I’m a Christ-follower, both by accident of birth and by choice. The accident is that I was born to born-again evangelical Christians. The choice is a conscious daily decision to live as best I can by the precepts taught by Jesus of Nazareth, aka The Christ. Going from accident to intentional living has involved many recurring dark nights of the soul.
As a youth, I spent more than 10 hours a week in church, learning the evangelical point of view and also having fun with fellow accident-of-birthers. In that period of steeping in the church, I interacted with many wonderful people who perpetuated the love and compassion demonstrated and demanded by Christ. And, I met many people whose despicable behavior indicated that they have no personal relationship with Christ despite their so-called profession of faith.
All along the way, I have witnessed and experienced life in ways that absolutely deny the Sunday-School fairy tales. Yet, more significantly, I have experienced underlying grains of truth that prove to me that, as Jesus said, “God is love.”
Though I am better-educated in Christian theology than the average layperson, I am no scholar. I do not pretend to possess the insights of C.S. Lewis, for example. I’ve also studied points of view that are antithetical to any theology. But here again, I fall short of the intellect of Frederick Nietzsche, to cite one eloquent dis-believer.
I point to these two extremes because they illustrate my journey, searching from one end of the spectrum to the other. On all the infinite sides of the arguments about who we are and how we should live, one finds true prophets … and utter charlatans.
On the one hand, we have prophets – Nietzsche was a valid prophet in his own right — who call us all to a higher state of being. And we have religious leaders who have more in common with Caiaphas than Christ – self-professed (and sometimes highly credentialed) “authorities” who lead their congregations in a chant of “Give us Barabbas.” Some of them, I can only hope, truly “know not what they do.”
There’s a story about Socrates, who challenged people to “know thyself.” (Well, the aphorism predates Socrates, but he gets the credit.) When Socrates himself was challenged if he knew his own self, he reportedly replied, “No, but I know something about this not knowing.” Just as most of humanity is confused about who we are, most of us also truly do not know what we do. But some of us know something about this not knowing.
When Jesus, from the cross, said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do,” he was not just speaking about the ancient people who begged Pilate to release Barabbas rather than Christ. He was intervening for you and for me.
So, if we don’t truly know what we’re doing, then what – for Heaven’s sake — should we do?
The answer is amazingly simple. And it comes from Jesus himself. When asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus was challenged by an expert in Hebrew Law, who asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Here’s what Jesus said, as described in the Book of Luke: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down the same road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So too, when a Levite came to that spot and saw him, he passed by on the other side. But when a Samaritan on a journey came upon him, he looked at him and had compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he said, ‘and on my return I will repay you for any additional expense.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
“The one who showed him mercy,” replied the expert in the law. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
It’s really that simple. And, yes, it’s really that hard.
In the Middle Ages, some theologians debated about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. That line has come down to modern times as “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” This illustrates the absurdity and futility of all theological arguments. Jesus already spelled it out for us, quite succinctly. To get caught up in anything beyond loving God – who is love – and acting with compassion is fallacious nit-picking that obfuscates the point.
The true point is that we – as humans — should be dancing with angels … above all the pinheads (Father, forgive them) who know not what they do.