Blog

Pity the Fool

By Ben Swift

“If you know that your heart is cold, then it is not yet a hard heart; God has not rejected it.” (Tozer)

It seems to me that a significant slice of western society lives by the creed of not taking life too seriously; play hard, play fast and enjoy life while you can. It would seem that although most would be ignorant to the fact, they have been influenced by an Epicurean style philosophy in which pleasure is the chief end of humanity. Modern day thinking, however, has put its own twist on the teachings of Epicurus. While he believed in the pleasures of friendship, the beauty of the Arts and the nobility of a good conscience, many today preach the pleasures of physical and carnal pleasure; a weekend of meaningless sex, drugs and whatever feels good in the moment.

A life subscription to modern day Epicureanism surely must be coupled with a devotion to ignorance. For as the old saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” To be ignorant of the consequences of the decisions that focus purely on self-gratification is the only way a person could, in good conscience, continue to follow this path; continue to seek ignorant bliss in their own circumstances.

There is an inescapable catch to this philosophy of life. It can’t go on forever. Pleasure feeding, blissful ignorance will soon come to an end, leaving with it a life emptied of purpose and without eternal hope. Consider the words of Solomon:

“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)

If you stop and think about it, our western way of life depends on our sustained, ongoing ignorance. Each cog within the corporate machine turns on society’s willingness to buy into the consumerist way of life. It’s almost impossible to escape. There are no decisions we make that don’t impact our world on a far larger scale than we would often care to know about, so it’s easier to not ask too many questions, remaining blissfully ignorant.

Take for example, the controversial topic of climate change. More and more, climate change is being recognised as scientific truth, but it’s been a slow process and one that certainly confronts our way of life; a potential spanner in the works of economic growth. As a global society we are finally coming to the realization that these issues can no longer remain in the closet of blissful ignorance. When extreme climate events are running rampant through the world, causing unprecedented levels of devastation, even politicians can’t escape replacing their short-sighted policies with potential solutions to big picture issues.

While it would be easier, we can’t shift the blame of a world gone wrong onto the shoulders of others. It’s when we put our own lives under the microscope that we can honestly admit the part we have all played. Epicureanism has infiltrated each of us at different levels and will continue to do so, as long as we live in a corporately driven society that holds the highest of doctorates in self-service.

It only takes the opening of our eyes and minds to see that things are clearly not right. To live a life of seemingly blissful ignorance is not what we have been called to do, at least not by the one who personally created us for a far higher purpose. When Paul encouraged us to be fools for Christ, he did not mean to act as fools but rather to live a life for Christ; a life that would appear foolish to those who remain in worship of themselves. Solomon continues:

“Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.” (Proverbs 2:12-15)

When it comes to living a life of purpose, a life that has eternal meaning, it must be a life immersed in the wisdom of Christ. We cannot expect to know how we should live if our hearts and minds are being diverted this way and that by the endless voices of those that sit apart from God’s truth. When it comes to understanding the world’s ongoing problems and issues, we as Christians need to seek wisdom from the eternal King of the universe, whose knowledge far outweighs the futile thinking of finite minds?

Let us seek to grow deeper in truth and wisdom, knowing God and knowing ourselves. Let us listen to his voice as we read his Word and be guided by his spirit. Let us learn to discern the ways of Christ in a world that rarely bends its knee before the one who holds the keys to life.

“My son, preserve sound judgement and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.” (Proverbs 3:21-23)

Peacemakers

By Ben Swift

“Peace be with you.” “And also with you.”

Growing up in the Anglican Church I have many memories of using the above words to pass the peace to others during church services. But what does it really mean to pass the peace? Do we really, deep down, desire peace for and with everyone we cross paths with? Or is our desire for peace more selective and confined to those who are like us; a love saved for those whose image reflects at least a little of ourselves or the selves we seek to be?

The problem with humanity is that we behave like human beings, subconsciously under the influence of a biological condition that has us dancing to our DNA. We constantly strive for survival and acceptance within the human pack, seeking to fit in using whatever means necessary until we establish so called immortality through the passing on of our genes.

