How do we find a third way? As the culture war seems to continue to rage between the modernists—with their absolute certainty—and postmodernists—with their self-involvement, in a world that creates these straw men and relates to them as if we actually know them, the question of a different way persists.
I am thankful that the relationships I get to have repeatedly show that Paul really did know what he was talking about when he was talking to the libertines and legalists in Corinth—those that adhered to the law, as if that were their salvation, and those who thought they were super spiritually above the law. Today, we have law abiders that are ready to impose their will on the whole world, because they are the arbiters of morality. Not only are they certain that the path they’ve selected is right for them (as if they are experts on themselves), they even think it’s right for others.
Want proof? Sign up for Reddit. The dialogue that engages, if you can call it that, consists impersonal statements and arguments between people who don’t know each other, which is bad enough—add to that that “karma” is given to posters whose thoughts are most loved by the audience. Democracy. It is a joke, of course. I’m not even sure how to relate to someone without knowing them, so I’ve always had difficulty posting on Reddit—at least at my current age. (There was a time where I was ready to discuss, with absolute authority, all of the nuances of the video game industry on a web forum—I think I did it about 4,000 times, actually.)
I guess my issue with Reddit is two-fold: first, the posters don’t each other. So “iron sharpening iron,” doesn’t really apply because I need to see your eyes in order to improve myself. I don’t even like getting into Email discussions with people I already know. And who are you? You even have an anonymous username! It’s cowardly! This problem exists all over the web world, though, you’ve regrettably read the comments after a news story I am sure.
And of course, without the relationship with someone, we lack a connection that makes our dialogue fruitful. Even if I reach the same point with you as I would with everyone else, I’d rather not just make an absolute statement. I’d rather reach it especially and individually with you—in love, in a relationship, with some decency.
I want to relate to you, and I want to connect, I actually want to convince of something too. But I don’t want do it without knowing you, and without being willing to learn from you. It seems so hard to convey compassion, empathy, and humility digitally (at the same time, it’s hard to be truthful in person too). In general, i seems so hard to do something other than react. You post an article and then all of argue about it, using the ocean of information and data that is the Internet, where there are peer-reviewed studies to prove every point you’d want to make.
I suppose that option, that lack of certainty, is why we might venture to the libertine extreme. Truth is relative. Our conscience merely tells us to be who we are, so rather than trying to convince of something—on the Internet or otherwise—I’m going to give you the same indifference the universe gives me. We might engage in a dialogue, but in general, it is just to benefit me. I’m the center of the universe, and relating to others and God is just an additional experience that augments our perception of the universe.
I was discussing a movie with a friend recently, and he was talking about the point of the movie in his perspective. I asked him if he thought that the creator of the movie intended that. He said he wasn’t sure, and he was convinced that it didn’t matter. The creator doesn’t need to be the interpreter of his or her creations or creatures. They have a life of their own, and it’s a life that we can deconstruct. Again, the entire world is subject to our interpretation, anyway. Of course, I thought, what’s the point of the movie? It is just stimulus for you? If we extrapolate this even further—what’s the point of love, grace, peace, and intimacy? Just for you?
For me, such a perspective is so challenging to navigate. But it wasn’t always the case. I just read through some of my deeply (and annoyingly) postmodern history and sociology essays my undergraduate career. I’m guilty as any millennial.
I want to be held accountable. I want the meaning of the world, as I live in it, to be greater than just my interpretation or my logic. I don’t want to be the source of it—whether it is just experientially relevant for me, or absolutely true. Whether I’m a legalist or a libertine, a modernist or a postmodernist. I’m committed to something greater than I am. I am committed to my Creator. I’m committed to Him because he’s personally and specifically committed to me.
I’m committed to Jesus. He enters the world as a person, to relate to us, to love us, and to die for us. And when we follow him, we are not only given purpose and meaning, it is direction that is personally delivered. It is not absolute in its function for each of us, but it is just as true for each of us. It’s dialogical, it’s revealed in community. It requires a body to express, and in that body with its singular faith, baptism, and God, we are function as different parts—none more valuable than the other.
Sometimes counts, and that is a relationship with Jesus and His church. And that thing is totally different. Paul says, “What counts is the new creation.” “What counts is faith expressed through love.”