One of the most moving scenes in the movie Les Miserables, is when the protagonist, Jean Valjean, comes to grips with his salvation as a result of God’s grace. After nineteen years of imprisonment and abuse, Valjean had become an animalistic, hate-filled man who was known only by his prison number 24601. However, the love afforded him by a priest changed his life, and Valjean confesses that his “soul belongs to God” in his epiphanal song, “Who am I?” If you have never seen the movie you should at least experience this powerful scene on YouTube.
A friend of mine has a perspective I admire and have made my own. He maintains that “None of us is as smart as all of us together.” Consequently, I seek out forums for group discussion. I participate in two spiritual reading groups, a Sunday School class and I lead seminars for medical students. Recently, I organized a group of philosophically minded men to discuss “weighty” matters or what some might label as “winded” perspectives. At our first meeting, I thought about how I might introduce myself, since I didn’t know everyone in the group.
As I thought about a personal introduction, Jean Valjean’s powerful self analysis challenged me. Heretofore, beyond the perfunctory handshake and “Hello, my name’s Jim,” I have frequently described myself as a doctor, a husband, a father and now a grandfather. In recent years, I might even mention that I’m a writer. I don’t use the term polymath which is my wife’s tongue in cheek descriptor of her bookish husband. Though I am unashamedly a Christian, this aspect of my persona has not been in the forefront of introductions. Valjean has challenged me to reconsider my arguably problematic hierarchy of identification.
Methodists are not big on proselytizing. I’ve never carried a placard with John 3:16 scrawled upon it. I used to wear a small fish lapel pin on my hospital lab coat. One night while bending over to listen to a man’s chest, he asked me what the fish meant, and I didn’t give a testimony, but quickly told him it was a Christian symbol.
Perhaps my reluctance for ringing doorbells and spiritual bumper stickers is because I’ve been a lot of -isms. I was raised in the Presbyterian church, but became “too smart” in college and subsequently “lost.” As a senior in medical school, this “prodigal” came to his senses while in the “far country” and I began the long journey homeward. Along the way I was a Baptist and finally married a Methodist who started as a Presbyterian. So, in my spiritual journey, I’ve been elected, sprinkled, lost and found, dunked, and now I’m blessed!
All my life I’ve maintained that if I had been born in another country I would likely have embraced spirituality of another version. I believe humans are endowed with certain attributes, and one aspect of our humanity is a need that can only be filled by God. Idolatrous pursuits of power, sex, money or fame ultimately fail and lead to ruination.
So, a more fundamental question than Who am I? is Whose am I? (Acts 27:23). The answer to these questions resides in the two fundamental questions of all humanity: where did we come from? and what is our purpose? The universe and humans were created by God and our purpose is to love the Creator and our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
Humans are designed with the capacity for love and perhaps an aspect of this love is empathy which is different than sympathy. Ancient cultures held that civilizations could be built upon common sense, courage, moderation and justice. Together these tenets, known as the Cardinal Virtues, were codified as morality. However, I believe the Cardinal Virtues are trumped by the Theological Virtues of faith, hope and charity/love (I Corinthians 13:13). These virtues steer the human ship to avoid disaster and complete life’s journey.
Words are the tools we used to express our thoughts. The Greeks defined seven types of love. Examples are agape, eros and philia. I understand love for my wife and family. And I can comprehend the moral imperative to love my neighbor, but how can I love a God so vast and mysterious, and beyond my comprehension? Conceptually, I find it easier to love Jesus, God incarnate and manifest as the man, Immanuel.
I have to admit that I’ve been troubled by my attitude towards the reprobates…er neighbors who have been working for two years to overturn Trump’s election and harm the country in their lust for power. Perhaps they have been co-opted by Wormwood’s hatred. I can forgive them, but I can’t forget that justice must be done before mercy can be considered (Micah 6:8). For two years our country has been lied to by the Media, Democrats and leaders of the Intelligence Agencies (NSA, CIA, FBI) as well as “deep state” operatives in the Department of Justice. The damage to our country has been incalculable because Americans’ trust in government and the notion of justice has been destroyed. The extensive two year Mueller investigation has determined that neither the President nor his surrogates colluded with Russians. The only collusion with Russians was Hillary Clinton and her campaign, aided by Fake News Media and leaders in DOJ, CIA and the FBI. If this country is to continue, these people must be investigated, exposed and punished to restore faith in government and journalism.
The other day I heard a perspective in the body politic which I admire. The radio guest said he chooses “policy over party and personality.” I cannot agree more. And when I heard this, it made me think of a poem by Rudyard Kipling which I believe is appropriate for today and President Trump.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch…
…you’ll be a man…
Our president is a man, and he is the man America sorely needs.