Friday, September 30, 2011

Surpassing Value

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  -- Philippians 3:7-8

Paul is sharing a powerful insight that comes with knowing Jesus.  All the things that are valued by society -- in Paul's case, lineage, education, righteousness in the law, even zeal for the faith -- count as nothing compared to the value of knowing Christ.  Since Paul is writing this letter from prison, he has lost even more than his past prestige.  He has lost his freedom.  But what he does have surpasses the loss of all these things.  He knows Jesus Christ.  And so, instead of conveying any sense of loss, the predominant feeling that overflows throughout the pages of his letter is one of joy.

This insight from Tuesday morning's reading mirrors what I am reading in Huston Smith's "World Religions" about Hinduism.  Although the paths may be different, the insights that Hindus and Christians have discovered about life are the same.  For Hindus, too, have discovered the inherent emptiness in many of the things that people think they want.

According to Huston Smith, Hindus believe there are four tiers along the quest of fulfillment.  At the first tier, people want pleasure, good times, fun.  This way of life soon falls flat, leaving one feeling unfulfilled, empty.  At the second tier, people seek power, prestige, success in work, wealth, etc.  This way can offer more substance, but eventually, this also leaves one feeling empty, wondering if there is more to life.  At the third tier, people begin to seek more meaning in their lives.  They begin to look outward, to think of their community, and help people in need.  (pg. 13-16)

This is where Huston Smith says religion begins:  "with the quest for meaning and value beyond self-centredness."  On this third tier, one "transforms the will-to-get into the will-to-give, the will-to-own into the will-to-serve" (pg. 19).  What I found surprising is that helping others has also been discovered to leave one empty.  The Hindus have learned that service to your neighbor is not enough.  Something more is necessary in order for one to feel completely fulfilled.

As I struggled to understand why this was so, I thought of Jesus.  Jesus taught us to give and serve as an act of love.  Without love, given or received, any sort of altruism would feel very hollow, especially if it is difficult.  Jesus told us to "love one another as I have loved you."  When service comes from love, it has meaning.  Otherwise, as Paul observes elsewhere, "without love, I have nothing." (1 Corinthians 13)  I thought that this must be the missing piece to the third tier of the quest of fulfillment. 

But then I learned in Smith's book that Hindu's believe complete fulfillment lies in the quest for ultimate being, ultimate knowledge, and ultimate joy.  These words took me back to the passage above.  I believe Paul achieved all three with Jesus Christ.  Paul found the meaning of life in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, and in his trust that this would be an eternal relationship.  The joy that came from this relationship was palpable.  Everything else life had to offer paled in comparison.

I am reminded of Jesus saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life...."  I see a connection between these words of Jesus and Hinduism's final goal.  Ultimate being is the life; ultimate knowledge is the truth; and, ultimate joy is the way.  Jesus embodies all three goals.  He said, "I came that you may have life and have it abundantly... and that your joy may be full" -- irrespective of our circumstances.  Perhaps a Hindu might not see it that way, but I think its worth noting.  We have in and with and through Jesus Christ the possibility of finding ultimate being, ultimate truth, and ultimate joy.

Dear God, thank you for bringing these two readings together for me.  May the similarities between us bring enriched fellowship and understanding.  Love always, Pam

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