If Justice is real and people have intrinsic worth, and if truth is a real thing that goes beyond personal opinion, the sensible thing to do is to seek it. And if there is a real truth, it must stand above other claims.

Where shall we look? Many people think science can tell us all the truth we need to know, but is that really so? Science (as useful as it is) only deals with “how” questions, and facts like the boiling point of water. As to questions of right, wrong and value it is silent.

History deals with evidence and historical records. This is more useful in our quest, but can’t prove things with mathematical certainty. We have to take certain things on the authority of evidence presented to us, but we can investigate the reliability of these sources to at least make informed decisions.

Philosophy and logic bring us closer still. We can examine the various truth claims for contradictions and outcomes.

Religion gives us codes and creeds, “to do” lists and techniques to achieve a higher place. They generally agree that moral truth is not man-made, but a fact that stands above humanity, and to which we will have to answer to. Of particular interest is how they deal with the fact that even though we know what right and wrong are, we sometimes make choices we know are wrong.

Hinduism gives us Karma and reincarnation (you keep coming back until you get it right), Buddhism teaches detachment from this world, Islam a fatalistic, earn-your-way-to-paradise structure. If it is Allah’s will, you’ll be fine. Otherwise…

Even Christianity is understood by many as just another way to earn your ticket, like St. Peter is going to put your deeds on a big scale and decide whether he’ll let you in the pearly gates (I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be the poor person who only got 49.9 percent on that test!).

But the truth at the centre of the Christian Gospel is structurally different: that of a Man dying for His enemies. It is the historical record of love for the unlovely, and the defeat of death. It is the truth of humility, of the recognition of our value, the depth of our rebellion, and the wonder of our redemption – not earned, but freely given to all who admit their need and simply accept it.

It is the story of Grace. Of forgiveness that is freely given out of a love that chooses to give.

There are many kinds of love. Friendship, affection, erotic love… but above them all stands what the Greeks called agape, gift love, the love that recognizes the inherent worth of the beloved and chooses to love even its enemies. It doesn’t look for what’s-in-it-for-me, but seeks the best for others before itself. It affirms the inherent worth of the individual. It is the love of choice: not reactive, but proactive, a love that takes the initiative.

This is why Jesus told us to love even our enemies; not because they deserve it, but because God made them too. He demonstrated it on the cross, while we were still rebelling against His righteous claims on our lives.

Religion as commonly understood is all about being good to get to heaven. The problem is that when we feel we’ve earned something, we also feel we can judge those who have made poorer choices.

But when we receive forgiveness as a gift, we’ve got nothing to brag about, and that’s the entire point. What got us into trouble in the first place was that we wanted to be first: pride places self above the Other, above God and His moral law. When our ancestors decided to disobey God, it was an act of pride, deciding that we knew better: and we do it ourselves, every time we act selfishly.

But the person who comes to Christ does it through humble trust in the Giver, not through the “I can do it!” attitude of pride. No amount of effort can heal our wilful hearts; when we finally recognize this and ask for God’s help, we dance Adam’s dance backwards.

Jesus was notoriously casual about who He hung out with. His retinue included a former prostitute, a tax collector, a handful of blue-collar fishermen and other plain folk. He mostly got mad at the religious types. The prostitutes and tax collectors had no illusions as to where they stood; the religious ones, on the other hand, were proud of their religiousity, and (ironically) were further from God for it.

Modern takes on religion want to leave the pride in place while appearing spiritual. We’re proud of our openness and our tolerance, but never get to the point where we will have to make a decision on the real, unavoidable truth of our own fallen natures and its consequences. But the God Who Is calls to us. What will we choose?

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