Viviane Kostin | 19
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy, Emma’s Mr. Knightley, Les Misérables’ Marius… I know these eligible bachelors’ romances forwards and backwards. I’m familiar with the poorer suitors, too – Princess Bride’s Westley, Roman Holiday’s Joe Bradley, and Notting Hill’s William Thacker. There’s no denying it – I’m a sucker for a good love story, an utter romantic. I’m well versed in the myriad of worthy characters, settings, and plots the genre has to offer. But, I’m confident that no love story has ever, will ever, or could ever top that which is told in the Gospels.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John claim a truth even more profound than the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, something I, as a Christian, refer to as the Truth with a capital “T”: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God born among men, who willingly gave His innocent life as propitiation for my sins, triumphantly resurrected from the dead to restore humanity’s access to eternal life, and will eventually come again to bring His Father’s Kingdom to fulfillment. This is my essential creed. But, belief concerns even more than a mere what; it involves how and why as well. I join the Church fathers, theologians, the clergy, all the saints, and scholars of religion, who have grappled with these questions for millennia, when I propose my own surprisingly simple answer, two words in sum: true love.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13). To whom is Jesus speaking here in the Gospel of John? What does he mean – how exactly has he loved us? And, how, over two thousand years later in an entirely different setting, could this mantra, this lifestyle, this mission possibly apply?
Recall that Truth with a capital “T.” If I genuinely believe it, then John 15:12-13 calls me to a comparable unconditional and self-sacrificing love. Like Jesus the man, everything I am, everything I have, everything I do comes undeservingly, yet remarkably generously, from God my Creator. And, like Jesus, I am called to lay down this life I have been given – probably not through my own crucifixion, but rather in those moments when I empty myself before God, doling out my time, talent, and treasure to absolutely anyone in need. And, when I do so, I trust that, just as God conquered even death through Jesus, so too will He continuously fill me up with graces and blessings, and never let my source of aid run dry.
Yet, living out this call essentially hinges on my belief in that Truth with a capital “T,” doesn’t it? And so again I ask, not just what or even how do I believe, but why? Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of John also strove to find a reason for their belief; the notion of a God made man, walking and talking among us, and ultimately fulfilling His primary purpose of surrendering Himself to the most humiliating death, yet then defying what we thought was an essential fact of life by bodily resurrecting from the dead seemed just as radical, absurd even, two thousand years ago as it does today. Recognizing humanity’s skepticism, Jesus therefore peppers the Gospels with signs. By turning water into wine, feeding a crowd of five thousand with a meager two fish and five loaves of bread, walking on water, or restoring a blind man’s sight, He commands our attention by demonstrating His dominion over the world as we know it, and He opens our blind eyes to His role as a providential and healing God (John 2, 6, 9).
Technically speaking, theologians classify this belief prompted by revelation as a posteriori, that is “after the fact.” On the other hand, a priori belief is the acceptance of the Gospel truth without empirical evidence, and it is to this that Jesus refers when he declares, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Is a priori belief, therefore, more valuable, more profound, in a word, more “blessed,” than a posteriori? Perhaps. Yet, by performing signs, the Son of God still undeniably recognized and validated belief after the fact.
And, what does this mean for me, a Christian two millennia after the birth, death, and resurrection of the Christ? Am I an a priori believer since I never witnessed first-hand the miracles John describes? I’m not so sure. Actually, I find confirming manifestations of God’s glory all around me every day – a blanket of fresh snow, passion for a unique vocation, persistence and success despite the odds – and, most especially, our capacity to selflessly, generously, and truly love. Our most valuable human relationships – with our parents or children, our best friends, our mentors or mentees, our romantic partners –themselves all serve as signs, continuously striving for and pointing to the greatest love story of all time, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Viviane Kostin, Bowdoin Class of 2019. Religion. Yarmouth ME.
Vivane’s preparations for the end of the world include putting a little bit of sweetness in everything thing she touches.