Ten days ago the ball dropped in Times Square and millions of people across America raised their glasses to celebrate the occasion of successfully surviving another year, despite Mayan prophecies.
Friends hugged, drunken buddies sang out “Auld Lang Syne” (though, due to their less-than-sober state, forgot most of the words and reverted to “Starships” my Nikki Minaj instead) and couples exchanged brief, self-conscious, sparkled with champagne kisses. Somewhere out there, I’m sure there was an ex-English major hiccupping his way through some cheap wine and telling everyone around him “Eye juz wuuuuvvvvv yeeewwweeeee”…but I honestly have no idea who that may have been. The point is, 2012 had ended and 2013 had begun.
Amidst this celebration, many of us cheerful hiccupping idiots resolved to make changes. This is an aspect of our western culture that is almost entirely universal. We see the New Year as a new chapter, a beginning to a new me that’s skinnier, nicer, happier, has finally stopped reading useless blogs online (allmyroads.com what a black hole) and also has a much sexier eHarmony profile. In doing so, for a brief moment every New Year’s Eve…most of our country acts like they’re Christian. This is because, simply put, unless you’re a Christian, the entire idea of a resolution makes absolutely no sense.
A resolution is the proclamation that who I am as a person can become better and I’m determined to see it happen. It’s the promise to myself that I, as an existing, real, present entity will become a better version of myself. Such a notion is unique to homo sapiens within the animal kingdom; animals are driven by a desire to survive; not improve themselves. There is no evidence to lead us to believe that a bear has any desire to improve itself into being a better bear.
Of course, it can be argued that the human drive to improve is just a complex, evolved means of survival. Therefore I want to eat less McDonald’s so I can live longer, stop dumping my dog’s waste in Bob-the-annoying-neighbor’s mailbox to increase my chances of him not running me over with his Civic and look more like Brad Pitt so I can have more sex and thus pass on my genes. Resolutions such as these could be whittled down to acts of survival. But such a generalization would exclude desired improvements like learning a new language, spending more time with family, helping others and many other common New Years goals. If human beings were driven simply by a will to survive, we wouldn’t find within ourselves a desire to improve the very nature of our personhood.
Therefore a resolution requires the belief in both the existence of personhood and (hinging upon the first) the idea that this personhood can be eternally better (ie not just a evolutionary tweak). Most major world religions will hold a belief in the possibility of one or the other, but only Christianity agrees on both. Judaism, for instance, believes in the existence of a person…but amidst a sacrificial system that has yet to meet their messiah that person will always be marred with sin and in need of yet another sacrifice. We cannot be better because we have not been redeemed, and this will be true until our messiah comes.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! Let’s try Hinduism!”
Hindus discarded the idea of personhood being anything that exists beyond this lifetime (thus, making the idea of our personhood being eternally better a moot one) and instead resort to the concept of reincarnation. Our personhood is only valuable in the sense that it may improve our next life…in which case it’s really of not value at all.
“Whew! Good thing I’m an atheist…”
Au contraire. Atheism denies the idea of objective goodness. We cannot objectively improve ourselves if there is no objective standard.
“How ’bout dem Mormons?”
If I’m Mormon, my resolution to be a better person is not to be a better person, but to be a better developing demi-god that will come to fruition in the next life. Thus I don’t drink coffee or margaritas and instead wear a nice suit, go on my two-year mission and make snazzy commercials that annoy the bejeebers out of everyone that’s trying to watch their favorite Nicki Minaj video on YouTube. This isn’t to improve my person…because my personhood will one day be discarded en route to my godliness…unless I’m a woman.
Contrary to these, Christianity is the only major religion in which a resolution to better our personhood makes any sense. Our theology is rooted in the belief that we were created as eternal human beings, an existence in which we currently reside. We were not created as humans now only to become angels or gods later, nor we were created as gods now that are evolving but stuck in human bodies. We were not created as souls that have to put up with flabby stomachs, headaches and awkward teenage hormonal stages only to be liberated when we finally die and shed our wrinkled body en route to some home in the sky….we were created as and are eternal human beings.
But just as important to this thinking-nay- of greater importance, is our comprehension that while we do have personhood and that personhood does exist (in it’s entirety) beyond our present physical world, our personhood also could be better. Not only could we be better, Christianity proclaims, but we are screaming to be better. Every inch of our morsel is groaning for a chance to be better, for a need to improve. Our personhood is fallen, tainted by sin and scarred with pride but not to the point that it has forgotten that it’s not meant to be this way. This is why, every time we look in the mirror, we know there’s something about us that’s lacking. Granted, many of our self-perceived flaws are superficial: a bowl where our six pack should be, hair that doesn’t seem to stay combed, a zit that always appears right on the tip of our nose around Christmas time prompting one to permanently earn the nickname “Rudolph” (totally hypothetical mind you)…these are all superficial imperfections, but like the flower of a weed that shows itself above ground, we know these imperfections run much deeper than our skin. Every imperfection we can see is a testimony to a deeper imperfection whose root has hold on our soul.
And so humans must, at some point in their life, face the reality that they can be better. This reality, Christianity will claim, is the reality of sin that keeps us from our fulfilled state in the presence of our Creator. It is prevalent and it cannot be overlooked. It demands a solution; it demands that a resolution be made to bring about the fulfillment of our personhood. Such resolution was made and in the form of Christ on the cross. This sacrifice is the only thing that makes it possible for us to reach our fulfillment as humans, for us to become better. Our resolutions only make sense if they are grounded in the theology of who we are in relation to Christ’s redemptive plan.
On New Years Eve, I raised my glass in a toast and I resolved to be a better person. I resolved to do so because I believe that my personhood is eternal and I believe that it is in dire and increasingly great need of being better (i.e. redeemed). In raising my glass and seeking to make a change, I declared my belief in the grace of Christ, my utter need for that grace and the resolution to walk in that grace every day of the upcoming year.
This is, in fact, the only resolution that makes sense.