December 11, 2013

 

The Christian’s Identity
For this essay I would like to discuss the Christian’s identity. I would like to focus on what this semester has taught or challenged me on regarding humanity past, present, and future. We will look generally at human identity and then look at the Christian’s identity both at present and in glory asking: How does the reality of the Christian’s identity and the Christian’s apprehension of that reality affect the process of sanctification[1]?

God’s Image: Humanity

This semester I have been reflecting on the image of God, particularly within a narrative context. The narrative of Creation-Rebellion-Redemption-Restoration sees God’s good creation (the beginning) as essential to understanding the consummative restoration of the world (the end).

In Genesis 1 we are told that the Trinity formed man “after [their] likeness” and that God “created man in his own image”[2]. Whatever else this means, it seems obvious that humans are essentially God-creatures; that is, we are the only kind of creature which is strikingly similar to, even patterned directly after, the Almighty Himself. Without speculating at length on what precisely constitutes the image of God, I would like to pose the idea that there are two categories of the divine image in play here: indicative and imperative. The category of indicative is shown in the Genesis passage above; humans are, by definition, an image: God’s image. Since they are created at the instant God says this, it cannot depend on what they do. Rather, this divine utterance is descriptive; it refers to the very kind of thing they are.

There is another sense of the image of God, however, which has been upheld in our class this semester, that of imaging God. This refers to exemplifying God’s holy righteous character in every way that we live our lives in every sphere of the created order. This dynamic act of imaging through action can clarify God’s image when the person’s character is God-like (i.e. godly) or distort God’s image when one lives in a way that is inconsistent with God’s character, but it can never eradicate the image itself. This aspect of the divine image is difficult to find direct Biblical support for. Granted, it does seem intuitively obvious that we ought to imitate God’s holy character. It is obvious that God is revealed to others far more clearly when we do live godly lives, but I have struggled to find specific passages in Scripture which support this understanding of the divine image in humanity. So, in this sense we may be imaging God or not. In the first sense, however, every human simply is the image of God.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is not so helpful to call us “image bearers” because we are not creatures who just so happen to possess God’s image as one attribute among many others. This is something I had never fully grasped until taking this class. The Bible seems to say that what we are, most fundamentally, is the material illustration of God Himself. This semester I have found this realization to be of prime importance to questions of human self-worth, identity, and self-perception (i.e. self-image), all questions with which I continue to wrestle.

This seems so obvious in some ways. When we understand ourselves as God’s image on the earth and realize that mankind has rebelled against God and rejected relationship with Him, is it any wonder that virtually all human beings wrestle with their own identity, what makes them valuable, and what makes them special as individuals? If the narrative of the Bible is true, it means we have cut ourselves off from the very Person who defines who we are. It does not seem at all surprising then that we are daily floundering amidst our relationships, grasping for any affirmation that we’re worth being known. Have you yourself ever felt as if your worth was tied to your abilities, talents, productivity, or the approval and acceptance of others? Have you ever felt sub-par, not good enough, wishing you could do something that would finally make you ‘somebody’ instead of a ‘nobody’? I certainly have—and no wonder! If we should discover that we are actually God’s portrait in His creation—then that is our function. That is what we have longed for all this time. Then it turns out we have great worth because He is of supreme Worth. Although we have long struggled either to forge an identity with our efforts or to uncover one apart from God, our true identity lies is nothing more or less than this: to be a human being is to be the likeness of God. This means that your longing—our longing—to be someone special is fulfilled not in being better than anybody else, but in simply being the particular instance of God’s picture which He designed each one of us to be, to image God as only your particular self (not someone else’s self) with all its quirks, tendencies, perspectives and affinities can.

We find then that human identity is to be found in God; we can know neither what we are nor what we are for unless we first know who God is and what He is about. Jesus Christ, however, is the only image of God that has never been distorted.

Christ: The Perfect Image

If we left our reflections only to fallen humanity, we would have little idea of what God is really like and, therefore, little idea of what people are meant to be. The Scripture, however, provides an exemplar: Jesus Christ, the God-man. In regard to being a human who is “the exact imprint of [God’s] nature” and “the image of the invisible God,” Jesus is the prime example for every member of new-creation humanity; He is the picture of all that we were designed to be.[3]

God sent His perfect image to redeem a people for Himself by living a perfect life in our place and dying the death that we deserve. By faith in Christ, our substitute and our representative, we receive a new identity in Christ Himself. That means that simultaneously our old self (“outer man”) dies and our new self (‘inner man”) is born of God.[4] It is at the very moment of believing on Jesus that we receive all the privileges of our new identity. Instantly, we have been not only justified (our sin having been punished in Christ on the cross with the fullness of God’s wrath), but we also receive Christ’s righteousness as our own righteousness since we have been made one with Him.[5] So, God is no longer displeased with me because Christ has taken away all my sin and absorbed all the punishment I deserve. What’s more, now God is delighted with me because I am righteous in Christ, Him having fulfilled all righteousness in my place and given me that perfect righteousness as a free gift.

This is astounding! I, who left to myself am sinful, disobedient, unclean, unholy, unacceptable to God and, in one author’s words, “spiritually bankrupt,”[6] have been declared no longer guilty of any crime I committed or ever will commit[7] and perfectly righteous[8] in Christ even though I am still a sinner and still sinning. Hallelujah! What undeserved blessing! What a gift! What love! How amazing that Jesus would take all the judgment we deserve and give us all of His righteousness which we could never have possibly accomplished. Hallelujah!

