Abundant Life

Among some Christian groups, the concept of the abundant life seems narrowly focused on financial and material prosperity. I will approach this theme from my own sense of reasoning rather than from the use of Bible verses — because many people quote the Bible to support prosperity or to support poverty in terms of a dollar-and-cent lifestyle.

While I have nothing against wealth, it has never been my goal to become rich. However, some occupations pay more than others and that means some people are going to be wealthier than others. And, some people are better at money management than others. In my lifetime, my financial status has ranged from the official poverty level to middle class — and poverty was my least favorite. I like simplicity, but I also like to be comfortable. I find nothing holy about unemployment and not being able to pay the bills.

When someone chooses a life of poverty — such as in the monastic lifestyle — in order to focus on a life of prayer, then this is a free choice for a specific purpose. Poverty works in combination with chastity and obedience. These are monastic vows and spiritual qualities. Poverty is not just about renunciation of money and possessions, but recognition of the burdens of sin and realization of our dependence on God for everything.

If poverty has a spiritual dimension, then it would seem that abundance also has a meaning other than or beyond earthly prosperity. If abundance referred only to financial wellbeing, then why would we need Jesus Christ? It is possible to gain financially through education, job training, and job opportunities. One does not have to be a Christian in order to make money. That means financial status is not an accurate measurement of holiness, and prosperity may or may not be the result of God’s blessings. The abundant life, therefore, must be something that can be gained only through Christ.

Abundance, as a spiritual quality, probably refers to (A) the ability to overcome sin and adversity through Christ and to rejoice in Christ, and (B) the hope of eternal life in the Kingdom of God which exceeds all forms of human measurement.

The distinction between prosperity and abundance points to two other important realities of the Christian life. Firstly, the poor or lower-income Christian is not barred from the abundant life. Secondly, the definition of prosperity can vary according to place, time, and personal preferences. Even by worldly standards, there is no real measurement of prosperity — unless prosperity means more. And, more is insatiable and possibly addictive. There is always more in a consumer society.

The abundant life — while not opposed to prosperity — cannot rest on economic, political, cultural, and personal variables. The abundant life — while immeasurable by human standards — can rest only on Christ and on that which is eternal.


A Definition of Meekness

When I looked in the dictionary for a definition of meekness, I was surprised to find that meekness was equated with low self-esteem. How unfortunate for today’s students that a standard dictionary does not even note one of the most well-known references to meekness: the Holy Bible. We know that Jesus Christ was meek.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Matthew 11:28-30

In the above passage, it seems that burden refers to Old Testament law. The burden under Christ is light because He has fulfilled the law. However, there are many other adaptations of the meaning of burden. Generally, this word is used to mean anything that crushes or engulfs people in their daily living.

It is almost impossible to give meekness a dictionary-like meaning. Perhaps meekness is so divinely transcendent that only Christ exhibited this quality in its fullness. Hence, a modern dictionary cannot even begin to approach an accurate definition.  Some synonyms might include: gentle, humble, kind, and patient. Lately, I have been reading St. John Climacus, and I have decided that meekness comprises two basic attitudes or behaviors: (1) bearing with one another, and (2) preserving the unity.

We might say, then, that meekness places the Church first, the Church as the Body of Christ, the composition of that which will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This cannot be accomplished in a manner of socialistic redistribution — which would, in reality, be an example of a burdensome yoke to the government. Nor is it something done for the common good — a practice which often diminishes the significance of the individual and stifles the processes of creativity.

Meekness is based on love, compassion, and mercy. It is the capacity to desire and promote the salvation of the other: even to the point of suffering for others as they develop and mature in the faith, and in order to keep all the flock together. Meekness can proceed from one individual to another, from the individual to the majority, from the majority to the individual, from the minority to the majority, and from the majority to the minority. The meekness of Christ involved outreach to the world. The meekness of the Incarnated God proceeded toward the obvious sinners, toward people under repressive conditions, toward the sick and possessed, toward soldiers and widows, and toward lepers and outcasts. From these, He formed a Church.

