I have two (blessedly) short meditations today. Each is addressed to a skeptical age which has little time or inclination for the beauty of Christian Faith. But perhaps that explains why so much of today’s world is such a seething cauldron of hatred, alienation, and dissent
The world today is being dangerously radicalized on many fronts by every cause from feminism and environmentalism to religious fundamentalism all of which distort the truth about who we are. Ultimate truth cannot be found in ideological “isms” or new technologies but only in the search for God. After all, God is Truth, the Abiding Truth in the world as it were. Truth, in other words, transcends political movements and scientific discoveries. It has a personal dimension because truth is a Person, not merely some concept or proof. To discover truth one must begin with Faith, not a blind faith but one that is reasoned and based on rational principles.
It is baffling how so many learned people today can plainly see the manifest wonders of creation, everywhere arrayed in magnificent order, and yet fail to discern the hand of God in it all. Humanity now seems to be caught in a pincer between the secular skepticism of the West and the unreasoning hyper-religiosity of the East. Both views are ultimately antithetical to genuine faith and real human progress. Under the guise of scientific progress, Western secularism cavalierly dismisses God as no more than a stranger in his own universe. At the other extreme, militant religious fanatics in the East pose an ever growing threat to civilization.
Both extremes stem from critical misconceptions of the truth. Most people simply want to lead quiet, peaceful lives in the embrace of their families. But if militant secularism or fanatical sectarianism continue to radicalize the young, peace will not endure. Truth, the full flowering of faith in God, is mankind’s best defense against radicalism.
There is only one man who has ever proclaimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He continues to be our Abiding Truth ~ Dwelling Among Us. In his great love for mankind Christ offers the Truth to the entire human race. It is only a question of our acceptance. If we fail to do so, the scourge of radicalism will triumph. Our calling then is to be apostles of the Truth in our families, to our neighbors, and to the world. And we cannot afford to wait for the “other guy” to stand up for the Truth. We must defend and proclaim it, if not from the housetops at least to those we encounter daily: our family, friends, and associates. Otherwise, we simply become, by default, a contributing member of that “evil and perverse generation” to whom Christ spoke so severely.
The Choice to Surrender
What a difference a simple word can make. Consider the word “submission” as contrasted with its very close cousin “surrender.” These two words are nearly synonymous and yet, in the religious sense, one leaves an impression of slavery and the other of freedom. How so?
Today’s world is confronted with the re-ascendancy of Islam, which name roughly translates to “submission,” i.e. submitting oneself to the will of Allah as interpreted by the prophet Mohammed. Islam is a faith predicated on submission, hence its name. And submission to Islam is not necessarily a free choice for many but, all too frequently, a forced response. In other words, it would deny any real freedom of choice to the individual ─ all for the greater glory of Islam. And for many their refusal to submit has indeed proved to be a death sentence.
By contrast, Christianity is a religion based upon surrender, a purely semantic distinction one might argue, or is it? The principal difference with Islamic submission here is that Christian surrender must always emanate from the individual’s free will. In a practical sense Christians don’t surrender to an imam or a caliph or even a pope, but to Christ ─ and that in a spirit of complete freedom. Christ does not coerce his followers using threats of death or dire punishment, rather he invites them to surrender to his love, taking up one’s cross freely. Not only does he refrain from demanding that we believe, but he showed the way to those who would follow by surrendering himself freely on the cross. There he left mankind the supreme example of self-surrender. Mohammed died comfortably in bed surrounded by his wives. Christ died abandoned on a cross, surrendering himself to his Father. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk. 23:46)
Surrender is the action of a free man; submission the response of a slave. In fact, the only reason that we are free today to surrender to Christ is because he purchased that freedom for us by first surrendering himself to his Father’s will at Calvary. But surrender must have some higher purpose if it is to make any real sense. The kind of surrender I am referring to is that dying to self in order to live for another. In a sense, that is what every good marriage becomes, a sacrificial surrender to the other, motivated and made possible by love for one’s spouse. Such a surrender requires the freedom to give one’s self, a sacrifice which in turn leads one to even greater freedom, not unlike a breeder reactor. But without that attitude of mutual surrender, freely given in love, one spouse will simply become the property of the other, a virtual slave.
The real purpose of surrender then is to perfect one’s human nature ─ that is, to realize the full potential for which each of us was made. Achieving our highest potential also requires that we exercise our freedom, but the crucial thing is how we exercise it. Freedom, like love, is a paradox. The only way to increase it is by surrendering it. Like money it does us no real good unless we invest it wisely by “putting it out there.” If one simply squanders all his savings on self indulgence and useless trinkets it will never grow.
Freedom and love represent our capital base which we must surrender to our most trusted investment banker, namely Christ, if it is to grow and realize the windfall he intends for us to receive. That windfall is the joy of immortal life in which we will forever share blissful union with our Creator, even as we ascend to the absolute summit and perfection of our own particular human natures. In other words we will know a completeness that we have never fully experienced in this life. It is what we were made for, and yet this fabulous destiny can only be achieved by freely surrendering to Christ our little individual spiritual bankrolls ~ namely our very lives. And when we make that final faithful surrender in death, just as our Risen Lord did, we will see that surrender can be a very beautiful thing indeed.
Francis J. Pierson