When you have a task to do, you want someone proficient – actually more than that, expert – in doing it. Whether it is plumbing, surgery, building your house, flying, fixing your car and so much more, you are looking for the knowledge and skill to assess and attend to the task at hand. The knowledge and skill provide the basis for dealing with unique versions of the situation and experts draws on past experiences to get the best outcome even when they’ve ‘never seen this before’ and so the drain is unblocked, the surgery though complex is successful, the house stands, the flight lands safely, and the car is back on the road. In all this the character of the person is not at the forefront. If given a choice of plumbers, surgeons, builders, pilots, and mechanics between a godless expert or a Christian incompetent, I’m pretty sure we’d all go for the expert.
But what do we look for when we are thinking about living in general, dealing with unknown futures, having people in the same house as us – when living is more than just getting a particular job done? Philosophy and society might then start talking about character or virtues. At the Sea Cadets I would talk about the Sea Cadet Values. Religions will talk about the behaviours expected in the religion. If given a choice of a spouse between a godless person or a Christian person both of whom really attract you, does their world view, their faith, influence your decision? Of course, it’s up to you and things are usually not that simple. I once recall – and I forget when and where – a discussion between a Christian and an atheist and the atheist was asked if he was in a dark part of town by himself and 5 men were approaching him, would he feel any less anxious if he knew that the 5 men were just leaving a Bible Study? And to his credit, I thought, the atheist admitted that he would feel less anxious. Character, values, faith do matter.
When religions talk about behaviour the world’s default position, I think, is that behaviour is regulated by rules, regulations, expectations – they are a duty, a must, a requirement that simply must be done. (How you feel about them isn’t essential.) Such behaviour can be rewarded or punished.
However along comes Christianity and turns behaviour on its head. Behaviour is the response in a secure relationship rather than a reward for action and Christians discover that in Jesus, God has loved them first and done something so that people can live with hope and joy, dealing with fear and sin, and facing each day with repentance and service – the behaviours – as hallmarks of ‘the good life’. In Jesus, we meet God ‘for us’ (not against us) and this changes everything – particularly us! Jesus points us to his Father and we also discover that God the Father is ‘for us’. Jesus and the Father send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:7) and we discover again that God the Holy Spirit is ‘for us’.
People will always struggle with the mystery of the Holy Trinity – that God is three in one and one in three – and it will always be a mystery. But we can live with mystery and when it comes to Christianity and living in this world getting a glimpse of the character of God is very important and comforting. Jesus and his cross and empty tomb; his presence through words, water, bread and wine; his giving of forgiveness and blessing reveals a glorious truth that God the Father is ‘for us’, God the Son is ‘for us’, and God the Holy Spirit is ‘for us’. Only this God could fulfil the task of saving and rescuing us from despair and death – and only this God is the one who can make life fulfilled beyond measure. In this God we find action and character – all ‘for us’. That’s the best good news ever.