Friday, December 07, 2007
Lying to Obey
Satan said "Go ahead and eat. You will not surely die."
They ate. They died... and they didn't die. Satan tells the part of truth that results in the actions he wants. God tells the truth, period, and lets us make the choice. Learning truth is predicated on asking questions.
The truth is that we can live without God. I can live without him. Life would certainly be simpler. The physical process go on and the years pass.
What is life? Physical continuity? Lots of people deny God's existence and prosper. Lots of people try to live within God's direction and have a hard time. What is this about?
There are people who can accept God's rules and live within them. Simple obedience. There are others, such as myself, who question everything. Having been raised without trust it's hard for me to trust anyone, especially God because he is often portrayed as vindictive, absent-minded, uncaring at best. "Don't draw his attention or you'll regret it."
Those who obey easily are unlikely to understand people like me, for whom obedience isn't even a second language. I've been lied to too many times, manipulated in the name of acceptance or encouragement or pure selfishness. How do I know God is different?
Jesus talks of leavening, that invisible stuff that gives bread its bubbly lightness. You don't see it nor taste it, but you know if it doesn't work. I've baked a few bricks. If someone had asked me for bread I'd have handed them a stone, honestly. With the aid of a microscope we can find out what leavening is but it's still something of an act of faith: put the dough into the warm place and wait an hour. Come back and it is much bigger. Amazing. It has its own way, too. Things must be in balance: temperature, sugar, spices. You get a feel for it.
The Way of Obedience and the Way of Questioning seem to lead to the same place. Ultimately we're all God's creatures. Why do I bother? Questions are hard and living with the answers even harder. Which hurts more? Living with God or living without him? Different classes of pain. Living with God is confusing and intense, always running into sharp angles. Living without him is more a pain of absence, a tire without air, bread without yeast. The object is still there but something hard to describe is missing. Ultimately I end up obeying.
I'd hope that I've learned something in the process. I'd hope not to need that lesson again. Move on to something new. But the something new is just a step to the next, painful, something new. I see people running on treadmills in gyms and think hamster. Is there really such a thing as progress? It all looks like an endless climb to me, sharp stones and steep grades.
How does one live as a long-term Christian? Current systems don't seem to work very well. Churches, emergent or otherwise, seem to follow the lowest-common-denominator route rather than encouraging individuals to make choices. Following Jesus is hard enough and organizations make it harder by adding their own rules and principles to the process. It'd be like asking a hamster to make sand sculpture with leaden boots on his feet.
Oh, I understand the impulse. I feel it too: make Christianity comprehensible. I'm not sure it can be done. Books, preachers, 10-step plans, seminars, intellect. Perhaps these can be a stepping stone or two along the way but the truth of life and death is, I think, something that takes personal quirks and effort to, dare I say it, feel your way through?
That day in the Garden of Eden the intellect and body went on. The heart and soul died and we barely feel their lack. God tries to bring them back to life and I cower away in fear. Unknown, out there, and why bother? I've lived without them. Lived? I'm not sure.
We're like plants living inside a dark box: yes, there's growth but it's pallid and short. God reaches in to take me, as gently as he can, out of the box and I wail. I may make this harder than it need be. Always expecting the worst I just hope the whole thing will blow over, disappear like a bad dream. Jesus promised, however: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." My belief in that is in inverse proportion to how exposed I feel.
Perhaps it's a good thing that so few other people seem to understand any of this. We'd get together, make a Church of the Holy Question, codify things and then die. The corpse would keep walking through the centuries, dragging more people away from God.
To be known by God is to be surprised. He knows us well.
Following Him gets hard when we put so many people and things between us and Him.