The Comedy of Christ

Comedy is usually thought of as beneficial but not necessarily significant or essential. However, there is actually a structure and significance to humor as seen in comedic pieces. For instance, during comedic movies, many times the events are going decently well but in time they begin to devolve and become somewhat tragic, that is until the arrival of the comedic turn. The comedic turn is what serves as the axis which turns tragedy on its head and the once sorrowful story suddenly becomes joyful and hopeful. In light of the structure behind comedy, it may play a larger role than initially believed.

The important role that comedy plays is to inject hope through a greater understanding of truth. In Harry Potter, students encounter a Boggart, a creature that attacks them in the form of their worst fear. One would think students would be taught a deadly, powerful spell to defeat the Boggart but instead they are taught to use the spell, “Riddikulus” which turns the Boggart into something humorous. Through their laughter, the students learn that the opponent they face is not indestructible but ultimately conquerable. The transformation of approach from terror to humor stems from understanding this truth and allows them to then laugh from an assurance of victory.

For Christians, we are able to similarly fight our enemy with laughter from the same hope of victory. Our hope stems from the unique comedic turn of Christ, the axis that turns tragedy into joy. Raskin, a distinguished professor of linguistics at Purdue, explains the link between the comedic turn and humor stating it comes from, “the idea is that every joke is based on a juxtaposition of two scripts. The punch line triggers the switch from one script to the other. It is a universal theory.” In the biblical story, there exists the two scripts: the present fallen world and the future perfect world. When Christ came, died, and rose again, he was the punch line that triggered the switch from the fallen world and bridged the gap to the perfect world.

Christ’s life and death was a miraculous act that suddenly and irreversibly altered the fight against sin. The fight against a once seemingly formidable enemy becomes a fight filled with the joy and laughter that accompanies ultimate victory. The consolation of a happy ending is labeled by Tolkien as the Eucatastrophe,  “the consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn.”  As a result of Christ’s life and death, we are able to fight against our enemy without total anxiety or fear. If Satan is our Boggart, Jesus is the “Riddikulus” which allows us to claim our assurance of victory. Because of Christ, we are able to recognize the ridiculousness attempt of Satan to rule and can wage war against us. This joy found in the fight against Satan does not trivialize or underestimate the battle but rather esteems the miraculous turn created by Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

We will face obstacles and struggles in the present world since Christ’s Eucatastrophe has not come to its full effect, but this does not mean His actions lack present effect. The underlying quality of the Eucatastrophe is,“It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’” While the Gospel’s Eucatastrophe creates a perfect hope for the future, it has the ability to deeply affect our present spiritual struggles by removing fear or anxiety in the midst of battle.

 

The Power of Fantasy

When I was little, my parents chose to tell me the truth about Santa Claus. They thought if I knew this particular myth was false, I would be less susceptible to believing lies in the future. They didn’t want me to confuse fantasy with reality, especially when I began to learn about Christianity. Not surprisingly, a lot of Christians feel similarly about fantasy and ask why would you read or watch something that doesn’t exactly correspond with the reality we experience? While these concerns regarding fantasy are not ungrounded, I believe there is also a lot of good and truth that can be communicated through this specific genre.

Although the genre of fantasy is able to communicate truth, it does not mean it is free from potential danger. Scripture defines the line between myth and reality when Peter writes, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” and Paul warns to not, “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” These two verses clearly warn against the dangers of myths and fables since they have the ability to detract from the truth of the Gospel.

These passages were interpreted by many Christians, including my parents, to mean all fiction must be harmful since it was unrealistic and therefore untruthful. To these Christians, fantasy stories are made up of lies and deceit and are directly opposed to the Bible which is completely truthful. The works which include fantastical elements such as talking animals are deemed falsehoods since they promote worlds incompatible with the Christian reality. Whether or not one completely agrees, these types of concerns are truly valid when an individual begins to replace truth and reality with a fantasy world. Fantasy is not meant to be nonfiction and most would understand the label of fantasy to differ from reality. However, the distinction is not always easy for some, which is why prudence and discretion are important guiding factors when exploring fantasy.

However, in spite of the potential risks, fantasy was championed by Tolkien and Lewis as a powerful tool for Christians through its ability to engage the imagination. Their use of magic and myth is supported by many Christians because of their explicit ties to Gospel themes, but C.S Lewis believed fantasy was useful beyond direct connections to the Bible. He said, “At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.” Fantasy thus has the unique ability to extend beyond the present and introduce to the human mind the potential of a life beyond the tangible reality man experiences.

