Letters from a Hospital Bed is a series of reflections by Jim Houston, now entering his 100th year, in which Jim seeks to capture and reflect new insights of his ever-discoverable God, revealed through his own hospitalization, for the encouragement of all care givers.
October 27, 2022
Last week I wrote about Christendom – a word we usually associate with something good – and I’d like to explore a deeper and more insidious dimension against which we must be on our guard. When Christendom is the kingdom of God’s reign on earth, we are blessed, but when it becomes the guise for humanity’s reign over God’s people, we hamper God’s kingdom rather than advance it. Sadly, the disease is subtle and invasive, for it revolves around our relationship with power and above all, human reason.
The more I study and read the writings of the early saints of the church, those we refer to as the ‘patristics’ – both male and female – the more I see the disadvantages that we must overcome, that are derived from nearly two millennia of human thought. The early followers of Christ were simply closer to the New Testament narrative than we, especially in our post-enlightenment embrace of reason as the predominate epistemology or way of knowing. Today, it is science that has become deified, and we have come to look on conversion as an event of the left hemisphere of our brain, as if we needed to be convinced by God to believe Him and His son Jesus, such that our faith becomes an assertion of a catechism, or a belief in a statement about the Gospel. Once, we saw such passionate zeal for Christ, that the early Christian martyrs were unafraid to face the death of wild animals in the arena. Today, I am surrounded by dear people here, where I live, deeply afraid to face death because their reasoning offers a very insufficient depth of conviction. Across evangelicalism, our faith has become shallow and rote and even worse, political. Our church membership becomes just that, membership, and mainly just membership in a very human organization. Sadly, no, tragically, our too-adult minds only perceive the human structures and not the surging Life far below the surface of the organization we have ‘joined’. And so we ‘church shop’, like butterflies flitting from one brightly coloured flower to another in search of a quick taste of some nectar, any nectar. Like Nicodemus, we desperately need to be ‘born again’, and again, and again.
One of the gifts that I have found in my much later years has come to me through the loss of my dear wife Rita. With the confidence that she is in the Lord’s presence, I find that the veil that separates me from my life-long companion grows thinner. Because I know her so well, I am drawn closer to the place where Christ dwells and I see more and more of Him, even as I sense her closeness. It is like climbing a mountain, for I am constantly gaining new perspectives and insights of my salvation. Paul reminds us 68 times that our identity is “in Christ” and we are each called to be saints like Bernard of Clairvaux, like Teresa of Avila, and like Von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr, who were only recently canonized. You can’t think or reason your way into an identity, or convince yourself by repeating mere words, you simply inhabit it with your whole self.
Thankfully, there is a now a new movement of God’s Spirit, by inspiring new scholars to recover in patristic scholarship what ‘fathers’, like Origen in the second century A.D., speak of the Advent of the promised ‘Messiah’, as the Greatest Physician of all time, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Roman physician, the Apostle Luke, begins his letter dedicated to ‘Theophilus’, that is “being a lover of God”. Luke is stating that only those seeking God as His lovers, will make sense of what he is describing. The miraculous healings and parables that follow make sense when we embrace them as ‘lovers of God’, not rationalists looking for cognitive explanations. Luke, despite his training, wants us to let the right sides of our brains loose, not just depend on the left’s logic. This embrace of the early church writers is an embrace of our emotional identity in Christ, and the healing of those emotions in our worship, our joy, our lament, our devotion all so well expressed in the song book of the psalter.
My prayer for you is as W.P McKay wrote in the mid-19th century in the last verse of his hymn; Revive us again, fill each heart with thy love. May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory, hallelujah! Amen! Hallelujah! Thine the glory, revive us again.
In friendship Jim