This article was originally published in the Summer ’06 issue of Revisions, Has American Culture Killed Christ?
I absolutely love musicals, especially those with powerful messages that speak to the heart. Wicked is such a musical, and the last song before intermission always hits me hard. The song is entitled “Defying Gravity.” Elphaba, the soon to be Wicked Witch of the West, proclaims this poignant anthem with resolve and confidence. In the song she speaks of a profound change within her, one that is characterized by a “refusal to accept limits, because someone says they’re so.” She hopes to “defy gravity,” to overcome everything that has oppressed her and prevented her from truly being free. For me, this cannot resonate more intensely with my Christian worldview. After coming to faith, I realized that we all must free ourselves from ourselves, and not let us “be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1, NIV). But wait a second. How exactly are we enslaved? You do not have to search your heart for long before you see stuff that is messy and distorted. You see a cute couple holding hands, and consequently a quick spell of jealously (hopefully only if you’re currently single) sets in. You get into a fight with your parents in which you are curt and disrespectful with absurd lines of reasoning that “justify” your stance. You are not really in the mood to greet someone you sort of know, so you pretend to be preoccupied and turn your eyes away abashedly.
I definitely can go on and on, but let us quickly get to the point: we are not the people we really want to be. Why? We are enslaved by temptation, guilt, and sin: all of which proceed from this tangled mess of a world in which we live. Since the Fall, I would argue that sin has run a dreadfully destructive and debilitating course. Sin has formed itself to be a complex exaction of “logical deception,” and falling into it seems natural – maybe even expected. Furthermore there are many levels through which sin has compounded and permeated, from the realm of the biochemical all the way up to our everyday interactions with others. For example, cancer has emerged as a deadly biological anomaly, our instinctual “eye-for-an-eye” mentality is almost unavoidable, and many times our urges to help others are circumvented by self-serving motives.
With all of that said, the picture appears to be grim and hopeless. When I re-discovered the Christian faith in my senior year of high school, I realized that it offers much hope, but not without stipulation. What I would like to fully convey to you, reader, is that Christianity does not consist of a restorative snap of the fingers, leading you to say: “I’ve been saved, my sins are forgiven, it’s all good, and I have nothing to worry about now.” In fact, the reality of it leans heavily toward the opposite direction. I would even argue that after becoming Christian, in some ways it is much more difficult to live out your life. For example, overcoming temptation and sin is something you never really thought about before, and now it is tirelessly in your field of vision.
Nevertheless, Christianity is wonderfully encapsulated by a radical and profound promise offered by the God-man who lived and walked on the earth some 2,000 years ago: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). This promise is made manifest in the grace God offers to all of mankind. God’s freely given grace for us, in my mind, is the greatest gift in human history. It should never be taken lightly or without careful investigation. This free gift of grace is biblically grounded, as apparent in the following two passages from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23–24, NIV) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). When I reflect on these passages, I always come back to the song Be My Escape by Relient K. There is a lyric that claims “the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” Face it, for EVERYTHING that we have done wrong in our lives, do we really deserve a free gift of grace from a perfect and all-powerful God? Not really. Life is not fair then, because we can taste and experience this wondrous grace that was made known to us by and in Jesus Christ.
I came to know Christ in a rather unique way to say the least. I entered into His wisdom by means of science. This might seem a little paradoxical, but it definitely worked strange wonders for me. In high school I came to love science intensely; in physics I saw beauty in equations and derivations; in biology I witnessed the high-ordered intricacies of DNA transcription. To say the least, I was impressed and stunned at how much this universe is goal-oriented. It is replete with purpose and meaning, always moving forward with something in mind. But, in whose mind does this forward motion reside? Our minds are finite and defective, for we can never completely draw meaning nor give rise to it by moving our will or motives. There is something greater at work in our everyday experience, and as I have grown in faith, I have realized that God is the mind, purpose, meaning, and truth that I always searched for. Science pointed me to Him, but my faith has allowed me to know Him and love Him. Because of Him, I can physically tap my laptop keyboard this very instant, articulate the biochemical reactions between the neurons in my brain into thoughts and beliefs, and have you understand the assorted black patterns of ink on this page.
I will never forget one particular conversation I had with my high school AP Physics teacher. He was explaining to me that there is a passage in the Bible that strangely supports quantum physics. I’ll be honest with you: I was extremely skeptical that this could be possible, let alone true and tenable. Yet I remained patient when he showed me this exact excerpt: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col. 1:16–18, NKJV). As my teacher explained to me, it would be perfectly fine (according to quantum physics) if I just ceased to exist. Because quantum physics deals with probabilities and uncertainties, anything becomes possible. I can fall through the chair in which I am currently sitting or if I lean against a wall, my hand could pass right through it. In fact, there is an extant likelihood that any of these events could transpire. But why don’t they?
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ knows of every possible atomic arrangement and reaction that could ever happen. He could will any one of them to occur if he so wished, even one that would instantaneously halt my existence. But yet, I persist in my existence. I continue to grow, learn and love. You cannot control your very being, for only Christ has that power: He is the only one who keeps your motor running.
Yet, our motors tend to run on empty. Time and again our efforts will fail us, our faulty reasoning will blind us, and our hardened hearts will hurt others. Before Christ ascended into Heaven, he promised that he would send His Spirit, a Counselor who would speak into our stubborn natures to stir within us a willingness to turn to God. The Holy Spirit is the gasoline for our empty fuel tanks and defunct motors. He can fill our hearts with life, love, and joy. To receive Him and have Him effect real change in our lives, we must allow the word of God to operate within the deepest cores of our being: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12–13, NIV). The author of Hebrews makes significant claims here that cannot be overlooked: the word of God enters into the very fabric of our moral and spiritual frameworks. After the word of God does its job, the Holy Spirit comes to repair and stitch our frayed fabric. Our fallenness, through sanctification, will then slowly turn into a seamless tapestry that no longer knows sin or fear. This process is slow and arduous, characterized by suffering: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12: 11, ESV). Above all, we must realize that in our tribulations, God continually shapes us to grow in His image. This is certainly the grandest telos ever conceived, but its magnitude should never deter us. Rather, we should be humbled and grateful to be presented with such a radical possibility. How is it that a God so holy and powerful has made Himself so approachable? The answer lies in the blood shed by God Himself on the cross: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…making known to us the mystery of his will…to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:7–10, ESV).
I certainly am not (and might never be) at a comfortable place in my faith journey; I continue to stumble only to have God pick me up, brush me off, and help me to continue growing in His love and truth. The only thing I do know is that I have come to know God in the past year in an intimate, profound, and life-changing manner. My life has greater meaning now, and I can comfortably pursue science knowing that when I find truth it is undoubtedly God’s truth. One of my favorite TV shows when I was younger was the X-Files. At the end of the introductory credits a message would flash reading: “the truth is out there.” Looking at that phrase now I would naturally substitute “His” for “the.” You see, reader, most times when I wake up every morning, I strive to sustain a refreshed spirit. I earnestly yearn to get to know God better. In that sense I will forever be His student because, well, His truth is out there.