Why do people turn to God? Is it because of pain? Is it from being weary of pleasure? The reality is that both leave haunting questions. As Ravi Zacharias observes, the struggle between pain and pleasure gives spirituality a more defined goal, and only God alone knows how we will respond.I have pondered long and hard the question of why people turn to God. I remember a woman from Romania telling me that she was raised in a staunchly atheistic environment. They were not allowed to even mention the name of God in their household, lest they be overheard and their entire education denied. After she came to the United States, I happened to be her patient when I was recovering from back surgery. When I had the privilege of praying with her one day, she said as she wiped away her tears, “Deep in my heart I have always believed there was a God. I just didn’t know how to find him.”
This sentiment is repeated scores of times. More recently, I had the great privilege of meeting with two very key people in an avowedly atheistic country. After I finished praying, one of them said, “I have never prayed in my entire life, and I have never heard anyone else pray. This is a first for me. Thank you for teaching me how to pray.” It was a gripping moment in our three-hour evening, and it was obvious that even spiritual hungers that have been suppressed for an entire lifetime are in evidence when in a situation where there is possible fulfilment.
Although I agree that the problem of pain may be one of the greatest challenges to faith in God, I dare suggest that it is the problem of pleasure that more often drives us to think of spiritual things.
Excerpted from Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (New York: FaithWords, 2012). Used by permission. Sexuality, greed, fame, and momentary thrills are actually the most precarious attractions in the world. Pain forces us to accept our finitude. It can breed cynicism, weariness, and fatigue in just living. Pain sends us in search of a greater power. Introspection, superstition, ceremony, and vows can all come as a result of pain. But disappointment in pleasure is a completely different thing. While pain can often be seen as a means to a greater end, pleasure is seen as an end in itself. And when pleasure has run its course, a sense of despondency can creep into one’s soul that may often lead to self-destruction. Pain can often be temporary; but disappointment in pleasure gives rise to emptiness… not just for a moment, but for life. There can seem to be no reason to life, no preconfigured purpose, if even pleasure brings no lasting fulfilment. The truth is that I have known people who in the peak of their success have turned to God, and I have known others, drowning in pain and defeat, who seek God for an answer. Either extreme leaves haunting questions. God alone knows how we will respond to either.
This struggle between pain and pleasure, I believe, gives spirituality a more defined goal. People in pain may look for comfort and explanations. People disappointed in pleasure look for purpose. Dostoyevsky defines hell as “the inability to love.” I think that is a pretty close description. But this is where, I believe, the West has lost its way and stumbled into the New Spirituality. We had what it took to experience pleasure, but in the end, what we experienced took from us what we had in terms of value. Pleasure disappointed in the West, and in our boredom, we went searching for an escape in the strange or the distorted, rather than looking to what God has clearly revealed in the underpinnings of the Christian faith that point to the person of Jesus Christ. . . .
The Hunger of the Spirit
Life is a search for the spiritual. Whether in the throes of pain or in the disappointments of pleasure, we strive for an essence that is beyond the physical. Let me give you an example. Suppose you were to raise a little child and give that child everything he needed . . . love, shelter, education, support, all the way to becoming an adult. Let’s call him Jason. One day, there is a knock on Jason’s door, and an older person standing outside asks to meet him. After a few moments of conversation, the visitor breaks the news to Jason that he is Jason’s biological father. If this is the first time Jason has learned he is adopted, what do you think will happen? How do you think he will cope with it? His sensory emotions will tear him apart on the inside. “Why didn’t you tell me this?” would be his question to his adoptive parents. “Where were you when I needed you?” he would ask the biological father. Essence is far more than belief. Essence is belief based on the intrinsic being of the person. This is the hunger of the spirit beyond mere sensory and belief components.
This is why I believe that the intertwining of pain with pleasure is at the root of the human dilemma. These extremes of feeling at either end of the spectrum that most of us wish to avoid, even as we are drawn into them, are the twin realities that help shape our search. We want to find happiness. We want to avoid pain. We want to know who we are. We want to know what we are. We care about our origin and our essence. Pleasure and pain become indicators along the way on the road that will lead us to our destiny, and they are rooted in the question of our origin.