Age and Simplicity

Is it realistic to expect people to live in the world all their lives as practicing Christians? It must be possible, or else the Bible is not to be trusted as a guide. However, most of us probably do not live as faithfully as we want, because the daily reality of job stress and family responsibilities overwhelms us. I read somewhere that we live in an age of nervousness. In ages past, people lived in lust. Today, we are anxious about everything from traffic jams to the kids’ education to nuclear war to unsaturated fats. Maybe it is not possible to cast aside all these cares until life itself relieves us of some of the weight.

For what purpose does the Lord add day after day, year after year, to our existence?  In order that we may gradually put away, cast aside, evil from our souls, each one, his own, and acquire blessed simplicity; in order that we become, for instance, gentle as lambs, simple as infants; in order that we may learn not to have the least attachment to earthly things, but like loving, simple children, may cling with all our hearts to God alone, and love Him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength, and all our thoughts, and our neighbor as ourselves.

St. John of Kronstadt, Part I, page 272

Although the ravages of time leave behind scars, some of us need a long life in order to acquire a simple lifestyle devoted to repentance and prayer. Gradually, with the passing of years, we can put away the worries and the complications, the attachments and the accomplishments, and do what we always wanted to do and tried to do but failed to do completely — cling to God with all our heart. In this sense, the failed attempts of the past can lead us to humility and gratitude in the present. We have not been judged, but given additional opportunity to return home like prodigals and trust our lives into the care of the Father.


A Good Conscience

There are some Christians who are convinced within their own mind that they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven upon their death. They regard conversion or salvation as a once-and-for-all-time occurrence, or a guarantee, which cannot be revoked and which requires no further investment of oneself. Although they quote biblical verses to support this view, this mode of thinking seems open to egotism and delusion. We know, of course, that followers of Christ are capable of falling from grace — Judas is a prime example. Thomas à Kempis wrote about the difference between presumption and a good conscience.

No man safely rejoiceth but he who hath the testimony of a good conscience within himself.  The boldness of the saints was always full of the fear of God.  Nor were they the less earnest and humble in themselves, because they shone forth with great virtues and grace. But the boldness of wicked men springeth from pride and presumption, and at the last turneth to their own confusion.  Never promise thyself security in this life, howsoever good a monk or devout a solitary thou seemest.

Thomas à Kempis, Book 1, Chap. 20:3

We are to trust in God, no matter what our level of sinfulness or holiness. Even the saints lived in the fear of God and never presumed automatic entrance to the Kingdom. We cannot fully know the mind of God, and we often do not see the breadth and depth of our own sins. We may have been baptized, but that does not indicate a good conscience from that point forward. Acquisition of the virtues and repentance of sins would seem to be a daily process, the outcome of which might be a clean conscience at the end of each day (as opposed to unbearable burdens of guilt and shame, or as opposed to a self-satisfied feeling of specialness). Even so, we must rely directly on Christ for our salvation — the thief on the cross is a prime example.


Alone with Aloneness

Most of us really do not experience aloneness, despite our feelings of aloneness. There are various kinds of stimuli around us to act as guideposts to reality. The birds sing in the morning, the wind rustles in the trees, and the words from the pages of a book come to life in the mind. We are not in solitary confinement. What would it be like if we were? Would we experience God and self in a different way?

During times of illness, I have had that experience of being alone even beyond intellectual and social aloneness. I have been driven to the brink of lunacy, and would have howled like a lone wolf at the moon if I had had the animal instinct and strength. Instead, I called out to God, as a distraught and feeble human. It is as though all stimuli — the memories of the past, the people and forms of the present, the burdens of guilt and shame, and the tasks of worldly survival — must be erased from the slate in order to begin to live for God and for God only.

