I once received an email from someone telling me they were taking some time away from church. They used their phone as an illustration. Things had got overloaded in life and they needed to remove some apps. I remember wanting to shout at the screen: “Jesus is not an app, he’s the operating system!”
Writing about the nature of human existence the philosopher Martin Heidegger coined the phrase that as humans we are beings-toward-death. By this he meant that part of being human is the realisation that we are finite beings with limited time and energy. He also identified that alongside this realisation we are also capable of imagining limitless possibilities and carrying infinite hopes.
This is actually nothing new, the Bible beat Heidegger to it by about 2,500 years: God has set eternity in the human heart and yet we are all but dust, like flowers of the field, here today gone tomorrow.
Because of this tension within us Heidegger identified that the default human mood is one of anxiety. Mood is different to feeling. Feelings depend on circumstances, e.g. did Liverpool win at the weekend, and therefore can change. A mood is better understood as a way of being tuned into the world. If we find ourselves caring about our existence, believing we are capable of so much and yet also aware that one day this will all end, we will also find ourselves being anxious.
This then reveals itself in culture. To put it simply culture is society’s operating system. It is the stuff of life that communicates beliefs and values to us. All cultures cultivate humanity. And the type of humanity cultivated depends on the mood of that culture.
How then are Christians to be in the midst of a culture where the dominant mood may be one of anxiety? Kevin Vanhoozer (now that’s a great name!) writes that the mood of any Christian community is not one of anxiety but one of joy. Why? Because we know that we inhabit a world that also contains an empty tomb and we now run a different operating system.
In Jesus we are tuned to the world in a different way. We have discovered the reason for the tension in our existence and we have discovered the only way to resolve that tension. And this changes us. The New Testament scholar NT Wright states this of the early Christians, “they behaved as if they were already living in God’s new creation.”
This is the time of year when we sing ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’. It is a great hymn, rooted both in the reality of a finite life with its doubts, pains and struggles, and also rooted in the reality of the Cross, Resurrection and the hope of Eternity.
We sing rejoice: not because we feel like it, but because of who God is and what He is doing.
We sing rejoice: not because Jesus is something to help with anxiety and make life easier but because he is life itself.
He has become our operating system.