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A Death(less) Version of Existence

I know that the title of this blog is a little heavy but I think rightly so, as in the final talk of Wonder we heard about the real interruption of death in our lives. This week I have been interviewing my agnostic friend Sam about all things faith related, (you’ll see his comments on italics), and today we’re talking about life and death and meaning.

Ruben was saying that the inevitability of death cancels out the meaning that we create or seem to experience in our lives. What did you think about this?

I agree with much of what Ruben said, but I feel that he may have pushed a false dichotomy. Either Jesus died and rose from the dead, or we have no meaning in our lives? It seems contrived. Yes, death erases you, and time erases your work soon enough, but surely a legacy isn’t all that we mean by meaning. We don’t have a definition yet, but surely a requirement of meaning is to provide us with contentment. For me, I feel like my own happiness is enough for meaning. Finitude is enough.

I agree with Ruben and Sam, that death erases you and time erases the work you have done, and even in big advances to progress humanity, it seems we are working towards an ambiguous end point of purposelessness. On a biological scale our purpose is to survive, or as my biology housemate corrected me, to pass on genes. To what end do we pass on genes? It is OK for there to be no end, but it is doubtful to me.

But does there need to be a purpose for humanity’s overall existence?

For some, it’s OK that there isn’t a purpose for humanity, and for some, it isn’t OK. If you want a deeper purpose, an eventual goal to work towards, then as Ruben said, without a God this is difficult – Who wrote the plan?

Does death bother you?

When I was younger I was always worried about death, and obviously it does bother me still, in the sense of not wanting to die any time soon. But coming to terms with death is separate from faith, at least from my perspective. I understand that I won’t be around forever, and in many ways I would rather die young than suffer the effects of old age. Death is traumatic, it is troubling, and it can negate feelings of hope, but it’s sometimes better to embrace the limited word count than to hope to extend it.

I have to say here that I disagree with Sam’s last comment. Although I agree that if death really is the end and the annihilation of your existence, then the better and healthier option is to accept it rather than go to extreme lengths to extend it or avoid talking about it, but with the knowledge that death may not be the end on account of Jesus, then I feel that one would be a fool to turn that down. As well, I would not want to live ‘forever’ on an earth which brings me the tiredness that I feel even right now as I type this blog, but to be offered eternal life in a place without pain or suffering or exhaustion… Well, I’d have to accept. Jesus is offering us eternal life in a new place, and actually we won’t be dead, we’ll be resurrected, like him. Sam and I will be talking about the evidence and meaning of the resurrection in the final blog post so keep a look out!

The Seriousness of Love

The blog posts for the Wonder event this year are featuring some thoughts from me, and some thoughts from my agnostic friend, Sam (see italics).

What does love mean to you?

I think loving someone is putting them before yourself. Sort of… Wanting to do that more than anything. It doesn’t make sense for it to be one emotion. There’s other love, when somebody just feels like part of the furniture. When somebody is such an integral part of life. For Christians, God, and God’s love, is the centre of their moral compass, and some argue it’s the only moral compass. Can you really argue something is wrong on mere consensus which shifts with time? I would say that even as an agnostic, for morality, we need something eternal.

It can be hard to make sense of the love that Christians talk about God having for human beings. How does a necessary being of a different dimension, even an anthropomorphic one, love beings like us? A better question here is, why does God love us? Why love, at all? Christians believe that God just is love. By this I mean that for God to be defined as God, is to define him as love and the bible tells us that Jesus tells us ‘above all’ to ‘love one another’, and to do this as he has loved us. Jesus has done this through atonement – making amends of the evil and hatred in our world by dying. For Christians, exactly as Sam has said, there is no point in hope or faith or morality if one does not love, and if one does not know the love that God has for you.

What is it like discussing the love of God with Christians?

I think it makes me feel awkward. I see people in the CU being good people, but I wonder if it’s separate to them being Christian? Then I think that accepting God’s love is an important part of Christianity, maybe the most important part, and it’s the scariest part. We all agree with being kind, being truthful, and with trying to forgive, and some would even consider themselves Christian if they agree, but the real leap is accepting the love of God. Without God’s love, you are a moral person, but you’re not a Christian.

This isn’t something you can gloss over, you need to seriously understand it, and then say yes or no at the end. I would ask you give it some thought. Perhaps I’m not ready to do this myself but do you consider yourself forgiven?

Forgiving and Being Forgiven

This week, I am talking with my agnostic friend, Sam, about his thoughts on the Christian Union Events week. On Tuesday we spoke about his curiosity surrounding The Christian Faith and some of the things that he finds less convincing than others when it comes to the Christian worldview. (You’ll see that his thoughts are in italics.)

Looking back over the past two days of events, one thing that has become an interesting topic of conversation for us, is forgiveness.

What have you learnt about forgiveness this week?