Mary of Egypt, by Jusepe de Ribera

Mary of Egypt, by Jusepe de Ribera

What else could anyone do under the circumstances, except go crazy? But, I think the individual who has been seeking God all their life will not go insane (I do not think that could ever be God’s purpose). On the contrary, illness, pain, and aloneness can act as purification or refinement processes. There has always been a lot of junk in my mind. I wonder what someone is doing, worry how someone will react, wish I could go back in time and change things. Purification might be a spiritual process of seeking, losing, finding, abiding. For me, it took a lifetime, and it is not over yet.

A Model for Human Suffering

While the story of Job may not be representative of all human suffering, Job’s response to suffering is an example that many of us could use as a model. That’s because Job never complained against God.

Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

Job 1:21

In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God.

Job 1:22

There is much about human suffering that we fail to understand. (A) The world is fallen into sin, and this is not God’s fault. (B) We do not fully perceive the stench of our sins, or the negative impact of our unwise decisions in daily living. (C) We question why we suffer, rather than why we do not suffer more given the impact our sinfulness. (D) God does not have to explain Himself to His creation.

Job, however, suffered as the result of an interaction between God and the devil. I do not understand why God would want to prove anything to the devil. But, it is true that Job had everything: health, family, prosperity — and he was a just man. The devil seemed to think these attributes were not legitimate unless put to a test. Even so, I think the main point is this: we do not know what goes on between God and the devil. Apparently, they have communication with each other. We know that the devil tried to tempt Christ, and claimed that he had jurisdiction over the kingdoms of the world.

Jesus said to him in reply, ‘It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’ When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

Luke 4:12-13

Where is the devil every day? What does he do throughout the day? Is there a spirit realm where God, the angels, the devil, and the demons interact? If so, is such interaction related to human suffering? Or, related to some human suffering in some instances? Regarding Job, his personality was known to God from the beginning. It would seem that God was not gambling with the devil. God knew that Job was a just man and that he would remain faithful. The key word is fidelity.

In the end, Job’s health was restored and his fortunes were increased. And, God Himself spoke to Job. This is something which we must remember: suffering is temporary, and those who suffer humbly and without complaint will be rewarded. I am not suggesting that people passively tolerate abusive conditions at home or in the workplace. I am referring to illness, misfortune, and persecution. In these situations, Job can be used as a model for suffering and for hope of restoration.

Before closing, let me add some clarification about the term fidelity. I do not view fidelity in a legalistic way. Fidelity, or faithfulness, is related to other qualities such as righteousness, steadfastness, patience, repentance, endurance, loyalty, and obedience. The opposite of fidelity would be qualities such as denial, criticism, complaint, foolishness, cowardice, ruthlessness, wantonness, and barrenness. Job’s fidelity was not measured according to rules or prescribed practices, but was evident in his relationship or communion with God and how he expressed this to others.

Anger and Pride

Two sins which seem to have the most devastating impact on the lives of others are anger and pride. When these sins are given verbal expression or direct action, repeatedly or chronically, then everyone suffers. We might say this is how victims become victims — they are the recipients of angry or prideful words and deeds as a pattern imposed on them and from which they have no easy or immediate escape. St. John of the Ladder contrasted anger with meekness.

A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but an angry mind is a creator of evil.

St. John Climacus, Step 24:9

We might say that anger is the opposite of meekness, or that meekness is the absence of anger. Anger creates evil. It scatters the flock (creates conflict, chaos, divisions), including an interior scattering or a mental confusion within the individual. Meekness, however, gathers the flock together, including a mental and emotional cohesion. Anger is complicated and complicates. Meekness rests on simplicity.

Meekness consists in praying calmly and sincerely for a troublesome neighbor.

St. John Climacus, Step 24:3

We might also say that pride is the opposite of humility, and that humility and meekness are very much connected. Pride elevates the self, while attempting to dominate, control, and debase other people. Humility affirms the individual, and meekness gathers individuals together.

