Retaining and Forgiving Sins
N.T. Wright spends the final chapter of The Challenge of Easter on two topics: the implications of the Easter story in our day-to-day lives and the epistemology of love. As a young Christian with a science degree and an overgrown quarter-life identity crisis, both topics are of profound importance to me. But in the interest of time I’ve chosen to focus on the former.
My journey into what it means to live the gospel in one’s vocation began years ago with a nagging feeling that as a Christian, I am just not radical enough. I believe in a God who condemns my non-believing friends. I believe in his son, who said I should pluck out my eye if it causes me to sin. I believe in saints who died on crosses hung upside down for preaching about this God and his son. I have found myself awake at night trying to reconcile these things with my average, urban, American lifestyle. Why is it that most Christians seem called to pretty comfortable lives?
Many Christian teachers in my life have tackled this problem. The concoction of reformed Protestantism I grew up with went to great lengths to blur the lines between the sacred and the secular, to explain that all truth is God’s truth, to convince me that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever—which means doing my job and loving my neighbors as best I can to his glory. With this background I come to Wright’s challenges: to bring to the world the shape of the gospel, to set up sign posts which say there is a new way to be human, to find new ways to tell the story of redemption.
And lo and behold in the third paragraph of chapter five, Wright speaks directly to me about how these things might be done:
“If you work in information technology, [I do!] is your discipline slanted toward the will to power or the will to love? Does it exhibit the signs of technology for technology’s sake, of information as a means for the oppression of those who do not have access to it by those who do? Is it developing in the service of true relationships, true stewardship and even true worship, or it is it feeding and encouraging society in which everybody creates their own private, narcissistic, enclosed world?”
I will ignore what sounds like a swipe at the internet in that last sentence and say that I wish I felt that there are good answers to these questions for me, because it would mean a profession much more inspiring than the one I’m in. It’s hard not to feel that at some level Wright doesn’t get it. I design circuits for a living. These circuits and their purposes are not slanted toward power or love. Their technology does not oppress or free others. They do not encourage a closed or open society. It’s just not that glamorous.
I wish it was. I want desperately to be a part of something bigger—something that really does erect a proverbial billboard for forgiveness and redemption. I’ve written pages upon pages on my personal blog about this, which may be just the work of a guy in his roaring twenties trying to make sense of his idealism. The truth I keep coming back to is that for many of us, our professions do not lend easily to creating symbols of redemption. What then are we to do? How then should we live?
In all my years of asking many, many forms of this question, I’ve come to only one real conclusion (which many days I still find a lacking appeasement for my restless ambition): obedience. It’s summed up well in a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, shared with me by this conversation’s first writer, Nathan Elmore:
“We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not. We must get into action and obey—we must behave like a neighbor to him. But perhaps this shocks you. Perhaps you still think you ought to think out beforehand and know what you ought to do. To that there is only one answer. You can only know and think about it by actually doing it. You can only learn what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.”
If God calls me into some vocation which reflects the undercurrent of his redemption, it is he who must call me. It isn’t my job to determine the course; it’s my job to follow. My job to spend time with him, listening for his guidance. My job to serve those he brings into my life. My job to repent. My job to love and to serve. My job to make each decision he brings with an eye towards forgiveness and generosity. My job to obey.
Such ideas are not lost on Wright. In my favorite line of the chapter, he states: “The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms out-stretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God.”
Justin is an engineer who plays the piano. He lives with his lovely wife Erin in Washington, DC, and struggles to make sense of it all at guessworktheory.com.