There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man and only God can fill it. -Blaise Pascal
Clarence and Robert McClendon were two Christian brothers who did well in their careers. Robert was a prominent lawyer and Clarence was the author of a popular book. Clarence was deeply involved with the interracial action-groups of the 1950's and 60's, in Georgia, USA. Once Clarence asked Robert, now a politician, for legal help, which he refused, because his political ambitions would be jeopardized. To rationalize his refusal, Robert told his brother: I follow Jesus up to a point. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I am not getting myself crucified. To which Clarence replied: Robert, you are not a follower of Jesus; you are only an admirer of his.
Perhaps Clarence could repeat those words to us. We bear the name of Christ, Christians, but prefer to formulate our own code. In Europe, the Christmas Holidays are called the Winter Holidays. Why? Ostensibly, they do not want to wound the sentiments of people of other religions. Perhaps some segments of Christians, in other parts of the world, have joined their European brothers in switching to the changed terminology, for the same reason.
The Hindus have not changed their festival Diwali to something more akin to Christian idiom. The Muslims have not renamed Ramzan to appease their Christian brothers. Why are we ashamed of the word Christmas? Is it because we are ashamed of being identified as Christians? To those of us, who are embarrassed of being Christians, Jesus has a warning. In Matt. 10:32, He says that in the presence of His Father He will not acknowledge those who are ashamed of Him, in the eyes of men. The Master never makes empty threats. Do we hear the alarm bell?
We are Christians, but will not attend Church Services. A Christian young man I know tells me that he goes to Sunday morning service only when there are no good movies on TV. Some offer an excuse for their non-Christian attitude. They say that they are scandalized by the behavior of some Pastor/Priest and dissociate themselves from anything Christian. Are we Christian because of some Priest/Pastor, or even because of the Pope? We are Christian because of Christ, who is sinless and blameless. Do we stop using our family name or stay disconnected because of some black sheep in the fold? We refer to Biblical Stories as Christian Legends to distance ourselves from their veracity. We are Christians who do not want to profess Christian beliefs. Do we not profess our political affiliations? Democrat or Republican (USA), Labor or Conservative (UK), Congress or BJP (India)? We join elite clubs and are proud of our membership. We work for Fortune 500 Companies and will let others know of the connection. But Christ, the Son of God, we leave out in the cold. We exclude Him from our network. Alone, He will hang on that cross.
We try to run away from Him, but He comes panting after us, as The Hound of Heaven, whom Francis Thompson faithfully portrayed. In an unhurrying chase, at an unperturbed pace, He will not give up following us. Gently, He reminds us, all things betray thee, who betrayest me. We try to hide from Him, but He will seek us out. We shut our ears to His words, but He will play music that we cannot silence. We close our eyes to Him, but He will tenderly lift our hands off them, to lovingly gaze into our troubled eyes. What a Christ we have! Yet, we are ashamed of acknowledging Him. Would we do to our friends, what we do to Him, the truest of all?
In my reckoning there are a few reasons why we behave the way we do.
1) We are the instant people who demand instant gratification. We want Him to be the genie we can command. He would willingly oblige us, if only all our wishes were for our good. Often, we desire that which will harm us. He sees it; we don’t. So, He shuts some doors through which we wish to enter and opens new doors, if only we have eyes to see.
2) We want to be in control, to march to our drumbeat. To surrender, to submit are against our grain. We like to be in charge of our lives; and extend that power by taking control of Him. The paradox is that He does not want to control us. He will not place limits on His gift of free will. Of our own, if we love Him and seek His protection, He will accept our friendship, and not a forced alliance.
3) We mistake His goodness for weakness, because He does not react even when we act in defiance or choose to ignore Him. His Infinite Patience and Forgiveness are never tested. For that very reason, we tend to take Him for granted.
4) We enthrone false gods in our hearts. Wealth, power, fame and pleasure are some of the deities we enshrine, dislodging the rightful owner. Does He complain? No, He waits for the time we will turn away from those false gods and return to Him, like the Prodigal son. In a question that also holds the answer, Job asks: Has anyone resisted Him and found peace? No wonder, the scholarly Saint Augustine wrote: Our hearts were made for you, O God, and they shall not rest until they rest in you.
Mistakenly we believe that we are doing Him a favor when we pray or live a life by The Book. Hugh Blair exposes our folly: It is for the sake of man, not of God, that worship and prayer are required; not that God may be rendered more glorious, but that man may be made better. We need to reflect on Hugh Blair's words, because a Perfect God needs nothing from us. He would not be God if He needed anything from us. He is complete in all respects. With unmatched love He persuades us to reform for our sakes, not His.
How do we reform? By being the salt of the earth, and light to the world. Salt dissolves in food to lend it taste and flavor. Light dispels darkness. Like salt, when we make ourselves useful to others, and as shining examples, when we shed light for others, we become lovable. And when we become lovable, we can be sure that Jesus’ love is in us. Aptly, Bishop Fulton Sheen explains what that means: When the Lord puts His love in us, then we become lovable.
There is no doubt that it is tough to follow Christ, but the rewards far outweigh the effort, and the peace that comes from it cannot be matched. Ordinary people have done it. Are we any less?