Monday, July 7, 2008

Paradise Lost? Living Within the Fall, Honestly

The above image is from John Milton’s 1667, twelve-volume poetry work by the same name. If I’ve read Paradise Lost, it has been a long time and I’ve forgotten most of it. But I do hope to read it again soon. I understand that Mr. Milton takes a very thought-and emotional-evoking look at the Fall of Adam on mankind. This short essay of mine is not about that work in particular, but about the concept of the lost paradise.

I want to add my usual caveat. My writing often comes across (compared to the usual Joel Osteen-type of “happy” Christian writing) as gloomy and sad. I'm sorry about that. That isn’t how I think or feel. In my perspective, we live in a wonderful creation of many, many beautiful things. I also have, and try to give, great hope that we (as Christians) don’t have to go on pretending anymore. I want to celebrate (or authenticate) the reality of who we are and the world that we live in.

What got me thinking about this was the sadness I was feeling with the recent graduation of two of my children, Amy from high school and Daniel from college (both two weeks ago). I know that for some parents, the empty nest is something they really look forward to. I know that I will find good in it . . . eventually. However, for me it has been like a slow death.

My entire adult life has been defined by fatherhood. Not just fatherhood in the literal sense, but fatherhood of children small enough to be dependant on me. I was a fort-builder, doll-house builder, tree-house builder, story-teller and wrestler. That has all changed. Even before kids walk out of your door, and life, never to return in a meaningful way . . . they go through a stage of emotional and intellectual detachment. This is where you, almost overnight, go from being the hero, dragon-slayer and the soruce of all knowledge (in the eyes of your child) to being the village idiot. That was hard in itself. I do undersand as they get older, that will change for the positive and I'm looking forward to that.

My first child left home . . . for the first time, about seven years ago. Since then has been a gradual procession of leaving and closure of great epochs of one's life. Out of five children, I have one still at home.

But this story is not just about the sadness of the empty-nest syndrome, but about sadness itself . . . and loss, pain, fear and death. In other words, the Fall of Adam.

I can clearly remember a conversation with Tom, the Navigator guy who led me to Christ when I was barely 17. Besides God offering me eternal life (which didn’t mean squat to a teenager) He was also offering me the abundant life. I would like to go back and read that passage (John 10:10) in context to see what it really means.

But Tom’s, and the whole group’s interpretation of this “abundant life” was that if you follow God faithfully, pray right and have faith, then God would bless you with financial security (especially if you gave money to support your local Navigator staff man), physical health, wonderful kids and, most of all, happiness. But even their understanding of happiness was a constant emotional euphoria.

Well, guess what . . . life did not turn out that way. During the twenty five years since, I’ve seen a lot of difficult things in my own life as well as in the lives of my (faithful) Christian friends. I mean, I’ve seen some of the most wonderful Christians (far better than me) die from brain tumors at age 28, or hit by a train at age 24, or die from breast cancer at age 40, suffer bankruptcy, divorce, suicide of their children, and I could go on and on. So where was this hedge that Tom said God would build around me and my family if only I “Trust Him?”

Ironically, even Tom himself has gone through divorce and has had several major heartbreaks with his children. Who knows, maybe his distress was the consequences of such positive thinking (and not living in honest reality).

So what does a Christian do who is honest enough to know that the prosperity gospel does not reflect reality? You can use psychological gymnastics to cover up the obvious, like a Navigator staff friend whose son was tragedy decapitated. This guy tried to never to cry over the incident or even show grief. Why? Because he was convinced that God did this for a reason. BULL SHIT!!!!! What kind of God would decapitate a 16 year-old boy who was on his way to church just to teach someone patience? Where is George Carlin when you need him, to explain the insanity of this thinking? This is the great tragedy when you live with a prosperity gospel or a dualism that states that nothing in this world can happen unless it has a spiritual (and positive) reason.

The Fall of Adam, has decimated but not totally destroyed this universe. There is still good in this world. Charles Manson can still create a work of art that can have real beauty (I don’t think he has but he could). So despite the brokenness that we have to co-exist with, there is real beauty in this world.

So, in closing, I ask, where is the solution (speaking cosmologically and metaphysically)? To think that I will only escape all this pain and disappointment when I live in Heaven for eternity really doesn’t give me much comfort.

A non-dualistic view of scripture suggests that our eternity is really here, on earth. But it will be a fixed earth. No more cancer, no more tragic accidents, no more rebellious kids (I don’t have any personally . . . yet) and no more tears (not just suppressing them beneath a dysfunctional façade).

But in the meantime, like Luther said to “Sin Boldly” I would shout, “Cry boldly!” “Grieve boldly!” Shake your fist at the broken universe, at Adam and shout curses on them. That is completely consistent with the (non-Dualistic) Christian position. Read Ecclesiastes at this juncture. The writer wasn’t talking about the vanity only for the un-regenerate, but for us all. Eat, drink and be merry (enjoy what is good) because the solution is not here, only some pleasure to dampen the pain. But hope in God that a real solution is coming . . . but it is not here yet.

My greatest need for faith must come in at this point. I can not imagine an eternity that will solve my inward pain that I now know. Can my kids be made small again so that I can hold them on my lap? I don’t think so. A humanist psychologist might tell me to start dressing my dog (Saint Bernard) up in baby close as a surrogate for my children. I don’t think so.

Jesus hints that I will not even be married to Denise any longer in paradise. It just doesn’t make any sense to me how eternity will be better. . . but I just have to trust God that somehow it all makes sense to Him.

I will add, that obedience in this world does have merit. It doesn’t build an impermeable fence of safety around us, but it does give us a higher quality of life than total debauchery. I don’t think the writer of Ecclesiastes was advocating total debauchery, but just enjoying the beauty and God-given pleasure that we have left . . . and this is the best we can do in this broken world.



Trevor said...

Thanks. Thought provoking stuff.

MJ said...

Thanks . . . and I'm glad. It's been thought provoking to me.