Yet even this life-altering mercy is but a tiny fraction of God’s generosity toward His rebellious images. God ordained that every broken image who believes on His perfect image, and thus becomes united with Him by faith, receives not only a new judicial identity (from guilty criminal to righteous citizen), but a new familial identity, too. Every instance of God’s image was in rebellion, a child of the devil, a child of wrath, but now every image united to Christ is born of God, a child of the living God![9] Could there be anything more amazing? Is there any higher privilege? Just listen to Jesus’ words after His resurrection from the dead: “…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”[10] Christians are somewhat numb to the language of God’s fatherhood, but Sinclair Ferguson assures us how utterly new and unheard of this was for Christ’s first disciples: “References to God as Father are exceedingly rare in the Old Testament. By contrast there are over two hundred different references to God as Father scattered throughout the New Testament. That is an astonishing testimony to the new sense of God’s grace that came with the message of the gospel.”[11] In Christ, we, God’s images, are fully restored, declared not-guilty, reckoned righteous and, ultimately, adopted as beloved sons and daughters. God must care deeply for His likenesses on the earth.

Christ in You and You in Christ

In discussing this new Christian identity a number of phrases may flood one’s mind: son, servant, slave set free, image of God, in Christ, Body of Christ, new creation, born of the Spirit and so on. Our course this semester has seemed to contend that union with Christ is the fountainhead from which all of these privileges spring.

The scriptures are replete with references to the fact that Christ is in believers and believers are in Christ. “But if Christ is in you,” Paul says, “although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness,” linking the condition of Christ’s indwelling presence with being a believer.[12] Paul goes on to tell us that Christ is also “the hope of glory” for believers.[13] He assumes that Christ is “in” all believers.[14] It is said that the believer’s life is “hidden with Christ in God” and also to that it is “Christ” Himself.[15]

Interestingly, Paul also says “that through [the promises of God] you may become partakers of the divine nature,”[16] revealing that God desires a startlingly close union with us, a much closer likeness to God than many of us are comfortable with.[17] When one first reads this he may think this is abnormal or a new addition to God’s plan. In Genesis, however, we have already seen that humanity was always meant to have an intimate fellowship with God and, indeed, to be perfect reflections of Him. So actually, if humanity was originally a perfect reflection of God, and all that is unlike that perfect reflection is due to sin, it would make sense that the restoration of all things and the death of sin would bring us back into that differentiated oneness with God where we manifest His likeness perfectly in His creation. Becoming partakers of the divine nature is nothing new; it simply means returning to the original status of God-like-ness and perfect relationship with God which He has desired for us from the beginning. Needless to say, the heights of this intended oneness with and resemblance to God are difficult for us to presently imagine.

Union with Christ: What just happened?

The reality of the Christian’s identity right now is beloved son, good and faithful servant, righteous, holy, washed, priest to God, prophet of God, prince in the Kingdom of God, and having Jesus as elder brother, Redeemer, Savior, Master, and Bridegroom. This Christian identity is a new one, but not a new one. It is not new in that this is precisely what humanity is about; this is our true identity, what God willed for us from the beginning. Yet it is new in the sense that the old self with its wicked desires has been put to death. The old man has died. So the Christian has shed one identity and now bears a new one. Indeed, “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.”[18] So, the Christian is born again by the Spirit of God unto spiritual life in contrast to his former spiritual deadness (“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…”[19]).

Simultaneously, he receives a new identity by being permanently united to God through Christ. He is adopted as a son of God in Christ, given a new nature (“the divine nature”[20]) by which he “delight[s] in the law of God, in [his] inner being,” and he becomes a co-heir “of God”[21] with Christ. All of these privileges belong to every Christian right now and have been theirs unceasingly from the instant they first believed. Yes, unceasingly. This fact is worth pausing to reflect on.

Having said that, let us also be quick to say that we often feel something lacking in our present experience of our identity in Christ and never fully will experience our new identity until that day when we “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”[22] One helpful perspective on our present experience of this split-in-half sense of self is that we live in ‘the overlap of the ages’ as some have called it.

…but I don’t always feel like I’m “in Christ”.

We live at a point in God’s Story in which the old order of things is passing away and all things are already being made new. The harvest has just barely begun with Christ’s resurrection to His glorious body, but many trees continue to produce bad fruit and have not yet been chopped down and thrown into the fire. We live in a unique era of history when the Spirit of God already dwells in us, His temple, and we already possess the fullness of eternal resurrection life in Christ, but “see in [our] members another law waging war against the law of [our minds]”.[23] Needless to say, our awareness of our true identity as New Creation creatures—who we already are right now in Christ—is often muddled, our apprehensions occasional, our sight always incomplete, our faith therein ever so small.

Union with Christ: What Difference Does It Make?

Bearing in mind this honest look at our experience of our identity in Christ, we may finally begin to ask, how does the reality of our identity and our apprehension of that identity affect the process of our sanctification?

The reality of our identity is that we are united to Christ; this is permanent, unshakeable, never changing, fixed. Our present apprehension in the so-called ‘already-but-not-yet’ is partial, occasional, sometimes distorted and often short-lived. Basically, our identity affects our sanctification causally; it is our union with Christ which is causing our sanctification by the power of the Spirit as we are made like him in suffering and death as well as resurrection and glory. We are united with Christ; that is the only reason we are undergoing sanctification at all and one reason that we can be absolutely certain of its completion.[24]

As for our apprehension of our identity, it affects our sanctification in degrees. That is, how much we apprehend our identity in Christ is not ultimately causal in sanctification; it’s never going to un-sanctify us or prevent us from being conformed to Christ’s image upon His return. Increased apprehension of our true identity in Christ does, however, seem to produce a positive change in sanctification so that, increasingly, we act like who we truly are: the sons and daughters of God.

