It’s not surprising that people never feel like they have enough faith.
We live in a consumeristic society where we never have enough. When March only produced 126,000 jobs, the newspapers said it was disappointing. We need to grow every month. We need to grow all the time. Endless growth, endless education, endless progress. In the United States we are sold myths. We believe the mythology and the indoctrination. It’s hard to tell what is real or not. What desires of ours have been given to us from the world and from God?
Jean Paul Sartre said it well when he wrote this:
There are the great myths, the myths of happiness, of progress, of liberty, of triumphant maternity—and then there are the Americans… the language is charged with optimistic and unrestrained expressions—“have a good time,” “life is fun,” and the like. But there are also these people who, though conventionally happy, suffer from an obscure malaise, who are tragic through fear of being so, through that total absence of the tragic in them and around them.
Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life. An American said to me: “The trouble is that we are all eaten by the fear of being less American than our neighbor.”… The anguish of the American confronted with Americanism is an ambivalent anguish, as if he were asking, “Am I American enough?” and at the same time, “How can I escape from Americanism?” In America a man’s simultaneous answers to these two questions make him what he is, and each man must find his own answers.
On one hand, Sartre hits the nail on the head. Americans love to win. Americans love progress. We want more and more and more. But here’s where he is wrong and where he is just as influenced by American mythology: do we need to find our own way? Do we need to find our own answers? Must we be enslaved to ourselves?
Before long, we’ll be looking for the “right” answers, the “best” answers. We are stuck in our own minds and can’t find a way out. We are trying to “progress” out of the myth of progress. We are damned before we start.
For me, that’s exactly the attitude that Jesus came to undo. Truly, this isn’t just an American problem. Maybe it’s a human problem. Jesus brings us a backward revolution. One that isn’t so easily seen through our American lenses.
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
It’s so hard to believe it, though. We toil under the sun for our food. Usually not literally, but we have priorities; our jobs, our businesses, our relationships, our homes, our children. Endless preoccupation and distraction. Our little fulfillment of the American dream. Just this time, it’s with a different aesthetic. It’s in a gentrifying neighborhood. It’s marrying young and poor. It’s starting an alternative business. It’s having close, real relationships. Progressive children. Whatever the part of the American myth we bought into, it seems like we are heeding Sartre’s advice and coming up with the answers to the questions by ourselves.
Again, Jesus gives us the alternative through his Resurrection.
Our enslavement to rationality still precludes many of us from actually believing this is an historical event. Check out the pastors’ videocast this week for more about why I think we should believe in the Resurrection.
But to comfort you in this Easter season, I just want you to know that the women who first approached Jesus’ empty tomb had a hard time believing and even being believed. In fact, Jewish and Roman law discounted a woman’s account. Not only that, the resurrection and afterlife were bizarre concepts. In fact, the ruling Jewish political party vehemently denied the resurrection of the dead and in fact challenged Jesus on such a question. The mythology around us of personal progress, of making the most of our lives while we have them, precludes us from believing in the Resurrection. In fact, American scarcity makes our own bodily resurrection less desirable. If something lasts forever, it is useless. One person told me he is haunted by the prospect of living forever because he might get bored—or he might experience eternal dread. In the American mythology, eternal life may as well be eternal dread. Death is freeing for those who are enslaved in this world. But Jesus can free us not just from the shackles of this world but the shackles of death. Eternity starts now.
Our lives aren’t scarce, but we are abundantly blessed. It’s hard to realize that in the moment of our suffering. Resurrection is here, but not for all of us, it seems. Not practically anyway. We are still sick, still addicted, still depressed, still lonely. We still smell like death, we still smell like our old selves. We are stuck in our old patterns. We can’t seem to get out of them. Our Lenten disciples end before they start impacting us. We have old crutches that we use and we’re limited. We’re addicted to death, but we need to fall in love with resurrection. We are rigid and we break before we bend, our relationships suffer.
We have to be flexible enough not just to have faith, but to admit our mistakes and be forgiven. We have to flex our way into resurrection. It takes mobility. It takes malleability. We can’t bring the Gospel into the present without great flexibility. One of the reasons is because, honestly, generation after generation comes up with creative ways to undermine it. It lives on and adapts, but only because people are flexible.
Matthew ends his book and his chapter on Resurrection with what is now commonly called the Great Commission. The disciples were all there, seeing the Risen Lord. Matthew notes that some of them doubted. Some of them are still stuck in the contemporary mythology, like many of us are still stuck in the American one. Jesus tells us that history has been rewritten and we are going to continue the revolution. How? Baptize people and nations, spread the Gospel all over the world.
Circle of Hope’s simple response to the Great Commission is our cells and PMs. These are the nuts and bolts of what we do. We think today the Gospel needs to be delivered personally, in relationships that are authentic, not in platforms and principles. People discover Jesus in our cells and PMs. They are included in our community. They see Christ’s way modeled, not preached. They experience resurrection through eternity that is now displayed in our community. And then they move toward transformation. Resurrection transforms them. It gets them out of death and into new life. Out of fear and the demands of the world. Beyond the American myths of progress, happiness, lies a new and alternative way, born out of death, killing the myth of scarcity and wealth, ending the ways we constantly evaluate ourselves and our inadequacy. Bringing something new to the world and to us. Keep your eyes open, you might miss it. Move toward it, it might change you. And then be moved to share the word.