Fantasy’s introduction to the extension of life beyond the material then allows the mind to break the limitations of materialism and embrace truth’s existence outside materialistic bounds. Fantasy critics construct a false parallel between tangible reality and truth, believing fantasy’s venture outside the realm of daily life is an attack on reality. Tolkien said, “creative Fantasy is founded…on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it.” At it’s core, fantasy still maintains logical thought, but it simultaneously engages in a world which extends beyond an earthly framework.By doing so, fantasy breaks the spell of a mindset that truth only exists in this present earth and teaches us to realize greater truths beyond a material worldview.

 

 

Comparison as the Thief of Joy

It’s been famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This reminder was recently quoted in a Christian talk, and my gut reaction was, “That makes sense.

We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others but finding our value in Jesus.” While this conclusion is true, it doesn’t dig into why comparison is so harmful or where our true value comes from.

In fact, when I hear somebody say, “We’re all valuable to God!” my mind leaps to the concept of participation trophies. While the idea is well-intentioned, it doesn’t actually accomplish the purpose of a trophy. A trophy recognizes outstanding performance based on a valued goal, especially when compared to other performances with the same goal. In comparison, participation trophies set a minimal, basically valueless goal and rewards everyone for completing what is actually closer to a necessity. While it’s true each individual is valued by God, it could be a type of minimal value, similar to a participation trophy.

However, when I was reading Psalm 139 I realized two things. First, whatever value we have to God, it’s never a small amount. “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful to me.”  Even if God gave every single person a trophy for value, the fact that each of us has value does not diminish the worth of His regard. Instead, it contradicts the notion of a participation trophy since His regard is not minimal or an assumed fact. In fact, His regard for us is larger than anything we could conceive and more precious than anything on this earth.

God’s value for man is unlike the concept of a participation trophy but it’s also not like a trophy system that compares performances. See, a true trophy system evaluates performances in relation to an overarching goal but we’re not created with the same goal in mind. Psalm 139 tells us we were each created with a unique goal or purpose, “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Since God created each individual with a unique goal or purpose, there is no need to compete by the exact same standards.

Since God uniquely created individual purposes, comparison becomes the thief of joy. We are the most happy when we are fulfilling our purposes but when we begin comparing ourselves to others, we believe the lie that our purpose is the same as someone else’s. In this framework, we will never be happy because we are chasing a specific purpose that isn’t ours. We then begin to falsely compare and compete in the delusion that we are striving against one another for the same goal. Instead, our joy is found in fulfilling God’s purpose that’s uniquely created for us.

However, it’s also important to remember that we shouldn’t be anxious or worry about figuring out the specific path ordained for us. We were ultimately created with the overarching purpose to glorify God, and the psalmist in 139 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” If we love God and seek Him in a way that remains true to our individual nature, it is then possible to discover our specific path and simultaneously glorify to God.

 

 

Beauty is Passing, Perhaps still Important

Immanuel Kant said, “Two things fill the mind with ever increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The beauty Kant saw in the starry sky impacted him deeply and moved him to wonder and awe which are the same traits we use to describe our  worship for God. For the Church, beauty shouldn’t only be used for superfluous adornment but as strong cultivators of the feelings which help us worship.

 

However, some churches would question the use of physical beauty believing it hinders rather than helps. With this mindset, beauty becomes a distraction when the worshiper stops paying attention to the meaning behind the object and instead focuses on the object itself. This is the sin outlined in the second commandment which says, “you shall not make for yourself a carved image…you shall not bow down or serve them…” The temptation to worship the beauty found in the creation rather than the creator is a real danger and for some believers, physical beauty fails to cultivate proper worship.

 

The Bible recognizes this danger and warns about the snare of physical beauty telling us, “Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” Our human tendency gravitates toward prioritizing outward beauty. Physical beauty is easy to value since it’s present and tangible, but we are reminded, “Charm is fleeting and beauty is passing.” To find worth in beauty only for its present benefit is to then only find value in a brief and temporary satisfaction.

While it’s prudent to recognize these potential  dangers of beauty, it’s also important not to dismiss it altogether but realize it can play a significant role. In the appropriate context, the use of beauty should never become the forbidden graven image, a created object worshipped in the place of God. Rather, beauty is used to guide and increase the worship of God. This is why some churches include stained glass windows as part of their decor. The purpose of the stained glass is not to distract from God but to direct our attention to God through the resulting feelings of wonder and awe.