It is not sufficient to say nice things such as “All religions say the same thing.” Nobody, and I do mean nobody, really believes that. If they say they do, you can call their bluff in moments by exposing the preconceived sovereignty they have exercised in evaluating one religion over the other and by which they have arrived at the conclusion that all religions lead to the same destination, even though the religions all say different things. How can anyone make such an assertion? Even in broad categories they do not say the same thing. Buddha himself rejected Hinduism because of some of its dogmas. And literally just days after his death, Buddhism began to fragment into a series of different Buddhist beliefs. Some even went into hiding, lest they be killed for the challenges they were making to the leadership. And only a short while after Muhammad died, blood was spilled over who his successor would be. Whether in the throes of pain or in the disappointments of pleasure, we strive for an essence that is beyond the physical. over who his successor would be. The first three of the five caliphs in Islam were assassinated—varnishing such facts with niceties doesn’t do anyone a favour.
Were these divisions for religious reasons? Oh yes, that is what is claimed. It was for reasons of essence, but the apologists of these faiths fail to come to terms with the essential nature of their beliefs themselves. Belief systems must justify themselves. If they cannot, the ever more bizarre will be required to bring the same degree of fulfilment.
We will pick this up again. For now, let me posit three things— relationship, stewardship, and worship —that must define life if the spiritual search as it relates to pleasure and pain is to be understood. Such definitions, then, build into a worldview.
The ties that bind: relationship
In the Judeo-Christian worldview, all pleasure is ultimately seen from the perspective of what is of eternal value and definition. I often think of that day the astronauts became the first ones to go around the dark side of the moon. To them was given a beautiful glimpse of the “earthrise” over the horizon of the moon, draped in a beauteous mixture of blue and white and garlanded by the light of the sun against the black void of space. It was something human eyes had never witnessed before. Isn’t it fascinating that no poem or lyric came to the commander’s aid in lending him words to express that moment of awe? Instead, the words that came to his mind were the first words of the book of Genesis: “In the beginning, God…”
There are moments like that in our experience when nothing can take away from the miracle of human life. No amount of time can explain it. No pondering within can satisfy all that the moment declares. There is something extraordinary here. It is not just the miracle of life; it is the miracle of life imbued with particular worth. The identity of the child is as significant as the fact that it is. We all know that. The New Spirituality distributes life into the generality of “consciousness” and loses the particularity of personal relationship. So it is not merely time we are talking about here, or some pool of consciousness into which we all merge and from which we emerge. In the Judeo-Christian worldview, we believe that every “person” is actually created in God’s image, in that God himself is a person, and that each person has relational priorities that are implicitly built in, not by nature but by God’s design.
Consider the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Even in that stoic culture, where community rises above everything else, each one who wept was grieving the loss of their own loved ones: They were not grieving just for the total loss of life but also for their personal loss. This is real. It is not imaginary. We stand before the individual graves of the ones we love more often than we stand before a graveyard in general.
But there is more. Personhood transcends mere DNA. There is essential worth to each person.
Recently in a game show, a computer (named Watson after the founder of IBM) handily defeated two human contestants in a knowledge contest. This had happened before when the computer Deep Blue beat the world champion in chess, Garry Kasparov. Computers are faster and better at calculations and at chess. But what one article said is interesting: In this instance, where language was involved, Watson’s victory over its two human competitors advanced IBM’s master plan of making humanity obsolete. I would add that the ultimate revenge would be for Watson to deny that humans exist or that they created “him.” You see, to create a computer to do what Watson did required brilliance. As David Ferrucci, the principal investigator of Watson’s DeepQA technology at IBM Research, said,
When we deal with language, things are very different. Language is ambiguous, it’s contextual, it’s implicit. Words are grounded really only in human cognition —and there’s seemingly an infinite number of ways the same meaning can be expressed in language. It’s an incredibly difficult problem for computers. 1
It was precisely the coding of that “human-ness” into Watson that required the effort of twenty-five of IBM’s top research scientists, and they accomplished it with a mishmash of algorithms and raw computing technology. “Watson is powered by 10 racks of IBM Power 750 servers with 2,880 processor cores and 15 terabytes of RAM; it’s capable of operating at a galloping 80 teraflops. With that sort of computing power, Watson is able to. . . scour its roughly 200 million pages of stored content—about 1 million books worth—and find an answer with confidence in as little as 3 seconds.” 2
The question is, “What is Watson doing or thinking now?” The entire question is reduced to one issue: What does consciousness mean? It is not surprising that “consciousness” and “conscience” come from the same root word. When you put together terms like “consciousness,” “conscience,” “individual,” “right,” “wrong,” “good,” and “evil,” you are on the path to spiritual thinking. Matter alone or resorting to quantum doesn’t create spiritual thought. Deepak Chopra can write of an ageless body and a timeless mind all he wants, but when you lose your child, something has been lost that can never be replaced—even if you have another child—and can never be explained by his philosophy. Never.