1st John contains a prime example of our apprehension of Christ producing increased sanctification: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”[25] I am venturing beyond the plain meaning of the text here, but I speculate that the fullness of our identity is lived out proportionate to our conviction of such spiritual realities. As, by faith, we apprehend the fact that these unseen spiritual realities are every bit as real as the things we can see—indeed, far more so!—we then develop more confidence in God’s reality, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His love for us. This apprehension that our life, our good, is truly secure in Christ enables us to live out the fullness of our identity as God’s beloved children. When by the illumination of God’s Spirit we see who we really are and the present in-breaking of God’s NewCreationKingdom, we are empowered by that same Spirit to live out the fullness of our identity without fear and in full confidence that the Gospel is Reality.

Conclusion

We have seen now that the key to understanding humanity is God’s image. Our rebellion against God distorted every one of God’s images, so that we could no longer see either Him or ourselves clearly. Yet God graciously sent His perfect image to reveal Himself to us and re-create every image who trusts in His restorative work. Through Christ’s completed work believers are united to Him, instantly receiving all the love and privileges which God lavishes on His eternal Son. Though we live at a time in which we catch only glimpses of this comprehensive, unalterable oneness with God, we can choose to live by faith in its reality. In so doing, we draw still more faith to live out the fullness of our humanity as we see more and more that we truly are in Christ.

Bibliography

Bridges, Jerry. Transforming Grace. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991.

Ferguson, Sinclair B. Children of the Living God. Edinburgh, EH: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989.


[1] By “sanctification” I mean the ongoing process of the Christian becoming increasingly like Christ until, at His coming, we perfectly represent God as He intended.

[2] Genesis 1:26, 27 (ESV)

[3] Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:15

[4] II Cor. 4:16, Rom. 7:22, John 1:12-13

[5] II Cor 5:21

[6] Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace (Colorado Springs, CO: 1991), 13.

[7] Rom 8:1

[8] II Cor 5:21

[9] I Jn 3:8, 10. Eph 2:3, Hos 1:10.

[10] John 20:17

[11] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Edinburgh, EH: 1989), xi.

[12]Rom. 8:10

[13]Col. 1:27

[14] 2 Cor. 13:5

[15]Col. 3:3-4

[16] 2 Pet 1:4

[17] Note, however, that this is not fallen humanity corrected by being absorbed into the Godhead. We are not talking about a complete derailment, the institution of a brand new function for humans.

[18] 2 Cor 5:17

[19] Eph 2:1-2

[20] 2 Pet. 1:4

[21] Rom 8:17

[22] I Jn 3:2

[23] Rom 7:23

[24] Cf. Phil 1:6, 2:13

[25] I Jn 3:2

I am not a poet and have not devoted myself to the commendable craft of writing poetry. I did, however, recently write this poem for the “Fireside Poetry Night” we had this evening on campus. It was fun and, though it has room to develop more, I am pleased with what I made in the given time. The italics are included to maintain some of the read-aloud quality for which it was designed.
 
Mend the cloven
Mend the cloven
For I have severed
self from Your
kin,
‘specially one–though not especial
I again remind these distended fears.
 
Been still,
bifurcating my mind between
queasy episodes of trembling
with the dread of being found
guilty of appreciating good Art, She, one of us well-done Works,
and from a suspicion–deception–that the other is repulsed
by any-awestruck-one unless we
with present eyes to see
should gag our praises, and suffocate what gifts of delighting we blessedly possess
in one another.
 
But fear lies inside this
un-glory: cracked and dripping, fumbling sculpture
of You
though the brim-full breath I cannot deny is
holding me and propping up, still carving its own shape inside.
 
Time did pass
and mend You did.
Plopping tapestry veins in the hands of this axe-bear’r,
Your kid, weaving in and about a gap of disparity,
Your hand atop mine, choosing the oft-snagging
warp and weft of sewing our selves back together
the way You patterned Them in the original.

Preface: To anyone who should stumble upon this, it was a facebook comment which was unpostable due to its length. This may not make as much sense without the context of our discussion on the manner in which people submit to authorities in coming to knowledge.

To Kenneth: I’ve tried to label my thought to improve clarity.
I. The nature of worldviews is that they rest on certain assumptions about the world. Since these assumptions are the interpretative principles for all data, data alone can never overturn them.

There must be a willingness to doubt one’s present assumptions about the _meaning_ of the data, i.e. to doubt one’s lens for interpreting all the data. To altogether adopt a replacement view there must first be a willingness to step behind (even if only to seriously consider and test out) another lens.

One problem, however, is how to know which standards to use in trying to judge the truth of a worldview once you engage it on its own terms. Any choice of standards for judgment is already based on an assumption of what is valuable. Just saying.
Anyways, my original point was that one’s _current framework of beliefs_ can cause one to preclude even the possibility of the truth of an alternative framework _unless_ one is willing to _doubt_ (at least provisionally) the foundational premises of those existing beliefs. (e.g. “the universe is just matter in motion” precludes even the possibility of anyone ever returning from the grave).

