Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Persuasion’… April 13, 2016
Addressing the question, ‘How can we make politics better?’ in an opinion article in The New York Times yesterday (April 12), David Brooks observed: ‘…It’s increasingly clear that the roots of political dysfunction lie deep in society. If there’s truly going to be improvement, there has to be improvement in the social context politics is embedded in.
‘In healthy societies, people live their lives within a galaxy of warm places. They are members of a family, neighborhood, school, civic organization, hobby group, company, faith, regional culture, nation, continent and world. Each layer of life is nestled in the others to form a varied but coherent whole.’
Citing social commentators and pollsters, Brooks goes on to note: ‘…Americans have become worse at public deliberation. People find it easier to ignore inconvenient viewpoints and facts. Partisanship becomes a preconscious lens through which people see the world… They report being optimistic or pessimistic depending on whether their team is in power. They become unrealistic…’
I draw attention to David Brooks’ comments, not because I want to discuss politics and how to make politics better, but because we need to understand our culture so that we can find better ways to communicate what it needs most – serious conversations about the larger realities of life. One way we can do this is by being prepared to work out ways we can persuade others to explore for themselves the primary documents of the Christian faith.
Some years ago I met one of Australia’s television screen-writers. He told the story of how on a wet afternoon during a television production he was forced to return to his hotel room. Having nothing else to do, he picked up a Gideon Bible and started to read Mark’s Gospel. He had never read the Bible before – in fact he rejected it as a myth.
However as he read, two things caught his attention. First, he observed that the writer (Mark) wrote in the style of a good journalist. Second, the main character had no character flaws. This astounded him, for as he said later, every good dramatist knows the fallibility of human nature and has to write in some flaw to each of their characters. These two elements persuaded him that he needed to explore the Bible for himself.
Which brings us again to the subject of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
In 1 Corinthians 15, which is undoubtedly one of the earliest writings in the New Testament, Paul the Apostle not only draws our attention to the significant eyewitness evidence to Jesus’ physical resurrection, but he also pursues the logic of what he is saying.
In verses 17-19 we read: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
As the television screen-writer observed, Jesus was a man without a character flaw – he was truly a good man. But the extraordinary thing is this: Jesus, in his goodness, was willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of men and women who are anything but good. For humanity, of its own choosing, is caught in the web of self.
The English philosopher, Edmund Burke once wrote: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Jesus is the ultimate ‘good man’ who did, not just ‘something’ but ‘everything’ to deal once and for all with the outcomes of our self-centeredness. His resurrection from the dead assures us of his success.
Sometimes people criticize Christianity because it offers heavenly rewards, as though there’s something suspicious about living Christianly with such ulterior motives in mind. But to make sacrifices because of religious principle without some hope that there is an ultimate purpose to it all, isn’t laudable or noble. It’s just stupid.
David Brooks concluded his article yesterday with: People experience their highest joy in helping their neighbors make it through the day.
Perhaps more than ever, all of us who profess to know that Jesus was truly raised from the dead, need to pray for the wisdom to know how to help our neighbors make it through the day, and for the words and the boldness to persuade them of Jesus’ transforming grace and goodness. Who knows what good things the Lord will then do?
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com