What this means is that our essence is both shared and particular— a truth that is Judeo-Christian in its assumption. This leads me to see the critical and defining notion of essence and its connection to relationship. That must be defined first before pleasure can be derived legitimately or otherwise in concert with the essence of the thing enjoyed. So it is not merely the essence of the object that is being enjoyed that matters. It is the essence of the subject who is experiencing pleasure that legitimizes or delegitimizes the experience.
There is a clear and unequivocal assertion in the Judeo-Christian faith that God created us for his purpose: to fulfill life’s sacred nature within the particularity of an individual life, in relationship with him and his indwelling presence. This particularity does not offset the fact of being part of the larger community of fellow human beings. It does not deify us, nor does it demean us. To be a human being is to be one who is fashioned in the image of God, who is the point of reference in all relationships. This is the difference between Islam and Christianity. In Islam, a person will kill to supposedly protect the honor of Allah. In the Christian faith, Jesus sacrificed his own life to honor the love of God as it is revealed for all humanity. In pantheism, the “I” dies the death of a thousand qualifications; hence that vacuous term “duty” in the Gita or even “dharma.” For the Christian, the I is a person valued by God. This is a world of difference from all other religions.
In search of this relationship we pursue spiritual realities. And often we end up creating God in our own image when we have failed to see, or perhaps don’t like, what it is that God intended to convey to us in his love. No, this is not the “relativity” of physics, special or general, or of quantum theory, or even of metaphysics. It is the relationship of a person within himself or herself. It is who we are, not fragmented, in the accretion of everything that makes us an individual. It is why we even refer to ourselves as “individuals” . . . indivisible . . . the underlying meaning being that we cannot be divided into parts.
Even in pantheism, one cannot be content with the Gnostic category of “knowledge.” Nor in Zen can we merely mutter “ Rupa is nothing.” That is where the monists and Vedantists and Zen thinkers wish to leave us. Thus Hinduism has the Gita, the most beloved of Hindu texts (not the Vedas), in which questions of war, devotion, worship, and sacrifice are raised. These are relational issues. “How can I go to war and kill my brothers?” was the question Arjuna placed before Krishna. Only he didn’t know who Krishna was, so reality and the nature of the source of the answers were veiled from him in the early stages of the text. What is good and what is evil? What is the right thing to do? That’s what Arjuna wants to know. It came down to duty in a play called Life .
Buddhism raises the issues of poverty, pain, sickness, death, responsibility, and the causes of misery. All these were not just ideas, they were evidenced in persons or in how they impacted persons. Of all religions, Islam is the least focused on relationships, even though it gives the appearance of being a community. And the result is law, authority, and power over the community. These become the rationale for Islam. Thus, it is not surprising that the very word Islam means “to submit.” And it’s no wonder that it is sometimes called a “pantheism of force,” where individuality is sacrificed at the altar of authority. Some Muslims I have spoken to admit this is what Islam is, but insist that it was not intended to be this way. How do you even debate such an issue when you are silenced if you disagree? This authoritarianism and submission become the means to the end of community. Any community there is exists only in the narrow confines of faith, which often provides the adherents with justification to sacrifice their own for “their faith.” The faith, in effect, negates the person.
I have two very special friends whose lives have been a blessing to countless children who have been deformed from birth. They have established an orphanage to give them a home and find medical help to correct what can be corrected. Then they look for families who will adopt them. One little boy had always been passed over for adoption because he has a particular brain malfunction that is very rare. He often doesn’t connect thoughts. At about nine years of age, as I remember the story, he was becoming despondent as, one-by-one, he saw his housemates being selected by families and leaving. He began to ask those who were taking care of him why no one was adopting him. Why didn’t anybody choose him?