II. Scientific Empiricism is not immune to any of the above.

You said, “One can hardly gain a reasonable understanding of which ideas have the most value without first taking a position of neutrality.” I’m going to assume you don’t mean a position of absolute neutrality since that has been mentioned a few times already. I will say that even adopting a position of neutrality is making an assumption of which criteria to use in judging “value”. Did you, for example, take a position of neutrality when you determined that neutrality was the preferred (i.e. more valuable) method of truth-seeking?

You said, “[Scientific empiricism] does not jump to conclusions…“
It does not arbitrarily jump, but it is not as step-by-step as we would like to think. Newbigin references scientist Michael Polanyi on discovering scientific problems: “Scientific discovery begins with the recognition of a problem. If the work of the scientist is to be fruitful, the problem must be a good one; for there have been problems which have exercised human minds for long periods but which turn out to be no good, in the sense that the pursuit of a solution leads nowhere. But what is a problem? To recognize a problem, says Polanyi, is “to have an intimation of the coherence of hitherto not comprehended particulars,” and the problem is good if this intimation is true. To recognize a good problem is thus to see something which is hidden, and not visible.” This is only one example, but Polanyi has written extensively on scientific knowledge requiring personal commitment and trust on the scientist’s part.
On a related note, American philosopher Roy Clouser “[i]n his book _The Myth of Religious Neutrality_…examines major theories in the areas of mathematics, physics, and psychology and shows how all such theories involve a prior decision as to what is fundamental in the area studied. If we define the word _Theos_ as that on which everything else depends but which itself depends on nothing else—a reasonable definition—then none of these scientific theories is theologically neutral. All of them rest on other fundamental assumptions which can in turn be questioned. It follows (and this is Polanyi’s point) that there can be no knowing without personal commitment. We must believe in order to know.”

Just a thought on neutrality: would it not be more fruitful to ask which of our biases might aid us in coming to truth rather than trying to distance ourselves from all of our innate preferences for one kind of world over against another? (Perhaps including our intuitions that intelligibility, coherence, and logical consistency are desirable in an account of reality?)

You also said, “Scientific empiricism scrutinizes, only changing its position when it has been given sufficient reason to do so.” It is true that science scrutinizes—as all fields of inquiry ought to do so. But it would be wrong to say that science “only changes its position when it has been given sufficient reason.” The Polanyi quote above demonstrates this. If a scientist is changing his paradigm, it is not because he has held strictly to the existing paradigm until he is inexorably compelled by the evidence to draw some conclusion which contradicts that paradigm. A new scientific paradigm (i.e. moving from Newton’s physics to Einstein’s physics) is adopted because the existing one is fundamentally questioned and a new one is proposed as a whole new framework that accounts for the data in a different way. It is, as Polanyi points out elsewhere, the scientist’s choice acting on his intuitive/imaginative insight that brings him to another paradigm of interpretation. It is, in Polanyi’s words, the scientist’s ‘personal commitment’ to a proposed theory that drives him there to pursue scientific knowledge _before_ it is adopted by the scientific community at large. At that point, he can only act in _hope_ that this unproven paradigm will give a superior schema for interpreting the data and continue in his study of the data—he has no purely rational assurance of the paradigm’s validity, only a “deliberately held unproven belief”.
I believe there are major similarities here between the scientist’s process and the process by which people come to affirmations of truth about Reality. But that is another can of worms for a different post.

To Rex and Kenneth: I. Clarifying my point about worldview authorities and how we always submit to one as part of the nature of epistemology

Rex said, “[Remington seems] to suggest…there can be no middle ground between acceptance of this or that ultimate authority.”
I don’t think I was very clear. When I said there “does not seem to be any middle ground or interim” I was making a much more basic point: There is no point at which one simply has no worldview (absolute neutrality). Every worldview has an authority, that entity or assumption to which it defers matters of ambiguity, those pieces which don’t appear to fit neatly in the box defined by the worldview. I was simply stating that, as you both concede, there is no such ground of absolute neutrality and that there appears to be no escaping our submission to a final authority in determining what is and isn’t tenable (whether that authority be human reason, the scientific community, or Jesus’ words).

There is no “interim” in the sense that one always has a worldview, and therefore always a final authority to which we defer ambiguous data.
By no “middle ground” I mean that, there is no position where we are without a _final_ authority in matters of truth (even if that authority is our reasoning ability), no point at which the _last_ (i.e. foundational) authority possesses anything less than veto power for truth claims. That is, our epistemology is not ‘turtles all the way down’; our trust rests on something and it is that which we not only turn to _during_ the final analysis, but that to which—I venture to say—we concede the final analysis of the data. (That is the “abandoning” and “committing” I was talking about. You revoke your ultimate authority’s ability to veto truth claims, and you submit yourself to seriously _listening_ to the claims of a different authority…to see which authority is telling the truth. But in adjudicating between them, I think, you must be falling back on some more fundamental assumptions (i.e. worldview) regarding value, as stated above.)

II. Bearing all the above in mind, what is an effective approach to weighing the claims of Jesus?

Rex also said, “examining Jesus’s validity through experience of him and his “framework of understanding,” by suspending the ultimacy of previously-held sources of authority in order to more clearly see and question, is perhaps the only way to really evaluate the truth of his message.”
Yes, that is what I was getting at: One can take perfectly serious the actual _claim_ that Jesus is making (that he is Yahweh in the flesh come to rescue his people and vindicate his holy name and restore the cosmos) without having yet come to the conviction that he’s at all telling the truth.

