Monday, November 22, 2010

The hope of perfection

I heard a great story* on my recent field visit to France. As a recovering perfectionist, I was thankful to hear it.
J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends and fellow authors. They decided to write the kind of books that they themselves would like to read and went to it. Lewis began turning out novels at great speed, but Tolkien labored over his The Lord of the Rings, writing and rewriting it without being able to finish it.
Tolkien struggled enormously with jealousy toward Lewis at times. But he couldn't finish his masterpiece.
Then he had a dream that he was a muralist who had be hired by a town to paint a beautiful tree. Unfortunately, although he could see a magnificent tree in his head, all he could paint was a leaf. So the townspeople came and complained that he wasn't delivering what they were paying him for.
He then dreamed that he rode a train to heaven (hey, dreams are like that), and as he was watching the scenery go by, he saw his tree, just standing there. It was beautiful and exactly like he pictured it.
For Tolkien, this represented God's kind reminder that all that was needed was his best--eternity alone could contain the perfect version. He was able to finish his manuscript.
I do this a lot without realizing it. I think it's one reason I'm paralyzed by decisions--I want to understand and choose perfectly. But I can't. So God takes my bumbling ways and weaves them into something beautiful, the fullness of which I'll only grasp on the other side.

*I don't know if I got the story right--It's fourth-hand at least. But I like this version, and I couldn't find much on the interwebs about it, just this quote from one of Tolkien's letters: "There is a place called 'heaven', where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfufilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet..."

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Invisible Kingdom: Life in layers

Something I really want to study right now is the theme of the invisible, already-not-yet Kingdom theme in the Bible--and with it what it really means to love the world in the right way and the wrong way. So if I actually stick with this, I'll be posting along that theme every now and then.
For a long time I've thought about it like two transparencies on an overhead projector with colored dots on them. (This is probably because the prof that got me excited about the already-not yet still uses overheads). You've got sheet with blue dots sitting on another sheet with blue dots, and it looks like all the dots live on the same sheet. But they don't. So in a similar way, you can't see who's in God's kingdom with your physical eyes.
Lately, though I've been thinking about the way you can look through a screened window two different ways--either you focus on the screen and the background becomes blurred, or you focus on the background and forget about the screen. Maybe like one of those magic eye posters. But imagine if there were a whole other visual world that were layered over the one we walk in every day. And you, by practicing how you focus your eyes, could choose to walk around in the other visual world. You kind of have to have a matrix-y, cinematic imagination, but I think it works.
So we walk by faith, not by sight, right? The unseen things are eternal, but the seen things are passing away. So it's like living life in this world and making an effort to focus on the layer that's eternal. It applies just as truly to every moment, every place you go, every person you meet, but it's just harder to see. But once your spiritual senses adjust to this new layer, with its perspective, values, warnings and delights, it becomes more and more natural to live consistently with it.
And one day, the layer that seems so present now, will just fade away. If we've already been living in the invisible one, it'll become our only reality. If we've never lived in it, we'll have lost everything we've ever known.
I dunno, what do you think?

Related verses, books and music: 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7 | The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis | Civil Twilight, Letters from the Sky: "Even though you've left me here, I have nothing left to fear, these are only walls that hold me here..."

P.S. Did you see the shark? The pic isn't mine, it's from this site, just to cover my bases.

The fabric of our lives

Nope, not cotton.
It's been part of my thinking for awhile that morality is woven into our universe in a similar way to the laws of physics. So that a thing is wrong not because God or someone else arbitrarily decides so or we reach it by consensus, but because it's part of the character, the reality of the universe. If God created it, then that would make sense--whatever is in harmony with who he is is in harmony with life and reality.
I don't really know a lot about the laws of physics, but I think have a pretty good handle on gravity (some days better than others, heh heh). So just like a person can't jump off a building without certain consequences, a moral or immoral act has positive or negative ripple effects in the person's life, their relationships, and the universe as a whole.
I've never really had "chapter and verse" evidence for this thought biblically, but it's kind of a sense that I get.*
So it was nice to read that Randy Alcorn** sees things similarly. "A holy God made the universe in such a way that actions true to his character...are always rewarded," and vice versa. But "that doesn't mean God always intervenes directly...When a careless driver speeds on an icy mountain pass, loses control, and plunges his car off a cliff, God doesn't suddenly invent gravity to punish the driver's carelessness. Gravity is already in place." (my emphasis).
As he says, the punishment is built into the sin--so that a pornography addict receives "shame, degradation and warping of the personality as a matter of course."
This just highlights the goodness of God. He's not arbitrarily handing down rules. He knows the way life works (cause he made it all), and he wants us to live it happily and abundantly. And Jesus willingly received the consequences in his body for our sin so that we could do just that.
*Randy does argue for this from Proverbs and Matt. 7:24-27
**in The Purity Principle

