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What Christ Means to Me: Chapter 5

What Christ Means to Me by Wilfred T. Grenfell

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It never worried me whether I believed infallible Pope, infallible Fundamentalist, or infallible teacher of science that is current. Christ ever meant to me a peerless Leader, whose challenge was not to save ourselves, but to lose ourselves; not to understand Him, but to have courage to follow Him. The religion of Christ is the simplest and most human course of life as well as the most divine. Life is not the horrible tragedy of being bound to a wheel from which escape into a Nirvana of forgetfulness is the loftiest hope. Life is a victory to be won by the will even against a timid intellect. Life is always everywhere a real, tough, courageous fight, with daily opportunities to which are added all the fun of achievement and all the glories of the conqueror. The edges of my own intellectual conceit often get jarred. But the lure of the real meaning of life and the absolute confidence that my faith is not mere credulity has been a constant help. The service demanded of us is a reasonable service, the sendee of our reason grown courageous. Common sense is divine sense after all—our youthful attitude to religious conventions was not so far wrong. I realize it was because we had wrongly thought of religion as banished from practical affairs that we had dreaded nothing more than being considered ‘Young Christians’ by our fellows.

To imagine that Christ would not wear flannels and play football, or a dress suit and attend dinners and functions, or accept the innocent changing conventions of the day, is as irrational to me as to suppose that we ought all to wear Quaker dress or a Sadhu’s petticoats, or that Eskimo women should affect long skirts. In fact, it goes further than that. The Christ I visualize is inconspicuous for all absolutely unnecessary differences. He would wear no jewelry of fabulous value any more around His neck than in His nose. No ostentatious show of any kind was His. He hated titles, separating man from man. Leadership in everything that was of value for body, soul, and spirit was His. He was the last on earth to be anything snobbish. He was the Captain of the team, the Solon of scholars, the most modest and unobtrusive in social life. He loved play and work as well as worship. I could not love a Christ, as divine, who did not. So for me the interpretation of Christ has had to aim at all that. The conventional pictures of Christ were and are abhorrent to me. All ideas of hair shirts and unnecessary ascetic habits in connection with Him are repulsive, since they are unnatural. An incompetent ‘otherworldly’ Christ has no attraction whatever for me.

Viewpoints that many belter men than I still affect for me are impossible and radically incompatible. Thank God I realized in time that some men see red as green, and others green as red. Some men live for grand opera. I only go to sleep in it. Some men love things because they are rusty and musty and old, and see nothing beautiful in a thing simply because it is useful. I have seen some patients to whom a drug meant life, and had to be devoured daily, while to another the same drug in the same dose spelt death. Some traits in our characters are, I firmly believe, due to hereditary faults in our interpreting machine. There is truth in the deduction of the Chicago jurist that much wrongdoing is the result of physical deficiencies. The head of a great college in India, whom I know, cannot tell the difference between red and green. Yet he is a most valuable worker. This knowledge has saved me many an ill-timed, unkind, and entirely wrongful judgment of others. It is the answer to ‘Why so many denominations?’ and ‘Why any bitterness between them?’

Even before I entered the work among fishermen, I decided that, for my part, I would never ask a man whether he believed exactly as I did before I could agree to work whole-heartedly with him. If we wait until our thinking machines are all in complete accordance before we cooperate, we shall never work together in that universal brotherhood which must precede the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. The emphasis on intellectual interpretation divides us—the willingness to work together draws men together. And it is wonderful how hard it is, looking at the manner in which men of diverse faiths have met their problems and interpreted divine love in their deeds of every day-to judge as to the way in which they say their prayers or get their inspiration and strength, or what particular labels they should bear in the religious world.

Illustrations by the score leap to mind as this thought comes to me. To refuse the help of a surgeon, a nurse, a teacher, or an engineer, in a position where no interpretation of love is more needed than that which they can render, and as an alternative to allow one’s fellow creatures to suffer for lack of what they offer, just because I believe differently from them, would be to my mind, not only criminal, but the very reverse of what Christ did. When did He, who sent out Thomas and Judas to preach the Gospel, ever impose any such test? He might have done so. For He had a wisdom that no man has ever been able to question. But He did not, so why should I? Surely the call to go out and help the Lord against the mighty is the call most likely to find response in human hearts. Only the dead feel no answering emotion when helplessness appeals to them for what they can give. Who would not want to rush for the child about to be run over in traffic, or to save the victims from a burning building, even if it were only a suffering cow or chicken? There is something that responds as naturally as an automatic reflex to high ideals and can only be called love, though it is undeniable that one can in time so destroy and impede the physical channels of impulse and response that some degenerates even seem to be incapable of anything divine. We know that faulty machines do cause us both to act and speak wrongly, and that damage done by chronic indulgence not only makes restraint necessary in the case of chronic criminals and drug addicts and lunatics, but also causes mechanical defects to be transmitted to children; which is the same as saying that these exceptions need help and power from outside themselves. Christ’s unparalleled confidence in Judas, it always seemed to me, was what broke at last the traitor’s heart, even if too late, but broke it all the same.

Christ to me is the justification and inspiration to keep my body and mind fit and perfect, that thereby I may preserve myself, my soul, fit to accomplish, able to serve, and confident that I shall hear over there, not ‘You are loosed from the wheel of life, you can now enjoy forgetfulness,’ but ‘Well done; here are more talents for you, and more victories to win. Enter into that kind of joy which is the joy of your Lord.’

Christ means to me a living personality today who moves about in this world, and who gives us strength and power as we endure by seeing Him who is invisible only to our fallible and finite human eyes; just as any other good comrade helps one to be brave and to do the right thing. Faith was essential for that conviction fifty years ago. Today, with telephones and radios and X-ray, and our knowledge of matter as only energy, and now with television within our grasp, there is not the slightest difficulty in seeing how reasonable that faith is. ‘The body of His glorification’ passed through closed doors, so the Apostles said—well, why should I be able to see it any more than I can see an ultra-violet or an ultra-red ray, a molecule, an atom, an electron, or a proton? All that those old fellows claimed was that ‘now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.’

Christ called for faith in Himself. He never called for intellectual comprehension. He sent out to preach His gospel men who had not any creed or any intellectual faith, only a dumb sort of faith that Christ was more than man. I believe that He sends me out also to help make a better world. Surely that is not an irrational conceit or sentimental twaddle. Christ says that we must begin with faith, but that we can prove the truth of that faith ourselves.

It is not extraordinary that we must begin with faith. It is natural because we have to begin every thing else with faith. Faith is an inherent quality of finiteness. It cannot be forgone. We cannot live without it. We cannot make any progress without it. No faith, no business; no faith, no fun; no faith, no victory. But we can make Christ’s faith knowledge in the same way that we can make it in any other realm; that is, by testing it in the laboratory. All new treatments of men’s bodily ills I have been testing in that way all my life. I get treatments from any one and everywhere and try them out. That is all that my Christ expects. ‘Follow me’ (can any one say more?) ‘and you shall have the light of life.’