Note: This article was written for FaithVine.com to answer a direct question in their article contest: “What makes a Christian different from anybody else?”
Hope Has Entered The Room: What Makes A Christian Different From Anybody Else
As I looked into his bitter, tear-filled eyes, I could see the pain of a mother who was a crack addict, a father whose face he never knew, a sister who was prostituting herself on the streets of the city, and an uncle who had committed suicide just the week before. This young, wild-eyed male was set on a vicious course of anger, hatred and fear, and I was the only person standing in his way. As a counselor of juvenile offenders, my task would be great: to subversively love in a system that demanded my faith be relegated to a church building, and to communicate to this battered soul that hope had entered the room.
I’d always been aware that I was spiritually sensitive person, as far back as I can remember. On the playground at age six, a friend from a pain-filled home asked me why I seemed so “peaceful” to be around. I vividly remember my squeaky-voiced, confident response, “That’s because I have God inside me, David. You’re seeing him. You need God.”
Strange. Up to that point, my kindergarten mind had only been filled with hazy spiritual ideas I gleaned from a nominal Methodist church we attended as a family. There was that Sunday school teacher, with her pack of frayed flannel images, carefully spelling out Bible stories to us on the dirty fuzz board, week after endless week. My parents were beautiful people, but we never spoke like this at home, at least not that I can remember.
Years later, in my teens, I read the Genesis story of creation. The ancient narrative suggested that human beings were made in the imago Dei, the “image of God.” I remember having a strong, visceral response to that idea. My heart filled with possibility. I began to reflect this idea into the whole display of human activity my young life had experienced – every hug, every divorce, every celebration, every war. The imago Dei made sense of the beauty I saw in other human eyes day in and day out. And yet, what about the pain? What about the horror?
The story led me to a garden. A falling. A breaking. The newspaper began to make more sense; a mix of both beauty and brokenness was at play here. I couldn’t buy the other origin stories: random cosmic soup creations, creatures tied to an impersonal mother nature or father science, self-actualizing demigods, servants of an autocratic divinity, worshippers of myriad gods and goddesses whose images sat on shelves. No other story was making sense to me of the whole picture.
Something Is Right, Something Is Wrong
Something was very right about you, me and the world. But this truth had it’s paradox. Something was very wrong in an otherwise beautiful system. Greed, envy, arrogance, pride, fear and horror unimaginable could flow out of the same creatures who the Scripture called vice-regents of the created order. This garden was filled with pain – the same pain I saw in the young hispanic man’s eyes that day in the home.
Human beings are beautiful, and broken. We are a part of a human family, no matter our belief system. To love a human being, is to love a bearer of God’s image. To destroy a human being, by bitterness, by murder, or by economic indulgence, is to steal away an image bearer from the face of the planet. You and I are human. In this, we are all the same, and Genesis suggests we should therefore treat one another with the highest dignity.
And yet, what about the pain? What about the fall? What about the reality that as of tomorrow my circumstances could call out me the type of person you would ask your children to avoid?
To this blemishing, this marring of the world, the Scripture again spoke. Human beings turned away from their source of identity, and in the turning, the image within was shattered. A series of pursuits then began, spanning the course of human history. Covenant after covenant invited us back into intimacy with our creator. Finally, “at the fullness of time,” the Scripture says, the new Adam stepped onto the soil of earth.
A New Way Of Being Human
The new Adam did not turn away. The new Adam taught the way of being human to we who had lost our memory of the garden. The new Adam wiped away the prostitute’s tears, challenged the rigid religiosity of the churched, and declared love to be the epicenter of the human story. On a cross, in the middle of an ancient, tiny oppressed nation, a new covenant or relationship was established. The promise if we would enter this relationship, this renewing covenant of love? The end of death – death of heart, death of body. The beginning of new creation – new creation of heart, new creation of the cosmos. Hope had entered the room.
And now, I was the ambassador of that Hope to this young man. It had been years since I had embraced the Hope that was changing me daily. My belief in the Holy Spirit, the comforter and shaper of the soul, had grown through experience after experience of God finding lost things, fixing broken things and loving the unlovable – in me and around me.
Burrowing my gaze deeply into the eyes of my wild young friend, I spoke these words.
“It’s time. It all can change. Anything can happen. Now is the time for it to happen. You can be healed. You can live another life. You can meet with God.”
Stunned, he asked me a question that had a ring of familiarity. “You have problems in your life, too. Why do you seem so peaceful?” Instantly, I was back on the playground as a six-year old. “Because I have God inside me. You’re seeing Him. You need God.” With tears, and prayers resting on the Hope of redemption, resurrection, new creation, transformation, healing, deliverance, comfort and salvation, we prayed to the God who was now his own.
What Makes A Christian Different From Anybody Else?
What makes a Christian different than anyone else? On one level, I don’t know. As of today I woke up human, as usual. I didn’t feel more powerful, or more wise, than anyone else I know. My superpowers don’t seem to work; mornings are my kryptonite.
I did, however, wake up again with a Story rumbling in my heart, a Hope stirring in my soul, and an Expectation that the world will be set to rights one, bright day. That Story enabled me to look into a young man’s eyes, and promise more than even years of counseling, a good funeral for his uncle, and a social justice project that might get his sister off the streets. I could promise him the presence of a God who loves him, through any and all circumstances, as he moved forward in life as he knew it.
The ability to promise hope from the basis of historic and personal experience, the ability to tell a living Story that both reveals corruption and invites redemption into the world’s systems or a young man’s heart, the ability to wake up each morning raised from the dead and embracing the vocation of raising others from the dead – this is what makes a Christian different from anybody else.