Yet the appraisal of such a claim cannot be made but by stepping behind the lens of Jesus’ worldview, putting on that new lens which purports to adequately interpret the whole of the data—it is inadequate to approach his claims from any implicit anti-supernaturalism, or scientism, or Enlightenment rationalism because he does not claim to fit within any of those but to replace those. The claim is that that he himself is an altogether new paradigm which is the true organizing principle of Reality.

_

Dr. M. Hause

HNS 302, Sec. 10

10 February 2012

Yesterday I was conversing with some friends over lunch when we had a disagreement about the honors college. I said it was fun. One friend (we’ll call him Tom) said that he would not like to “have to” do more work. I said I did not have to do it, that I had volunteered and wanted to. Tom appeared incredulous.

“Why would you want extra homework and extra papers?”
Soon, it became evident Tom and I had a semantic chasm between us. School was about getting one’s degree so one could finally “get out,” get a job, and—presumably—get to the business of living real life, whatever that may be.

I, on the other hand, saw Honors as fun because it involved learning about truth, any and all of the truth which I am embedded in day after day, and frequently ponder beyond the artificial boundaries of “class.” To me, the whole of my life is a class.

Tom’s opinion is prevalent among my peers. I propose a modest theory for this kind of disenchantment with much of modern life: The modern man has grown so accustomed to interacting with the abstractions of his fragmented lifestyle, that he has grown to take imitations for originals, symbols for the signified. When confronted with the emptiness of such impostors, he becomes disenchanted with life, contracting a terminal illness known as “boredom.” Modern man, however, is mistaken; he has not actually found Reality wanting, but unreality.
It is the metropolis which is so conducive to sustaining this kind of indifference towards human experience, and it is the metropolis which I find myself a member of, so I am left with a question in my attempt to escape disenchantment: How can I survive the Metropolis?

Georg Simmel writes, “There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which is so unconditionally reserved to the city as the blasé outlook,” but finding that we metropolitans assuredly have become blasé, how shall we now escape without isolating ourselves from the metropolis itself? (14) How am I to be in the world, but not of it? “The essence of the blasé attitude is an indifference toward the distinctions between things,” says Simmel. The metropolitan who must face continual sensory and mental overstimulation would simply go insane if he had to process everything individually as a distinct entity. So, in the interest of his survival, experience is simplified and everything gets generalized. When I walk into the dining commons, that’s not Marchelle scanning my ID card; it’s one of the cafeteria ladies. It is not the case that Maggie, Ethan, Megan, Jacob, and Krista are sitting at that table I pass by; it is just a bunch of people, just like all the other people. They don’t have any identities—none of which I’m cognizant at least—they are just people.

It will not be until I sit down with one of the people—if even then—that I will remember Jacob is an individual person, he is an art major, he is going out with so-and-so, he likes Ray Bradbury, he helped kidnap me on my 21st birthday, he’s made in the image of God, and, horror of all horrors, he’s experiencing being, breathing, sensing, thinking, and so much more at this very moment, right now. Just like me.

But why? How come we are unconscious of such things so frequently? Mostly, we are unaware because we are ungrateful for God’s blessings and have taken almost everything for granted. I submit that the metropolis contributes to this disengagement with the unique, specific, concrete, particular nature of human experience. We settle for a kind of shorthand symbol system for so much of life, and we find our desensitization facilitated by the carbon copy style of our modern metropolitan existence.

Mass production has helped blind us to the distinct uniqueness of each and every individual object. After all, the president and the bum drink the same Coke; I use the same computer as several hundred of my peers; we listen to the exact same iPods; we can all wear the same clothes, eat the same food, use the same soap, read the same bible. I used a blue Bic pen today; I have eight others identical to it sitting in the drawer next to me. What is my point? We have too many “Mondays” and not enough “today”, too much of “9:25am” and not enough “right now.” I do not know if this makes sense to everyone else, but I am truly bothered by the fact that I just finished a carton of store-bought mint chocolate cookies my grandmother sent me for Christmas, and I can drive down to the store, pick up the exact same carton with the exact same cookies, eat one, and they will all taste exactly alike.

The full force of this just hit me the other day. I do not know what I was thinking about before, but I began thinking about waste (that is, defecation), and I suddenly realized how much food I have eaten in my lifetime. Every single meal, even if it was the same food, was actually different; I have only ever eaten any piece of food once, and I will never eat it again. That realization shocked me. Have we not lost so much of that in modern life? Food is not shaken from the limbs of trees, or yanked dirt-encrusted from the soil beneath our feet, or killed with the lifeblood still running in its veins; instead it is purchased in a building with one room where we place all kinds of manufactured edible products and produce, and where each type is always in the exact same place every time.

What do I mean by all this? What of grocery stores, manufactured look-alikes, and insensitivity for distinctions? Suffice it to say our many institutions succeed so well in simplifying human experience that we appear to have opted for it over against the real thing. We did not know it would cost us so much. In fact, many of us who were born into the metropolis had no conception of a Reality that is not metropolitan, time-based, consumable, institutionalized, and available at Wal-Mart en masse. We assumed this is simply ‘the way things are’—how startling then to learn that everyone in history until about a century ago had lived life very differently from us. We did not know we would be distanced from Being, from Nature, from other persons, even from ourselves. Yet we find ourselves just so and wonder, how can we regain what was lost?

I suggest there are three tasks. First, we must engage with Reality itself. When I think of how much time I spend with manufactured things, representations, copies, symbols, and recordings, and then compare that to how much time is spent with God’s own creation, I feel emptier inside. There is, of course, no intrinsic evil in manmade things; we were created to make things, and they ought to be enjoyed. I think I am correct in saying though that interaction with only things created by men will prove stifling. There is true value in getting close to the original, the source of a thing. This is why I suggest engaging directly with nature.

