All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28: 1820)
How do we make sense of this biblical passage in light of the growing diversity we face within both our immediate and global communities? This question takes on greater significance especially in light of the shifting epistemological inquiry of our time. To “ go and tell” is unlike to “show and tell.” It assumes a sense of certainty and the conviction that what we possess is not only good, but far superior to others.
History shows that the path of sincere searchers often leads to humility and, to a large extent, the embracing of our very own humanity, our finiteness. Most graduate students can attest to this fact. Most professors know deep within themselves, but find it hard to profess (especially after all the time, money, and stress spent in education) that they know very little and that there is a lot more that remains in the realm of the unknown.
The Chinese have a saying: “The person who does not know that he really does not know, doesn’t really know.” Descarte thought he knew when he found out that he could not doubt the fact that he doubted. Then came Berkeley and Hume and Kant, who questioned his claim. And there is Wittgenstein, who suggests there are many things we can’t talk about, while Derrida questions the very language we use. The world moves toward humility and finiteness. Perhaps it is inevitable mainly because the sincere searchers naturally gravitate toward God, and when we are in the presence of the Infinite, we can only remain finite.
How does this conversation impact the great commission passage? I wonder if coming truly into the presence of God also implies coming into the existential realization of the all Infinite Presence as the Wholly Other who transcends our attempt at capturing, knowing, and defining this Being. Lao Tzu reminds us, “The Name that can be named, is not the true Eternal Name.” The God who has been reduced to the realm of the knowable cannot remain infinite. The God who can be predicted cannot be the Eternal One.
Perhaps coming to this God is coming to the presence of the One who cannot be named, the God who does what God does and acts God’s act. And the known is only that which has been revealed to us. Perhaps the only certainty is present in the Text that impacts the texture of our lives, the Word that changes our vocabulary, the revelation that is revealed in our new perspective in life. All this happens in the space between the Jesus narrative and our narrative. So where the subject-object relation in its purest form remains illusive to us all, there remains the possibility of what Professor Ann Ulanov calls, the objective subject. It is within this conviction that we find the strongest testimony we can share with others.
We all know Christ differently. There are East Coast and West Coast Adventist perspectives, fundamental and evangelical perspectives, Islamic and Christian perspectives, Southern Baptist and Episcopalian perspectives. In our personal narratives, a certain Jesus narrative may be more meaningful to some people then another based on one’s historical and sociological context. Which of this Christ do we share and make disciples from?
My personal bias is that our calling is to be known by Christ, to create a space for an encounter between the deep sense of us and the Jesus narrative. The objective subject is a two-way encounter between Jesus and us, where revelation takes place from both directions; where one reads the Text while revealing the very texture of one’s soul; where one opens up to God as one comes to experience God’s openness; where one shares the deep self as one experiences the giving of God’s very own self to us through Jesus Christ on the cross.
If our knowledge of Christ is experiential (a subjective encounter with Jesus), then following Christ emerges from the inner conviction and not through mere logical persuasion. “I want to follow because I know and I have the experience. I desire to follow Christ because my very being yearns for his presence.” Perhaps what we are called to in this commission is to know and be known by Christ, and to allow this experience to express itself without attempting to define what mission and its methodology entail.
Perhaps our mission is to be known and let this experience of being known express itself in ways that are the most true to who we essentially are. This also suggests that we refrain from expressing anything or attempting any type of persuasion if we are not convicted, if we have not had the experience, if we are not touched by the Jesus narrative. Following, in my opinion, is a question of being. It is not what I know or what I should know, but who I am. We follow because we cannot help ourselves, and if we were to attempt following without the deep conviction, we may be doing God a disservice.
How do we make disciples? In the same manner, I think. It happens when the expression “we cannot help ourselves but follow Christ” creates events and reconfigures experiences in ways that allow the Holy Spirit to touch lives, to generate a deep sense of conviction that others, too, cannot help but follow Jesus. Perhaps this is our calling.
Siroj Sorajjakool is professor of religion and psychological counseling at Loma Linda University.