I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of January. (except for my birthday on the 4th!)
The dreary skies, and the cold, and another new year stretching out before us can leave me feeling a bit negative, (and as you’ll see from the following, given to philosophising!) And I know from conversations that I’ve had, that I’m not the only one feeling this way.
So this week, I’ve been grappling with how my Christian faith speaks into this. What spiritual resources can I draw on to help me overcome the prevailing grey of the sky, and my mood?
What will offer real solid comfort when you and I face real-life problems? – Depression, unemployment, the death of a friend…
One of the things that keeps coming to mind is something I once read by Francis Schaeffer. In his short book “Art and the Bible“, Schaeffer’s focus is on how the Christian worldview affects the way we think about art, but ignore that for the moment, because I think the following principle has much wider application.
Two Intertwining Themes
He speaks of two themes that we grapple with as human beings, and acknowledge as Christians – the major theme, and the minor theme.
Schaeffer summarises the minor theme like this:
“Men who have revolted from God and not come back to Christ are eternally lost; they see their meaninglessness in the present…”
We see this in the brokenness of the world around us, injustice, evil, and a general sense of meaninglessness that can dog the things we strive for. And we feel it within ourselves too…
“There is a defeated and sinful side to the Christian’s life. If we are at all honest, we must admit that in this life there is no such thing as totally victorious living. In every one of us there are those things which are sinful and deceiving and, while we may see substantial healing, in this life we do not come to perfection.”
If we are not careful, we can let this minor theme fill our vision and overwhelm our senses, leading to a pessimism that is not biblical.
But there is a major theme too:
“The major theme is the opposite of the minor; it is the meaningfulness and purposefulness of life…
God is there, God exists. Therefore, all is not absurd. Furthermore, man is made in God’s image and so man has significance…True morals exist… So therefore the major theme is an optimism in the area of being; everything is not absurd, there is meaning. But most important, this optimism has a sufficient base. It isn’t suspended two feet off the round, but rests on the existence of the infinite personal God who exists and who has a character and who has created all things, especially man in his own image.
This isn’t just feel-good existential philosophising; Schaeffer roots all of this thinking in Jesus Christ, saying:
Man’s dilemma is not just that he is finite and God is infinite, but that he is a sinner, guilty before a holy God. But then he recognizes that God has given him a solution to this in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Man is fallen and flawed, but he is redeemable on the basis of Christ’s work. This is beautiful. This is optimism. And this optimism has a sufficient base.
In speaking of these two intertwined themes, Schaeffer shows us that you can’t have one without the other. The minor theme alone will lead us to despair or denial. The major theme won’t connect beyond idealism, or bring real optimism for daily life, unless we acknowledge and accept the minor theme too.
What has all this got to do with a grey January day?
Well for me, acknowledging both themes means that amidst dreary and challenging days, I am a child of God. I have meaning, dignity, and purpose, and I am loved, forgiven, and sustained by him. It means that when I see injustice on the news, or grapple with illness or trouble, I can endure, because “All is not absurd”. Suffering is not meaningless, absolute justice and morality exist, and I look forward to a real future hope, won for me by Jesus Christ.
And even if I’m simply grumpy because it’s grey outside, I can lift my eyes to the sun that is never hidden – the one who said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
God has given [us] a solution to this in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Man is fallen and flawed, but he is redeemable on the basis of Christ’s work. This is beautiful. This is optimism. And this optimism has a sufficient base. Francis Schaeffer