Nature is a primary means to awakening a long dead wonderment at the world. Smelling a flower propels one beyond his egocentricity to realize that ‘There do exist in my external world such beautiful creatures as daisies.’ Along these lines, intentionally practicing awareness with all the senses is conducive to becoming more awake to life.

Developing an appreciation for what things actually are—like noticing that a painting is fundamentally a bunch of pigment smeared on a surface, not necessarily an image of something—helps one to engage Reality. If we can even for a moment stop assuming that we know exactly what is going on and how things work, then we might notice something new for a change, and perhaps even learn something. It seems this disconnection from Reality and the resulting disappointment is too often due to our failure to see things for what they actually are and appreciate them as such. When we start taking an imitation for the thing itself, like stories that imitate The Story, people which reflect God’s image, or the institution of school which only imitates the essence of education, we come up empty. We our left hungry because we fail to understand its true nature and proper place in the created order, and often treat such counterfeits with the adoration owed their archetype.

Yet there can be no overcoming our ignorance, arrogance, apathy, or disenchantment without one virtue: wonder. This is the pre-requisite to escaping the tyrannical aspects of the metropolis over one’s mental and interpersonal life. We must assume a childlike wonder, a giving to The Real a benefit of the doubt that, perhaps, I do not know everything there is to know, that there really may be more, that there really may be something genuinely new which I have not seen before, that there really could be a future which is not just more of the same. Without such wild, imaginative, divergent optimism, there is no escape from the drudgery and meaninglessness within which modernity is enveloped.
Second, we must begin to see the metropolis for what it is: a construct. Like Neo in The Matrix, once we understand that this system is not ultimate, then it is only too easy to see that “Some rules can be bent, others broken.” When we realize that many of the metropolitan norms are not actual necessities, either for human life or for operating within the metropolis, then we can begin to swim against the current, challenging the status quo wherever it chafes at our humanity, individuality, or engagement with Reality. *Warning!: Norm-challengers risk being misunderstood, considered insane, socially ostracized, and referred to pejoratively as a bohemian.*

Take the sovereignty of Time and Punctuality for example. I am not about to argue for turning in assignments late or procrastinating—that is foolhardy even in rural small towns—but think what freedom could be wrested from the metropolis if we threw out our pocket watches even for a day, or could see life as a seamless stream of experience that needn’t be dissected into days, and hours, and minutes, and seconds. To be honest, if you are late for your job with any consistency in the metropolis, you probably will be fired. If, however, you are late for hanging out with friends and decide to stay long afterwards, they might think you strange for not sticking to the unwritten rules, but who really cares? There is no reason to be rushed through life by the imaginary watchmen of Time and Punctuality just because everyone else is doing it—especially not if it hinders one’s interaction with each present moment.

Also, we would do well to challenge the standard expectations of modernity—if not eschew them altogether. The flat, gray ideal of life as purely rational, objective, impersonal, quantitative, and needing to be exhaustively comprehended is false. This is reductionism. Life is not contrary to reason, but it is much more than purely reasonable. Reality is objectively true, but it is legitimately subjective also. Persons are not everything in Reality, but they are a real part. Many things can be quantified, but those things all have different qualities, too. Life does ultimately make sense; it is not incomprehensible. There will, however, always be mystery to it which is not yet fully understood by us.

Brave the jeers that accompany true humility and optimism; allow for mystery. Allow for the fact that you in your finitude will forever have perplexing, yet-unanswered questions. Stop trying to make every last detail fit within the miniscule corner of the puzzle which you have seen thus far. Accept the fact that life will not fit through a grid of pure rationalism, people cannot fit in boxes, and paradigms will be repeatedly shattered. Accept the tumult of this, your place in the great Chain of Being, and life will be easier.

Still, adopt hope. Hope for more, for the new, the meaningful, that the questions are worth the asking, that they all lead somewhere and will be answered in time. What am I advocating here? A paradox. May we stand with both feet firmly planted on earth and our gaze set constantly heavenward. Let us resolve, although not every burning question will be answered today, to hunt doggedly for answers now. May we acknowledge our insensitivity towards nature, people, and God, yet desire all the more fervently that we would grow increasingly sensitive every new day. Just because we are stuck in the metropolis today, or still bear in our own minds the reductionist proclivities of modernity, is no reason to think things cannot change. Even the metropolis can change.

Finally, if we are to survive, we must transform the metropolis itself. This can only be done by transforming the people, and it can never be done by force. We must live by example, putting to death the blasé attitude in our own lives, and sharing the treasures of our experience with those who are dead to life. Then we will be like the wise man in Plato’s Republic who returns to the darkness of the cave, bearing the light himself, and telling of all the wondrous sights he saw in the sunlit lands, enticing each prisoner to see for himself. Then some may follow after.

In this short space I have suggested but three courses of action in response to how we are to survive the metropolis without being overrun by disenchantment. We must seek to know and authentically experience Reality rather than its imitators. We must see the metropolis and the modernist worldview for the temporal constructs they are, and thus emancipate ourselves from the strictures of their calculating, impersonal rationalism. Transforming the metropolis though must start with our own lives and then reach outward toward others from there, desiring that they, too, would be awakened to life and filled with a childlike wonder at the mysteries of Reality.

Works Cited

Simmel, Georg. The Metropolis and Mental Life. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002.