Through an incredible series of events, a couple from Texas, who had already adopted one child from the same orphanage, called to ask if this boy was still there. Through the goodness of the parents’ hearts, and the generosity of the couple who established the orphanage in agreeing to cover all the costs of his adoption, the day has been set for this little boy to be taken to his new home. The special part of the thrill for him is that he will be reunited with one of the little boys who was his housemate at one time.
His actual name is quite hard to pronounce, but it is quite a normal name in his native setting. His adoptive parents have sent him the name they want to give him—Anson Josiah, the initials of which are A.J. He now walks around that home, waiting for his new parents to come for him, telling everybody as he points to his chest, “You can call me A.J. My name is A.J.” Is it not interesting that even with the debilitation of disconnected thoughts, he is able to pick up the redeeming thrill of relationship and particular worth evidenced in his new name?
One of the great epic poems of the Middle East is Shahnama (or Shanameh ), written by the Persian poet and author Abu ol-Qasem Mansur Firdawsi (ca. 935–1020). In it he recounts the legendary history of the ancient kings and heroes of Persia. It is known to English readers principally through Matthew Arnold’s version, written in the mid-nineteenth century: Sohrab and Rustum . I remember reading it as a young lad in Delhi. Rustum is a mighty warrior, second to none. War is his way of life and as the story unfolds, even though he has a family to take care of, Rustum is constantly far from home, taking on challenges. One day, he comes across a younger though equally well known warrior named Sohrab. Sohrab is reluctant to take him on because he knows that Rustum is actually his father. Years before when he was a small child, Sohrab had been sent away by his mother to spare him the lifestyle of his father, and Rustum has been misled into believing that the child who was sent away was a daughter, born while he was gone.
Sohrab and Rustum eventually meet in one-on-one combat. Twice, Sohrab could have fatally wounded Rustum, but he spares him. Finally, Rustum has Sohrab on his back, and victoriously plunges his sword into Sohrab’s side. As the life is ebbing out of him, Sohrab tells Rustum who he is and, when challenged, proves it by producing a locket his mother had given him. The rest of the story is the grief and remorse that fill Rustum when he realizes he has killed his own son, who had spared him when he had the advantage.
I find utterly fascinating the stories of deep relationship that are woven into the histories of various cultures, stories that reveal the folly of succumbing to the lure of power and prestige. What a tragedy to destroy our own children by denying the One who gave us life. Isn’t that where we are today, in our geopolitical and religious wars?
The good and decent among us mourn broken homes. We mourn broken lives. We mourn shattered dreams. We celebrate reunions. We delight in long relationships that have withstood the test of time. This is a clue, a huge clue of how life is intended to be lived. We are designed, shaped, and conditioned to be in relationships of honour, and in our hearts we wish to see those relationships triumph over all other allurements. It has been nearly four decades since I lost my mother. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Is all this not an indication, given to us by the One who made us, that we are designed to live within relationship and to find our greatest sense of worth and fulfilment within relationship?
Relationships are multidirectional and multidimensional. For this, physics, chemistry, even psychology, for that matter, are all inadequate starting points. Relationship must begin with essence, not with the essence of others but rather with the essence of oneself. That is why pleasure and pain become critical. It is not psychologically necessary to teach somebody that their parents matter. We know that by intuition. My life has been replete with examples of meeting people who wish they could find that one friend or one relationship. It is not accidental that in the long bibliography at the end of her book on spirituality, which draws sparsely from Christian literature, Elizabeth Lesser still finds place to mention C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed , a powerful book on the depth of his grief when he lost his wife, Joy.
How and why is this so? In Christ-ianity, the essence of each and every person and the individual reality of each life is sacred. It is sacred because intrinsic value has been given to us by our Creator. Atheism is the extreme form of placing ultimate worth in an accidental universe. For the atheist, the only real relationship is between each person and the universe. That is it. There is no outside voice or revelation. To attempt to mask the loneliness of this reality, we offer parallel universes, aliens or some other entities somewhere that will surely someday find us if we don’t find them first. There was a play written some years ago called Waiting for Godot . The title was a play on words for the lonely inhabitants of the world in the play, waiting for a God who never shows up. The play to honor the sciences should be titled Waiting for Logo , which would mean waiting for a word from anybody out there.
