Every Sunday, The Telegraph publishes the ruminations of Dr. Bill Cummings, a former Catholic priest whose column consists mainly of questions, doubts and skepticism in regard to the faith he once embraced. Sunday seems appropriate for such reflection. The first day of the week; the day that is recorded that Jesus Christ arose from the dead. The day that those who profess faith in him have set aside for congregational worship in commemoration of that event.
It is the day that thousands across Middle Georgia — and millions across the globe — meditate upon the essential truths regarding the reality that we inhabit. A time to go beyond the melange of mere opinion regarding ultimate things, the “great questions” of this life. To go beyond even the raw data provided by the empirical, scientific investigation into our reality. It is a time to commune with the source of reality itself — the source of our space-time dimensionality; the “uncaused cause” that is the cause of everything else. After all, science can tell us the “what” and “how” of something. But not the ultimate “why.” If it were possible to know every facet of how the universe works, to understand its every function — would we, even then, know why it exists? Perhaps the only certain answer to that question is “we don’t know.”
But what if the source of our reality — or “creation,” if you will — the universe, and everything in it; the celestial objects (planets, stars, galaxies) as well as the microscopic ones (living cells, the molecules that comprise them, the atoms that comprise the molecules, and sub-atomic particles), and everything in between; and the physical laws which mesh it all together— what if that “source” communicated with us?
What if that source were able to transmit a message across the boundary of its timeless, eternal infinity into our bounded, finite, temporal existence? What if that message contained an account of why this creation exists and the purpose for which the only known creatures that are able to question its existence — humankind — were created?
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What if, beyond that, the source of creation, which we call “God” — entered into his own creation, taking the part of one of his creatures, becoming a man, in order to fulfill his own grand design, plan and purpose?
That is the proposition that those who believe in Jesus Christ give their assent to. Put their faith in. A faith which is referred to as “Christianity.” It is the faith that God entered into his creation — which had gone very wrong as a result of the misuse by man of the gift of free will — in order to redeem and restore it to him through his atoning death on a cross. And that he validated his divine identity through his bodily resurrection from the dead, “according to the Scriptures.”
It is a faith that is categorically different from any other religious belief or philosophy. C.S. Lewis — a professor at Oxford and Cambridge, and a great Christian theologian and apologist during the 20th century — was once presented, by his fellow (non-believing) academics, with a diagram that outlined all the world’s “great religions.” He was then asked how Christianity was different from any of them. Lewis was quick with his answer. “Grace,” he said. No other religion features the concept of redeeming, unmerited grace. All other religions involve man seeking the approval of God. Only in Christianity does God’s approval reach “down” to man as a free gift which can be received — or rejected.
The ancient texts of Christianity (66 books, by 40 authors, written over a span of 1,700 years: one “integrated message system”) make clear that the acceptance of grace is by faith; that there is nothing that we must — or can —do to earn the gift of redemption. All we can “do” is receive the gift of our own volition. (Is receiving “doing”?)
Some people — and Dr. Cummings acknowledges that he is among them — do not accept that we are redeemed (“saved”) by grace alone. They promote a view that states it is what we do, not what we believe, that makes us Christians. Theirs is a religion based on verbs: do, work, give, love. And while surely no one would argue that those verbs are good and worthwhile, the focus on “doing” avoids the inevitable “why” question. Why should we do those things, as opposed to doing otherwise?
The truth is that Christianity is fundamentally defined by nouns: God, Jesus, belief, faith, redemption. It is by our belief in the nouns which constitute the transcendent reality of our existence, that we impart meaning and purpose to the verbs.
In future columns, I will endeavor to explore the “nouns” that are the subject of Christian belief. Your comments are welcome, below.
W. Wade Stooksberry II and his wife, Trena, currently form the musical duo The DOVES. Please enjoy their music and videos at their website: www.thedovesamerica.com.