Why is it difficult to pray for a troublesome neighbor? I can tell you that when someone wounds me emotionally and repeatedly, I find it instinctively difficult to pray for that person. I tend to recoil in self-protection. However, there is probably also an element of vanity involved. Not only was I wounded emotionally, but my vanity was offended. I was not treated the way that I wanted to be treated, or the way in which I felt that I deserved to be treated. Therefore, I do not pray for that person because it repulses me.  On a psychological level this is probably normal and self-protective, but on a spiritual level it empowers evil and scattering.

Certainly, this is not to justify abuse or to deny the psychologically damaging impact of abuse. And, this is not to underestimate the stress of having a troublesome neighbor. But, if we are to pray for others, and if vanity is an obstacle to prayer, then those of us who have been harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally have to develop new instincts or reactions in accordance with the teachings of Christ. Again, this is not to excuse anger and pride. This is not to say that anyone should stay in unproductive or harmful situations. This is to acquire a spirit of calmness and peace, so that we can sincerely pray for others and bring the flock together.

A Path Not Taken

The crossroads of life, and the paths not taken, are linked in how they form the future. I have been in those situations perhaps six times in my life — having to make an extremely difficult decision, or having to react to or cope with the impact of someone else’s decision. If I had a choice, I usually chose the rugged path leading into the wilderness rather than the flat path with a predictable outcome. I do not know why. I think it just may have been my personality and sense of destiny (if there is such a thing).

Green Woods, by B.J.O. Nordfeldt

Green Woods, by B.J.O. Nordfeldt

Anyway, in one instance, I eventually became filled with regret over what could have been. As I got older, I concluded that one of my wilderness decisions had been a disastrous and irreparable mistake. Today, however, as I enter my senior years, I am just beginning to get a hint that I may have made the right decision after all, or that God is going to bring good out of it despite my former foolishness.

The mercy of God and His wondrous work in our lives cannot be obstructed just because we make a grievous mistake. Otherwise, that would mean we are in authority and that our evil is more powerful than God’s goodness. In some sense, regret itself is a fantasy, an imaginary vision of how life might have been on a path not taken, and without any real evidence to support such imaginings. In some instances, I think regret is a pretend-world which we entertain in our minds when life becomes extremely stressful and there is a need for relief. Fictionalizing what life might have been like on a path not taken is an escape from the path taken, unproductive for oneself and insulting to God.

Attachment to Things

Human attachment is normal. We form attachments to our family, friends, school, job, and church. In fact, not to be able to form healthy attachments would probably put us in the schizophrenic or sociopath categories. We have to be able to relate to one another. Some of us also form attachments to things, to inanimate objects, to possessions. We imbue these things with good memories. Some people collect antiques in order to feel a positive connection to the past and to preserve heritage. In the spiritual life, however, attachment to the world can obstruct our relationship with God. That is, if we elevate people and things above God and to the neglect of God. St. John of the Ladder warned monks against attachment to the things of the world.

The man who has come to hate the world has escaped sorrow.  But he who has an attachment to anything visible is not yet delivered from grief.  For how is it possible not to be sad at the loss of something we love?

St. John Climacus, Step 2:7

The monk renounces the world in order to live a life focused on prayer. The average Christian must also be careful not to covet or overly admire objects. This tendency is most obvious with hoarders. If you still watch television, as I sometimes do, then perhaps you have watched that program about people who hoard stuff. Hoarders form an extreme attachment to things, above their attachment to family and friends. Apparently, this is their way, however ineffective, of filling an inner emptiness and coping with the traumatizing events of their lives.

Most of us probably form attachments to some things to some extent. Anyone who has kids knows that things (dishes, tools, vases, chairs) are going to get broken and the plants and flowers are going to get trampled on. Sometimes, this hurts. It hurts because we really liked that vase, or because that tool cost a lot of money. Kids have to be taught to respect property, but accidents happen. We might have to decide what means more to us — the object (which can be replaced) or the relationship with a son or daughter.