If the beautiful images found in nature and in man’s handiwork are able to generate worship, it’s also possible for the beauty found in man to also point to God. In fact, perhaps the type of beauty found in man best reflects the person of God since we were created in His own image. The danger is not beauty itself, but the temptation to over-value physical beauty. Physically, this means it is possible for us  to dress up for church to respect God but also as a means to generate worship of God through the beauty of our clothes.  

 

Ultimately, the better reflection of God is found in the beauty of our spirit which is why Peter says, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  In comparison to the earthly beauty which perishes, the loveliness of our souls displays a far greater enduring spiritual beauty. While it is good to cultivate and appreciate material beauty, ultimately we must remember our focus should be centered around glorifying God through the cultivation of the imperishable beauty of our spirits.

 

 

 

An Insurmountable Obstacle

Did you know it’s estimated that in 2011-1012 about 7.1 billion people were considered chronically undernourished? Or did you know that the estimated number of orphans world-wide is around 1.5 billion? Statistics like these are often employed to raise awareness and are often effective in alerting an audience to the magnitude and importance of a problem. However, they can also have the unintended effect of overwhelming an audience. In light of solving a problem that seems hopeless, how are we supposed to respond?

a) walk away

Even when faced with a small problem, it’s tempting to leave it alone believing someone else will fix it or it will be resolved on its own. Dirty dishes in the sink? Maybe I can pretend I didn’t see them and my roommate will wash them when she gets home. Or maybe they’re not actually a problem at all; maybe she put them into the sink for a reason. As ridiculous as these excuses may sound, they still run through our mind and  cause us to realize there is a daily temptation to ignore and give up on the small problems.

When faced with a huge problem, especially one that doesn’t personally affect us, the temptation becomes even bigger to just walk away. Of course, nobody wants to admit this. Nobody would say, “I don’t care if global hunger continues” because theoretically, everybody wants the problem to end. While there are some who actively work to fix the problem, many seem content only expressing a desire to fix the problem and then ignoring the needed work.

b) settle for less

Sometimes when confronted with a large problem, sometimes one attempt won’t offer a solution so it’s necessary to begin by taking small steps. The small steps then offer a better approach by breaking the problem up into manageable pieces. This approach can be extremely useful and is often necessary to begin addressing the problem.

However with this option, there is a risk of contenting oneself with only the small steps and never resolving the larger problem. For example, removing a tree means the roots eventually need to be removed. Beforehand, sometimes its necessary to prune the branches which is an example of taking small steps to fix the problem. However, sometimes only the branches are pruned and the trunk is never touched. Similarly with a large problem, sometimes actions are only taken to relieve the problem and fail to follow through in solving the entire problem. This option is tricky because it follows the same lines as an appropriate response. However, this option becomes faulty when the small steps fall short of addressing the problem either at its core or in its entirety.

c) try harder

Especially for those plagued with guilt or self-doubt, trying harder seems to be the simple solution to an unsolved problem. We know that when we care about something, we will spend time and effort with it, so if we truly cared about an issue, it would then seem we should spend a maximum amount of time and effort. However, this mindset is a recipe for burnout since it usually doesn’t realistically view the problem’s extent or man’s ability.

Although these options differ in their approach, whether it’s overworking or underworking, they all fail to offer a satisfying solution because of one simple reason. They forget the basic truth that’s taught all throughout Sunday school: the right answer is Jesus. While it’s somewhat of a trite saying, in this case it’s the correct answer. As believers, we are now children of God and we are in the process of being fashioned like Christ.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” We are called to be obedient to this command in a way that mirrors Jesus’ love. Jesus didn’t abandon the world or settle for the minimum, but in His life and death, He fully engaged with life’s essential and daily problems. While we don’t have Jesus’ divine ability to completely fix the world’s problems, we do have the motivation and the ability to mirror His love. This doesn’t mean trying harder to solve immense problems but rather trying properly by pointing to the ultimate solution of Jesus.

Finally, in spite of our feelings of hopelessness, the truth is He has already overcome the world. Jesus loved us with a love that carried Him through the earth and the heavens and we have been shown this love. If we are filled with this love, our response to the world problems around us will not cause us to become overwhelmed or afraid. Instead, we will be able to act in a way that demonstrates Christ’s love and thus allows our love to be stronger than our fear.

