Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Dignity of Causality

A few days ago, I stopped on my way to work to talk to a homeless man. His name is Rick, and he’s a fascinating character, all smiles and cheer as he sits for hours at a time on a downtown side-street air vent pumping out lifesaving heat in the sub-zero February chill. He’ll gratefully take your money if you offer it, but he doesn’t do the traditional begging thing. At night, he bikes up to the courthouse, where there are nearly 100 CCTV cameras, so that he can sleep without fear of being robbed … or worse.

He’s been at it for three and a half years.

So we talked politics and COVID (his choice of topics), and a little bit about Rick’s background (mine). And I wondered to myself this morning, as I was out walking in my reasonably affluent community where I live my reasonably affluent life, what it is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has to say to Rick, and to tens of thousands of others like him who have fallen off the merry-go-round of Western society and who, for a variety of reasons, can’t make a go of things in the way other people do.

The Gospel and Rick

What I find is interesting, or at least I think it is. You see, the gospel doesn’t approach Rick with a boatload of useless platitudes. It doesn’t tell him, “Hang in there, buddy, it’ll get better.” After all, it probably won’t. It also doesn’t treat Rick as a victim. It doesn’t say, “Poor little fellow, you’ve been stepped on by the Man. Rise up and take what you are owed!”

No, the gospel comes to Rick in the same way it comes to everyone: as a sinner in need of salvation. As a man who is not right with God, and who needs to get right. Never mind his circumstances. Never mind his disadvantages. These are only of consequence to the extent that they cause him to think seriously about that all-important relationship with his Creator and do something about it. The gospel doesn’t point him to all the evils others have done to him that have put him where he is, nor does it guarantee him some kind of post-life payback for them (though there will surely be one); rather, it points him to the things he has done, thought and said, and warns of the consequences of exiting this world without first seeking forgiveness from God.

The gospel gives Rick agency. It makes him an actor in his own drama rather than a prop in somebody else’s. It doesn’t pamper or indulge him, and it certainly doesn’t ignore him the way so many passers-by do. It demands a response from him, just the same as it demands one from you or from me, regardless of our station in life.

No Partiality

Oh, the gospel can do all kinds of things for Rick, though it probably won’t make him into Bill Gates, or even necessarily a normally-functional member of society. But making a man’s earthly experience warmer, richer or more pleasurable is not the reason Christ died, though it is occasionally a by-product of coming into a relationship with him and learning to live life in a way that is more harmonious with the Creator’s original design. No, the gospel points Rick to the same Jesus Christ to whom it points me: the one who is both our salvation and our righteous Judge, the one who shows no partiality in his dealings with men and women.

“No partiality” means he accepts anyone who comes to him, regardless of their situation. But no partiality also means you have to choose to come. Getting the short end of the stick in life does not earn anyone a pass on dealing with the question “What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?

In Search of Causality

Does that sound harsh? It isn’t. It’s wonderfully fair. It invests a man like Rick with a gravitas the world does not recognize, but which is there all the same. He is made in the image of a God who commands all people everywhere to repent, and to repent regardless of the degree of their alienation from him, regardless of the scope of their transgressions, and regardless of their circumstances.

The gospel doesn’t guarantee anything to Rick, but it does give him, to misappropriate Pascal’s famous turn of phrase, “the dignity of causality”. The gospel gives a voice to the voiceless and a choice to the choiceless.

You can’t ask for more than that.

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