Begone, unbelief by John Newton

Begone, unbelief,
My Savior is near,
And for my relief
Will surely appear;
By prayer let me wrestle,
And He will perform;
With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm.
Though dark be my way,
Since He is my Guide,
‘Tis mine to obey,
‘Tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken,
And creatures all fail,
The word He hath spoken
Shall surely prevail.
His love, in time past,
Forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last
In trouble to sink:
Each sweet Ebenezer
I have in review
Confirms His good pleasure
To help me quite through.
Why should I complain
Of want or distress,
Temptation or pain?
He told me no less;
The heirs of salvation,
I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation
Must follow their Lord.
How bitter that cup
No heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up,
That sinners might live!
His way was much rougher
And darker than mine;
Did Christ, my Lord, suffer,
And shall I repine?
Since all that I meet
Shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet,
The medicine, food;
Though painful at present,
‘Twill cease before long,
And then, oh, how pleasant
The conqueror’s song!

How Sweet and Awful is the Place

How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.

As the Deer by Marth Nystrom(?)

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after thee
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

You alone are my strength my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

You’re my friend and You are my brother,
Even though you are a king.
I love you more thank any other,
So much more than anything.

You alone are my strength my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

I want You more than gold or silver,
Only You can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy Giver,
And the apple of my eye.

You alone are my strength my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson

…can be found glossed in its entirety here: http://poetry.elcore.net/HoundOfHeavenInRtTGlossed.html

But here’s an excerpt for fun:

“…Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

Strange, piteous, futile thing!

Wherefore should any set thee love apart?

Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),

“And human love needs human meriting:

How hast thou merited—

Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?

Alack, thou knowest not

How little worthy of any love thou art!

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,

Save Me, save only Me?

All which I took from thee I did but take,

Not for thy harms,

But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.

All which thy child’s mistake

Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:

Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

***

I haven’t the time now to craft anything especially profound or even well-worded, but most recently I am learning that Christ has appointed every season in my life, down to each moment I have been given, and that He will at each consecutive step provide precisely what I need despite my persuasion to the contrary that I must add something more to my life which I am lacking. If we are in Christ, there can be no step along the journey home at which we can lack for anything but that which we ought not yet to have acquired. Of such good gifts, we know that they will be provided when?… When the time is good.

Until then, we ought to content ourselves with mere infinite riches in Christ, and seek to be faithful with the ones God has entrusted to our cultivation and care.

I just spent the last…however long, well over an hour, writing almost nonstop (about fifteen pages) about my fears of Christ possibly not being true, and pantheism, Hinduism or some other Eastern worldview being true. After scrutinizing, via dialogue, my reasons for believing Jesus Christ is the messiah, unique Son of God, and Risen Lord, and my reasons for thinking pantheism might be true, as I have dreaded in varying degrees periodically for the last year or so, what conclusion should I come to?

Only that I have no good reason for thinking pantheism even remotely plausible, let alone true. I reasoned through all of my speculations, observations, tenuous harebrained ‘connections’, and experiences all the way back to the source of my original questioning and fear. Each time I found that I had no good reasons (mostly baseless speculations) for concluding or even inferring pantheism from any of my experiences. Finally, when it came down to the origin of all the questioning, considering, and doubting, I found that I had rashly intuited ‘answers’ instead of being patient and content to give myself time to process my experience. I saw that in my effort to try to comprehend and understand all that I’d been experiencing, I sought an immediately accessible answer, something I could just ‘get’ and wrap my head around right away. I’d never have put it into such words then, but I see in retrospect that’s what I had wanted. I acquiesced in my immaturity of thought to be satisfied with a simplistic notion that captured my one moment taken in isolation rather than resigning myself to parse through the hard stuff of life until I found an answer that would satisfy the complexity of many, sundry, and paradoxical experiences.
In short I thought too fast and didn’t think near enough about it.

To my benefit, I was also able to demonstrate in the first few pages that I have every good reason to believe Jesus Christ is the Living God, but no such good reasons, and certainly not comparable ones, to believe that any other religion or worldview is true. One may speak all the day long about such ‘mere possibilities’ of something else being true, but the crucial difference lies in having actual evidence and reasons for belief in Christ’s deity versus having no positive reasons for belief in, say, pantheism, and simultaneously no good reasons for disbelieving Christ’s deity, nor even disbelieving Theism.

The dialogue transformed near the end into a kind of prayer of praise mixed with affirmation of scriptural truth:

“How shall I conclude, but to admit that I have worried over nothing; I have no good reasons to think pantheism might be true, and EVERY good, logical, acceptable reason to think Christianity IS True. Praise be the Living God, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is risen from the dead–IN TRUTH! And we have been set free from our sins, washed in His blood, and clothed in His righteousness. No longer naked and trying to present filthy rags to the King, we will enter the throne room as sons and daughters made acceptable by Divine grace bestowed in Love and Mercy by the Just Judge, our Loving Father. Bought back with His own life, we will fellowship with and worship our Savior. And the Holy Spirit who comforted us along the way and never left us, will be there to join in the celebration. For all eternity…”

I’m now refining something I produced in a rare fit of inspiration this summer, and which I plan to post next. As I was perusing the same journal that contains that work, I stumbled upon this entry immediately after. I felt like sharing it:

Aug. 12, 2011
I got the coolest sensation while I was reading about “Desiring God” on Amazon today. I felt like I saw myself as a character at just one point (today) in God’s Story, and like there was this epic Adventure-Quest going on and that God was the main character Who the whole story was about. It sent happy chills down my spine. [I felt like I was in a Kingdom in an epic Faerie Tale. I was full of wonder, and excited.

