Maybe the universal human dilemma can be summed up in the following question: how do I live between the two poles of, on the one hand, my own insignificance and the transitory nature of my finest achievements, and, on the other, my potential for greatness and capacity for eternity?
If you’ve been able to answer this question for yourself, I’m all ears. Seriously. Because being a Christian has only complicated this question for me to the degree that it seems to widen the distance between these two poles.
What do we do with stories like those of David and Goliath, for example? A pimply, scrappy adolescent manages to take down an enemy that a whole army of testosterone-filled men could not. And he does so all with a pebble and a sling and the faith that God is on his side.
Or, a carpenter and his twelve disciples overturn the world, leaving it never the same again. Not by wielding force. Not by introducing some new Utopian ideology and lobbying for adherents. Not by developing a network on Facebook and going viral. Just by believing in God’s power to make all things new and really living like it, to the point that they even give up their lives for it.
But if truth be told, some days I feel about as small as a cog in a great, big, unfriendly machine, with little power to help the world around me- not to mention just keep it together. Other days, I feel big enough to live as if the world really revolves around me and my self-perceived greatness. On those days, I try to remind myself that I’m only a few short steps away from embracing a kind of triumphalist, self-aggrandizing “Manifest Destiny” that we Christians are often guilty of: thinking that we are so great and so special that we, the church, really will change the world in some grandiose way, with the implication that even God depends on us. Just spend a little time at a Catalyst conference and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Here’s the thing that I’m trying to wrap my mind around: when God enters the picture, we are, as my Quaker friend Lily likes to say, “challenged to believe in things that we thought would never be possible.” Like true love and resurrection and forgiveness and community that lasts. And, the paradox of the Gospel is that we are simultaneously utterly helpless to save ourselves from our condition of being turned in on ourselves and missing the mark, even as we are clothed with the splendor of God’s love and purpose and are in this sense “royalty” as “children of God.”
And while this can be, at times, a recipe for existential schizophrenia, I’ve not been able to find a better distillation of reality and the human condition anywhere else. The question is, how then shall we live “in the middle”? What does it look like to live between these two poles? And is it possible to stay there?