited realm; now we have to come to terms with being the prisoner of hidden unconscious forces, subtly influencing our thinking and behaviour. And as our knowledge of our universe expands, we realize how many galaxies lie beyond our own. The human lifespan is insignificant in comparison with the immense age of the universe. We can easily be overwhelmed by a sense of our insignificance when we see ourselves against this vast cosmic backdrop…
The Christian narrative allows us to frame these questions in a very different way than that offered by a bleak secular humanism. By allowing their personal narratives to be embraced and enfolded by the greater narrative of God, Christians see things in a new way—including their own status and identity. We are no longer mere assemblies of molecules, neutrons, or genes; we are individuals who can relate to God, and whose status is transformed by God’s love and attentiveness toward us…
Through inhabiting the Christian narrative, we come to see ourselves, as medieval writer Julian of Norwich famously put it, as being enfolded in the love of Christ, which brings us a new security, identity, and value. Our self-worth is grounded in being loved by God.
The more I get to know Jesus, the more impressed am by what Ivan Karamazov called “the miracle of restraint.” The miracles . . . the signs and wonders the Pharisees demanded, the final proofs I yearn for—these would offer no serious obstacle to an omnipotent God. More amazing is his refusal to perform and to overwhelm. God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that he granted us the power to live as though he did not exist, to spit in his face, to crucify him . . .
I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response he desires. Although power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us. “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself,” Jesus said. In case we miss the point John adds, “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” God’s nature is self-giving; he bases his appeal on his sacrificial love . . .
Why does God content himself with the slow, unencouraging way of making righteousness grow rather than avenging it? That’s how love is. Love has its own power, the only power ultimately capable of conquering the human heart.
For the moment, let’s leave Jesus or Christianity out of the picture. What if you tried to just believe in God in general? What if you just tried to live a good life and pray to him? How would you get into a relationship with a God like that? Wouldn’t that be exploitation? God wouldn’t change—you would have to do all the submitting, all the repenting, make all the sacrifices.
But Christianity is different. Jesus Christ lost his glory and became mortal and died for us. In Jesus God says, “I will adjust to you. I will sacrifice for you. First I will give up my glory and immortality in becoming human in the Incarnation. Then I will give up all light and joy and my very life in the Atonement.”
He was nailed fast to the cross so he could not move. How is that for giving up your freedom? Christianity is the only religion that claims God gave up his freedom so we could experience the ultimate freedom—from evil and death itself. Therefore, you can trust him. He sacrificed his independence for you, so you can sacrifice yours for him. And when you do, you will find that it is the ultimate, infinitely liberating constraint. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
–Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
Lin Yutang died in 1976. He was one of the greatest scholars and authors in China. He became a Confucius convert and wrote many books. His most famous is The Importance of Living, which became a runaway best seller. He wrote in it the chapter Why I Am a Pagan. He spent his last decade in New York and one Sunday his wife persuaded him to go to Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the teachings of Jesus. He wrote, “God as Jesus revealed him, is so different from what men thought him to be. There is a totally new order of love and compassion in Jesus’ prayer from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ That voice, unknown in history before, reveals God as forgiving, not in theory, but visibly forgiving as revealed in Christ. No other teacher said with such meaning, ‘In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ The ‘me’ in this context is God sitting on the Day of Judgment with a first concern for the downtrodden poor, the humble widow, the crippled orphan. There, I said to myself, Jesus speaks as the Teacher who is Master over both life and death. In him, the message of love and gentleness and compassion becomes incarnate. That, I say, is why men have turned to him, not merely in respect but in adoration. That is why the light which blinded St. Paul on the road to Damascus with such a sudden impact continues to shine unobscured and unobscurably through the centuries.”
The only worldview that supports the highest aspirations of the human heart is Christianity. It gives a basis for believing that love is real and genuine because we were created by a God whose very character is love. The Bible teaches that there has been love and communication between the members of the Trinity from all eternity. Love is not an illusion created by the genes to promote our evolutionary survival, but an aspect of human nature that reflects the fundamental fabric of ultimate reality. Moreover, by submitting to God’s plan of salvation and becoming His children, we have the astonishing possibility of participating in that eternal love.