Saturday, April 13, 2013

Paradise (of the easy narrative) Lost


I'm going to struggle once again to find the words to express what I've been thinking this week.  Once again I have such time pressures that I don't even have time to think anymore. Not having time to think for anyone is a tragedy. Having the thoughts but not having the time to organize them into language feels criminal.

I know that I've talked about this subject from different angles or facets of perspective. It is the issue where, as you grow older, and if you live in reality, the simple narratives of life, drifts into the convoluted.

Yes, there are days that I envy knowing all the answers.  It is enticing. That is why many people choose to live in the masquerade of the intentional universe, where every thing makes sense and fits like a puzzle piece, conjugated with each part of the grand scheme.

My wife and I were playing this game today, as we have often played, of time machine.  So you pick a date in your life and go back. What would you have done differently?

Today, she picked age 18.  I know that she was thinking mostly of professional choices but my mind started to drift into the philosophical.  You see, it was age 18 when I entered the evangelical world.  I lived in the bullseye of evangelicalism for the subsequent fifteen years.  If I were to go back in a time machine, when the Nav guy asked me to move in with him, I think I would have said no.  I would have kept my distance.  But where would I have gone?  I'm not sure.

I think for one, I would have gone to LAbri in Switzerland. It was still in their glory days when Francis Schaeffer was at the helm. Of course they weren't perfect either . . . but at least they thought . . . or allowed thinking.  I wish I had not turned off my brain for 15 years and I think LAbri would have helped me there. But I will stop my daydreaming at this point.

Last week end I did some reading about Rick Warren loosing his son.  I know this sounds corny but in Star Wars, when the small planet was blown up by the Death Star, Obi-Wan Kenobi said that he felt a great disruption in the "force."  Of course his force was an impersonal pantheistic force.  But when I hear of tragedy like this, I feel it deeply. I lay awake in bed and think about the sadness of the loss . . . as a parent of sons. I grieve for the people dying in Syria.  I grieve for anyone I hear about facing their own nightmares.

As I read about the Warren situation, there was one article that was (rightly) condemning the negative comments being made about the Warrens from Christians.  As I read the comments my blood boiled. I sensed such a intensely narcissistic form of evangelicalism.  These post were saying  very cruel things like, "If Rick had spent time with his kids rather than writing books, his son would be alive today."  Or, "Apparently the Warrens know how to teach the truth but they didn't know how to follow it at home, because children raised on Jesus don't kill themselves."  It made me sick.  These idiots know nothing of mental illness.

But then, what made me sicker, was when I was in that world that I thought I had all the answers. I hope that we weren't that bad . . . but we may have been.  I remember hearing about Christians with depression and it did turn my stomach.  I was really, really messed up.

In those days we had all the answers.  All of life was tied up in a neat bow.  We were told if you just follow these few steps, then bad things would never happen to you because God would protect you.

But then comes along life.  Life is very, very unfair.  You can do everything right, perfectly right and all hell breaks loose in your personal places.  The puzzle pieces all seem to be from different puzzles.  Nothing fits together anymore.  Nothing makes sense anymore.

So, when you pass through the valley of indescribable torment, be it the loss of someone you love, a deep betrayal, a mighty injustice, physical pain or you name it, nothing can be the same.

I stand amazed at the people who lived in the neat world, when they face a horrible experience that they come out of it as if the puzzles pieces still fit. I honestly believe that no one can come through the world-class losses (death of a child, spouse leaving you, financial ruin and etc.) and return to the simple and tidy narrative again. They have a choice to either live the old shell of the fine life that is now hollow inside like a gourd. Or, like I have somehow come to do, live in this raw reality with the good, the bad and the broken pieces, choosing to feel the pain . . . or walk away completely into a haunting nihilism.  You can not go back to the innocence.

I think many evangelicals choose the first path because that is what society demands of them.  I've heard of rumors about me that after I went though bad experiences that I "turned away from the Lord."

