(Testimony shared by Nicole Gallo at Pacific Union on May 12, 2013)
When I really began to take my faith seriously, I decided to get to the heart of what I believed by searching for truth and wisdom. Having gone to church all my life, but also having always attended secular school, there were a lot of arguments about truth. Most of the arguments were between Christians and non-Christians, but there were also many disagreements among the many Christian denominations as well. Some of these included the debates about the age of the Earth, Creation versus Evolution, how to approach others about what we believe, who we should pray to, even how we should pray. The list of controversies is nearly endless.
So I decided conduct a search to get to the heart of the matter about life as a non-Christian versus life as a Christian. I tried to go into the matter with an open mind, though I know that the Bible was at the center of my search and God’s truth was written on my heart. What I found didn’t answer the questions that people have been debating for centuries, but they did help me achieve a focus in my faith and make a lot of those questions fade into the background.
I came across one book that does a great job of describing what life looks like for people living in a first-world nation without God. The book is called Letters from a Peruvian Woman, which describes the experiences of an indigenous Peruvian woman who is captured and brought to France in the 1700s. Worship had always been at the center of the woman’s life, though she worshiped pagan gods, primarily the Sun. She studied French society, constantly trying to figure out what or who the people worshiped. This is what she described.
Upon making the slightest inquiry, one needs neither skill or insight to discern that their unbridled taste for the superfluous has corrupted their reason, their hearts, and their spirit, that it has built illusory riches upon the ruins of the necessary, that it has substituted a veneer of politeness for good manners, and that it has replaced common sense and reason with the false sparkle of wit.
The great pretense among the French is to appear lavishly wealthy. Genius, the arts, and perhaps even the sciences all relate back to ostentation, and contribute to the destruction of fortunes.
What seems criminal to me, is the superfluous born of the imagination being left unchecked that cannot be maintained without failing to meet one’s obligations to humanity and justice; in a word, the kind of which the French are idolaters and to which the sacrifice their tranquility and their honor.
Every day I hear the young people indignantly contesting among themselves the glory of having invested the most subtlety and skill into the maneuvers they employ to obtain the superfluous objects with which they adorn themselves.
What contempt would such men not inspire in me for the entire nation were I not also to know that they sin more frequently for lack of a correct understanding of things than for lack of forthrightness. Their frivolousness almost invariably excludes reasoning, and among them nothing is serious, nothing is weighty. One must appear rich. That is the fashion, the custom, one follows it.
(Letters from a Peruvian Woman)
In the society she observed, she saw emptiness of spirit, greed, falseness, pride, deception, frivolity and ultimately, selfishness, which is not at all dissimilar to what she would see in today’s American society. Nothing was sacred except for money and power. There was nothing about life that centered on virtue, morality, or caring about others. There are many people in the world, rich and poor, who worship things of no intrinsic value. Solomon researched and wrote about this kind of life in Ecclesiastes, and found it all to be, in his words, meaningless.
Then I searched for the purpose of the Christian’s life. It was perfectly described in a portion of the book, Life of Pi, when a young Indian boy was searching for God, and his path took him to a priest, who told him about Jesus’ life. This was his response.
That a god should put up with adversity, I could understand. But divinity should not be blighted by death. It’s wrong. It was wrong of this Christian God to let His avatar die. That is tantamount to letting part of Himself die. For if the Son is to die, it cannot be fake. The death of the Son must be real. Father Martin assured me that it was. Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect?
Love. That was Father Martin’s answer.
The Son who goes hungry, who suffers from thirst, who gets tired, who is sad, who is anxious, who is heckled and harassed, who has to put up with his followers who don’t get it and his opponents who don’t respect him- what kind of god is that? It’s a god on too human a scale, that’s what.
This Son is a god who spent most of His time telling stories, talking. This Son is a god who walked, a pedestrian god- and in a hot place, at that- with a stride like any human stride, the sandal reaching just above the rocks along the way; and when He splurged on transportation, it was a regular donkey. This Son is a god who died in three hours, with moans, gasps, and laments. What kind of god is that? What is there to inspire in the Son?
Love, said Father Martin.
And this Son appears only once, long ago, far away? Among an obscure tribe in a backwater of West Asia on the confines of a long-vanished empire? Is done away with before He has a single grey hair on His head? Leaves not a single descendent, only scattered, partial testimony. What would justify such a divine stinginess?
Love, repeated Father Martin.
I had tea with Father Martin three days in a row. Each time, as teacup rattled against saucer, as spoon tingled against edge of cup, I asked questions. The answer was always the same.
(Life of Pi)
The heart of the Christian message is love. A love that started with God and with Jesus Christ’s life and sacrifice. We are continually commanded in the Bible to love, as demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love on another, as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Therefore the conclusion of my search was that at the heart of what I believe is to love as God loved, and as Jesus loved. The exceptional thing about that is that you don’t have to be rich to love. You don’t have to be powerful to love. You don’t have to be exceptionally intelligent to love. Love is something that we all can have in full supply, no matter how much we give away. It is enough to end all arguments and controversies. Love is worth living and dying for, as was exemplified by Jesus Christ.