Tribalism – the group mentality – seems inescapable to members of a species who need to be accepted; to fit in. Tribalism is all around us and none of us are exempt. From the school yard to politics, religion to race, sporting clubs to fashion, the boundaries of our worlds overlap, separate and collide.

A few decades ago in my home town of Melbourne, Australia, tribalism ran strong through the veins of suburbanites as football teams formed lines of separation that were not to be crossed. Typically your postcode dictated the football team you were to support with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength; a tribe that defined a large proportion of your identity as a Melbournian. Stories of young men wandering into the territory of rival teams ended in bloody brawls using everything down to the pickets from fences to defend the pride and territory of the tribe. But obviously this type of madness is not exclusive. Temporary or otherwise, insanity often flows from the heart of tribalism.

With the mentality of tribalism based on such simple things as football teams causing such emotionally driven acts of hate and violence, what hope do we have for peace in a world where the ‘them and us’ extends to so many different contexts? While hate is never acceptable, it is often the result of complex, deep seeded and historical tensions between the ‘them and us’.

A conundrum seems to exist within The Human Race; a tension between the peace we desire and the group mentalities that drive a dualistic wedge between us as members of the tribe known as ‘humanity’.

Is there a solution to this age old problem or will we simply have to settle for the well-meaning intentions of Miss Universe contestants?

It seems in our search for a pathway to world peace that much of humanity, at least in the western world, identify with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. But before hitching a ride on this bandwagon, it just might be worth contemplating what the lyrics to this song suggest. Do we really want to imagine heaven to be non-existent, crushing the hope of a better world beyond the now and the future that we have a promised part in? Do we really want to imagine the death of religion and therefore God, leaving us without significance and meaning beyond random chance?

While this song may serve as an emotional anthem for humanists, the existence of One who stretches far beyond the limits of our finite comprehension is a reality linked to a deeper hope, far greater than humanity alone can ever offer.

It may not align with popular western opinion but the solution to peace in a tribalistic, dualistic world can only be found in the Scriptures. Imagine that!
Unless all human beings can come to the realization that although we identify with many different tribes, we all belong to the human tribe. Understanding this from a biblical perspective can have far reaching implications; human life can be seen through God’s eyes so to speak.

“So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Peace pleads for us to open our eyes to the realization that all human beings matter to God. You will never look into the eyes of another human being who does not matter to God. This reality alone should see the divisive walls of the ‘them and us’ crumbling as we comprehend the intended diversity of humanity and the fact we are all included in a non-random sacred creation, purpose built to live in harmony with both God and each other.

To take this concept to an even deeper level we must look to Christ, the Messiah, King of those who have faith.

“Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)

To follow Christ is to be a part of something far greater than any tribe. We are invited to be members of a kingdom, ruled by the King appointed by the Ancient of Days from the beginning, a king also known as the Prince of Peace. Surely the path to peace lies in following this king, serving him through an unwavering allegiance to his kingship. Following in the dust of Rabbi Jesus we must learn his ways if there is to be any hope for peace.

History can be a powerful teacher and we should be able to learn from our terrible, bloody history as human beings. The truth however, is that we don’t seem to be making much progress. While dualistic natures continue to divide societies, waging all kinds of wars between those created in God’s image, the unworn path to peace starts with the words of our King:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:7-9)

Reason for Reason

By Ben Swift

Just how reasonable are human beings? Are human beings even capable of true reason, or is their ability to reason with others always tainted by their own view of the world; a view based on their personal experience, worldview and desire for a particular version of truth?

John Calvin once suggested that, “the fantasy of the human being is a factory that works ceaselessly to make idols.” While there are endless idols to be created and as we continue to see their evolution correlate with the culture of the day, ultimately it is human reason in the absence of Christ that drives all idols into being.

With this in mind, is it possible for individuals holding to particular differing worldviews to effectively debate their differences of opinion based on reason at all? It does seem highly improbable for example, that debaters bringing specific presuppositions to an argument could ever alter their opponents view based on reason alone. For surely their reasoning would stand in contradiction to a mind encased by a differing set of presuppositions?

So why do Christians, atheists, philosophers and scientists bother at all about presenting their reason-based opinions to those whom from the outset will unlikely shift their stance at all? For Christians who base their reasoning on the reality that God exists and of Christ being who he claimed to be, any argument founded on alternative reasoning will be seen as one built on false foundations. Alternatively, for humanists in denial of the existence of a divine creator, any reasoning based on Scriptures will be tossed aside as unauthoritative delusion. Surely you can see the problem here?

Some of the greatest debates that have occurred in recent history have been between the new atheists and Christians, particularly those holding solid scientific credentials to prop up their credibility in the halls of academia. Debates between respected minds such as Hitchens, Dawkins, McGrath and Lennox spring to mind. But if you take a step back, standing on the outside looking in so to speak, what you will find is not an open-minded battle for the most reasonable argument but rather a host of people seeking confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a powerful force in the development of our personal worldviews. As we enter life’s many arenas of competing versions of truth and the many reasons given to support these truths, we human beings prove to be highly capable creatures when it comes to opening our eyes and ears to whatever reason confirms our already predetermined points of view.

But is this a bad thing?

The answer to this question can only be answered in the positive if the bias being confirmed is based on a truth that aligns with reality. Sadly, and contrary to popular postmodern opinion, truth by its very definition cannot be one thing for me and another for you. Truth is exclusive and leaves no wriggle room for subjective individualism.

As Christians seeking maturity in our quest for knowledge and understanding; solid food beyond the milk of our early Christian life, engaging with reason-based arguments will only serve to deepen the reasonableness of our faith. We have nothing to fear in regard to losing our faith through such discussions as the faith and truth we have received has been and continues to be revealed to us by the spirit of God Himself.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

For like Paul, the truth of the gospel that we preach is not something we have made up.

“I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:12)

The evidence we present and the reasons we use in our arguments for truth have no standing therefore with those who have not had their hearts and minds illuminated by Christ, particularly for those who adamantly reject Christ; self-ordained kings and queens holding firmly to their self-constructed versions of truth.

Professor Henry Van Til once proposed that faith, being a gift from God through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, acts as a wedge that divides humanity. Van Til makes an important point in that humanity continues to and will continue to be divided until the last day, where upon the shroud will finally be lifted and truth will be seen in all its glory. On that great day all debates on reason and truth will be eternally put to rest.

Until that day arrives, however, as long as we have a mind to learn and a mouth to speak, we are called to give a reason for what we believe.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

As apologists for the Christian Faith we must listen and learn from what others have to say, even if only to understand where they are coming from and of our own ignorance and lack of humility. Importantly, as we come to grips with the reasonableness of our Christian Faith, we must not fall into the trap of believing that we, through our own perceived cleverness in arguing for what we believe, have the ability to convince anyone of God’s truth. That ability belongs solely to Christ alone.

And so we must pray that we will continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ’s truth and that it may always be on our lips, so that by his power and authority, those that oppose his truth may miraculously come to embrace it.

Chasing the Wind

By Ben Swift

Groundhog Day. Not only is this movie a classic but it has gifted us with a term to describe the relentless, repetitive drudgery in which we often find ourselves. “How was your day dear?” “Oh, just another Groundhog Day.” Nothing more need be said, message received loud and clear.

The fact that so many of us identifies with Groundhog Day speaks volumes about our propensity to reflect on life and our part in it. Surely there must be more to life than just another Groundhog Day?

It’s questions like these that take you down the path of existentialist thinking; a path that seeks truth and meaning; a path focused on the question of what it means to live as a human being.

If you’re anything like me, you will have at some point in time, found yourself bewildered by the pursuits of humanity. Maybe I’m just being cynical but I find many of the activities that we hold up in worship to be, well, kind of ridiculous. Now, I’m not for a moment claiming any self-immunity to these bizarre behavioral patterns but rather I’m finding myself identifying more and more with the words in Ecclesiastes, “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

In the western world, sports stars are held up as modern-day warrior gods; heroes destined for an eternal legacy. How else could we justify paying these individuals higher wages than brain surgeons? Just step back and think about golf for a moment. Millions of dollars dedicated to hitting small white balls into small holes in the grass with metal sticks.

Why else would we open our minds to the wisdom of pop stars as they spray insults about the greed of politicians whilst flying in their own private jets to record lip-sync sessions on commercial TV?

There maybe some truth to Lady Gaga’s suggestion that we were all born this way? But I believe the answers to our human condition can be better found in Genesis. Here we find the fall of humanity; the original seed of our desire to be our own gods.

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

It is here in the original paradise called Eden that the desire to be like God sent us into a world of self-serving, humanity-worshiping pursuits, all of which equate to chasing the wind. ‘One may best describe the fundamental project of the human reality in saying that man is the being who projects to be God… [and] God represents the permanent limits in terms of which man understands his being.’ (Olson)

To put it another way, human beings, while striving constantly to be their own gods, exist in a state of anxiousness. They are endlessly faced with the reality that they can never become the true God. They may suppress this knowledge, bury it deep in their self-constructed denial, but they can never escape the moral law written permanently on their hearts. It is God who defines divinity and truth. It is exclusively He who holds the keys to the shackles of death; salvation exists in Christ alone. Therefore, humans remain haunted by the limits of their own humanity.

It is for this reason that Kierkegaard – possibly the father of existentialist thinking – believed that humans can only desire the eternal fullness that God alone possesses. Humanity can only hold to the uncontrolled, unpredictable pleasures and pains of this finite life.

“No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17)

Surely the only way out of the existentialist conundrum can be found exclusively in the one who is both fully human and fully divine; The Christ. He, having intimate knowledge of all that it means to be human and to be all powerful and unlimited as only God is, provides us with the narrow path to salvation. For this reason we must die to self, only to gain true, eternal life in Christ.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Undoubtedly for most of us, life will continue to serve up Groundhog Days but also days of overwhelming pleasure and pain. There will be times to laugh, times to cry and seasons for everything under the sun. But like the existentialists, may we use these experiences to dig deeper into what it all means, seeking the truth about who we are as limited human beings.

It’s time to stop chasing the wind and to start resting in Christ.

Notes:
Olson Robert, An Introduction to Existentialism, Dover Publications, NY, p. 59.

No Stairway to Heaven

By Ben Swift

“Faith in God transcends reason as it flows from the heart and the heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of.” (Blaise Pascal)

It’s an interesting thing to stop and reflect on what it means for something to flow from the heart. Perhaps Pascal’s idea speaks to us because deep down we all struggle as human beings to align all of logic and reason with our human emotions. We are, after all, more closely related to Captain Kirk than to Spock. While we might know something to be true within our minds, our hearts can seem to whisper alternative words of wisdom into our being, often blurring the lines between the choices we must make.

There’s a popular saying in western society, “If it feels good, do it.” The problem with this saying is that short term, temporary pleasure can often lead to long term harm. It can lay the foundation to a path that subtly veers away from the heart of God. When it comes to opening windows to our souls, we must be careful about who and what we let in. John Lennon may have pointed us to seek Mother Mary for wisdom but the truth is better found in the Word of God.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4: 24-27)

When it comes to music, how are we to guard our hearts in this way?

Rock band ‘Kiss’ once filled the airways with the lyrics, “God gave rock and roll to you… put it in the soul of everyone.” While we could debate the truth of these words, there is something special about music; a divinely inspired art that alludes the analytical dissection of the neuroscientist’s scalpel. Music has the power to draw you in, speak to your inner being, call you to be a part of it and it a part of you.

For the Christian, one who seeks to live by the truth of Christ, this power that music holds can be both a source of enrichment but also of tension. Here lies the dilemma. When it comes to choosing our associations with music, where shall we draw our lines? And who gets to forge these lines, the self or God? And to top this off, how can we even tell who’s guiding the stick in the sand when almost every perspective can be justified with scriptural quotes manipulated to support a particular point of view?

When considering division within churches, music is surely one of the most common sources of division. But why? While there may be several explanations for this, the reason people feel so strongly when it comes to music is in the way it is played. These 12 notes in their various arrangements are closely tied to the emotions of the heart, whether we like to admit it or not. We could put on our Spock masks at this point and explain these musical tensions as generational biases or theological issues with the lyrics – both of which can hold some truth – but if we bail on Spock for a moment and invite Kirk back in, we will see more clearly that music is powerful in its ability to take us on different emotional journeys. While music may be soul food, not everybody thrives on the same diet.

As created human beings we have all been blessed with God-given potential in whatever form that might be. But if your potential is musical, how should your potential be developed and used? How far can you take and mold this potential before it is no longer about the glory of God but rather the glory of humanity? Surely these must eventually become the theological musings of all musos desiring to serve God?

When the philosophical dust settles however, it’s all about ‘glory’. If a star is born then let that star be a beacon that points to Christ. It’s not that Christ needs us to bring glory to himself or to the Father, rather it’s that we who have been called to him should feel compelled to acknowledge who he is and who we are in relation to him. The focus of how we live, the music we listen to and play, should be shaped in the light of this reality.

Let us remember that God lists joy amongst the fruits of the spirit. The joy that comes from music is a gift. Whether as a player or a listener, open up to some soul food. Let music do what it does best, expressing the reasonings of the heart that reason knows nothing about.

‘Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.’ (Martin Luther)

Beyond the Minefield

By Ben Swift

‘Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.’ (Friedrich Nietzsche)

‘Risk taking’ seems to be a buzz term floating around the corporate and educational worlds of late. But risk taking in these contexts is far from the risk taking of the past. For those who grew up on old school playground equipment harbouring the risk of third degree burns as steel bars were superheated under the summer sun, or potential arsenic poisoning as splinters from the treated logs lodged into your blood stream, modern risk taking takes on a whole new meaning. Much of the old risk taking has been bubble wrapped and isolated from our well-protected lives.

While the laws of society may be protecting us from the freedom of risks such as those found in old school playgrounds, a different form of risk has evolved for the modern, western citizen. This risk often goes undetected until a person learns the hard way the price of breaking unwritten laws about what is politically correct to say in an ever-growing minefield of contexts. Terms of speech that were once perfectly polite and acceptable are now being angrily thrown back into the faces of those falling behind the current social benchmarks of acceptability.

I recently heard from a man who took the great risk of ordering a coffee on a flight to Canada. When asked by the air hostess how he would like his coffee, he answered, “White with one please.” No sooner had he put in his request he was advised that applying the terms ‘white’ or ‘black’ to coffee was completely unacceptable in this racially sensitive age. Shocked by this, the man who was of Indian descent and well aware of racial issues, became confused about how then to order his coffee. What could he say that would be less of a risk in offending any group of people? Did he need to explain that he would like his portion of coffee beans to be crushed, dissolved in boiling water with about 10ml of milk added?

Surely when it becomes a risk to use harmless words to describe how you would like your coffee in the off chance of breaking the unwritten, socially acceptable conventions of a group, there’s no other explanation, the world’s gone mad!

While it’s true that we all run the risk of unintentionally causing insult as our freedom of speech is narrowed by those who seek to protect seemingly every group other than those that follow Christ, how do those risks affect Christians?

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once suggested, “Truth by definition excludes.” This statement perhaps sums up the risk taking dilemma faced by those who seek to follow the truth of Christ in a world where truth is whatever you want it to be.

Surely to follow Christ is to risk offending anyone who seeks affirmation and acceptance for a lifestyle or belief system that sits outside biblical teaching?

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

When Jesus claimed to be the exclusive way to God, he knew very well that for his people this would cause division and hardship. Why else does he refer to the Christian life as one that involves taking up a cross?

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)

When it comes to Christianity, there’s no escaping the flow on effect of subjecting your life to the exclusive truth that is Christ as revealed in Scripture. If the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are to be read, interpreted and understood as the Word of God, there must be a flow on effect as we listen to God speaking into the way we live, inwardly, outwardly, collectively and individually.

It is here that the risk is no longer a risk but a guarantee of rejection from the world. If we stand for Christ exclusively, without carefully selecting which sections of Scripture we agree with and disregarding what remains, we will stand apart from the world. The divisiveness that Christ spoke about is not the result of his intention to destroy relationships but rather that, out of love, he calls people to stand apart from the world in truth so that they may live in his saving grace.

When what is being normalised in society lies in contradiction to the teachings of Christ, what will we do? When issues associated with injustice, sexuality, education, politics and religion confront us, where will we turn for answers? To make this even more difficult the institution of the church too often creates confusion that leads to divisiveness by conforming to the pressures of the surrounding culture; trading the rock of Christ for the sandy foundation of the world.

As the seasons of life continue to change, bringing new and recycled issues to our doorsteps we need to remember that our responses do involve risks. The question is how do we weigh up those risks and what are the costs? It may just come down to some heated discussion but it also may become the tipping point between truth, life and death.

The good news however is that the human right to life found in Christ alone is a right that cannot be taken away, even if it becomes politically incorrect; even in death.

Set Free

By Ben Swift

I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear! – Nina Simone

There’s an old proverb that suggests that as pressure makes diamonds, a situation where a person is placed under pressure enables them to demonstrate their full potential.

While it may be true that diamonds – crystals of pure carbon formed under the influence of high temperatures and extreme pressure – sparkle with beauty, human beings, although carbon-based life forms, do not always shine when under extreme pressure. In fact, the varying, unrelenting demands and pressures of life for seemingly unending periods of time can lead to chronic stress, a far cry from the alluring nature of a diamond.

While the Christian life by no means provides an escape route from the reality of the pressures of life, it does throw hope into the mix; a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.

There are many stories of people who throughout history have shown remarkable resilience in the darkest of circumstances. But what is it that enables some people to endure the unendurable? What fuels the souls of the seemingly unbreakable in the face of intense adversity?

Film makers have often been good at addressing these questions as they go to great lengths to portray the lives of people living through extreme circumstances. The fictional film ‘Shawshank Redemption’ perceptively illustrates the power of genuine hope found in a place where most would succumb to the seemingly helpless situation they find themselves in. The main character, Andy Dufresne, a falsely convicted murderer, finds himself in a prison where abuse of all kinds routinely runs rampant. Something is different about Andy, however. As his friend and fellow inmate, Red, describes, “He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had an invisible coat that would shield him from this place.”

While this character’s hope came from a fictional place there have been many accounts of people who have attributed their psychological, spiritual and mental survival in places such as war camps and prison cells to the hope they have in Christ and the freedom that accompanies this hope.

Thankfully not all people are subject to the extremes of torture, starvation and abuse as occur in war and prison. No human being is exempt however, when it comes to the struggles of life and certainly no one can escape from themselves. Isn’t it true that wherever you go, wherever you try to hide, there you will be? The older one becomes, the more this reality will have set in and left its mark. Perhaps this is why we so often see or imagine greener grass on the far side of the hill only to find it ruined shortly after arrival by the dragging shackles of the ‘self’. Is it no wonder then that the Scriptures teach us that we must die to self in order that we may live?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

When life appears as a vast ocean in which we struggle to stay afloat, how comforting it is to feel a solid foundation under our feet. The waves may continue to envelop us with their wild fury but the rock on which we stand holds us tall and steady in the white wash; our emerging faces finding comfort in the warm glow of the sunshine above. On Christ the solid rock we stand; a foundation of truth eternally anchored in the Triune God. This truth, God’s enduring, unchanging truth, cannot be moved or broken. Rest and salvation available to the exhausted water treader being pulled every which way by the currents of life, trying desperately to maintain control in their own strength.

Surely this is the truth of which Martin Luther King spoke as he powerfully proclaimed, “So if the Son [Christ] sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

It is the reality of who we are in Christ that has the power to set us free from any situation in which we may find ourselves as we come to the realization that he is with us in all circumstances. There is nothing that can be done to us that can put an end to this reality. The world and even death have been defeated. When Jesus uttered his final words before giving up his spirit on the cross, he confirmed, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) The word finished in this part of Scripture means, ‘paid in full’.

The apostle Paul truly understood the power of hope in Christ as he often suffered for his faith. It is for this reason we can be encouraged by his words:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

While the unrelenting pressures of this life may not make diamonds out of us, we have something immeasurably more valuable than any precious jewel – the chance to really live for something infinitely bigger than ourselves. Here we find hope. Here we are set free. Here we live in Christ.