“I wouldn’t give you a nickel for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give you my life for simplicity on the far side of complexity.”
In a lecture he gave when I was a seminary student, Ernest Campbell, then the preaching minister at the Riverside Church in NYC, offered that paraphrase of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ well-known aphorism: “For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life."
What follows are a handful of grounding and guiding affirmations I’ve discovered or rediscovered in the wilderness of complexity and the desert of difficulty.
There is no incompatibility between Light and God, between Truth and Jesus.
We can embrace enlightening and liberating truth, the kind of truth which serves the flourishing of creation and frees human beings for fullness of life, wherever we find it: in science, literature, the arts, religions and religious traditions different from ours, and the insights of people who make us uneasy. All truth is compatible with the one whom Christians affirm to be “the Truth” and that all light flows from the Creator who said and says, “Let there be light.”
God is like Jesus.
John 14 tells us that, on the night before his death, Jesus gathered his disciples to prepare them for the grief and confusion they were about to experience. He assured them that, in the end, all would be well. One of them said: “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” In other words: “Show us what God is like, and then we will be all right.”
Jesus’ response is startling: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” For Christians, it is an affirmation of God’s essential nature: God is like Jesus. As Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “God is Christlike, and in [God] there is no un-Christlikeness at all.”
Most often, I think, the church has proclaimed something like: “Jesus is so much like God that he is, in fact, God. Therefore, we should worship and serve Jesus.” The New Testament’s claim is much more compelling: “God is so much like Jesus that we may trust and love God.” Our faith is not so much that “Jesus is God-like,” but that “God is Jesus-like.”
Any image or concept of God, any conviction or feeling about God, and any claim or statement on God’s behalf which does not reflect the character and spirit of Jesus, at best, inadequate or incomplete--and, at worst, distorting and deadly.
To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, Not everyone who goes the way of Jesus knows his name.
We get back on the road where we left it.
We don’t have to return to the beginning and re-travel the whole distance from which we have come, though it’s crucial to remember what we have seen, heard, and felt on the journey so far, including what we’ve learned from the difficulty of our detours and delays.
Healing and curing are not the same.
A cure is mostly about the body, about its functioning better: the new knee gives greater range of motion and relative freedom from pain; the bypass surgery opens clogged vessels so the blood flows freely again; the radiation and the chemicals drive the cancer into remission; the headaches stop. Curing is what happens when the body recovers.
Healing is what happens when the person feels liberated from fear and for love, from anxiety and for faith, from despair and for hope.
Arthur Frank, who had severe heart problems followed by a serious bout with cancer, wrote:
Medicine has done well with my body, and I am grateful. But doing with the body is only part of what needs to be done for the person. What happens when my body breaks down happens not just to that body but also to my life, which is lived in that body. When the body breaks down, so does the life. Even when medicine can fix the body, that doesn’t always put the life back together again. Medicine can diagnose and treat the breakdown, but sometimes so much fear and frustration have been aroused in the ill person that fixing the breakdown does not quiet them” [At the Will of the Body].
Fixing or curing the body is not necessarily the same thing as healing the person. It’s possible to have a cure without healing, and even healing without a cure.
In a journal he kept about his experience with cancer, John Carmody said: “People cured of cancer in the sense of enjoying a full remission of the disease would not be healed if great fear [of cancer‘s return] or unhappiness about life in general still oppressed them” [Cancer and Faith]
God does not cause—and does not intend to waste—our pain.
God is always at work for our good; our role is to cooperate with God’s work. Whether or not we cooperate is a matter of free and un-coerced choice. Our choices do not diminish or increase God’s love for us: that love is complete and completely unconditional.
There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus . . . Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (The opening and closing confessions of faith in Romans 8).