I was introduced to a new quote recently, penned by the eminently quotable early Christian writer, Tertullian. The quote provoked in me a string of loosely (un)related insights into faith that I thought I would share here.
Here’s the quote:
Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of the apostles themselves). How happy is Rome’s church, on which the apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood; where Peter endured a passion like his Lord’s; where Paul won his crown in a death like John the Baptist’s; where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and was thence remitted to his island-exile.
Tertullian’s image of doctrine mingled with shed blood totally captures my imagination. It’s a symbol of the whole Christian life, as our life is to be a “handing on” of the faith in a living martyrdom. It is precisely the cost of the struggle to live faith, when that struggle is motivated by love, that secures the authenticity and power of our witness to Christ. Costly love is compelling.
Do You Love Me?
It reminds me of a story I heard from a man I met at a men’s conference. He told me he had over the years developed a stormy relationship with his teenage daughter. “She felt” he said, “that my strict discipline was a sign that I didn’t really love her; that I didn’t have her best interests at heart. It was very painful for me to be reconciled to the fact that she probably hated me in her heart, even though I knew that my strictness was out of love and concern for her well-being.” But it wasn’t until the day she had a brush with death that he said it all turned around. “God gave me a chance to show her how much I loved her as I placed myself physically in harm’s way to avert her being killed. After that she said to me, ‘If I ever doubted you really loved me, I don’t now. I believe you.'” “But,” he said, “what I think she never got was that the love I showed that day, and the love I showed all along were the same.”
In other words, he was willing to endure the dying that all parents have to undergo very time they die to themselves and make hard choices for their children’s good even when the child does not, or will not, see it at the time.
It also reminds me of something I heard in a phenomenal lecture on the parable of the lost sheep in Luke’s Gospel back in 1999:
It’s precisely because of the fact that the shepherd is willing to leave the other 99 sheep in order to save the lonely, lost one that the those 99 feel wholly secure. And the fact that the shepherd is also willing to painfully bear on his shoulders the heavy burden of the stray sheep only seals their belief that he is worthy of supreme trust.
Yet again, it reminds me of a historical theology professor in my M.A. program who once said,
Every time you profess the Creed of Nicaea, remember that many of the Bishops who gathered in 325 A.D. to craft that summary of our Faith had previously suffered terrifying tortures under the vicious persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian. Imagine Bishops missing limbs, patches of hair and eyes, covered with scars, gathering to define the core symbol of faith. Next time you are given chance to profess the Creed, do so with great fervor and gusto knowing that those who handed on this Faith faithfully imitated the Master who gave Himself over into the hands of His enemies so that we might believe.
“And Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM'” — John 8:28
Pause for a moment to hear our Creed, and profess it in your heart with gusto: