I guess I belong to the podcast generation. At the moment I have something like 15 different podcasts on my phone. From history to politics and to theology, and with Aussies, Americans and Brits, I tend to cycle through various shows, ducking in and out of episodes that grab my eye.
The point of listening to podcasts isn’t to reaffirm my existing convictions, although that’s not a bad exercise, it’s to engage with a variety of voices and learn interesting things about the world and how people think and form their beliefs.
One podcast that I’ve been listening to a little is TRIGGERnometry. TRIGGERnometry is a political/social podcast show hosted by two British comedians: Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster. On the train home just now I was listening to their recent episode which is an interview with actor Lawrence Fox. Fox is well known for the Detective series, ‘Lewis’ and for his roles in films including ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’.
The conversation revolves around Fox’s interests and recent political engagements on issues especially surrounding freedom of speech and cultural shifts that are taking hold across Western societies.
My interest here isn’t the podcast or the talking points raised during the episode. There was a line of thought that arose late in the episode and which stood out to me (around the 58-minute mark).
Lawrence Fox was speaking about loving those who are different to ourselves when Francis Foster turned the conversation to these words of Jesus. He said,
“It comes back to Christ on the cross. ‘Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do”.
“Even if you don’t believe in God (don’t have faith), it’s not a bad manual for living…It’s not a bad thing, this idea that someone else has died so that you can be a b***ard to everybody…It’s this modern infection, I meet a lot of people who think, “I’m just a really good person”, and I’m thinking you’re f***en deluded if you think you’re a good person. If I started spouting half the sh** that goes on in my head you know you’re not a good person. That’s why you’ve got to talk all the time and express and connect with other people and find how you can become a better person…being the lovely made in the image of Christ person you are but the fundamental sinfully creature you are”
Unsurprisingly (for those who know me), these comments grabbed my attention and they did so for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it reminds me how our culture still doesn’t travel far from the person of Jesus. We are living 2000 years later and 1000s km from Nazareth, and yet our culture hasn’t been able to let go of Jesus of Nazareth. His words and deeds and even his cross remain deeply embedded in the way we view the world today and even ourselves.
Now, I have no idea what Fox and Foster believe about God in general and Christianity in particular. Their use of language and some of their comments throughout the episode doesn’t give me the impression that they are closely following Jesus, but clearly, though, they are impressed with Christ and they think there is something about him for which it is worth anchoring life.
Second, in his own way, Lawrence Fox has offered a more accurate biography of human nature than what most people, even Christians, are willing to admit. In theological terms, it’s called ‘total depravity’. This doesn’t mean that we are all as terrible as we can be, but that sin permeates every part of us and we cannot change the status quo.
As the Apostle Paul explains,
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
In another letter, Ephesians, Paul elaborates,
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Just think how shocking these words sound to our ears. Are we offended? Maybe not, until we realise these words are talking about us as well. And yet Fox kind of agrees with Paul.
When Fox admits the kinds of thoughts that enter his own head, he’s entering the same kind of space Jesus speaks about when he says, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
It only requires an honest person to see that everything’s not ok inside us. Even as Lawrence Fox gave an expose on his inner attitudes, I began nodding, ‘yeah, that’s me as well’. It’s hard to sustain the argument that people are basically good when confronted with the kinds of things we often think and desire. This is one reason why we rarely share the secret things of our hearts.
The Bible’s analysis of the human condition may be triggering, but so also is the Bible’s solution. It’s one thing to diagnose the human condition but it requires humility to accept the answer given to us by Jesus.
Lawrence Fox indicates what sounds like his answer, it’s a course of dialectical improvement that results from meeting and listening and learning with others. However, I’m unconvinced, and given the guys at TRIGGERnometry involved Jesus in the conversation, let’s turn to the words of Jesus.
At the moment my mind is living in one of the most famous conversations ever had: Nicodemus and Jesus (found in John ch.3). In podcast terms, this would have to be one of the most influential interviews ever recorded. Millions of people are still reading this interview every year and millions of lives changed demonstrably as a result.
In short, Nicodemus was a respected and influential political and religious leader. He’s a member of the governing council. He’s heard about Jesus. He’s intrigued and so he visits him one night (just in case his friends find out that Jesus is on his playlist). Nicodemus is introduced and shows respect to Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t buy it. You see, behind Nicodemus’ words is attached a certain hubris. He’s the expert and he’s come to learn and assess whether Jesus fits his criteria for what he’s looking for in God.
Jesus pushes back on Nicodemus. Jesus is fully aware that education and influence and personal improvement aren’t the basis on which we can overcome the basic human problem which is, as Lawrence Fox highlights, called sin.
Jesus explains to this man of erudition and position,
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
It takes Nicodemus a while before he understands what Jesus means, but Jesus graciously sticks with him and helps him grasp this basic truth about humanity: we cannot redeem ourselves. We may hide our nature or we may affirm our nature or celebrate our nature but digging ourselves out of the sin hole is beyond us. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at the history of the world.
Jesus says that we need a new birth. We need to be born again. When we heard that phase we need to unlearn the parody of the American evangelist wearing a shiny suit and southern drawl. “Born again” is Jesus’ phase and his idea. What he means is that people need a new beginning from the inside out, and only someone outside of ourselves who loves us enough can do that of messy impossible work. It takes someone as big as God and as merciful as God to want to love and redeem us. That’s the point, says Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
As I listen and converse with people today I hear a fair amount of negativity and even anger aimed at Jesus, and yet we still hope that what Jesus stands for and stands on can provide some kind of restitution and way forward for the world today.
If you’re someone who thinks there is still something interesting and even important about the person of Jesus, I recommend listening to his words and wrestling with his message. He triggers us because he is good and has something to say to us. He stings but then he heals. He confronts but then he reconciles. He disagrees with us but only because he loves us.
In case we’re unclear about what Jesus thinks, in the same discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus we are given a verdict,
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”