Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
- John 14:6
(This is the third in a series of meditations on Christianity, church, and culture, which began with the issue of choice. Christians must choose between Christ and culture, for we can no longer compromise with much of what is called wise and knowledgeable in our society. I opted to write on Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth, and the life in reverse order, primarily because too many Christians have no problem talking about Jesus being the only way with little or no reference to Jesus as truth and life. The three are all-inclusive, not separable.)
The first meditation in this series made this point: the culture in which we live has reached the juncture at which Christians must choose whether we are to be secular or Christian. Are we going to fit in a secular culture, or are we going to be Christian? Secularism is essentially godless and, therefore, in conflict with Christian belief, in particular, and all religious belief in general. Last week, I wrote on Jesus’ enigmatic statement to discuss the meaning of life – eternal, abundant life in Jesus Christ or the prevailing vision of our humanistic society. Humanism, as it sounds, professes to be pro-human, elevating human beings and humanity, seeking the good and valuable in this life, while rejecting belief in any life beyond. We are evolutionary creatures who live briefly and gloriously before we fade into nothingness. With intellectual commitment to secularism and humanism comes the inevitable commitment to relativism. When Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life, He set Himself in complete opposition to all that contemporary American culture holds dear. If one holds the secular belief that there is no God, then the leap to the belief there is no truth is very short indeed. Likewise, if humanists embrace the belief that this life is the sum total of our existence, then all people would need to be able to choose what is valuable and good to them, for nothing matters beyond today’s wants and needs. With this rationale, no one has a right to impose external restrictions on behavior, thought, or value, because we all must maximize our experiences during this short span of time on earth. In response, the third emphasis in these reflections on our milieu is the relativism that pervades our society – relativism understood as “relative to the wants of the individual.”
Like secularism and humanism, relativism is fairly widely accepted in the church. Consider how often we hear, or perhaps even say, “well, I believe such-and-such, but that’s just me.” This is our culture’s influence in our believing, and it is dangerous for our fellowship with Christ. If what we believe only counts for ourselves, then it cannot count for much, even for ourselves. If we believe, for example, that the Son of God became incarnate for the salvation of the world, that is either universally true or it is irrelevant. If there is a resurrection of the dead and a life to come, that matters for every human being, not just for Christians. If we truly believe God is “the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen,” then if true, that belief (which I would never grant is the caricatured form of creationism) has implications for medicine, the environment, science, animals, the universe, and the mind and soul of every living human being. Saying “well, I believe this, but others don’t have to believe…” is akin to saying one doesn’t believe these things with any seriousness. I suspect this is more widespread than we want to acknowledge. When we hold universal truths, “Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead,” for example, as merely personal beliefs, they become “comfort beliefs,” little security blankets to help us sleep at night and give us reassurance, but largely meaningless. After all, if it’s not true for our atheist neighbor, then it can’t very well be true for us. When we think this way, we have become relativists.
Christianity doesn’t have an avenue for people to establish their own truths, their own values, and their own morality. Jesus Christ is the Truth – the truth about God, about human beings, about salvation, and about redemption. From the outset, this world is God’s world. He created it, and He alone knows how the whole of creation, including human beings, are intended to function. To try to alter that and make it something else is not unlike, say, baking a cake and trying to make it a flower garden. Yet, contemporarily, every person is encouraged to define truth and reality however one wishes. Thus, if a person believes himself to be a tiger instead of a human being, he can be a tiger. These people are identified as “Otherkin.” They identify as some animal because… I can’t think of how to end that sentence. How does one identify as an animal? As of today, I am not a human being. I am a fox. But realize, if you are a fox in reality, rather than your own imagination, then you have no sense of self, no sentience about your existence, and you cannot understand a human being, at all. Although told we must respect such identity choices, deciding one is an animal is patently absurd – and tragic. In the absence of God, humanity rapidly devolves into the absurd and tragic.
