there is no such thing as crying,
we are only trying to turn ourselves inside out.
This is a noble pursuit
Unidentified Guest: [W]e die to each other daily.
What we know of other people
Is only our memory of the moments
During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.
To pretend that they and we are the same
Is a useful and convenient social convention
Which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember
That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.
— T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party (via latemailplatemail)
Instead of a life of experience, Christ calls us to a life of love. And a life of love for the most part means attending to the tedious details of others’ lives, and serving them in sacrificial ways that most days feels, well, not exciting at all. Rather than sweeping the kitchen, cleaning the toilet, listening to the talkative and boring neighbor, slopping eggs onto a plate at the homeless shelter, or crunching numbers for another eight hours at the office—surely life is meant for more than this. We are tempted to wonder, Is that all there is to the “abundant” Christian life? Shouldn’t my life be more adventurous if God is in me and all around me? How am I going to be all I’m supposed to be if I have to empty bedpans in Peoria? I would just die if I had to do that.
Yes, you would. Jesus called it dying to self. Love is precisely denying the self that wants to glory in experience. The cost of discipleship most of us are asked to pay is to live the life God has given us, serving in mundane ways the people he has put in our path. To be free from the self and to discover such love is the essence of abundant life.
As Paul put it, in the final analysis love is not about speaking in tongues, having prophetic powers, understanding all mysteries or knowledge, having experiences of wonder, or being all we can be. Love instead “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Yes, endures. It endures now because it hopes. And it hopes because it has not yet been given in full what is promised, but only glimpses here and there, mere appetizers to the great kingdom feast.
It is not hard to see why the religion of experience—the experience that Rob Bell is now writing about—tempts one to make feeling an idol, or how a religion of feeling leads to the watering down of great gospel themes. Historians of theology have shown such connections time and again. What’s hard to understand is why so many Christians who claim they stand for the faith once delivered to the saints don’t see that the road of experience leads nowhere except to the barren desert of the self.