The same concept holds true in the spiritual life. If the acquisition of things takes priority, if watching television becomes addictive, if housecleaning reaches a point of vanity, if a scratch on the car causes a nervous breakdown — then we love these things too much. The more time we spend shopping for things and taking care of things, the less time we have for reading the Bible or developing quality time as a Christian family.


A Way of Being

Most people conduct their lives according to patterns. People develop ways of perception and action, ways to cope with and survive in the world, and these ways are not always in alignment with their Christian beliefs. I know, because I am guilty of this myself. Generally, it has been an unconscious process. In other words, I was not always aware of the discrepancy between my behavior and my beliefs. I was aware sometimes, however, and I felt confusion within myself and a certain helplessness to conduct my life in any other way. There were some issues of morality and ethics in which I felt that sharp sword of Christian values, but there were other important areas of everyday coping in which the need for relief from stress eventually dulled my senses and eroded some of my values.

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflection and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

Hebrews 4:12-13

People live and work under so much stress that discernment of the reflections and thoughts of one’s own heart becomes extremely difficult. It is not that people are aggressively sinful, but perhaps negligently so. The primary focus is on survival in a complicated if not hostile world, with a secondary or supportive focus on spirituality. Rather than spirituality as a transformational event or process, some level of spirituality is somehow balanced into one’s way of being and pattern of survival in the world.

As I have gotten older, and as I have been able to separate myself somewhat from the 9-to-5 workday world, my past way of being has become more exposed to my eyes. There are things for which I must render an account, things done before the eyes of God and the saints, things which I minimized, and things which I boldly did because I lacked awareness — and I lacked awareness because I lacked true spiritual transformation. I did not conscientiously follow Christ, but believed in Him from afar.

There was an incident recently in which I regressed to an old way of coping. You might call it a temptation, an experiment, a decrease in vigilance, or a moment of irrationality. It was a mistake. I regret it. But, it enabled me to experience the contrast in reality between my old way of coping and my current quest to focus primarily on the spiritual life. My old pattern was no longer functional in practice (though it was always sinful in nature) and, in fact, it was an obstacle to living effectively (as opposed to coping with and surviving in the world) in the word of God.


Bad Fruit

When I think of fruit or fruitfulness, I always think of spiritual fruit — virtues or good deeds or perhaps the conversion of souls. St. John of the Ladder, however, warned of the fruits of sin.

Run from places of sin as from the plague.  For when fruit is not present, we have no frequent desire to eat it

St. John Climacus, Step 3:9

Fruit can be evil. Sinful fruit can tempt us if we see it, but it is less likely to lure us away from the spiritual life if it is not in front of us. The sight of something puts an imprint of itself in the mind, and then the mind associates it with various feelings, desires, fantasies, and memories. Moreover, there are certain places in which evil fruit is more plentiful than in other places. St. John advises us to stay away from those places of plague.

Advertisers and store managers know that the sight of something can be tempting — that is why some people do impulse shopping.  Supermarkets stack a display of junk food at the entrance to the store, and arrange candy and magazines by the cash register. It is not wrong to buy a candy bar. But you might not have wanted it if you had not seen it, and the kids might not have begged for it if it had not been placed on a shelf at their eye level.

Of course, there are worse things than eating candy. Sinful fruits are usually present in certain places and we can easily avoid committing the associated sins by avoiding the places. It might be a nightclub, the home of a friend who uses cocaine, a certain neighborhood or section of the city, a fraternity or sorority at the university, or it might mean turning off the television.

Because Love Grew Cold

As I age, I try not to indulge in reminiscing about the old days. There are two reasons. (A) The good memories are fewer than the bad. (B) There are more years behind me than ahead of me, and reminiscing becomes complicated and unproductive. Occasionally, however, an image from the past surfaces to the present — and just floats there until I acknowledge it.