 

A Time to Weep

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us “to everything there is a season” and the current season we are in is Lent. But most of the conversations I’ve had about Lent miss the underlying meaning of this season and focus only on what’s been given up. While Lent does incorporate the practice of giving up, also called fasting, the underlying purpose of Lent is to set apart a time for the purpose of grieving. So when I’ve been asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I’m not upset because I know one part of Lent is the practice of fasting, but another part of me also feels the loss in failing to connect fasting to the overall purpose of entering into a time of grief.

From the conversations I’ve had about Lent, grief and fasting are not often linked together, and this is understandable. At first glance, the acts grieving and fasting seem fairly distinct; one focuses on sorrow while the other focuses on self-discipline. However, Lent does not separate these practices but intertwines them. So what is the link between grieving and fasting? One answer may be that both grief and fasting allow the believer to learn how to let go of things belonging this world and to learn how to hold on to things belonging to God

Before diving into the link of grieving and fasting, it is important to first clearly understand what each process entails. Grief is not just an emotion but the recognition of loss, and while the specific examples of loss may vary, the characteristics do not. Loss is a combination of the inevitable, painful, involuntary and disorienting, and while we can’t control loss, we can control our response. When responding with grief, change is directed by the reason for grief. If grief is centered around the self, loss causes despair since it can only focus on what has been lost and the inability of man to reclaim. But when we grieve in the context of the Christian life, loss teaches us to face our mortality, values, and fears. For the believer, this lesson from loss is possible since life is not contained only on this earth but is sustained for eternity from God. Thus for the believer, grief should not cause us to spiral inward and downward but should instead lead us outward to express, embrace and explore.

While grief involves the emotions, it is also not a short or passive experience but a strenuously active processing of loss. This is because part of the Christian life is the long-term process of learning how to acquire and how to let go. Job reflects this process when in his grief he declares,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  Job’s cry stems from the knowledge that his life was not grounded in what he possessed or what he lost but rather founded on his relationship with God. This perspective exemplifies the Christian grief which recognizes the loss on earth but simultaneously understands our lives ultimately rely on God.

So during Lent, fasting similarly reminds us our sustenance isn’t found in what we gain or lose but in the eternal relationship we have with God. Often times, fasting is merely seen as a way to practice endurance or self-discipline. However, its deeper meaning is revealed through abstaining from one form of sustenance such as food which then points to the greater sustenance of another such as God. The remembrance of and reliance on God through fasting then allows believers to focus on the renewal of a relationship with God. It’s a self-imposed loss which similar to grief should not cause us to turn inward or despair but should instead lead us to explore and embrace the relationship we have with God.

Grieving is difficult and at times overwhelming but it is also a process which ultimately allows for growth. While growth can be found amidst loss and grief,  “we do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Likewise, when we fast, we don’t fast eternally but in preparation for feasting. Instead, we learn how to properly give things up with the belief they will eventually be replaced with things far better. So in this season of grief, let us patiently and somberly grow in the process of loss but let us also be encouraged in the hope of what is to come.

Remember: Prayer is Approaching the Throne of God

If prayer is entering into the presence of God, it is grounded in our relationship with Him. But many people find it hard to pray and when asked why, the most voiced excuse is, “I don’t know how.” The words themselves state a lack of knowledge, but beneath the words there’s an underlying emotion of fear. And it is usually fear, not just lack of knowledge, that’s stops people from praying. The fear attached to entering into a relationship with God is a lie for we are already fully known by God and God desires for us to deeper know Him.

As Christians, our relationship with God isn’t vaguely suggested but perfectly exemplified by Jesus. Throughout his life, Jesus displays three important characteristics related to his relationship with the Father: intimacy, obedience, and confidence. There are various independent examples of each trait but the three attributes intersect when Jesus prays to God in the moment of one his greatest needs.

While in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” The address of “My Father” is theAramaic word “Abba,” the word children used to address their parent. However, this intimacy does not lead to an overly-familiar behavior but is coupled with a respect for God and a desire to obey His will. Finally, Jesus approaches God with confidence that his request will be heard and with trust in God’s will.

Jesus not only provides an example of the model relationship with God but also instructs by giving us language to use in prayer.

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

Throughout this prayer, the three characteristics of intimacy, obedience, and confidence are reiterated in the invocation of Father, the desire for His will to be done, and the petition itself, trusting God will listen and act.

