There is a place and a time for complexity, but sometimes it just gets in the way.
Let’s say you want to take up fishing, for example. There are essentially two ways to go about it. The first is to grab a sturdy, but flexible stick, tie a string or some sort of line to it, and attach a simple hook to the line (and maybe a worm or something, too). Then head out to the river or lake nearby and throw it in the water and see what happens.
The second is to do your homework and prepare. What kind of fish do you want to catch? Where is the best place and time to catch it? What is the best equipment to buy? And then, of course, you need to buy all the equipment – the best rod (or a variety of rods), different lures, different bait, the right kind of line for the size of fish, leaders, nets, hooks and so on. Plus all the ancillary equipment – fishing clothes, perhaps a boat plus a truck to haul it, life jackets, buckets for storing the fish, etc. Time is carved out to go on the trip (or multiple trips), and a good time is had by all.
Now there is no doubt that the second method makes the first look absolutely primitive and, dare I say, simplistic. And no doubt the second method will bring tremendous joy to those who pursue it that way, as well as increased success (at least in the long run). Complexity is not bad.
But sometimes, complexity gets in the way. Instead of bringing joy, it can bring frustration. The money isn’t there to buy the proper equipment. There isn’t enough time to go on the perfect fishing trip. Or everything is planned just right, but the weather foils it. Or it’s just too much work for the reward. The joy of fishing can get lost in the complexity of the endeavour.
This came home to me last summer when we went to visit some relatives at their lot on a lake. We showed up to find some of our boys’ cousins fishing off the dock. And in a flash, our boys were out there with them. Nothing but a rod, a line, and a hook. They stood on that dock and fished for hours over the next few days – sometimes catching, sometimes not, but always having fun. We could have found a boat and taken them to the middle of the lake. Or bought some expensive lures, or their own fishing rods, or a ton of other things. But for them, that would have been nothing more than a distraction. They just wanted a rod, a line, and a hook, and they were perfectly happy.
I think this can apply very often to our spiritual life, especially in our current culture and environment. We live in a complex era – the information age. We have way more knowledge than we could ever hope to use at our fingertips. And that knowledge creates in us a certain expectation – that we will always be able to know everything perfectly, explain everything, answer everything. Mystery or ignorance is frowned upon.
And so we approach Christianity with high expectations. We demand answers to everything. We expect to explain every detail. Gaps in information are incredibly suspect. We demand that our Christianity – as everything – be complex, with a solution for every problem.
Of course, Christianity is very open to complexity. Let it never be said that Christians shy away from tough conversations or problems (well, obviously some do, but Christianity as a whole does not). There are incredibly complex, enjoyable and beautiful discussions about every aspect of Christianity. Complexity is not bad.
But sometimes (often, I feel), that complexity gets in the way of the beauty of the simple story of Christianity. I have recently been aware of this in my own life, and have seen it to be true in the lives of many others. In a quest for complex, comprehensive answers to every question imaginable, it becomes very easy to lose sight of the simple core of Christianity. And Christians suffer for it.
The central message of Christianity is not difficult:
- God made us in His image, for relationship with Him
- We disobeyed (sinned) and all sorts of problems arose – in particular death
- God became human in the person of Jesus to pay the price for our sin and to restore our relationship with God
- We live in relationship with Jesus
- We have hope of eternal life instead of punishment and separation
I’ll admit, in a scientific age, that simple message can sound not just simplistic, but antiquated. Questions arise, demanding complex answers, screaming for attention and resolution. I have them all the time. In fact, more often than not as I contemplate God and speak with others who struggle, these questions dominate and drive the conversation about faith.
And yet, my mind wanders back to my own experience growing up and to the lives and examples of my parents and grandparents. There were questions back then, no doubt, but they were not in the driver’s seat. The simple story was – God made us, God loves us, God wants to forgive us and have a relationship with us, and to show us how to live and offer us eternal life. And that simple story brought tremendous life and joy.
So I want to take my next posts not to answer all the questions or debate the complex issues, but to remember the simple story and reflect on how much joy it can bring. Because complexity isn’t bad, but sometimes it just gets in the way.
So let’s grab a pole, a line and a hook. Let’s go fishing.