Reverie, by Camille Corot

Reverie, by Camille Corot

Recently, I encountered one such image on the internet. It was a place from my young adulthood and it was associated with certain people and events. This place, however, seemed to stare at me like the house from The Amityville Horror, as though it had eyes and it was looking down at me, daring me to come in again, tempting me to repeat past dysfunctional patterns, expecting me to succumb to that which cannot be changed. I suddenly felt cold.

I felt so cold that I shivered even in the heat of July. A chill permeated my bones and stiffened my skin. Why would I feel cold? My personal Amityville had been a very unhappy time in my life, the details of which I do not need to discuss because the impact of the image is itself the memory and the message. I will not go back into that place. But, what was the message? Why did I feel so cold?

In the Bible, hell is described as a place of unquenchable fire. It would seem that unhappy times and places would be hellish and hot — you know, hot as blazes! Certainly, as hot as a summer day in July. However, the Bible indeed contains a possible explanation.

You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase in evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24:9-13

When there is an absence of love, there is coldness. Whether the love grows cold or was never really there to begin with, there is an atmosphere — perhaps psychologically and spiritually — of coldness which in my case actually manifested as a physical sensation.

When I began writing this essay, I was only going to quote part of Verse 12: “the love of many will grow cold.”  That phrase summed it up for me. But, I thought it was important to read the whole context, to understand why love grows cold and the impact that betrayal and hatred can have on the individual. I know what betrayal feels like — it is devastating. I have experienced failure in human relationships, some of which was my fault but some of which was due to love having grown cold on the part of others.

It has never been clear to me how much of this coldness was just typical incompatibility or human weakness, and how much may have been a reaction to my being Christian. I mean, Christianity as an underlying dynamic and not necessarily a conscious rejection on the part of others. If love grows cold, then that seems to imply a process of deterioration and not a quick and conscious decision. If some people stopped loving me, then my belief in Christ must have been a factor along with other factors such as my personality and background.

However, what if the people who stopped loving me were followers of Christ? That would mean their love must have grown cold because they began drifting away from Christ. That would mean they would have stopped loving me no matter what kind of personality I had and no matter what kind of background I came from. Their love grew cold — at that time and in that place, and I can still breathe the chilled air to this day. However, I will not go back into that place, not even if invited. Today, I will not be led into sentimentality, curiosity, or neurotic guilt. Today, I will persevere. Today, I will walk in the sunshine and walk in faith.

(The Amityville Horror was used figuratively and emotionally, and not literally to mean paranormal activity.)

Be Charitable to Everyone

My new quest in life is this: to be charitable to everyone.  This is how I want to spend the remainder of my years — possibly 10, 20, or 30 years.  Only God knows how many more years are left to me.  I could be suddenly stricken tonight, like an old refrigerator that finally broke down beyond repair.  Or, I could go on breathing, thinking, writing, praying — and cooking dinner for perhaps as many as 40 more years.  Do I want that?  Yes, I want more time.  I want to live.  Yet, I feel the need for a genuine preparation for death.

As the aging process hovers over me, my goals have necessarily changed.  I no longer think in terms of college diplomas and career advancement.  I am not planning any vacations.  I do not know if I will even do Christmas shopping this year.  I have other basic tasks and my scope of living has narrowed.  So, I thought that I would dedicate myself to a life of prayer.  A tapered life is a less distracted life, and a prayerful life is a quiet life.

If I am perfectly honest, however, I must admit that sometimes I am too tired to finish lengthy prayers at night.  My eyes get tired as I read from prayer books and devotional books, especially after a day at the computer.  Sometimes, I turn to a cycle of the Jesus Prayer combined with a few memorized Bible verses such as: the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.   That way, I can rest my eyes while my soul remains vigilant.

Surprisingly, I find that a life devoted to prayer is not a total answer to my aging process.  I still have to interact with people, and loving one’s neighbor is the Christian way of interaction.  The concept of charity covers the social aspect of life, because everything is conducted in the presence of God and with humility and compassion.  An act of charity might be a simple courtesy in the supermarket or a loving smile to a child, as well as a prayer said at night and known only to God.  Charity is all-inclusive, a commandment, and perhaps a way for me to prepare for death – ultimately relying on God’s mercy to deliver me.

