Camus once wrote that for the self-conscious man, suicide could not be an answer to the absurdity of man’s short and brutish toil of life. Unknowingly or unwillingly, Camus echoes the sentiments of the voice of Qoheleth in the man who comes to realize the futility of life. We hear the murmurings on his breath, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” To die would be to admit that absurdity wins, but to live on in a purely defiant quantitative manner portrays the man a hero. A meaningless hero, but a hero nevertheless in Camus’ deeply disturbing world. This material world is all there is, or so the story is told. We no longer live in a world where the transcendent is even remotely a possibility. So, it should not surprise us that such questions as to whether one should even pursue life are raised. For whatever a-theological reason, the atheist must admit that humanity has a curious penchant for seeking a purpose, meaning, or thing greater than themselves no matter how wrong-headed they might believe this is; however, for Christians the story is different.
We do not live in a world that is inherently without purpose nor do we live in a world that exists in se. We live and breathe this story as the Spirit lives and has breathed new life into us; but for many experiencing the transcendent is not only doubtful but unbelievable. Even among those who have been disenchanted from Camus’ disenchantment of their world, many have fled to seek refuge in all sorts of strange fire. Our churches are flooded with the spectacular, bizarre, and extraordinary all in the name of the god of authenticity because we have assumed that God is to be found in these things. We see how the world seeks to connect to the deepest levels of human consciousness and seek to replicate it, abandoning the tried and true methods that God Himself established to meet with us. We believe that if God should exist and if we are to meet Him, He is only to be found in the extraordinary. It does not occur to us that God seeks to meet us in what we consider the boring things.
God meets with and supplies us grace in mere words, in water, in bread, and in wine. The story of the gospel is the epitome of the transcendent meeting of God and men in Christ. This story is presented to us and narrated by the words of weak vessels with all the weaknesses and frailties of men: their speech impediments, their fears, and frequent ailments. The only sanctioned icons, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are God’s visual aids for this story. Prayer is our engagement with and participation in this story. Yet, churches do not wish to pray, they do not wish to hear nor read God’s Word, and they delay baptism and hide the Lord’s feast. So how can we complain that we feel as if we have not met the LORD or that we have not experienced the transcendent?
The answer to the deepest urges for the transcendent in what we perceive to be an inherently meaningless world is not merely to stress the ordinary means of grace but to experience it. Reformed believers can do more in balancing presenting their prohibitions with presenting their values and experiences. The world cannot be hungry for God if we do not eat in front of them, and they certainly cannot be hungry for God if all we do is tell them what not to consume. The western world does not need to hear more of how God is not in this and how God is not in that. That is not difficult for them to believe for many wear disbelief with pride. They need to hear how God is to be met and where He is to be found. Shall we not meet Him in the ordinary means of grace: the Word, the sacraments, and prayer, if we but meet Him there?
As teachers, we may worry about how we can connect to a world that seems to be constantly becoming more antagonistic to the Christian faith. The world has always been antagonistic to the things of God and His Messiah. However, the forms in which the western world has tried to reject Him has changed. We no longer live in a western world that believes in an inherently enchanted world but rejects Jesus as king over it. We live in a western world that denies all transcendence. Our evangelism, our proclamation of the gospel in this world, will inevitably be different in form, but never in essence. God has established this as the means by which the world will come to the obedience of faith. Yet, our world needs to hear more about how and where to meet with the LORD than it does about where God will not be found. In terms of our discipleship of these new converts, we must continue to show them as role-models of the faith that what we teach is good in fact exists. This does not mean that we conjure up all sorts of bizarre scripturally unwarranted attractions to try to spice up the Christian life, nor does it mean that we live empty lives where we end up pretending that such an experience with God is possible but do not, in fact, experience Him. We cannot begin to think that our disciples will seek to experience the LORD in the places that He promised to meet us if we ourselves are not convinced because we have not met Him by these things. To their credit, many of the churches who rely upon the extraordinary and the spectacular actually believe that they have experienced the LORD in these things, and their disciples see this and seek it. We who know the right means, the ordinary means, the means that liberate us from living a life constantly seeking God in the extraordinary, must above all other people live and experience God in these ordinary means as if God did in fact promise to meet us there. So let us pursue a life of discipleship that seeks the LORD through the means He has promised to reveal Himself and let us experience this so that the world may see and bless the name of the LORD.