“Relentless” is a fun word, but for the record, I’m not relentless. Not even a little. When people think of me, I can assure you with a degree of confidence that they don’t think, “Wow, he’s got endurance. Nothing can stop him.”
That may be frequently (and surprisingly) true of my daughter, but I’m relent-full. In fact relenting might be my default response to just about every situation. My boss doesn’t understand the concern I’m trying to raise? Relent. My family disagrees with me about an important issue? Relent. My daughter wants to hit me in the face with a shoe box? Relent.
Nevertheless, about one thing I cannot relent, even though it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do: Christianity. I don’t mean specifically that I can’t relent because the stakes are high, even though it’s true that the stakes are high. I also don’t mean to say that I’m particularly determined concerning this issue, and so can muster an unusual stamina. I’m not particularly determined and even my unusual stamina is prone to relenting. I mean that it’s not possible for me to relent from Christianity.
Imagine me jumping from a plane to go skydiving, complete with high-pitched screams and wet pants. I couldn’t relent from falling, but that wouldn’t be a comment about me whatsoever. It would be a comment about gravity.
When I say that I can’t relent from Christianity, I mean it as a comment about God.
There’s a telling exchange in John 6, with which I frequently identify. Jesus scares away a bunch of his followers by sharing difficult truths with them, then he turns to his disciples and asks if they plan on leaving him too. They respond by asking where else they could possibly go. As they explain it, they’re trapped by faith; they have to stay because they believe he’s telling the truth.
First, nobody can relent from the truth. They may stop telling it, or even stop believing it, but it remains the truth in spite of them and still affects them like the truth. To quote Richard Dawkins, “If it’s true that it causes people to feel despair, that’s tough. It’s still the truth…. If it’s true, it’s true, and you’d better live with it.” (I acknowledge that Richard Dawkins, a renowned apologist for atheism, would likely object to the context of my usage.)
I believe that Christianity is true, so I can’t relent from it.
Of course, being subject to the truth is different from embracing it. Especially with hard truths, I’m prone to denial. A century before Dawkins, Nietzsche asked the poignant question: “How much truth can a spirit bear, how much truth can a spirit dare?” If Dawkins conceptions were reality, I assure you that I wouldn’t be able to bear much. If Christianity were merely hard, I wouldn’t be able to bear much of it either.
And frankly I imagine that the disciples felt the same way. They were pretty average guys, not heroes. I figure that there must be more to the story than a mere acceptance of fact.
To put it a different way, if I were following someone who I knew was telling the truth, but that truth was always depressing, I wouldn’t follow for very long. Dawkins says that “the universe doesn’t owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn’t owe us a nice warm feeling inside,” but I have no real impetus to explore it if that’s true.
That the disciples stayed with Jesus seems to me to be evidence that, as hard as it sometimes was, he was showing them a truth that was good enough to inspire some toughness on their part. There had to be something attractive about it.
I think that attractive quality was this: God is relentless. (He’s a bit like gravity that way, but without the impact as culmination.) God is relentless after righteousness, which can be hard for the unrighteous like me, but he’s also relentless after good.
Whenever Christianity gets hard, and I don’t want to follow anymore but feel like I have to because its true, I try to remember the substance of that truth, that God is relentlessly pursuing my benefit. That substance is infinitely better than the empty, heartless, random universe of atheism.