So I am not going to write another obligatory Rob Bell post. This is for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t been a consistent blogger about current hip (and yes, I did just say “hip”) Christianity topics anyway so I figured, why start now? Two, there are already 2,500+ blogs playing theological tennis right now about a book that hasn’t even been officially released so there’s really no point in adding to the cacophony.
I actually just kind of wanted to update you guys on a few cool things that I’ve been experiencing lately.
Cool thing #1: Maybe not so cool. But I have attended two Christian conferences in the past month and I’m a bit conferenced out. On the plus side, I heard Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjan and Matt Chandler speak, and all less than 2 miles from my house. Which, even Publix isn’t less than 2 miles from my house so that’s pretty monumental.
Cool thing #2: I finally got to hear Dr. Tim Keller speak in person for the first time last week. He was in town promoting his new book “King’s Cross.” He gave a brilliant talk on the value of absolute truth or the “law,” picking apart the law as “precept” or “statutes.” He discussed the supreme value of adhering to an absolute divine truth in a culture that is saturated with the idea that Truth is a subjective, inner belief that is relative to you. He unpacked how our individualistic, subjective approach to Truth is actually incredibly limiting. His main points were that submitting ourselves to an absolute, divine Truth that is external to us (namely, the Scriptures) can achieve three things:
1) Free us to think independently. He proposes that an eternal, permanent Truth transcends any one time or place and so actually empowers us to think outside of our cultural box. He argues that the much of progressive humanity’s finer moments (the absurd idea of marrying for love, human rights, philanthropy and abolition) were birthed originally from Christian communities who were adhering to the Scriptures and challenging the social norms in their day.
2) Fortify us to act decisively. Too often, in our pluralistic and individualistic society, our emotions and whims and impulses dictate our choices. We are taught to “do what we feel is right” or “follow our heart” or “do what we want.” As a result, often times we lack a solid foundational basis for making informed, wise and purposeful decisions when we face inconvenience, opposition or hardship. Holding to an external Truth outside of ourselves can help provide the fortitude and resolve we need to make tough choices.
3) Enable us to know God experientially. He gave the brilliant example of a computer and programmer. Ideally, there is no conflict between a computer and a programmer because the computer does whatever the programmer tell is. In a real relationship, there IS conflict. There is places where our ideas don’t coincide with something outside of ourselves and that’s okay. We should EXPECT an external truth to clash with our modern sensibilities in some ways, dovetail with it in other ways. If an external Truth transcends all cultures and times and places and yet remarkably speaks to all cultures times and places, we should expect there to be conflicting ideas and certain points.
Cool thing #3: The day after the Oscars, I finally went and saw the Danny Boyle film 127 Hours. (Also, insert obligatory Spoiler Alert). It was actually a beautiful film and I was so engrossed I thought for a second I was watching J.J. Abrams (P.S. Anyone who doubts J.J.’s ability to grip your emotions and attentions, just watch the first 5 minutes of Star Trek and see if you’re not misty-eyed within the first 2 minutes of knowing certain characters. Darn you James T. Kirk’s parents for making me cry!).
Anyway, Danny Boyle is officially one of my new favorite directors as I was a fan of Constant Gardener and Slumdog Millionaire and this movie just sealed the deal for me. (And yes, I just added City of God to my Netflix queue). A warning: the actual amputation scene is gruesome.
Critics had called the film “visceral”. Becca and I decided that when critics say a film is “visceral,” what they really mean is “it’s gross.”
There was actually a beautiful moment in the film at the climax. To recap: 127 hours chronicles the 5-day struggle of climber Aron Ralston whose arm was pinned between a rock and cave face. He finally freed himself by cutting his arm off using a pair of pliers. There’s this flashback montage scene where you hear Aron’s internal dialogue. He says:
“You know, I’ve been thinking. Everything is… just comes together. It’s me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock… this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It’s entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It’s been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I’ve been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I’ve taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the outer surface. “
Aron–played poignantly by a surprisingly adept James Franco–realizes that his selfishness has lead progressively to this moment in his life. A life marked by independence, free-spiritedness, detachment, isolation and self-absorption–things our generation values as ultimate freedom–ultimately led to him being literally crushed beneath the weight of a rock.
This image has been haunting me because it compels me to think of the words of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 7, who spoke about the narrow gate and the broad gate. Jesus says:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and(R) the way is hard that leads to life, and(S) those who find it are few.”
At first glance, the narrow road seems exclusive and oppressive and close-minded. Like Tim Keller says, the word “narrow” has typically has such negative connotations. But in Jesus, the way that appears narrow and exclusive actually opens up into ultimate spaciousness. True freedom.
And the way that seems liberating and free and open (the broad gate) actually in the end–like Aron Ralston’s rock–will crush the life out of us. We live in a culture that is saturated and obsessed with individualistic freedom. When we pursue nothing but our own convenience and happiness, when our whole lives are driven toward that purpose, we don’t realize that this unexamined, self-oriented life can ultimately destroy us in the end.
Conversely, the weight of the Law and the old covenant and even the impossible Sermon on the Mount all seem to crush the life out of us because no one can stand up under the weight of that expectation or perfection. But the beauty is that Christ came to redeem us from the weight of that Law. In Him, it is perfectly and beautifully fulfilled and we can stand up under its weight.
He frees us and then empowers us to live our lives as we were meant to.
In all these things, I’m realizing and re-appreciating the power of Scripture–the ultimate external Truth. And I’m learning not to be afraid of something that at first glance appears so exclusive or absolute.
There is freedom in it.
And I have no idea why God so often chooses to work through paradox, but He does.
So here’s to the Counterintuitive.