‘Oh God, why bother?’ That is the multi-layered question OCCA graduate and now Director of RZIM’s Asia-Pacific ministry, Max Jeganathan, seeks to answer in this episode of The Saturday Session, available to watch in full below and this accompanying article.
Maybe one of the reasons to bother is because one of the deepest, intrinsic instincts and desires of the human heart, regardless of what we believe, is to know who we are, and to know where we’re doing. We are so busy trying to get to where we’re going; we work so hard to get where we’re going; sometimes we don’t stop to think about who we are.
Max draws out three reasons as a response to a question that many ask of Christianity: truth is indispensable; suffering is unavoidable; and happiness is not enough.
Truth is indispensable
Truth is not dispensable. That’s why it’s worth bothering with what we believe in. Whatever our belief is, it’s worth investigating, truth can stand up to questioning. In fact, truth is the only thing that can stand up to questioning.
Jesus does something unique, in comparison to all other worldviews and philosophies. They all say, “This is true” while pointing toward propositions. For the atheists, the proposition is, “God does not exist; this is true; it’s a true proposition.” Jesus doesn’t make a proposition in that sense. He points to himself and says, “I am the truth.” What Jesus is saying is truth is, at its primary core, not propositional, in the way that we know it to be with our everyday lives, it’s actually personal.
Truth is not dispensable. And if Jesus is who he says he is, truth is also personal. And that distinguishes the Christian worldview from anything else we’ve ever seen in human history.
Suffering is unavoidable
We have no choice whether or not to suffer. We do have a choice of how we deal with that suffering, but there are only a limited number of choices on the table.
What then is the Christian response? It is not a God who sits back and says, “Don’t talk to me about it.” It is not a God who tries to give us theories of how to think ourselves around the suffering, or ignore the suffering, or just accept that we have caused the suffering ourselves. It is a God who comes into the world as a person, takes all of the suffering and brokenness of humankind onto himself, allows himself to take the penalty, to acquit humankind of its debt, of its moral imperfection, of its existential imperfection, of its experiential suffering, on a cross. He is crucified on that cross, brings all suffering under his control, and destroys it, and does away with it. And now, he’s a God who’s willing to reach out to us and suffer alongside us.
Every other worldview, in some way, shape or form, will say, “Try this; try that; think about it this way; think about it that way.” Jesus says “No. Suffering is real. The world is broken, and you are broken. Take my hand; we’re going to go through it. We’re going to conquer through the suffering.”
We need a way to get through suffering in our life. We’ve constructed some ways that seem to work okay, some of the time. Jesus gives us a sure-fire way; this God who loves us so much, that he came and died for us; suffered for us, and now, is willing to suffer with us, and gives us a hope of an eternal future with him, where there’s going to be no suffering at all.
Happiness is not enough
We have taught ourselves, in our international, globalised, market-driven economy, anchored in consumption, that all we need to do is pursue happiness. But no one stopped to think for a moment whether happiness should be the ultimate objective.
If we anchor our identity in the pursuit of happiness, then happiness is all we’re going to get; whereas the reality of happiness, to be blunt, is quite simply far too pathetic a reduction in the objectives of the human heart to make our final goal. Happiness is just a feeling.
We’ve reduced joy to a feeling, so we can better make sense of it
But the reality of the world, the vicissitudes of life, the rough-and-tumble of what we all go through, are such that even that happiness is fleeting. We build it on things that are unstable, like jobs, and children, and families, and the approval of others, and the number of Instagram followers we’ve got, and the number of Facebook friends that we’ve got. We build them on reputation. We build it on sex; we build it on alcohol; we build it on drugs; we build it on technology.
And then, we look at what the Bible says, what the Christian response is, and God says, “Happiness; is that all you’ve got? Is that what you think success is? Is that all you’re looking for? I want you to have so much more than happiness. I want you to have this thing, this word that you only find in the Judeo-Christian ethic; you only find it in the Scriptures; you only find it offered by Jesus Christ. And it’s so unique and unusual and confusing, that even the major leading dictionaries of the world don’t know how to define it; this thing called joy.
We’ve reduced joy to a feeling, so we can better make sense of it. If you keep God out of the picture, the only way to define joy is just a lot of happiness. But in the Bible, joy is not a feeling, it’s not emotional; it’s ontological. It’s actually not part of how you feel; it’s part of who you are.
God says, “I’m not really interested, nor should you be all that interested, in how you feel, or what you think, or what you say, or what you do. I’m more interested in who you are.” Who you are is the most important thing.
Happiness is simply not enough. We’ve all experienced happiness, and we’ve all experienced that happiness be taken away, for whatever reason. If that’s what we’re devoting our lives to finding, and anchoring our character around, that’s all that will ever happen; life will just be a series of moments when we’re happy, followed by a series of moments when we’re not; all the while dealing with the ubiquity of suffering, and having to ignore the indispensability of truth.