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

September 7, 2011

I memorized the first verse of this song last night while practicing it for the first time. As I started to strum and read, I realized this was precisely the prayer I needed for where my heart was at that moment. I pray it will be a blessing to you.

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise,
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.
To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal.
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.

But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call Thee mine.
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline.
Yet, gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust,
And still my soul would cleave to Thee
Though prostrate in the dust.

3. Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face,
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace
Be deaf when I complain?
No, still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner’s prayer.
Oh! May I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there.

4. Thy mercy seat is open still.
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet.
Thy mercy seat is open still.
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet.

 

These are Anne Steele’s words. I highly recommend listening to the song by Kevin Twit as performed by Indelible Grace.

Pain

September 5, 2011

Pain reminds us of the truth of the Gospel, the True Myth, and focuses our living constantly upon it in such a way as to outstrip the mere enjoyment of good gifts. For those after Joy, it is the queer portal to real satisfaction, the ever-resistant path to higher happiness. It starts the longing.

Screwtape’s 19th Letter

October 9, 2010

This letter arose in memory today, and certain Hubelean comments with it. I am astounded at the natural cynicism in, as far as I can tell, every human. It’s why the gospel seems a sham. We just can’t believe in it. “Why would someone love me?” “What’s their real motive?” we say. “What do they want from me?” That the God of the universe should want to know me, hang out with me, be there for me, love me…that’s not merely “unbelievable”–it’s impossible. We’ve too small a God and too small a Love.

 

My dear Wormwood,

I have been thinking very hard about the question in your last letter. If, as I have clearly shown, all selves are by their very nature in competition, and therefore the Enemy’s idea of Love is a contradiction in terms, what becomes of my reiterated warning that He really loves the human vermin and really desires their freedom and continued existence? I hope, my dear boy, you have not shown my letters to anyone. Not that it matters of course. Anyone would see that the appearance of heresy into which I have fallen is purely accidental. By the way, I hope you understood, too, that some apparently uncomplimentary references to Slubgob were purely jocular. I really have the highest respect for him. And, of course, some things I said about not shielding you from the authorities were not seriously meant. You can trust me to look after your interests. But do keep everything under lock and key.

The truth is I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy really loves the humans. That, of course, is an impossibility. He is one being, they are distinct from Him. Their good cannot be His. All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else—He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to find out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question. I do not see that it can do any harm to tell you that this very problem was a chief cause of Our Father’s quarrel with the Enemy. When the creation of man was first mooted and when, even at that stage, the Enemy freely confessed that He foresaw a certain episode about a cross, Our Father very naturally sought an interview and asked for an explanation. The Enemy gave no reply except to produce the cock-and-bull story about disinterested love which He has been circulating ever since. This Our Father naturally could not accept. He implored the Enemy to lay His cards on the table, and gave Him every opportunity. He admitted that he felt a real anxiety to know the secret; the Enemy replied ‘I wish with all my heart that you did.’ It was, I imagine, at this stage in the interview that Our Father’s disgust at such an unprovoked lack of confidence caused him to remove himself an infinite distance from the Presence with a suddenness which has given rise to the ridiculous Enemy story that he was forcibly thrown out of Heaven. Since then, we have begun to see why our Oppressor was so secretive. His throne depends on the secret. Members of His faction have frequently admitted that if ever we came to understand what He means by love, the war would be over and we should re-enter Heaven. And there lies the great task. We know that He cannot really love: nobody can: it doesn’t make sense. If we could only find out what He is really up to! Hypothesis after hypothesis has been tried, and still we can’t find out. Yet we must never lose hope; more and more complicated theories, fuller and fuller collections of data, richer rewards for researchers who make progress, more and more terrible punishments for those who fail—all this, pursued and accelerated to the very end of time, cannot, surely, fail to succeed.

You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not. But really, Wormwood, that is the sort of question one expects them to ask! Leave them to discuss whether ‘Love’, or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Can’t you see there’s no answer? Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at a particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us. Thus it would be quite a good thing to make the patient decide that ‘Love’ is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If he is an arrogant man with a contempt for the body really based on delicacy but mistaken by him for purity—and one who takes pleasure in flouting what most of his fellows approve—by all means let him decide against love. Instill into him an overweening asceticism and then, when you have separated his sexuality from all that might humanize it, weigh in on him with it in some much more brutal and cynical form. If, on the other hand, he is an emotional, gullible man, feed him on minor poets and fifth-rate novelists of the old school until you have made him believe that ‘Love’ is both irresistible and somehow intrinsically meritorious. This belief is not much help, I grant you, in producing casual unchastity; but it is an incomparable recipe for prolonged, ‘noble’, romantic, tragic adulteries, ending, if all goes well, in murders and suicides. Failing that, it can be used to steer the patient into a useful marriage. For marriage, though the Enemy’s invention, has its uses. There must be several young women in your patient’s neighbourhood who would render the Christian life intensely difficult to him if only you could persuade him to marry one of them. Please send me a report on this when you next write. In the meantime, get it quite clear in your own mind that this state of falling in love is not, in itself, necessarily favourable either to us or to the other side. It is simply an occasion which we and the Enemy are both trying to exploit. Like most of the other things which humans are excited about, such as health and sickness, age and youth, or war and peace, it is, from the point of view of the spiritual life, mainly raw material,

Your affectionate uncle

SCREWTAPE

–C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.