Believers are able to use Christ’s example and instruction to inform a perspective of the relationship we have with God but Jesus was also not just another man. He is also divine and the only way we are able to approach God’s throne. Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but on who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

While our high priest is able to sympathize with us, He is also unlike us in regards to sin; thus the believer is unable to duplicate Jesus’ relationship with the Father. But Jesus’ own relationship with God is able to inform us of the relationship God desires. This relationship is evidenced through the type of mediator God has provided. Our mediator is not distant but able to understand our weakness and temptations that we might draw near.

The believer then knows from Hebrews that God desires a relationship which allows for us to draw near. This act of drawing near is often described with the phrase “encountering God.” The word “encounter” literally means “within and against.” When we pray, we enter into the inner chamber and are able to commune with Him in an intimate struggle. The Psalmist cries out in Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Our relationship with God is a struggle because of our sin, but it is simultaneously deeply personal and for the purpose of our sanctification.

So how do we approach God? Without the false fear that hinders a relationship with Him. While He is not a fawning friend concerned with securing our love at the expense of our good, neither is He a doctor scientifically probing us for his own sterile delight. We should not let our fear of the unknown or fear of failure keep us from God also knowing we have the Spirit to help us in our weakness. For even though we do not always know what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. So let us confidently approach the throne of God, not letting our fear stand in the way of our relationship but entering into the relationship God lovingly invites us into through his example, instruction and himself.

What is Love? (And What Isn’t It?)

What is love? Especially if you’re in love, this can be a tricky question to answer since sometimes love seems either too confusing or too simplistic. 1 Corinthians says, “Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way…” One aspect of love is it stops focusing on the self and instead begins to seek another person’s well-being.

However, love is not only concerned with someone else’s good but also seeks the truth. 1 Corinthians also says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Thus truly seeking the good of another is to lead them away from evil and into truth which is why love is not always comfortable.

  1. Love isn’t just about uniformity.

To begin seeking someone else’s good, it’s important to view them as a separate person which might seem obvious, but a danger can be emphasizing uniformity at the expense of rich love.

When I was little, my Mom and I would play a game. We would walk holding hands and when we came to an obstacle, we would walk on either side but we would keep holding hands by lifting them over the object. When we did this, we would state a pairing such as: “peanut butter and jelly” or “salt and pepper.” I have no idea where this game started or why my Mom decided to play it with me, but the game’s concept recognizes objects with distinct individual characteristics also make a good pair.

In fact, I think this game is a great example of a bigger picture of love because it celebrates the unique differences that contribute to a good pairing. While the words of “jelly and jelly” could still be joined, this would be less complex and less rich. Just like in a relationship, preserving individuality won’t lead to uniformity but it will contribute to a richer relationship.

2. Love isn’t always comfortable

When I go out to eat, I’ll see couples sitting on the same side of the booth and usually, these couples are young and appear extremely in love. But I often wonder how in love they are. Not because sitting on the same side of the booth indicates a substantial lack of character or any other similar red flag but it is an image that fails to reflect the entire scope of love.

In conflict resolution, it’s better to face the same direction because facing the other person indicates confrontation, but sometimes confrontation can be beneficial, since it is ultimately more loving. Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” True love isn’t afraid to introduce conflict in the relationship when it is for the benefit of the other person. While this may not be the easier action, the Bible communicates the value of confrontation.

It’s sort of like getting a flu shot. Nobody really wants a shot, but we know we need the shot for our ultimate well-being. It would be more comfortable to skip the shot or even for the nurse to check off the shot on the chart without giving it. Similarly, in a relationship it would be easier to go through the external motions of love and ignore an outstanding problem, at least for a time. But true love looks out for the best interest of another and is therefore willing to inflict short-term pain for the long-term benefit.

3. Love isn’t always miserable

While some confrontation may be healthy in a relationship, it also says in Proverbs, “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” While it may be healthy to sit on opposite sides of the booth, it’s also unhealthy to kick each other under the table. Conflict should be introduced into a relationship with the intention of benefitting the other person by leading them into truth, not leading them into misery.

Since the goal of love is to seek the other person’s good, any action, including confrontation, should desire a growth in the ultimate truth which is Christ’s. And while this growth might bring pain, it will also bring joy. Hebrews 12:11 explains, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but it later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

When considering what love is, it is easy to get caught up in an overly-simple understanding. Even the Bible’s commandment to love is simply stated, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” However, a simple phrasing of love is not equivalent to a shallow understanding and as Christians, it’s important to have a full grasp of love since this reflects Christ’s love. So with a better understanding of love, let us practice this understanding that we might love one another with a heart that is better caring and deeply truthful.