This is the fourth post in a 14-week study. More information and resources can be found here.
A quick note to those of y’all who are not participants:
– Please read along as we go through the study chapter by chapter, and contemplate the questions we’ll be tackling. It’s gonna be good!
– We will be utilizing the comment section as a forum for discussion for the participants only. I respectfully ask – if you are not participating – that you refrain from commenting on the Reason for God posts, simply to help keep things well… simple.
– We have an incredible group of women representing various ages, faith backgrounds and life experiences – I hope you’ll check out all they have to say.
It is my prayer that the participants, as well as those of y’all who will be reading along, will contemplate your own faith and understanding of God in a new, and more purposeful way.
Keller begins Chapter 3 by posing this question: “Is a belief in absolute truth the enemy of freedom?” Then he proceeds to, for the remainder of the chapter, deconstruct this commonly held notion. He quotes Chloe, a young artist from New York City, “The Christians I know don’t seem to be able to think for themselves. I believe each individual must determine truth for him- or herself.” (p.35).
Truth is Unavoidable
By claiming truth you are asserting power according to Nietzsche and his disciple Foucault…“Truth is a thing of this world. It is produced only by multiple forms of constraint and that includes the regular effects of power.” (p.37) But this argument cannot stand, explains Keller. If you say that all claims to truth are actually attempts to garner power, then this must include your very own statement.
G.K. Chesterton made a similar observation almost 100 years ago, “The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not trust anything [but] therefore he can never be really a revolutionary. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything… there is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.”
Community Can’t Be Completely Inclusive
com·mu·ni·ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee] noun.
1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.
A community, by definition, is a group that shares characteristics and defines itself as distinct, because of those unique characteristics, from society as a whole. And yet, the Christian community has been accused of social divisiveness. True, it is not open to all and requires a certain set of beliefs in order to be a member. But isn’t this what community is all about?
Keller explains that there is a more important consideration. Determining the true nature of a community – whether it is caring and open or narrow and oppressive. “Which community has beliefs that lead it’s members to treat persons in other communities with love and respect – to serve them and meet their needs? Which community’s beliefs lead it to demonize and attack those who violate their boundaries rather than treating them with kindness, humility and winsomeness?” (p.40)
Christianity Isn’t Culturally Rigid
“It [Christianity] allegedly forces people from diverse cultures into a single iron mold.” (p.41)
The growth of Christianity has differed from that of other major religions because it has “adapted significantly and positively to the surrounding culture without compromising it’s main tenants.” (p.43) Keller shares an insight from African scholar Lamin Sanneh who explains that, “Christianity helped Africans to become renewed Africans, not re-made Europeans.”
He goes on to explain why Christianity has successfully infiltrated so many completely different cultures: “There is, of course, a core of teachings… to which all forms of Christianity are committed. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of freedom in how these absolutes are expressed and take form within a particular culture.” (p.45)
Freedom Isn’t Simple
Freedom to determine one’s own moral standards in order to achieve a full life has become a commonplace belief in modern society. But Keller says that this is an oversimplification. “In fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation.” (p. 46) He gives the example of the fish who is only truly free if it is limited to life in the water. It’s potential for “a full life”, if moved onto land, would be impossible. In fact, it would be certain death.
“If we only grow intellectually, vocationally, and physically through judicious constraints – why would it not also be true for spiritual and moral growth? Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn’t we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?” (p.47)
Love, the Ultimate Freedom, Is More Constraining That We Might Think
“What is the environment that liberates us if we confine ourselves to it, like water liberates the fish? Love. Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all.” (p.48)
If you want deep, meaningful love, you must be willing to sacrifice some of the freedoms of living simply for yourself. “We only become ourselves in love, and yet healthy love relationships involve mutual, unselfish service, a mutual loss of independence.” (p.49)
Initially, a relationship with God seems to be one-sided – we do all the serving because God has all the power. Although this is often true of other religions, it is not true of Christianity. “In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me.'” (p.50)
Indeed. When we sit under the weight of what Jesus did on the cross, we feel more than appreciation and gratitude. We feel so thankful and and so loved, that we are overwhelmed with love in return. And so springs up our desire to be like Christ. This is what motivates the Christ-follower.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity defines well the difference between wanting to “be good” and truly understanding – and being molded by – Jesus’ love. “… the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”
God loved us first. “We love because he first loved us.” John 4:19. God initiates. We respond. And it is only when we are acting in response to His unconditional love and His infinite worth that we can do any of the things to which Jesus calls His followers. And understanding this distinction is crucial. In fact, it makes all the difference.
Question: Have you made sacrifices to cultivate a deep and loving relationship with the Lord? Was there something specific you were afraid to give up? What was the outcome?
My response: Absolutely. Most of the time it doesn’t even really feel like a sacrifice. More like something that simply needs to be done – sometimes joyfully sometimes dutifully depending on how closely I am walking with Him. Honestly, caring for those I love rarely feels like sacrifice. The beauty of sacrificing things for Jesus is that, if He asks, it is for our good and His glory. I don’t have to doubt or wonder if making this particular sacrifice is a good decision for me – I can trust that my Creator knows best. But does that mean I always respond this way? Absolutely not. And the more fearful I am of giving up or giving away something, the more closely I need to look at that *thing* and determine why it holds so much value. Is it an idol? Is it due to pride? Selfishness? Fear?
As far as something specific… hmmmm. There are so many, but one comes to mind right away. I have resisted giving up “control” of my children. As a mom, I naturally dreamed of what they might grow up to do. Who they might grow up to be. And I felt that, as their mother, I would play a strong role in their becoming this person or achieving that goal. But God. He has pried my fingers off of my children and reminded me, again and again, how much more He loves them that I ever, ever could. And that they, in the deepest sense, belong first and foremost to Him. God loves with a flawless and unconditional love… my love is so limited and so very flawed. Despite my overwhelming love for each of them, it is nothing like the love of their Father. And I am beginning to see the incredible blessing in this – I am not dependent on my children for meaning or happiness and they are not dependent on me. I can show them, by example, to look to God to meet their needs and to reveal who He created them to be… which is so much more beautiful than anything I could ever dream up.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” — John 8:31-32
Here is the button for the participants who will be linking up to the study. Grab the code, paste it into your Reason for God post and link up below.