The Miracle of Restraint

Christ 1D copyThe 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.

–Philip Yancey,
The Jesus I Never Knew

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The Problem is on the Inside

depositphotos_35420335-stock-illustration-vector-cartoon-heart-with-devilOn a trip to Russia just after the collapse of communism in 1991, I had a conversation with a Marxist scholar who was devastated by revelations about the horrors just then coming to light in his country. “I had no idea things like this were taking place,” he said. “I became a communist with the best of ideals, to fight racism and poverty, to bring about a just society. Now I learn that we created a monster. We saw evil in others—the capitalists, the rich, the exploisters—but not in ourselves. I have learned to distrust any utopian philosophy, especially one that sets ‘us’ against ‘them.’ The danger of evil is inside of all of us, rich or poor, socialist or capitalist.”

–Philip Yancey,
Rumors of Another World

A Schizophrenic View of Sex

6838-9c6f-43c5-bd1d-44e022344395Some people try to treat sex as an animal act. In a scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind, the brilliant but socially inept mathematician John Nash approaches an attractive woman in a bar: “Listen, I don’t have the words to say whatever it is that’s necessary to get you into bed, so can we just pretend I said those things and skip to the part where we exchange bodily fluids?” He learns quickly, from the imprint of her palm on his face, that reductionism does not work well as a pickup line.

Schizophrenic is the best way to describe modern society’s view of sexuality. On the one hand, scientists insist that we are organisms like any other animal, and that sex is a natural expression of that animal nature. The pornography industry (which in the U.S. grosses more money than all professional sports combined) happily complies, supplying sexual images of the famous and the anonymous to anyone willing to pay.

But when people truly act out their animal natures, society frowns in disapproval. John Nash gets slapped for telling the truth. A few states in the U.S. allow legalized prostitution, but no parents encourage their daughters to pursue such a career. Hollywood may glamorize adultery onscreen, but in real life it provokes pain and a rage sometimes strong enough to drive the wounded party to murder the rival or jump off a bridge.

The root cause of this schizophrenia is the attempt to reduce sex between humans to a purely physical act. For humans, unlike sheep or chimpanzees, sex involves more than bodies… [A]ny rape counselor knows that the real violence occurs on the inside and may lead to years of depression, nightmares, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction. Victims of abusive relatives and pedophiliac priests testify that something far more than a body gets hurt when a trusted adult abuses a child sexually. Decades later, suffering persists.

–Philip Yancey

Seeing evil only in others

jewcommoOn a trip to Russia just after the collapse of communism in 1991, I had a conversation with a Marxist scholar who was devastated by revelations about the horrors just then coming to light in his country. “I had no idea things like this were taking pace,” he said. “I became a communist with the best of ideals, to fight racism and poverty, to bring about a just society. Now I learn that we created a monster. We saw the evil in others—the capitalists, the rich, the exploiters—but not in ourselves. I have learned to distrust a utopian philosophy, especially one that sets ‘us’ against ‘them.’ The danger of evil is inside all of us, rich or poor, socialist or capitalist.”

— Philip Yancey,
Rumors of Another World

The bad mix of religion and politics

philip-yanceyC.S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of ungrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.

― Philip Yancey,
What’s So Amazing About Grace?

The claim that Jesus is THE way to God

Christ 10B copyThe only way to take such a claim seriously is to examine the one who made it: Jesus. What kind of person is he? An egomaniac? Deluded? Trustworthy? Something about Jesus made people leave their jobs and families and follow him around the hills and plains of Palestine. Something about him attracts the allegiance of one-third of the people on this planet today. I’ve taken a look at the evidence and concluded that Jesus is who he says he is, the human expression of the invisible God. I’m mindful of a saying from the Anglican Bishop Michael Ramsey: “In God is no unChristlikeness at all.” That’s an abstract way of saying, If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. His combination of qualities—fierceness and yet compassion, absolute confidence and yet humility, brilliance and yet simplicity—I find in no other human being. For me, Jesus is a trustworthy guide.

–Philip Yancey

A doubt-tolerant God

philip-yanceyWhen I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God in the older agnostics (Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, David Hume) or the newer ones (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations. I have respect for a God who not only gives us the freedom to reject him, but also includes the arguments we can use in the Bible. God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually.

–Philip Yancey