Pastor’s Perspective – May 2021
If the past year has taught us anything, it is that there are no easy answers to the questions that plague us. As our society became more technological and scientific, we had come to believe that our answers could be clear and reliable. That if we relied upon the scientific consensus then we would discover exactly what we should do and how we should act. While some cling to the idea of scientific certitude, the diversity of intellectual and scientific opinions that have swirled around the COVID-19 outbreak can quickly pierce your trust in the objectivity of those who study and communicate the truths about science and medicine.
But I am not writing to question mask mandates or debate inoculations, instead I want to discuss truth itself. In the post-Enlightenment scientific age, it was easy to believe that the problems that existed between people and cultures was simply a lack of knowledge or wisdom. Our wars, conflicts, and dysfunctions were seen as disagreements between peoples of disparate intellectual or scientific understandings. If we could only teach, train, or enlighten our enemies, then we could all learn how to get along. It was easy to believe that as we became smarter and more technologically advanced, we would also become better people and create stronger communities.
The assumptions of the progressives (both on the political right and left) was that our problem was a lack of knowledge. I was taught that wisdom and knowledge would reveal to us a clear path forward. If I could acquire more knowledge and information, then I could discover more and better answers to life’s questions. Sharing that knowledge would then create more enlightened thinkers and greater unity. By the late 20th Century westerners began to believe that the God of the Old and New Testaments was no longer necessary to bring us to the place of unity and salvation, since we could eventually save ourselves and provide for an eternal life through the advancement of intellectual and scientific progress. Once we could discover the answers to the mysteries of life, then we would all learn to live in peace and harmony.
None of this happened. Consensus was not only impossible to achieve but is now considered destructive to the tribal concerns of our disparate and ever narrowing circles of influence and power. We still seek clarity but only find it in the comfortable tones of our own sects and givers of the law. We watch the same video and declare wildly distinct truths. We believe that the truth is unavailable to those whose worldview is different from us. Science, beauty, and art are now filtered through tribe and sect. Agreement seems unattainable even at the family dinner table. We no longer believe that our disagreements can be solved by enlightenment or truth because we now believe that our enemies are existentially evil.
Our cultural conflicts perplex most of the reasonable Americans who still believe in the virtues of Enlightenment thinking. We were trained to discover answers to our problems; to find the best ways forward; to put our thinking caps on and move forward with a solution in which the majority of us could agree. Herein lies the problem; most Americans will not engage in the pursuit of the truth. Discovering the truth is a difficult project. It takes time and demands effort, humility, and wisdom. More than that it forces us to pursue goals that benefit people and communities beyond ourselves.
Yet my generation continues to amass facts, truths, and arguments to solve our problems. We continue to stubbornly cling to the idea that our disagreement is based on a lack of knowledge, that somehow if I yell louder and longer those who disagree with me will suddenly be convinced of my rightness and wisdom. For all of our debates and arguments, they have not stopped a single person from being shot in our cities, dropping out of school in our suburbs, or overdosing on opiates in our rural communities. We continue to argue our thoughts when we should be showing our love.
The difficulty of bringing peace and love through common knowledge or experience should not surprise us. It is peppered through the scriptures. Over and over again the people of God witnessed the same events and experienced distinct and contradictory conclusions. How many saw the empty tomb and actually believed? The New Testament chronicles the fake news and conspiracy theories that emerged in the aftermath of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. How could those who experienced the Red Sea crossing think that it was Baal or Ra who had saved them?
This has been a pressing problem in the Church for generations. We share the common books of the Bible and for generations shared a common English translation. Yet for all that we shared in common our differences in interpretation led us to literally go to war against those with whom we disagreed. The problem of course is a human problem, shared by all peoples, cultures, and languages. We disagree and no collection of facts can solve our dysfunctions. We can never learn enough to teach us to love as God loves. Our problem was not a lack of knowledge, but the presence of sin.
But all is not lost. God has given us grace in Jesus Christ our Lord. We are forgiven people who are called to forgive even our enemies in the name of Jesus. We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our struggles against the enemies of God. We are the people of God loved by the Father, saved by the Son and led by the power of the Holy Spirit; the third person of the Trinity. We have not been left desolate or without leadership. It is my belief that the 21st century Church is suffering through a post-resurrection pre-Pentecost depression, frighteningly similar to the response of the early Church in the days between Easter and Pentecost.
They had met the risen Lord and yet they remained in hiding and afraid. They had the full knowledge of the resurrection of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They knew who he was and what he had done. And yet, they went fishing. They were not yet complete. Not yet the church that God intended them to be.
The Holy Spirit had not descended upon them yet. They were without the fullness of the presence of God. In spiritual terms they were acting within their own strength. They knew who Jesus was and they were eyewitnesses to what Jesus had done, but without the presence of God and the closeness of God’s love they were lost and frightened. When the Holy Spirit came to them, they were filled with life, hope, and love. God’s presence united them and helped them to live as the people of God.
I have no solutions to the economic, racial, and cultural animosities that are destroying our nation. I can’t come up with a single intellectual reason for rich and poor, blacks and whites, democrats and republicans to work together. All I can do is pray with anyone who will pray with me. Serve with anyone who will serve with me. Work with anyone who will work with me. All I can do is have faith in God, hope for the future, and love for God and God’s creation. No strings. No agenda. No conditions.
We don’t need a solution, or a goal, or even an idea. We need God’s presence, God’s power, God’s love. Please pray with me for the light of God’s love to be revealed in our communities and world.
O Lord, forgive us, restore us, fill us, and direct our paths so that we might discover in you the way to reveal your love and salvation to a confused and conflicted world.