The problem with truth is that it does not go away. We can ignore it, but we cannot alter it. Truth simply is. Both humanism and secularism use positive words and expressions about life and humanity, ostensibly seeking the good of human beings, the dignity and welfare of human beings. They sound good, until we realize that, without God, human beings are the ones who define such terms as dignity, welfare, value, and well-being, qualities that are subjective. What one person considers dignified can be completely the opposite of what another considers dignified. Secularism and humanism are wholly dependent upon the definitions and opinions of human beings and, therefore, relative to prevailing views.
This is problematic because, in truth, human beings have a host of appalling qualities. Consider, for example, our culture’s willingness to kill our young and our old. As of February, 2020, ten states and the District of Columbia allow abortion up to the moment of birth, and to quibble over how far the woman has dilated is a semantical delusion that misses the point. One has only to visit a Neonatal ICU to know that third-trimester babies are human beings. Additionally, nine states and the District of Columbia provide the means for physician-assisted suicide, allegedly at the end-of-life. The credibility of the claim of support for human dignity and welfare based upon the value of human beings is belied by the killing of both our children and our parents.
Nothing more clearly exemplifies the confusion of relativism than the issue of life, because we can see the obvious conflict between the self-congratulatory defense of human value, human dignity, and human welfare in tandem with the support of convenient deaths. For whom is abortion and euthanasia convenient? The ones who cease to exist because they are impinging on the existence of others and their freedoms? Examples abound, and I hope to have time to consider some of the more irrational conclusions of humanist relativism in the coming weeks.
What is most important for Christians to grasp is the deep conflict between moral relativity and Christianity. Human life is simply the most obvious illustration. When Jesus said that He is the truth, He was stating that He manifests to the world the existence and the essence of the invisible and unknowable eternal God. The unique life of Jesus Christ defies all that is purely humanistic, including the relative human definitions of what is good or valuable. The existence of the Son of God Incarnate is the irrefutable rejection of a secular world, revealing the whole of human life and creation as sacred. If we believe Jesus’ words, believe in Him, we cannot agree with secularism nor with humanism. Life is not relative to our definitions. Life has its source in the eternal, and we have seen that Life in Jesus Christ. He is the embodiment of the Divine God our cultural institutions refuse to acknowledge.
Our society is collapsing under the weight of meaninglessness. Author Anne Helen Peterson argues that millennials are “The Burnout Generation”. How does an entire generation burn out before the age of forty? Peterson’s answer is, as always happens without reference to the true nature of humanity, absurd. Capitalism is the cause of the anxiety, depression, and paralysis. No… meaninglessness and purposelessness are the cause of burn out. All the hard work, all the major causes (climate change, for example), all the education, and all the pleasure-seeking self-esteem lead to exhausted souls. Without God, human life rapidly becomes futile. We condemn society to vacuous and pointless living when we do not challenge secular and humanist intellectual commitments with the truth of God.
God knew humanity needed saving. We have the salvation the world needs, but unfortunately, too often we’ve allowed the world to infect our faith. Christians need to remember who we are before we can reach out to the world beyond us. Compromising with secular society is not possible. How do people devoted to God compromise with people who refuse to countenance the possibility of His existence? Yet, we still are called to love. When we look at our generation, our culture, in prayer and with the love of Christ, our hearts should be broken. I don’t think today is much different from the day Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept for the desolation He saw. Similar desolation and desperation pervade our nation today, and we are the ones Jesus has called to weep with Him for all the wasted lives around us. This, then, is the problem with truth. Even when we ignore it, truth remains, and without it, we wander into an empty chaos of our own making.
Christians need to be able to speak the truth that is Jesus Christ to our world. He loves. He knows we are broken. He came to save and to give life. There is more than what can be seen, and there is no limit on hope and promise for the future. Can we not look around us and see that, regardless of how great the denial, this is the message this generation needs to hear? If we do not tell others the truth, how will they know? If we do not know the truth in the depths of our being, then we are back to the original choice: do we want to be secular, or do we want to be Christian? We must choose, but the choice is actually quite easy. Secularism leads to death, and Christ leads to life.
The quality of being human is not relative to whatever one happens to think or desire. The unique quality of human beings is the Image of God within us. Denying God is the destruction of humanity, not the freedom to live fully.
Choose truth, and choose life! Choose Christ.
In Him –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau