This is the time of year for resolutions. There’s something about new beginnings that prompt people to want to turn the page and leave behind the shortcomings or disappointments of the past. New Year’s resolutions almost always fall into one of two categories: physical or mental. Gym memberships skyrocket this time of year as, another year older and a few pounds or more overweight, we think about the advantages of becoming slim and trim, of trying to turn back the clock while there’s still time… and energy.
So too in the area of the mind. The countless titles found in the “self improvement” section of the bookstore bear witness to the widespread desire to cast off our old selves and move into the future without the “baggage” that has encumbered us most of our lives. . Or it may be something more simple, like improving our memory, learning a new skill, or picking up or improving our proficiency in a foreign language.
Physical and mental fitness are important, but there is a third aspect of the human experience, one involving the spiritual dimension. Though some may deny its existence, the vast majority of people recognize the need for spiritual nurturing and growth. Once addressed by membership in an organized faith system, this need is sublimated by an increasing number of people today, as they reject all forms of organized religion in favor of generic “spirituality.” Sadly, this approach misses a key component of the spiritual dimension, the development of a relationship.
The goal of physical fitness is to increase one’s muscular strength or agility, and improving one’s mental acuity involves increasing knowledge or wisdom or enhancing memory. These are both inward-looking; they deal with self improvement. Spirituality, by contrast, cannot be a self-focused activity. By its very nature, it must necessarily involve the relationship between the part of a person that survives death, and the God who created and sustains that individualized consciousness.
Of the three components of humanity, the spiritual dimension is the most important. Our bodies will eventually fail, as will our minds; in the end, our physical selves will return to dust. This no one can deny. But our souls survive. If we spend our lifetimes looking inward and seeking our own pleasure, craving the fulfillment of our carnal desires, we may end up spending eternity in a similar place – a dimension of “solitary confinement.” Christianity, by contrast, promises something much different – the prospect of a loving relationship with the source of all life and all goodness. But a relationship requires effort; it is much more than a simple realization that another person exists or that a spiritual dimension overshadows our earthly existence. Ask anyone on the verge of divorce, or a parent who is estranged from a child – relationships require both quality and quantity time and they require effort – they succeed only when they are approached in a spirit of selfless love.
The skeptic may protest that even if there is a God, He appears to be silent, that it isn’t possible to have a relationship with a non-physical being. This betrays a lack of imagination. Long distance relationships can exist, in which two minds interact through the written or spoken word. Though not as satisfying as face-to-face contact, lack of physical presence does not prevent the development of a relationship. This may have been easier for previous generations to grasp, since they did not have the benefit of technology which allows us to communicate instantly and “face to face” with people in distant corners of the globe. In those earlier generations, a hand-written letter or the words of a sojourner may have been the only means by which two people, separated by great distance, could exchange ideas. In a similar “non-technological” way, God has provided us an ample basis for knowing He is there and learning many things about Him. Through His general revelation, we glimpse His immense power and intelligence, the exquisite order of His creation, the sublime artistry which characterizes His creative efforts. Through special revelation – the pages of the Bible – He has “fleshed out” the rest of the story – literally, as it were, through the “flesh and blood” life of Jesus of Nazareth.
But God wants something back from us. He wants us to care. It’s not difficult to understand why. Just ask anyone mired in a relationship bereft of love and affection and passion. Though God needs nothing from us, His desire – His expectation – for us is that we respond appropriately to the great love He has shown us. Revelation 3 speaks of this desire:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. “
Be zealous. An interesting admonition for times of such religious apathy.
As we begin this new year, and a new set of resolutions, let’s keep in mind that the appropriate response to God’s love is to return that love – not in a lukewarm fashion, but passionately, zealously and fully, using our hearts and minds to grow ever closer to Him.
Posted by Al Serrato