Our destiny as human beings is to have a life-relationship with Jesus, to love him and be loved by him. But too many things get in the way. There are the day-to-day things in our life that distract us and make us busy, and there are also various notions that come to our minds, notions that deflect us from seeking what is most important. When we look to clear the way for Jesus, when we look to make straight the path of Jesus in our life, we need to sweep aside some of those notions that are getting in the way. Let’s consider four of these notions now.
One notion is the idea that science and technology have all the answers, that God is some sort of primitive explanation of things we don’t understand, and as science uncovers answers, God becomes increasingly obsolete. This misunderstands both God and science. God’s not some sort of explanation of gaps in our knowledge, he’s a person who loves and can be loved back. Science can’t have all the answers because it doesn’t ask all the questions: the questions it asks are primarily about things and the physical world, not about connection and relationship, and the technology that science makes possible is all about building and using things. Yes, things are important: we’re hard-wired to pay attention to the physical world around us, because over the millennia of human existence, those that didn’t typically starved to death or got eaten by bears. But even though the physical world is important, it is not the only important thing. There is also an interpersonal world that is vital to human beings, a world of connection and relationships, of love and meaning, and it is in that world where God is found. Technology may amplify, modify, enhance (and sometimes distort) connection and meaning, but it does not create it, and it cannot replace it.
A second notion is the worry that being close to Jesus may require giving up something we like. Indeed, some things are worth giving up because they’re bad for us. These are things Jesus doesn’t like: gossip, porn, backbiting, bullying, cheating, and so on. These things can enslave us, making it hard for us to stop even if we want to. The truth is, we are much better off without them, and Jesus can help as we struggle to quit things that are not good for us. But of course not all things we like are bad. There are other things that are good: hobbies, activities, sports, recreation, fun. Sometimes we worry that Jesus will want us to give up those too. But don’t worry: Jesus loves us: it is not our misery he seeks, but our good. Trust in his love. He may well not ask us to give up a good thing we like, and if he does, if he ask us to enjoy something we like a little less often, it is only because he wants to give us something better in its place.
A third notion is the idea that we are not good enough for God. This is a common one. God is perfect, we’re not, and so it is true that we’re not up to God’s standards. But the fact is that God knows we’re not perfect and that’s why Jesus became a human being, to reach down to us when we can’t reach up to him. When it comes to Jesus, our mess and imperfections are precisely the point: he does what he does and he says what he says because he knows we need help and can’t meet God’s standards on our own. So when we’re tempted to look at our “glass, half empty”, we should look at Jesus instead, who fills up that emptiness and makes us better.
Finally, a fourth notion, one that I have been seeing expressed a great deal recently, is the idea that because the church is imperfect, or the bible is confusing or much-debated, or because there are differences in views about the liturgy, or there are different Christian denominations, or that there is disagreement and disagreeableness in church politics, that Jesus is somehow “uncertain” and we can’t really rely on anything we’ve heard about him. After all, if priests are misbehaving, or people are saying the Pope isn’t really Catholic, and others are saying the Bible says one thing, while still others say it says something else, it makes Christianity look incoherent, and Jesus seems lost in the confusion. But the fact is, the church has always been a mess. I’m not kidding: look at its origins. The Son of God came to earth in a backwater of the Roman empire, became a baby in a poor family, grew up in obscurity, recruited some fishermen as preachers, was publicly tortured and executed on trumped-up charges, and rose from the dead in a rock-hewn tomb in the wee hours of the morning a couple of days later. That’s hardly neat and tidy: it’s messy! But maybe the mess is an important part of the point. Messes are inevitable. But Jesus is there, right in the middle, loving and helping despite the chaos. He doesn’t wave a magic wand to make the mess go away. Instead, he goes right in, he owns the mess: literally in the crucifixion he bears in his body the wounds of it, and yet he never stops loving. Is the church a mess? Sure it is! But Jesus is there, working, none the less. So look for the calm center in the eye of the storm, look for the one who loves despite everything. That’s Jesus.
The point is, we want Jesus himself, we want to focus on Jesus, sweeping away any notions that get in the way. Yes, Science doesn’t have all the answers, connection and meaning is important; we really do need God. Yes, maybe God might ask us to give up something: if it’s bad, it’s worth giving up, and if it’s not, he loves us and will give us something better. Yes, we’re not good enough for God but he’ll make up what we lack because he loves us. And yes, the church is a mess, society is a mess, we’re all in a mess, but Jesus endures messes for our sake, he gets in the middle of them and loves: he will not let a mess, no matter how bad, stop him from loving. Sweep aside all else and focus on Jesus, who loves you and will always love you: he is worth it.