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Time to blog or get off the spot

Well, I can't sleep, and my mind was buzzing, so why not blog, right?
It's funny how I have a love-hate relationship with blogging. I feel kind of silly posting my thoughts as if the world needs more of this kind of thing. But it is kind of like having a conversation with no one in particular, which is what often is going on in my head. So why not post it so other people can join in? That way at least you can tell me if I'm crazy. :) And if I'm not going to blog, I probably should shut the thing down entirely.
I like what the writer of 2 Maccabees had to say about his book:

And if I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired: but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto. For as it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone; and as wine mingled with water is pleasant, and delighteth the taste: even so speech finely framed delighteth the ears of them that read the story. And here shall be an end.

Actually, I'm not sure what he means exactly; he has a rather dizzying intellect. (So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of him. "Just wait till I get going!") Basically, if you find it helpful read on, if not, "it is that which I could attain unto." Yeah.
Also, in other news, I think it's about time I had a blog about my missions journey. I think I'll make a new one (the Ghana one is old, and not really relevant), and maybe link it to this one somehow. Hopefully that will happen soon!
Well, one way or the other, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wow. So beautiful! The Kimyals in Irinjaya get the New Testament!
I love what the man says about his dream of holding it in his hands.
I also like the feather on the cross. :) You'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The story's not over

It's funny those days that seem to start out normal and end up with a theme.
On Monday I got overwhelmed with a couple situations that are like juggernauts for me—I can't figure them out, and so I can't fix them. Also, they're painful, and they make me really wrestle with God's sovereignty, which in turn makes me want to get a better grip on the problem of evil. And if I want to fix them because of my love for the people involved, it's hard for me to understand God's delay.
So I was just praying a little about it and I felt like a provisional answer came: The story isn't over yet. That was a bit of a comfort.
Then I was watching the last part of "The Closer" (my parents' Monday night show), and, well, it's hard to make a short story of it. Suffice it to say Brenda Lee bonds with a young shooting victim as he dies thinking she's his mom. Then she finds his killer. It turns out his old girlfriend said he raped her, so she could explain her pregnancy to a very angry dad. Her brother heard and got angry, and shot the ex-boyfriend. Brenda Lee gets really angry at the daughter and dad while the other cops chase down the fleeing brother. It made me realize that it would be easy to be sympathetically make excuses for each character—but less so when you learn the bigger picture. Each person could've made the right choice. Sometimes the complexity helps. Knowing that God is at the same time the offended party, the judge, the prosecuting attorney, the close kin of the victims and something altogether different—their creator—the only one with the big picture and the full story.*
Then, my Dad randomly read me this quote from Sam Gamgee (quoted in a book he's reading). It's the part where Sam realizes that he and Frodo are actually in the stories they grew up on. "Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy?...But in the end it's only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it'll shine out the clearer....folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't." Hmmm...just what I needed to hear.
Then I clicked on my friend Lorrie's post in honor of the anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin wall. Besides providing some absolutely hilarious moments of spoken German, it's an inspiring video. Who expected it to ever come down? At the end two long-lost relatives hug and the woman says, "Imagine if it's always like this." And the words scroll down "Thank you, Mr. Gorbachev, for making the impossible possible." How many people dared to hope it would end that way?
I also tracked down the lyrics to a couple Andrew Peterson lyrics—The Silence of God and After The Last Tear Falls. I recommend them.
So, I still need to re-tackle the problem of evil. But I'll do it a little at a time, and know the story's not over yet.

