Today I’ve managed to work my way through seven pancakes. As well as this, by my side I have a lovely bottle of real ale, with another waiting in the fridge, my last drinks until Easter. This, quite obviously, can only mean one thing, tomorrow is the start of lent.
Of course today hasn’t been all pancakes and ale (shame!). No, most of today has been spent writing chapter six of my M Phil. I’ve managed to reel off about 1300 words, arguing that Jesus is portrayed as the New Eden, the New Promised Land and the New Temple. This, for the most part, is my day-to-day life. Wading through theological books, papers and articles so that I can produce my own, significantly less impressive, theological ramblings. You see theological college is a funny thing. It’s so easy to get bogged down in learning about God and forget to just be with him.
You see at the heart of the Christian faith is the unique claim that God is known in and through Jesus Christ. You see you can’t really, truly, love an abstract. You can’t love a list of doctrinal statements, or historical events. No, love, true love, has to be directed at a person. Of course, learning about God, in Jesus, is part of growing in that love. But you can’t really grow in love with someone through reading a biography, but by being with them (although, part of the Christian claim about scripture is that, when read prayerfully, we are spending time with God as he speaks to us through His word). It’s surprisingly easy to learn about God without allowing him to use that to bring us closer.
All this, of course, has a big impact for people in Christian ministry. It means our job is not to pass on information, but to introduce people to Jesus. We can give guidance in growing in the relationship, but we can’t force it. As the wonderful theologian Tom Wright puts it:
Those of us who are theologians and teachers assume we have something called ‘truth’ in our back pocket, which we produce and shove down people’s throats. In fact, the truth about God being seen in Jesus is not like that at all. Truth is more like health. A doctor doesn’t keep ‘health’ in his or her back pocket simply to throw at people. A doctor can work to create conditions for health and reduce the possibilities of illness. But ultimately health is a strange, mysterious thing that is part of God’s gift of life. It is just the same with truth. The truth as it is in Jesus is personal truth, and Christians are not only summoned to see God in Jesus but also to know God in Jesus. Ultimately, we must learn to love God in Jesus.
Tom Wright, Reflecting the Glory p.7
And so we come to Lent. Each Lent I normally give something up. Often alcohol, like this year. Why? Not to punish myself, but to outwardly demonstrate that God is much more important to me that alcohol. So that each time I don’t have a drink it makes me stop and think of him. I have got bogged down in learning about God and, so often, forgotten just to be with him. Tomorrow Lent starts and I outwardly repent and spend a time of consciously searching to make my priorities right.
Lent is a “spring clean” and, in my heart, I know I need one. If that means giving up alcohol, or anything else for that matter, I happily embrace it, because, to quote a phrase, “Jesus wins”.