A friend of mine has characterized science as being in the business of finding the “least inadequate explanations” for natural phenomena. I think ethics should be a similar endeavor. It is not a matter of explaining the one true set of preferences and actions that will allow you to successfully navigate life; it’s about finding a way of looking at preferences and actions that is least inadequate to the task.
Much to my own surprise, I found myself listening to U2′s “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” It seems strangely appropriate this Palm Sunday. It seems appropriate to a vision of Christianity where we are both sinners reaching for God and God reaching out into the world. We struggle with faith and morality – and I genuinely believe that to be a matter of struggle. The Passion, the suffering of Christ, is neither about the irredeemability of humanity nor about the foregone conclusion of resurrection. It is about a God who struggles with our unbelief, who enters our uncertainty. Even on Easter morning, there is no final resolution – the whole world has been made new so that we might live in it. Jesus moves on to Galilee (Mark 16).
I preach the Gospel as a way of dealing with the world’s problems and a promise that they will end. And so I have a morality that says people are important,
important because we experience doubt and choose faith,
important because we act in a world that we will not (in this life) fully understand,
important because the God in whose image and likeness we are created lived and died with us in our uncertainty – saying “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
Fully aware of my ignorance (yet trusting in God’s promises), I choose what is important in my life. And I truly think it is a choice. Far too many people are determined to think their lives and loves are chosen for them, but every time you make a choice, you have an opportunity to orient yourself in the right direction. You have the chance to value God and people. It is not a perfect morality. It’s very hard to say how best to value them. It’s very hard to weigh the interests of different people against one another. Still, I love them all the same.
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I don’t think I have the perfect faith or the perfect religion. I cannot offer those to you. I can offer the cup of Christ, the openness to God and one another that brings terrible pain, but seems to be the only way to genuinely know and love and learn to love one another in this world. I cannot be perfect alone – and I cannot even come close without being open to the hearts, minds, and will of others.
Jesus did this for us – “who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. “
This Palm Sunday, I hope you will reflect on Jesus’ Kingship and Glory, but also on his Passion and Death. But mostly I ask you to reflect on his grace in the face of uncertainty, his love and fellowship through trials and abandonment, his great willingness to be one of us with all that that entails. With grace, we too can be fully human.