Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Man of Faith
Some say that you can't love others unless you love yourself. Jesus even implies this: "Love others as you love yourself." Well, don't we all love ourselves to excess? There's constant exhortation to forget ourselves and lose ourselves in service. It doesn't seem to work very well, as measured by the transformation of our world.
I first heard the statement about loving myself in 1977, on a walk with a friend. I was sceptical. Thirty years later, riding and alone, thoughts come and go. I'm a lot less rigid than I used to be, less dependent on stiff structures of logic and intellect. God has ways of insinuating his ideas into my thought-stream and the result is a richness I couldn't conceive 30 years ago. I can discriminate more finely the shades along the continuum of ideas, and what hits me this time is that self-love doesn't require or imply self-worship.
As with most concepts involving people it's hard to fit the ideas into words. Jesus is our model, the man who lives to follow his father's commandments and yet doesn't roll over for just anybody. For those people who admit need he will do anything. He is Himself, no matter where He is. He never puts himself first, and yet is absolutely indissoluble even at the point of death: He gave Himself willingly. We have this idea that if one is not to be full of self, that implies being full of nothing. Either-or. Jesus demonstrates that to be full of God is also to be full of a real Self.
We stand down here in the maze, unable to see ahead. I'm climbing this hill and ahead of me is a switchback. I can't see what's around the far side. Having faith in road designers and the constancy of our world, I predict that the road curves around and keeps climbing. Other curves aren't so clear. How much confidence I have in a continued path depends on how much I trust God's guidance. Is there really a road out there?
When war breaks out between irreconcilable opponents, the smart residents hide and hope the storm will blow over before their houses do. When the war is in a person's soul, and goes where I go, what can be done? Is God the good guide even in the middle of the bitter warfare? What is he trying to do? Removal of self seems to be the logical answer, so that He can move in and make the place his own.
And yet here I am, riding up this hill, sweating into the cool misty air of an early summer California morning, just so that I can hear birds use the same air to call to each other. Rather than removing me, he has been very carefully strengthening some parts of me while we--note that "we"--decide which parts can dissolved in His blessings. Keep the experiences and memories while changing their associations; the old deadly associations are being replaced with associations centered on His gentle regard for who I am.
The logical question is "Why bother?" This all takes a long time. "Without faith, it is impossible to please Him." How do you transform an intellectual, rational sceptic into a man of faith? By demonstrating faithfulness every day, I guess, which means walking through all of this pain, confusion, down deep in the maze, and watching how God brings a rain of blessing along with the guidance along the edge of quitting.
I'm in a class of one. Each of is, truly, is. We can choose to make common cause with each other but that doesn't require complete suppression of who we are. That way leads to madness and anger. We need to learn to enjoy differences, which requires enough stability within ourselves that external forces aren't a threat, and that requires internal strength, and that means the Holy Spirit, and that calls for faith. We can't see Him.
We allow ourselves to be affected by lots of other invisible things: advertising, movies, TV shows, other people's ideas. Why not allow God to work in the same way? His way is difficult but good.
To see myself changing in this way is in most ways a shock. Faith? Me? Can't be. In more subtle ways, well, I've always had faith that things would just work out. They have. In the last few years I've bucked and protested as God has worked to bring what used to be hidden out into the light. My rational front has always had a fantastic structure made of flowers, birdsong and moonbeams that I didn't want anyone to know about.
That I'm still here is more a testament to God's faithfulness than any skill or strength I have. In so many events my life could have ended or taken a really ugly turn, but it has been like those cartoons of the sleepwalking steelworker who walks off the end of a beam just as another is lifted to where his foot will be. This naturally leads to questions of "Why me?" but I have no answer. How does a tender man survive in a world of sliding hard blocks? God's protection, I think. Why would he work so hard to ensure my survival? The simple answer is that it's His nature.