St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Wholeness, Fragmentation, and Christianity

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard has been “discovered” many times since his death in 1855. His Christian commitment led him into heated battle with the Church of Denmark, which he thought was soft in the extreme. He believed that you could not hold seriously conflicting opinions and consider yourself a Christian. The church’s tolerance for a broad spectrum of conflicting viewpoints rattled Kierkegaard to the core.

If this sounds vaguely like contemporary American Christianity, so be it. American Christianity is shredded by conflicting viewpoints that cancel each other out. This is the legacy we receive from centuries of private interpretations of the Bible that are not subject to critique from the community of faith.  So if you get a whim, you go off and form your own church and hope people will join you to legitimize your idiosyncratic reading. Since numbers count for both success and truthfulness here, that’s what you strive for, no matter how far from the classic understanding your view may be. No wonder people write us off.

If you say that Jesus is true God and true man – the classic Christian understanding, hammered out by countless theological thinkers and leaders over five centuries – then you rule out other choices. The church defined this truth in a cautionary and minimal way, saying as little as needed to be said to make the point. But the outcome was clear: either you affirm this or you are outside the classic faith.

Jesus is not merely one whose teaching is comparable to other religious geniuses like Buddha or Zoroaster. Again, Jesus may look like a prophet from his own ancestry, but he is more than a prophet. He’s not a shaman, either, or a wandering Jewish sage. All these other choices go by the boards if you claim the classic Christian understanding. You have to make the leap of faith. As with Kierkegaard, it’s either/or, not both/and. Either Christ brings God into our human world or he does not. Either Christ brings our fallen human world into the realm of God or he does not.

We who accept classic Christianity do not ask others to accept this Truth of God in human form, unless their hearts have been opened to it, but we expect it to be respected. We expect commitment from our own members, not because we want to march in lockstep, but because we know that anything less than this is not saving Truth. It may be pleasant or comforting, it may appear religious or spiritual, but it will not save us. All that we are and hope to be is found in this one who is fully human and fully divine. Christ is the mediator who unites God and man in himself. To follow him is to enter the pathway to wholeness.

We are not merely a collection of biological processes, nor are we machines with souls – two current beliefs about humanity. We cannot be meaningful as fragments; we are more than our reason or emotion or senses. We are made meaningful by the one who unites our fragments. St Gregory Nazianzus knew this truth centuries ago when he said, “Whatever (of our human nature) is not assumed is not healed, but that which is united to God is saved.” In short, Jesus Christ picks up the pieces and makes us whole.

All of this makes perfect sense from within the faith, but not outside of it. This faith brings emotional relief, spiritual healing, and intellectual delight.  But as Kierkegaard knew, you only gain these gifts by affirming the core truth and becoming one with this truth over time.

published 2 Oct 09