In pantheism, which is the basis of much of the New Spirituality, the “I” is lost in the desired union with the ultimate impersonal Absolute; there is no more “I and you.” In rebirth, all actual relationship with what has preceded is lost, and we are encouraged to believe there is an essential relationship only with the deeds of the past. No one in this cyclical framework ever answers what an individual was paying for in the first birth. After all, one cannot have an infinite number of lives to their credit: If there were an infinite number of births, one would never have reached this particular birth. So, going backward, what was the debt owed in the first life? As one of my Hindu friends once said after he came to know Jesus, “Even the banks are kinder to me. At least the bank tells me how much I owe and how much time I have to repay what I owe. In karma, I don’t know what I owe or how long it will take me to repay it.” For Deepak Chopra to bring relief to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi by telling him that his (Chopra’s) blood would not carry his karma to the Maharishi borders on the pathetic . . . the pupil having to reassure the teacher that karma was not carried in the blood. Where is it carried, one might ask, in an ageless body and a timeless mind? A relationship with God that is both individual and to be reflected to the rest of humanity in a shared birthright is God’s gift to us.
It is in the area of stewardship that I think Christians have done an enormous amount but have also failed in a very serious way. The priority was right, but the reach was short. Let me explain.
The world is in great need. There is so much that needs to be done. Ask yourself this question: Which worldview has reached out the most globally? The numbers are staggeringly disproportionate. I remember in the early days of my travels walking into institutions for people with leprosy. You can go to the fringe of the Sahara desert or to the island of Molokai in Hawaii and see the footprints of Christian missionaries at work there. Look at the hospitals in many parts of the world, the orphanages, the rescue homes, the care for widows. Look way beyond the reach of one’s own land. It is not enough to say that America has had much and therefore Americans ought to give. What about the wealth in the oil-rich nations of the world . . . how many hospitals and universities, orphanages and rescue homes have been built by that money? There is so much need in India that one just grows accustomed to it and walks by. Does Allah desire that billions of dollars be spent on a mosque while millions of people live in terrible need? Bangladesh, a Muslim country, is one of the poorest areas in the world, where hundreds of thousands live below the poverty line. In contrast go to Abu Dhabi, also a Muslim country, where the sheikh has spent more than $3 billion to build a mosque. Is this stewardship? Is this for God’s glory, or is it for the glory of an earthly kingdom that forgets others of the same faith who are living on the edge?
But present-day Christians cannot rest on the actions of Christians of previous generations. Today, we would do well to also ask ourselves this same question as we build our church megaplexes that often border more on memorials to human icons than on anything that lifts the heart toward God.
Whatever one may say, only the blind and the antisocial can ignore the realities of a desperately needy world. Christopher Hitchens’s cheap book attacking Mother Teresa showed a heart that was so hard he could not be touched even by the reach of a little woman with a big heart.
But I have to say that there is one area in which we as Christians have been negligent. We may have a good track record for reaching out to the hurting of the world . . . to building relationships with the world, but by and large we forget that there is a natural world out there to be protected as well. We have been negligent in matters of the environment, and just because the environment has no feelings we trample it underfoot. The pantheist deifies the impersonal and we ignore it. Both extremes are wrong. The created order was meant to be cared for.
If essence gave me the reason for relationships, existence gave me the mandate for stewardship . The world exists in real terms. It is not merely form. It is also substance.
In my study at home, I have an old Anglican prayer bench. It is my place of refuge. It is where I come on my knees before God and open my heart in its most deeply felt struggles and needs. If you had told me as a young lad going to church that someday I would long for a prayer bench, I would have despaired even more than I already did. Kneeling in worship and being aware of others kneeling beside me was not exactly the highlight of my week. I would covertly glance out the corner of my eye to see what others were doing. Worship was nothing more than a word in my vocabulary. I saw prayer and the repetition of creeds as nothing more than a hypnotic effort at inducing some state of mind. It mattered little, except at examination time and in times of crisis. It was a sort of “God, if you are there, please help.” Now, in my adult years, I have seen more happen during my time of prayer than any other time.
The hunger for worship is one of the greatest clues in life. In India, temples are full, and the whole cultic experience of priests, ceremonies, chants, blessings, fears, and superstitions is all part and parcel of the culture. You grow up knowing and accepting that “religion” is a vital part of a person’s life. The interesting thing is that we seldom ask the questions that ought to be asked. Why? It seems that whatever ceremonies we are taught become part of our personal culture, a habit of the heart and an expression of our community. More often than not religious rites are performed out of fear or superstition. And they are seldom questioned or examined.
