In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
- John 1:1-5, 14
Our world could do with a healthy dose of grace and truth right now.
If you didn’t listen to the podcast last week, I mentioned a survey that reported over half the American population believes 2021 was the worst year of their lives. Inside the survey, the data revealed that the younger a person is, the more likely he or she is to believe 2021 was their worst year ever, likely because they haven’t lived enough years. When I was young, I used to think ‘next year has to be better because it couldn’t possibly be worse.’ After about a decade of that, I decided there was no reason to tempt fate, and I quit saying, “it can’t get worse.” It can always get worse.
Young people today are interesting though, and by young, I don’t mean adolescents and teens, but rather, the “younger” generations below the age of 40 or so. (I confess, it stuns me to define 40 as young, but alas… there you have it.) Over the course of Christmas, I attended gatherings with family, friends, in-laws, and outlaws, and more than once, I found myself sitting with various young people – during meals, games, gift-giving, and the like.
In one wandering conversation, a young adult told me, with condescending certainty, that I was too old to understand how things are today. This is a different world, and he sagely advised that my old ideas were not sufficient for how the world is now. The funny thing was, he was completely serious and well-intended as he explained to me that I just didn’t understand the mental challenges that came with living in this high stress, overburdened, frightening time in which his generation lives. He went on to explain all about human physiology, childbearing (a topic on which men are known to be authorities), the workings of the brain, the important insights of late-night humorists, and on, and on, and on.
I don’t recall a time in recent history when I’ve wanted more to reach over and smack another person upside the head. “Do you hear what you are saying?”
In what alternative reality have human beings prior to this generation not suffered intensely? How can a generation of people be so isolated from the rest of the world that they are unaware of the profound suffering of people around the globe today? I really wanted to say – but did not, “I’m sorry, but you have to stop talking. You’re overloading my brain with stupid.” While I am all about truth, the Lord surely knows I could do with more grace – a great deal more grace.
In all fairness, when I was young, I thought I knew more than my parents, both of whom were woefully out of touch. However, by the time I was his age, my parents had taken some sort of crash course and were exponentially wiser than they had been just a few years prior. The change was nothing short of astonishing!
What struck me most in the various conversations with younger adults (and again, I qualify that, in case you also have hard time thinking of 35-40 years old as young anything) is the absence of any transcendent point of reference in their lives. Think back on your Christmas experiences and conversations. Perhaps your home or your travels were filled with gratitude and prayer during the holy days of Christmas, but if your Christmas was as mine, the role of Jesus was minimal in most of the gatherings, activities, and conversations among extended family branches.
I do not wish to imply that younger generations in our families do not believe in Jesus, although an alarming and increasing number of them do not. Rather, to the extent that they have religious beliefs at all, those beliefs are not a source of knowledge and understanding for them. This is completely contrary to authentic Christian faith, which enables us to see others and our world as they truly are. I suspect many of us also trivialize Christian knowledge and may well have planted the original seed of anti-faith bias. I know I did.
Christian knowledge can be divided into two parallel expressions. (Please note, I am not here attempting any sort of sophisticated philosophical argument, but rather drawing attention to how Christians can and should know.) Human knowledge to which we all have access is the sum of our learning, and the distinction is not the knowledge itself but the interpretation of the knowledge. How do you see the world? Do you look at everything through the lens of our Creator? Do you understand, for example, science, politics, or child-rearing from a specifically Christian point of view? You should. All Christians need to see our world through the lens of the Gospel – a world fallen and broken, a world in need of saving, a world loved by our Father.
The second form of knowledge is crucial if we ever hope to reach the understanding just described, and that is the deep and abiding knowledge of Jesus Christ Himself – to know not merely that He lives somehow somewhere, but to know Him, to be in fellowship with Him. This, more than anything, undergirds all our understanding as Christians, for if we truly enter into spiritual communion with the risen Christ in our prayer and worship, then we encounter the Word Who is God. When we are in the presence of the One Who made everything, we realize nothing is too hard for Him, nothing is beyond Him.
In listening to the young man mentioned above, I belatedly realized he was explaining and (possibly?) defending all his independent knowledge unsullied by the misguidance of faith, especially faith in Jesus Christ. His implication was that he was more intelligent and more advanced as a human being because he lives without the childish illusions of Christian faith. I find that tragic beyond words because his search for self-understanding has thus far led to purposeless despondency. I wanted to shake him and make him see that it was Jesus Christ Who carried me through my darkest times, Who gave me joy in the midst of sorrow, hope when events warranted despair, and life when my soul was a barren wasteland. Christ is the One Who loved me when I was unlovable and Who promised a future when I lost everything. The young man mistook trust in Christ for a life without mental anguish.
This reality, this abiding life, hope, love, and more that arise from Jesus Christ, is what our world needs. The world needed this when the Word became flesh to live among us. Humanity has always needed to be saved. The great tragedy is the myriad answers we seek first. The young man was correct to the extent that we have new tools for use today, but his person – his being, mind, heart, and soul – are stagnating in the same misery of overconfident rebellion expressed in Genesis 3 and seen throughout human history. Human beings are naturally self-destructive. If God does not save us, we will destroy ourselves and others, even while we celebrate the lie that we are just fine the way we are.
If we measured the validity of viewpoints solely by what works, then the Gospel would win hands down. Yet, as our culture has unfolded, the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to give life has been jettisoned by those who are too smart and advanced to settle for the simplistic message of sin, death, salvation, and life. In some lesser or greater degree, we have been complicit in this, for we also have granted that, yes, all the new tools of self-understanding and human purpose are better than the Gospel. But they are not.
The Word that went forth and called the universe into existence is the same Word in which we find the life that is the light of men – of human beings in every century, every nation, and every language. While darkness may claim us – and indeed, darkness incessantly seeks to claim and destroy human beings – darkness cannot overcome the light that came into the world on the first Christmas.
In the coming year, as our nation and culture face the continued onslaught of scientific humanism, the rising tides of Marxist ideas, the increasing alienation between peoples, and the mind-numbing isolation of technology, my prayer is that we will turn or re-turn to Christ and live fully again in grace and truth. He has brought that to us, given those to us because that is Who He is. The truth must be tempered by grace, but grace without truth is pointless, nothing more than an indifferent pat on the back.
As the new year begins, my prayer is that we will commit ourselves to being vessels of the glory of the only Son, full of grace and truth in a world in dire need of both.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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