*There may well be something theologically wrong with this sentence. If so, feel free to point it out, but try to make it actually helpful for me in thinking through these things, not just debating for its own sake. Thanks. ( :

Friday, June 19, 2009

T-shirt philosophy

So I got stuck in the internet vortex for about an hour yesterday browsing some really great artistic, witty t-shirts. I would be up for wearing many of them if I possessed a budget labeled "tongue-in-cheek t-shirts." Alas.
But I ran across this one. At first I thought, "that's hilarious..." then, "wait just a minute!" I think the message here may be reflecting a belief out there about God. Like, God is the couch. He's a source of "comfort," yet he demands that we partake of it, or he'll send "unrelenting wrath" our way. I think the fact that it's a cute-looking couch renders the concept even more absurd. Either making the point that the God that exists and makes such ridiculous demands is more absurd than the couch, or that the very absurdity of a God who would make such demands renders his existence unlikely or impossible. it a valid critique? Is it absurd and cruel for God to demand that we partake of his comfort at the penalty of wrath? Well, I think for the answer to be yes, it would require a massive oversimplification (isn't that clever to use such rhetoric in the succinct art form of a t-shirt?). Before I get into my philosophical argument in response, you may be thinking, "you're calling a T-shirt a critique?" Well, even if I'm wrong about the tee's intent, there is definitely this idea out there that hell renders God a capricious and ridiculous figure. I've met people who are bitter at the idea of God in part because of this concept. I just want to offer a broader perspective, because it's so easy to let an idea--even from a t-shirt, a song lyric or a sound byte--work its way under our skin before we've really thought it through. And by then it's done a lot of damage.
Anyway, the t-shirt is a valid critique, and God and his actions would be absurd if:
  • God and people appeared independently of each other, with no relational history, such as creator/creation, or king/coup participants. In other words, if we had no rightful obligation to God, and he had no legitimate charge to lay at our door.
  • Or worse, if, like the couch, people made God for their own comfort. If that were his only function in the universe.
  • If comfort were all God offered, instead of offering as well freedom from lies, fellowship with deity, moral excellence, enabling of true love for humanity, etc.
  • If God were as worthy of respect as a couch, rather than deserving the respect due the only infinite being in the universe, the mastermind behind all its laws, the author of all beauty, the avenger of all evil, etc.
  • If it were negligible whether enjoying God's comfort were in our best interest. If, like a couch, taking advantage of his presence may not advance one's most important purpose for that moment, may not be necessary or may not serve the best interest of humanity in general at the time.
  • If God wanted us to take advantage of his comfort for any other reason than for our ultimate good. If he were somewhat emotionally deficient and miffed (like the couch, apparently) that we would so hurt his pride, so that he retaliated with wrath.
So, in summary: If God were indeed a person unworthy of much respect and having no claim on our affections, who took little true thought for our best interests, and, while having no real reason to be angry at us, decided to capriciously lash out at us--well, this would be an absurd figure.
But, if God is our creator--worthy of infinite respect and our true source of all love and beauty--and invites humanity into all his joy, yet is infinitely and legitimately wronged by humanity's rebellion, then who are we to say whether he is wrong to choose a punishment that fits this crime?
How do you measure an offense against an infinitely worthy being? Not to mention any offense against the creatures he made? Who can define how much restitution is due when you didn't make the law and can't estimate the value of the victim? Who is qualified to preside as judge over such a matter?
But there's one more reason that for me blows any absurdity or hint of capricious cruelty out of the water: This same God, worthy of all respect and infinitely offended, offered himself as the restitution for the crime. This is what Jesus was doing on the cross as a member of the Godhead--lawfully removing God's claim against us. He didn't just "go through hell" through the physical and emotional pain of crucifixion, he also absorbed God's "unrelenting wrath"* on our behalf.
Why? Because he loves us. Because he knows enjoying his infinite comfort (and MUCH more) is the only we can be genuinely happy or have any hope of really loving each other.
I don't think the couch would be so kind.

*Wait, you say, Jesus rose from the dead. How is that "unrelenting wrath"? Well, if Jesus is part of the Godhead and thus infinite in being, he was able to absorb God's infinite wrath. Or so I've heard. ( :