Be Glad, Christian Bloggers

What does it mean to be a Christian blogger, or to blog as a Christian? I gained new insight into this as I read My Life in Christ, by St. John of Kronstadt. He talked about the daily process of being a priest and serving at the altar.

I ought to rejoice in the fact that it very often happens to me to carry in my mind and heart, and to pronounce with my lips, the name of God, the name of Our Lady, the Mother of God, those of the holy Angels and Saints, either of them, all by name during the year, or of the special ones daily mentioned in the church prayers, or in the office of the blessing of the water.

St. John of Kronstadt, Part II, page 202

Christian bloggers travel a similar route. What a privilege to be able to write about God every day. How fortunate we are to be able to refer to the examples of the saints, to quote the holy fathers, and to spend a portion of each day devoted to spreading the Gospel. What a productive way to work out our salvation and to be a friend to others. As we write about our struggles and victories in the spiritual life, as we share our insight and perspective, I believe we are pleasing to God because we are acting as His servants.


Be True to Truth

We know that through Jesus Christ we are delivered from sin and death. Christ tells us that the truth will set us free, and that we reach truth by remaining in His word. How do we define truth and freedom?

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Biblical Truth

All the words of the Bible are true. As expressions of truth, for example, we have the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. If we abide in such truths, we are freed from sin and death. Personally, I have found truth to mean the opposite of lies and idolatry, and freedom to mean the opposite of dysfunction and oppression. Yet, truth is attainable and freedom is operable even within adversarial environments.

Biblical truth also involves more than, or other than, doctrinal declarations. Biblical truth anchors the individual in a relationship with Christ and in a lifestyle of discipleship. While there are doctrinal separations between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and then again regarding Protestantism and within Protestantism, biblical truths such as the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes have not been grossly altered — and these are the general lifestyle truths of discipleship as practiced by everyday Christians.

Knowing, Speaking, and Living the Truth

It is not insubordinate or presumptuous if average Christians study the Bible to know truth and to be set free — free from false authorities inside and outside church structures. Perhaps this freedom does not emerge politically, civically, or administratively, but the individual is released spiritually and emotionally from bondage. It is not wrong for Christians to speak the truth. To speak truth — to speak it within a relationship of respect and trust, or to speak it before others in a refusal to accept falsehood (this is what the martyrs did) — is to affirm the Faith and witness of Christ.

Jesus Christ spoke truth. Nonetheless, He did not defend Himself in an argumentative manner against the Pharisees, and He did not answer to a corrupt judicial system in which He would not get a fair trial anyway. This is because Christ could not be tricked. He could not be distracted, defocused, or derailed from His mission. He demonstrated the truth of His teachings through His lifestyle, culminating in crucifixion (i.e., no greater love) for mankind. The crucifixion of Christ changed the world in a way which argumentation or court transcripts could never accomplish.

Truth Forever

As I continue reading the Bible, noticing words and concepts which I never noticed before, I gain a certain mental equilibrium through its truth — through illumination of who is who and what is what and how it all happens. You can persecute and exile me, browbeat and ridicule me, misunderstand and misjudge me, dismiss and ignore me, but you cannot drive me crazy or take the truth away from me once I have seen its radiant light.

You can be the biggest egomaniac in the world (or in a church), but I am not obliged to indulge or pamper you, follow or join you, and defend or excuse you. In other words, I will not and cannot idolize you. And, I will pay a price for this — the price of discipleship. Yet, I am free, or freed. I can only follow, or try to follow, the Ten Commandments. I can only live in accordance with the Beatitudes. I can only worship Christ. Truth is truth, whether or not you and I recognize it and accept it. However, nobody can be a disciple without it.

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

Matthew 10:28