The Challenge of Easter {5}

Retaining and Forgiving Sins
{justin scott}
On this fifth Monday of Easter, our guide for the fifth chapter of The Challenge of Easter is Justin Scott. 

*******

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.”

Amen.

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.

9 responses to The Challenge of Easter {5}

  1. Well, I purposefully picked this chapter for you because I know it is one of your (several) ongoing questions. I love your heart, Justin. I love and admire how you wrangle, hoping to finally wrest another bit of truth out of the quagmire.

    I think acts of obedience are beautiful signals of redemption.

  2. Haha I thought you might have. I actually couldn't believe all the little subtleties and not-so-subtleties in the chapter which related specifically to questions I struggle with.

    Yes! acts of obedience are signals of redemption. In fact, I think obedience is how God leads us to send these signals. If we are obedient to Christ, it follows that our lives will reflect the gospel.

  3. Hi, Justin. I want to say again that I really like and admire how you wrestle through life/faith with your trademark passion and integrity. How you play the piano is a metaphor to me for how you live your life (wildly, devotedly, freely, powerfully). Your music is art, but so is the way you live, and I think that's what you have to give away no matter what sacred and ordinary work you find yourself doing. While you say that the circuits you design are not slanted toward either love or power, you are. And while these circuits are not instrumental in oppressing or freeing individuals or societies, you are. And when you move in the direction of love and freedom in any way, you are participating in the redemptive reshaping of this "garden" we find ourselves in. I think you already know that, but I just want you to know that I see you doing it.

  4. The Schoon Scoop May 4, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Justin – thanks for your reflection. You are already a step ahead in having a professional field from which to wrestle out what it means to work out the specific Christian calling in light of your vocation.

    For me I was struck at just how infuriating it can be to stand at the beginning of my thirties (yikes!) and still be wondering what my vocational calling is even as I wrestle with questions of what our collective Christian calling is. This was the first chapter that made me truly uncomfortable with where I am, yet begged me to share what I was reading with others. I love that tension! I also love the quote on the top of page 53 that challenges us to the Christian vocation of prayer by "holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God." What a challenge. That one is going to keep me thinking (and hopefully acting) for a while.

    Winn – thanks for the invitation to be a part of this study. I have enjoyed walking with you and our contributors for the past several weeks.

  5. Danya (it is Danya, right?) – I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt a bit of discomfort while reading this chapter. I'm still not quite comfortable with my current vocation; I may be right there with you when I hit the thirty mark. Glad to know we're in this together. Wright's challenges are so difficult but so important.

    Miska – Thank you. As usual you cut right to the heart of someone's struggle with such wisdom and comfort. I am very seldom able to feel like what I do is not who I am. As you know the world around us does not think this way, especially the corporate world. Thank for saying those words. Thank you for seeing beauty in what I do, beauty that I don't see. Please don't ever assume I already know something. What little I know I need to hear again.

  6. Justin,

    Thanks for bleeding a little on the page…its lifegiving…don't forget that Jesus learned to hammer nails, dare we say build circuits, for thirty years before the next chapter unfolded..as Rilke said 'be patient toward all that is unresolved within yourself…and learn to love the questions.' That doesn't negate obedience by any means…on the contrary, it may be the difference between obeying power and obeying love…good grief, I"m not even sure I understand that last sentence…anyway, thanks!!

  7. The Schoon Scoop May 10, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Justin – dont ever feel stuck in a vocation! I think one of the greatest shortcomings we, as Christians, encounter in this world is falling into the pattern of thinking that we have to stick with our jobs. I've watched my parents "stick" with work that hasnt been life giving, because that is what you are supposed to do. It's good for the bank account, its good for retirement… it sucks the very life out of you every day while you long for the day you can just be done with it. That is no way to live. I may wrestle with my vocational calling for the rest of my life. I may never find that job that is truly live-giving to me, but I trust in a God who has a purpose for me and that is what I am trying to live into. I hope you are blessed in your journey as you continue to wrestle with issues of "job," "vocation," and "calling."

  8. Thanks, guys. And you're welcome, John. 🙂

  9. Justin, thank you for your wrestlings and allowing us a window into them. I guess the beauty of humanness is we can connect through these difficult questions. Wright's quote, "The way of Christian witness is being in Christ, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, so that the healing love of God may be brought to bear at that point" has been really sitting with me as well.

    I'm also glad for Miska's words, Amen.

    Peace to you.

words have a way of making friends. drop a few here.