Update: Welcome Christian Carnival readers! You can read my other posts about christianity here. I particularly liked my post on legalism, my essay about the centrality of Christ, and my (two part) review of Steve Brown's book A Scandalous Freedom. Poke around and stay a while... (and my regular readers might like to check out the other posts in the Christian Carnival).
Last Sunday morning before Church my pastor called my house. I was just getting out of the shower and I took a couple of minutes to call him back. I was actually quite nervous returning the call; my suspicion was that getting a call from the pastor on Sunday morning meant I was about to volunteer to fill in for somebody who couldn't make it opening or leading singing or something... Fortunately for my nerves it was nothing of the sort - he merely intended to mention U2's song I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For in his sermon. As my readers know I recently praised a post over at blip that meditates on Hebrews 11 and Bono's search and he graciously was making sure that I wouldn't feel picked on from the pulpit when he took Bono's lyrics to task.
His sermon was good and so was his point about Bono's lyrics. The refrain has always bothered him. "But I still haven't found what I'm looking for" is the cry of a lost soul - the cry of all lost souls when they are honest. We humans are made with a hole that only relationship with God can fill and that relationship is found ultimately only through Jesus. As Christians we need to ask people who feel that restlessness, that undefinable yearning, "Do you know what you're looking for?"
Glenn Kaiser (of REZ Band fame) had a good post about this the other day. The New England Patriots are practically a dynasty in today's parity-ridden NFL, and Tom Brady, their quarterback, has been so successful at such a young age that people are comparing him (favorably even) to Joe Montana. Two Super Bowl rings, fame and fortune, health. Tom has it all and yet Glenn remarks
So what about Tom who in an interview I recently saw said (nearly verbatim) "Hey, I won it all twice and have seen the top of success in the game but there's still an emptiness, something missing. I wish I knew what it was, I wish if somebody knew how to find it that they'd let me know"!
Whew! What an opening for God's love. For THAT- relationship with God through the risen Christ- IS THE END OF THE SEARCH.
Jesus is the end of our search for relationship with God. I'm not sure, however, that Bono is looking for Jesus. Or rather, perhaps I should say that I strongly suspect that he has found Jesus already. One of my friends over on xanga excerpted some of the recent book Bono in Conversation:
The interviewer, Mr. Assayas, begins by asking Bono, Doesn't he think "appalling things" happen when people become religious? Bono counters, "It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma."
The interviewer asks, What's that? "At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics - every action is met by an equal or an opposite one," explains Bono. "And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that.... Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff." I would be in big trouble if Karma was going to be my judge. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity."
Mr. Assayas says, "The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that."
"The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death," replies Bono, "It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven."
Mr. Assayas: "That's a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has His rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?"
Bono responds: "Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says, No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying 'I'm the Messiah'. I'm saying 'I am God incarnate'... So what you're left with is either Christ was who He said He was - the Messiah - or a complete nutcase... The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned up-side down by a nutcase, for me that's farfetched."
Bono is pretty explicit here, although nothing he says is really new. Forgiveness instead of karma is the theme of Grace from Stuck In a Moment With You. Even I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For has a declaration of faith: You broke the bonds and you / Loosed the chains / Carried the cross / Of my shame / Of my shame / You know I believed it... So what is it that Bono is looking for? Do Christians - those who have put their faith in Jesus - still experience longing? Should they?
Bono is looking for redemption. And all Christians should be looking for redemption as well. Creation itself is looking forwards, eagerly waiting for redemption. I can't help but feel that we have made Jesus smaller, in some ways, by casting Him as "my personal savior". God's plan of redemption has as its end cosmic victory; and for God victory means everything wrong will be put right again. Cosmic Justice/Righteousness. Paul describes our longing for this redemption of all things in Romans 8
19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
This hope is central to the message of the New Testament, but seems to mostly be lost to Christians today. The writers of the epistles frequently make reference to the return of Christ as encouragement to perseverance and the hope that makes current trials worthwhile. See II Peter 3 ("11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God") or I Thessalonians where "the wrath that is to come" is major theme and Paul repeatedly portrays sanctification as the response of the believer looking forwards to the parousia of Christ. Chapters 4-5 discuss the second coming and twice instructs believers to "comfort one another" with reminders of the resurrection and judgment to come.
Mostly, I suspect, this strikes postmodern ears as strange. Why should I long for the Judgment of God? Where's the comfort in that? Judgment sounds like an unpleasant experience and much of the apocalyptic imagery in the Bible certainly seems to confirm that impression.
God's ultimate judgment, however, is the ultimate longing of scripture. It will be the high point, the end of the story, when God steps back into human history and finally sets everything right. I suspect that there is another "hole" in the human personality that knowing Jesus does not fill. Knowing Jesus now may even make things worse as we are even more aware of this hole. In addition to the emptiness of the lost soul not being in relationship with God the soul is also faced with living in a world that is not as it should be. The very cosmos itself is broken and fractured around us - Romans 8 describes nature as being in bondage to the curse - "subject to futility" as the King James has it. Nature "red in tooth and claw" is not the way it is supposed to be! The imagery of the lion laying down with the lamb in Isaiah 11, far from being strange or paradoxical, is a reflection of the way nature was supposed to be.
Not only is the natural world broken but human nature also is broken. Corruption and vice and injustice are not the failings of man, not accidental deviations from our true selves, but the expression of our nature. Man is intrinsically broken and while capable of great good is also fatally flawed. Interestingly this is a truth we don't like to accept. I like to think that the cry of a child "That isn't fair" and the "isms" in which people invest themselves are both rejections of this truth. Life (or people at least) ought to be fair and just (and if only we restructured society appropriately they would be!)*. While a refusal to accept the broken nature of humanity can have tragic consequences for individuals and societies, that refusal is a sign to me that deep down we know we're broken and long for something better. Life should be fair! People ought to be generous and loving and just.
Knowing Jesus doesn't remove this tension. If anything it exacerbates it as I am ever more aware of the enormous gap between the righteousness of God and everything else. The Bible displays this tension. Jesus is the fulfillment of God's righteousness and through Him we are become new creatures who are also righteous - but we still have to struggle with sin and failure. The Church is the embodiment of God's people; it is the New Community that models servant love - and yet it is flawed and broken because it is made up of still flawed humans. Everywhere fulfillment is promised but not attained, here but only in part, a taste, but not yet a quenching draught.
It is interesting to look through the Bible for the phrase "how long". How long? is the question being asked in our longing and discontent. It is asked by David over and over in the Psalms: How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will the wicked triumph? Even the martyred saints in heaven, according to Revelation cry "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood". This holy impatience ought to fill our minds. Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus and set everything right. What we long for is heaven! And with it an end to all the wrong we see around us and in us - His will done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Heaven on Earth, we need it now.
I'm sick of all of this hanging around
Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain
I'm sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be peace on Earth.
- Bono - Peace on Earth
*Special note just for crashd: This is why I maintain a Christian can't be a big-C communist in the sense that Marx describes it.