Growing up, I noticed many culturally meaningful things that several of my friends did. One was to touch the feet of the father of the family to show respect. This was a very admirable and beautiful act to watch. Each time the father would enter the room or the son or daughter would bid their father good-bye before heading on a journey, they would lean over and touch his feet as a sign of respect, and there would be a quick ceremonial blessing given by the father to his children. I had a very dear classmate who devoutly followed that practice. But I noticed something. The ceremony had become nothing more than that and did not reflect any true reality. In his private life, his values were anything but honouring to his father. What was even more tragic Worship of the Supreme Being is what makes it possible to find unity in diversity in the world around me by enabling me to find unity and diversity within myself, first. Worship is the starting point. was a day that I remember well, when this young man doused himself with kerosene and lit a match to his body. When his parents came home, it was to find his charred body. What did this say to the parents? The son who had touched his father’s feet in respect and the father who had given his blessing to his son really didn’t know the other or what the other was thinking. All the formality and ceremony had amounted to nothing.
This is the ultimate violation of worship. All the ceremonies in the world, all the perfunctory reverence, do not make for worship. Worship that is properly understood and properly given is co-extensive with life. . .It informs all of life, everything we do and everything we say and think. At its core it is the sense and service of God. Worship brings into confluence all the questions and answers that we have and do not have. For the answers we do not have, a relationship with the One who does have them carries us through. It is the submission of our will, heart, and purpose to the sovereign will and the person of God who created us and loves us. Worship is a relationship from which all inspiration flows and the relationship through which all of our needs are met. It is knowing even partly the One who knows us fully. Worship of the Supreme Being is what makes it possible to find unity in diversity in the world around me by enabling me to find unity and diversity within myself, first. Worship is the starting point.
Once you understand essence, existence, and reverence in the context of a relationship expressed in stewardship and worship, life’s purpose becomes clear. From that come beneficence and the imperatives. Then love can be legitimately defined; otherwise, it is nothing more than a word that is open to each person’s own interpretation and context. Then legitimate pleasure can be defined; otherwise, all pleasure is up for grabs.
The purpose of life given by my Creator is both general and specific. It is general in that we all are designed to have the sacred as a starting point in everything. This even means that the notion of truth is a sacred trust. It is specific in that love has its boundaries. When Oprah said that she couldn’t conceive of God being jealous, she betrayed her warped definition of love. God is not jealous because he wants us to himself as a private possession, he is jealous because he wants us to have the supreme experience of love, which, contrary to the implications of the pluralistic religions, is exclusive. It is the nature of love to bind itself. Love is not free. Someone who truly loves another cannot be other than jealous for the object of their love.
Some time ago, I saw a special program on the progress that is being made in the development of artificial limbs. While I was awed by the incredible mechanical genius of giving a person arms and legs, there was something else that could have been easily missed. Two who had received these prosthetics and were able to stand up from their wheelchairs said something that was totally unexpected: “It is so wonderful to be able to hug and be hugged again.” Who would have thought of that except someone who had been in a wheelchair and was unable to hug or be hugged because of the intrusion of the chair?
God embraces us with his love and has given us the extraordinary privilege of love and sexuality in a relationship from which God has exempted himself because he is “Spirit”; his love for us is so great that he has provided for us to have pleasure in our material finitude. And he makes that same body his dwelling place, his temple.
To be sure, the New Spirituality loves to talk of the sacred, or of purpose and meaning, but the starting point of an impersonal absolute without any of the attributes of God, except by negation, does not justify the New Spiritualists’ participation in the categories they like to talk about. In doing away with God and deifying themselves, they have actually ended up losing the personal self as well. We are, in effect, amputated, because there is no one to embrace or to be embraced by. We are alone in a world where everything is nothing and we are part of the divine. From the Judeo-Christian perspective, humanity is the supreme creation of a personal, loving God. That starting point allows values and imperatives that find their definitions in a personal God.
And in the person of God, our Creator, revealed in Jesus Christ, we find our essential worth and our calling into an intimate relationship with God. That relationship has a reach that goes beyond us to others and enjoins a life of stewardship of all creation, culminating in worship.