As a senior in college, I lived alone and off-campus without radio or television in my room. In the resulting silence my mind played some peculiar games. As I lay in bed at night, for several weeks the question kept coming into my head, “How do I know that I am me and that my life is real? What if my entire perceived life is really only the dream of a Chinese peasant living on a sampan in the Yangtze River?” These recurring thoughts troubled me considerably. I was glad when they stopped and I felt comfortably real again.
It seems to me that my moments of psychological disorientation back in 1966 serve as a parable of the man or woman, however bright and gifted, who walks through life without consciously relating to God in Jesus Christ. In reality the Creator is there. His purpose is good. And he wants every human being to experience life fully now and continuing throughout eternity. Yet so very many people–including some who provide church leadership and who epitomize Christian labor–move through the years and finally die, all the while as unaligned with divine reality as my own personhood is distinguishable from the dream of a poor Asian fisherman on a houseboat in China.
Understood at its best and at its core, to be a Christian is to become properly aligned with reality — first with God himself, then with God’s creation, and finally with his purpose for creation and for every living thing in it. When God originally made the universe, he pronounced it “good,” and it still is not evil although it is marred and fallen. In Jesus Christ, God accomplished a cosmic rescue operation that goes far beyond snatching individual human beings at the last moment from hell. Scripture repeats this theme in many places (Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:15-20; 2 Cor. 5:17-21). To be joined to Christ is to live in a new creation. It is to realize reality.
I reckon that most Christians I know, beginning with myself, have much to learn and to experience along these lines. We need to ask ourselves some questions, perhaps starting with something like the following. Am I secure in the Father’s invincible love? If I answer Yes to that question, do I feel secure most of the time? In God’s evaluation, the physical world around me is good. Do I seek to preserve it? Am I in community with others who experience relationship with God in Christ–and with those who do not know him yet? Do I cherish both types of relationships? Do I regularly look for God’s workings in the lives of others and support what he is doing? Do I perceive his saving agenda and join in it as an undeserving recipient of his grace? Do the ideas, goals and activities that I consider “religious” actually advance these objectives, or do any of those things stand in their way?