Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not "because of", but "in spite of"

But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us. -Rom 5.8

Four out of the last seven times I've prayed publicly (that is, with other people), I somehow found myself saying this or something similar to this line:

"...and we thank you that you love us because-"

And then I'll awkwardly stumble around with my words before getting back into stride. I can't believe I've never thought about this, but there's really no easy way to answer that question. asking "why does God love us?" gets at the heart of unconditional love. There's no reason or rhyme to it. It's absurd. The only explanation I can think of is Ephesians 1.11-12

"In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory."

So ultimately God's love for us as shown in the cross is for the ultimate end of his glory. All the same, that doesn't really help me grasp the ludicrous extravagance of his mercy, that we who were once at war with God would be bought back into his camp at the price of his only-begotten son. This is a thought too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. But it is in the heart of the gospel.

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference
between my receivings and my deservings,
between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness,
between the heaven I am bound for and the hell I merit.
Who made me to differ, but thee?
for I was no more ready to receive Christ than were others;
I could not have begun to love thee hadst thou not first loved me,
or been willing unless thou hadst first made me so.
O that such a crown should fit the head of such a sinner!
_ such high advancement be for an unfruitful person!
_ such joys for so vile a rebel!

Infinite wisdom cast the design of salvation into them mold of purchase and freedom;
Let wrath deserved be written on the door of hell
But the free gift of grace on the gate of heaven.

Let thy love draw me nearer to thyself,
wean me from sin, mortify me to this world, and make me ready for my departure hence.

-Adapted from Valley of Vision, by Arthur Bennett

Monday, June 8, 2009

The gift of dying alone

I don't read many Christian dating books; I've read through Joshua Harris and dabbled with Dobson, but most of my knowledge of romance has been gained from life's most brutal teacher. That and mentor's. But I've always found it odd when Christians I trust, MARRIED Christians I trust, ask me if I have God's "gift of singleness".

Anyone else find it weird that what would have been an aberration in idyllic, prelapsarian existence is now considered... a gift? In Eden, if you were single, you were lonely, and you weren't single for long. Why is it that now we're on the other side of the cherubim, the ONLY THING in Genesis 1-2 that wasn't considered good by now a gift?

And then those well-meaning, but married men and women will say, "You don't understand what it's like to be married. Sure it's wonderful (they whisper that part shamefully), but there are so many things that you can't do once you have to take care of someone else. You're so free when you're single! Being single offers you so many advantages to do ministry!" That may be true, Mr. and Mrs., but isn't desiring singleness for its advantages kind of like desiring physical disability "for the perks"? You always get a nice spot in any parking lot! You can sit all the time!

Am I wrong in thinking this? I just don't want people to call it a gift. You don't have to call it by what I think it is, an aberration rooted in the Fall. But if you choose to be single to serve God, just say "I want to be single". And if you want to comment on how it's been years since my last girlfriend, please do that. But calling singleness a gift is like walking up to a guy standing by himself at a tennis court and telling him how jealous you are that he doesn't have to share the court with anyone.

Friday, June 5, 2009

On Death And Dying

it's a bittersweet symphony, this life. you get a diploma, you try to get married, you die.

I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. The thoughts creep up on me and catch me unawares, when I'm eating alone, doing my devotions, playing Madden NFL. Once or twice they emerge in the middle of a dream and balloon into an anxiety great enough to rouse me from slumber. But, most of the time, I’d say they catch me right before I lay down to rest and right after I rise to wake. They don't command my attention for too long; just long enough to remind me that I still need to deal with it.

I think this all started after my dog Lucky died just over a month ago. I forced myself not to grieve because I was still away at school and finals was just about to begin. When I got back, I never really did give myself enough time to think about it and get over it. So perhaps now these thoughts and emotions are finally leaking through the barriers I erected to protect my conscious awareness. Perhaps as catharsis, I need a good cry. But since I don’t really know how to just sit down and command that function to occur within me, I’ll write up some of my thoughts about death and dying.

Life is unbearable without friends and family, but death is even worse so. Because who then will plan your funeral? Who then will speak at it and remind those who are alive of the flightiness of life? Who will come and be reminded?

Flowers: I can't think of a better way to portray the absurdity of life (except perhaps the myth of Sisyphus, but that's a different kind of absurdity). An object that was created to be beautiful for an insignificant moment in time, and then succumb to the ugliest fate for anything on this side of metaphysical reality. The last time I was at a funeral, I remember looking around the room and noticing that there were dozens of flowers everywhere; probably more than a hundred total. First of all, that must have been expensive as hell. And all for what? So we can enjoy them for the hour-long service, that isn't even about the flowers? And then they get thrown out. What a waste. Then I thought, no, that's not a waste. Not compared to a human life lived like a flower. You accomplish glorious, yet fleeting beauty, and then it's all over, and you bring none of that with you. Now that's a waste.

Only with death does life matter. Otherwise, we'd have an infinite amount of time to correct our mistakes. But precisely because existence is just a Being-towards-death, just a delaying of the inevitable, just a waiting for that last grain of sand to cross the threshold into the bottom of that hourglass, precisely because of all these things does life matter. Not only so, but life matters infinitely. Or, rather, eternally.
"God hath given to man a short time here upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends.” - Jeremy Taylor

The way I feel right now is precisely why Aquinas must be wrong in his theodicy.

I don’t want to think about it anymore; I can’t. It’s agonizing. The weight of it presses in around me from all sides, like being twenty thousand leagues under the sea. But we must think about it. Like the Israelites at Sinai, we must drink every bitter drop; we must taste the consequences of our sin. Only then will redemption taste as sweet as it is.

But we can’t steel ourselves from the experience either. We can’t harden our hearts in the hopes of protecting it. We must do that which is harder than hardening our hearts. That which is counter-intuitive to our thinking; something unfamiliar and completely alien compared to our defense mechanisms. We must let our hearts be broken.

This will be the last sad/negative post for a while, I promise.

Rest in peace, Lucky, whatever the hell that means for animals.