If you knew how quickly people would forget about you after your death, you will not seek in your life to please anyone but God.
- St Chrysostom
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans xii. 2
‘But what about you?’ Jesus asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Matthew xvi. 15, 16
This conviction only deepened after a conversation with an old acquaintance on social media. I had shared the quote from St Chrysostom above and received a honest and direct response from her:
“You know… I kind of think this is [garbage]. We don’t refuse to “live for God” to be remembered. We do it because sometimes it makes more sense to pick the present moment than to live for the promise of an “elsewhere” (that may or may not come)?”
As I’ve shared elsewhere, I usually don’t engage in social media debate or dialogue as it’s so often fruitless, but as I had known this person to be thoughtful and interesting, and in honour of the friendship we’d shared years ago, I dove in.
Long story longer, we found ourselves at different ends of the Christian spectrum. She found herself in a place of doubt, no longer feeling at home in the Christian faith we had shared and enjoyed fifteen years ago. Three main reasons were given:
I processed these three ideas she shared with her, I’ll share just a bit here with you:
After we got through the philosophy and theology, we landed on the hurt we had both experienced in the church. She still identifies as a Christian but is processing a lot of pain dealt to her by representatives of Jesus. And we both considered that the context of our pain would make those objections she levied more persuasive as explanations and reasons to reject the Christian faith.
And what I shared with her in the end is better encapsulated by St Paul’s words in our Sunday readingsr:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans xii. 2
We are not called to conform to the patterns of this world, but to have our minds renewed by Jesus. In other words, the context from which we process our lives can’t ultimately be the narratives we weave to explain our lives to ourselves. For the narratives we weave are often hard copes, ways of explaining our lives with incomplete self-knowledge or making sense of our lives in such a way that evades responsibility for our part in our misery. This isn’t the path to healing, just another avenue of delusion, often masked in Christian circles by simple piety.
What we need is a context of truth that can carry our stories all the way to the healing we need. And that is found only in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. For only Jesus can carry the freight of our longings and sufferings, only Jesus can explain who we are and what we are meant for: we are meant for relationship with God found only in Jesus.
Only Jesus heals and restores everything and gives us the capacity to begin to understand what has happened in our lives. Only from the life of Jesus can we begin to discern the thread of God’s presence when we thought we were alone.
Only in Jesus can we know that our suffering isn’t meaningless, rather as we give our suffering to God, God begins to grow in us a ‘weight of Glory’. This weight of Glory is a garden in our very being that grows in us the life of God. And it is this Divine life that swallows up pain and creates love, that swallows up alienation and creates community, that swallows death and creates life.
For this reason Christianity is a radical way of thinking, feeling, and believing. And because it is true, it is our only hope.
My friends, some of your lives are a desert, they look great on paper but inside there’s a spiritual dryness that no amount of hiking or mountain vistas can enliven. You’ve tried everything else. Now all that’s left is to answer the question Jesus is asking: who do you say that I am?
My prayer for my life and yours is that we answer with St Peter when he says:
‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
For only the Son of the living God has what you need. He gave his life that you might have the chance at the life you were always meant to have. A life full of peace and love forever, and that can begin today if you let it.