This week, I was speaking with a woman named Susan about her Christian experience. She began explaining how she views herself. “I think I’m unique,” she said. “I feel like my passion for life and my curiosity, maybe even my personality and the way I’m wired, is more extreme than the experience of the garden-variety Christian.”
Her conclusion was that her passions were too strong to be satisfied by the limits of what the church and the Gospel have to offer her. As a consequence, she wants to test the limits, to “play the edges,” of the grace of God and the Christian experience. She feels an emptiness, a longing inside herself that the Christian life cannot satisfy. She wants something bigger, something extraordinary.
She thinks his answer could lie in having sex with multiple partners, or maybe doing some kind of mind-altering drug, or achieving certain success in her business. “Whatever the answer,” she said, “it’s beyond the traditional Christian experience.” I understand where she’s coming from. She has grown up in the church. She has seen and heard people talk about Jesus all of her life, and she hasn’t seen, in their testimonies, the same passion for life that she observes in herself. So, she figures that the satisfaction of that passion lies outside of the church’s walls. That’s logical, but–like Ayn Rand says–when you encounter something that doesn’t make sense, check your premises. I think at least two of her premises are questionable. First, she believes (implicitly) that she sees the true state of the lives of these men and women who call themselves Christians. Second, she believes that, when she has observed these people, their experience reflects the outer limits what Jesus does in a person’s life.
I can identify with Susan’s conundrum. In searching for answers to these questions, Reason certainly plays a vital role. I hasten to add, however, that Faith is also an important part of the equation. Referencing Faith, the ultimate question is whether we trust Jesus and his description of the kingdom of God. For example, Jesus validated the life and experience of Moses. Moses’ life with God was literally a “mountaintop experience.” He saw God’s glory and lived to tell about it. His experience of God was so intense that he glowed for days afterward, and he didn’t even see more than the smallest portion of it! Jesus also validated Jacob’s experience of God
. Jacob experienced a fuller sense of God’s presence through a dream: angels ascending and descending. When I express faith in Jesus, I am trusting that his description of these followers of God is true, and that he meant it as normative for us today.
Susan’s problem is not that her desires are too strong. It’s not that she is, in any way, overly ambitious. Ayn Rand was spot on when she said, about all of us, that our desires are too weak! Many of us are not passionate and ambitious enough! We should nurture and pursue greater passion. Even Ayn Rand, however, didn’t go far enough. By extolling human achievement and the mind of the individual as the greatest virtue and production as the individual’s most satisfying goal, Rand exchanges the ultimate for the penultimate.
What do you think about how Christians and Secularists describe the “abundant life”?