“I want to build something”, one of my colleagues said to me as we walked to our cars. He just quit his day job, and felt that after all these years of work, he didn’t have a legacy. There was no memorial that served as a testimony to his life’s work. It seemed like a “chasing after the wind”.
A lot of people are in this position when they reach a certain point in their lives. They reflect, look back and wonder if it was all worth it. But what did I achieve? This question lies at the center of their reflection.
The operative principle of our world (especially the capitalist society I live in) is, “If you work hard, you can have the American dream”. The efforts of our hands and will working in concert can achieve amazing things when you are free. Successful people are paraded around on television informercials as royalty.
Idealizing this puritan work ethic lulls people into believing that it will work for their Christian lives, too. Self-improvement and personal growth are linked to a behavioral psychology model. If we do this, then sooner or later, it will be true of our “inner man”, too. Whether I feel it or not, I will do the right thing.
The reformers called this “civil righteousness”. That is, by behaving in a law-abiding way, I will garner the appreciation of my society. I will have a good reputation, and perhaps, success. It is ethical behavior.
If one believes that this is how Christianity operates, then they assume a Buddhist worldview.
Christianity does not truly operate on the “building of” anything. Instead, Christ offers you death and resurrection. And one of the first deaths we face is the death of our reason. The Gospel tells us that God became a man. This confronts reason and calls it a liar. Further reading reveals a God in three persons, which truly boggles the mind. Reason, at this point, is now struggling to keep its head above water as the storm rages and the waves grow. The final nail in the coffin is when the Christian says that “I have a crucified God”. The reason now blurts out in disgust, “What kind of stupidity is this? It is a laughable religion and invalid, logically”.
The Christian life, then, is not the building of something, but the crucifixion of the self by Christ alone through His Word. Simultaneously, it is the creation of something new through His resurrection. Both are accomplished through the work of material water married to Christ in Baptism (another affront to reason; “How can this be?”).
And, in another assault of reason, God gives us everything in those drowning and resurrecting waters. All of life’s goal is fulfilled in the beginning, rather than as a reward for a life “well-lived”. The keys to God’s kingdom are given to even a baby with no comprehension or awareness.
How ridiculous? No, How wonderful.
To Christ alone be the glory, now and forever, amen.