The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.
So, would our happiness be greatest when the one who loves us is the greatest being? This greatest being would have the most thorough knowledge of who we really are, in all our pettiness, fragility, and folly. Also, this sort of love “in spite of ourselves” implies that the greatest happiness only comes when we are brave enough to admit our un-loveliness in the first place. Look at the love of God—if we were so lovely in and of ourselves, why, when God became vulnerable to us in Jesus Christ, did we kill him? Don’t we rather perceive that the love of God comes to us not because we are lovely, but precisely because we are not?
Hugo knew that. His penitent hero, Valjean, lived it when he prays at the moment of his death, “Forgive me all my trespasses, and take me to your glory.”
Valjean knew that God loved him not because he had come to lead a life of integrity and self-sacrifice, but because God had taken the ever-prior position of love and forgiveness toward him, precisely in spite of his failures and folly. What if Valjean had prayed, “I’m pretty sure I’ve lived a good enough life, so take me to your glory”? What a very sad thought—yet this is how we often bend toward self-salvation. This is the bent of all other religious and spiritual volition across time other than what we see in the heart of the one true God, revealed in the redemptive history of Biblical scripture. Here is this God, who makes covenant with unlovely people, makes Himself vulnerable to them only to be killed by them, and makes lovers out of forgiven sinners. Empirically speaking, as we look around at our very shambled humanity, isn’t this the path to our greatest happiness? Isn’t this an honest assessment of who we are and how we need love to come and find us?
Image source: http://www.openculture.com/2015/03/victor-hugos-surprisingly-modern-drawings.html
I’ve come to really enjoy Mark Galli’s weekly meditations on culture, which attempt to advance a “beautiful orthodoxy” (as the Christianity Today editor often puts it). Galli aspires to this with humility, admitting that our best efforts tend to be shaded and partial. Even still, we mumbling, stumbling Christians ought to help convey God’s truth to a watching world. So it matters that we think about things—everything, in fact—seriously.
To the point, I don’t think Galli is taking our day’s “visual tsunami” too seriously. It sure seems like a true diagnosis when he writes:
One thing I have noticed is this: images help me feel quickly and with relative ease—and for this I am grateful. But a steady diet of images seduces me to stop thinking. Critical thinking isn’t everything, but when one is assaulted with images day after day, and when images (in the form of television, movies, and Instagram) pull me away from reading that makes demands on me (and thus can change me), I worry that I will end up breezing along in the jetsam of culture instead of living with freedom and intention.
He then admits, “These reflections are clumsy and hardly do justice to the writings that explore in great depth the relationship of word and image, much of which I find hard to fathom frankly.” Read the whole (and brief) piece here, and let me know what you think of his observations: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/february-web-only/surviving-tsunami-of-images.html
As a Christian, I savor humble and honest commentary on this broken and beautiful world without the rancor or neurosis of the loudest and proudest talking heads out there. Jesus spoke a lot about his own true judgement of things and the need for deeper healing than we’d care to admit (John 5, Luke 11-12…), but he spoke without malice or damaging criticism. “It’s not a coincidence that Jesus is named the Word,” Galli remarks. Though Jesus is heralded in the book of Hebrews as the “radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint [or image] of his nature,” the insta-gratification of our visual culture should tell us that to fully understand Jesus, the Word, he must be listened to diligently and read intently. We’ll then see him as he is with eyes of faith.