I’ve been reminded that forgiveness is weirdly complex. Paul explained it with reference to a story. It struck me as being all about the forgiver – for them, it’s an opportunity to find peace, no matter what the other person has done to them, no matter whether the other person is remorseful. In this way, forgiving someone is about recognising that the other person has made bad decisions, and knowing that hating them doesn’t solve anything. Easy when a character in a bad movie does it, difficult in real life.”

I think that very much in this society we only like to forgive if we have confirmation that somebody is remorseful or apologetic or justified in what they did. We see in the gospel, how forgiveness logic is entirely backwards. This week we’ve learnt how God has already forgiven us all through a sacrifice of Jesus Christ. One of the great ways we can illustrate the way God forgives is in the parable of the prodigal son. In the story that Jesus tells we learn that a son takes his inheritance and flees his family for a life of indulgence to pleasure. His life ends up going entirely down hill, and years later he comes back to his father, having lost all of his money and to put it candidly, a broken man.

In the passage, it says the son was a ‘long way off’ as he approached his home, and the father is ‘filled with compassion; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Parables can seem outdated or ‘cringey’, do you find this?

“I feel like parables can turn off an audience. However, I feel like the main point of this week is encouraging discussion about moral issues, and a parable is a good way to express a point. talk demonstrated the value of going to a Wonder event. Yes, perhaps the Bible story might put off some, but ultimately all Bible stories are just talking points, and it’s these points that we don’t often think about as groups. Wonder isn’t an opportunity to be preached at, it is genuinely meant to be a discussion.”

If you’d like to come and discuss more then we have two more days of events happening! 12, 13:00, 18:00 and 19:30 for the next two days in the Wonder tent!

Getting Curious

“I did genuinely think about why the Christian Union named the event, ‘Wonder’, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a really good name for the event. For the newcomers, the ‘uninitiated’, it’s an invitation to wonder, to think about faith, and God’s place in one’s own life. But for those who have come to the decision of accepting Christianity, it serves as an opportunity to wonder at the community surrounding Christianity, and the Good News that they spread.”

The quote above comes from a friend of mine, an agnostic, who regularly comes to the Christian Union events with me. Throughout the week, I will be talking with him about his thoughts related to the events that we are going to. I am doing this because as a Christian Union, we want to emphasise that the Wonder week is indeed for you. We want to reach out to you with our take on science, relationship, freedom and destiny and in turn, to hear your questions, your objections, your thoughts, whatever they may be. We believe that wondering is really important, and that sometimes we don’t get the opportunity to do this.

Why is Wonder something worth considering?

“I am by no means a Christian. Philosophically, I think that while there isn’t a reason for God to exist, more and more I realise that there are inadequacies in the alternatives. Although scientific study has always been about modelling our world; it simply doesn’t attempt to explain why. Am I to believe that sheer chance and time created what appears to be conscious people and that the rules of the world are simple enough for our minds to understand? It is here that I think there may be a place for God.”

Yesterday we had our international dinner, where we ate together and heard the testimony and teaching from Shelly, a former Brahman Hindu, who converted to Christianity after many years of praying to multiple Gods and living a life of strict ritual. We heard about one of her favourite passages in the New Testament of the Bible where she emphasised the complete willingness of God to meet people exactly in the state that they are in. Shelly confessed that she originally believed that Christianity was a half-heartedly practised faith of the western people, but came to see Christianity as something where many people of different nationalities and ethnicities commit whole-heartedly to God and find hope.

What did you make of Shelly’s Hindu to Christian conversion?

“I feel that a theist in general would have an easier time converting, as opposed to somebody who can’t make it over the hill and believe in any God or Gods… But I certainly was taken aback by the fascination with God that Shelly had, and that was persuasive. From hearing about Christianity to fully accepting it, she certainly found something, and I would have to admit that it makes me curious.”

We will be running the international dinner every night at 18:00. Come along if you would like some food and a chance to hear more stories like this.

Later on in the evening we heard from Andy Kind, an established comedian and Christian. It was a hilarious evening including coffee, tea and a chance to hear a fresh take on the gospel from somebody who has even lived the lively student days as an atheist. Andy spoke to us about humanism and nihilism, and shared his opinion on the unsustainable nature of such world views, as well as the western focused nature of them. Andy emphasised that the ‘good news’ of Jesus isn’t like advice as it’s not telling one what to do to get the good ‘stuff’, but rather that the good stuff has already happened! Namely, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

How did you enjoy the Comedy?

“He was a fun guy! He was remarkably up front, and in no way pushy, but you tell that his faith meant a lot to him.”

Andy mentioned that Christianity is the only religion where God ‘reaches out’. What do you think about this?

“Although I’m not sold on his views on humanism, I hadn’t thought about the ‘reaching out’ nature of the Christian God before and it was interesting to consider. Where other religions encourage a pure, holy life, Christianity simply asks you to accept Jesus. It seems to be a smaller, more reasonable leap of faith and in this sense, Christianity feels less fabricated.”

We will be having an evening event every night in the Wonder tent at 19:30. Check out the Wonder website for more details.

Wonder 2018