I have to chuckle.  I don't think I've ever know God in more real terms than I do now. But I don't see Him as some type of fairy.  He doesn't have this narrative of simplicity with me following steps A, B and C and then we will all join hands and sing the happy worker song.





But I know God as a God of mystery where nothing comes easy.  Yes, I wish that we lived in a geocentric universe that was only 6,000 years old and the geological record screamed of this youth. Yes, I wish that bad things only happened to the nasty people and the righteous all lived to be 500 years old and felt like sixteen even then. That their kids all grew up to be saints (and doctors and lawyers) and none of them dabbled in drugs, were depressed, anxious or had sex outside of marriage.  In that world I would never wake up (as I do in this world) and feel depressed when I have not right to.

Many days I wished that there was no dark matter, no quantum mechanics and no expanding universe (not to mention a possibility of a multiverse model).  I wish everything was tied up in a neat bow and the pieces, the Biblical narrative, the astrophysics, the geological record the paleontology all sang in perfect harmony like a great boys band.

But that is not reality.  We fall down. The people we love desert us as they may walk away, or hang themselves . . . or be taken by drunk drivers. We are abused. We can't get our minds around the material universe.  Some days nothing makes sense, nothing at all.

But I would never embrace nihilism even in my most desperate moments. I really don't think I could ever choose a denial like the first group (the happy worker song group) either.  I take reality as it is (no I don't love the hard things at all). I must embrace it and believe that God is somehow there, he created us and he loves us without the puzzle pieces fitting anymore.

I may be a bit narcissistic myself, but I imagine that if there was a white throne judgement (and I'm not sure that is the way it will play out) that God will choose those of us who struggled, who doubted, who cried and gnashed their teeth (whatever the hell that means) against the pain, who thought and thought deeply, who honestly considered the options, but still believed in the end . . . putting us in the seat of honor.  Because when you take reality as it is, as nasty as it can be, and you still believe . . . that is real faith. When you live in Disney World then believing is like breathing . . . it takes no conscious effort. The puzzle pieces for them all fit and it is a no-brainer not to assume that all is well.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.mbird.com/2013/04/the-radicaly-optimistic-pessimism-of-jesus-and-the-merciful-impasse/

The new book by Francis Spufford, Unapologetic, might interest you. Here's a site with an excerpt.

I find your comments quite refreshing, by the way. - J Bass.

jmj said...

It sound fascinating. I honestly think I will order it.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

As I read about the Warren situation, there was one article that was (rightly) condemning the negative comments being made about the Warrens from Christians. As I read the comments my blood boiled.

On the newsradio this morning (15 Apr), they mentioned that Warren buried his son in secret "because of all the haters".

It made me sick. These idiots know nothing of mental illness.

Remember Job's Counsellors? Only someone who's never been through it themselves is that quick and that knowledgable on the subject (and that sure of what YOU should do).

But then comes along life. Life is very, very unfair. You can do everything right, perfectly right and all hell breaks loose in your personal places. The puzzle pieces all seem to be from different puzzles. Nothing fits together anymore. Nothing makes sense anymore.
...
In those days we had all the answers. All of life was tied up in a neat bow. We were told if you just follow these few steps, then bad things would never happen to you because God would protect you.


And then you go to Siloam, and just as you're saying your Five Fast Praise-the-LOORDs which Solve Everything, the tower falls on top of you. Shit Happens.

I have to chuckle. I don't think I've ever know God in more real terms than I do now. But I don't see Him as some type of fairy.

"Invisible Sky Fairy" in the words of the New Atheism.

He doesn't have this narrative of simplicity with me following steps A, B and C and then we will all join hands and sing the happy worker song.

Just like the North Koreans do, Singing and Dancing Joyfully With Great Enthusiam before Comrade Dear Leader.

Suzanne said...

Hello, my name is Suzanne and I was wondering could I used the picture that is on your blog. The picture I am talking about is the lady that is in the dark and a tear is coming out of her I. Please let me know.

jmj said...

I'm sorry but that is not my picture so I can't give you the permission.

jmj said...

I'm sorry but that isn't my photo to give you the rights to.