And lastly, and I guess I should’ve asked this earlier, how the question came up to you, since it may have been something quite particular you were looking for, but the last thing I’ll say about “The sons of God and the daughters of men” is that it’s poetic. It’s mythic. It’s a story. And this is really difficult to describe, because it’s indescribable, and no explanation will be able to explain sufficiently to any person, but especially to modern persons, that it is just the case, to me anyway, that the poetry in the epic poem of our lives and the fairy in the fairytale of our lives are the most real part of what we mostly call real life. I know it sounds incredible and hard, but it is actually true. The reason why people overwhelmingly prefer novels and fiction to non-fiction, is not because they are more exciting or more popular or more simple, but because they are more true. They are more true to reality than “real” books. And it is simply the case that reality is made out of what you don’t see. You get the sense, in that little paragraph in Genesis, that there’s no way that any of what is being said should make any sense, but somehow it does make sense. It is the kind of sense, that if you stop for a second and just let it be, you know deep down that it is saying something about existence—prehistoric existence, post-historic existence—just existence. It covers everything from the most complicated idea of the realities of what humanity is, all the way down to the simplest idea of sons and daughters.
The reason why Harry Potter starts in a cupboard under the stairs on Number 4 Privet Drive is because everyone who has ever grown up in a house with a family starts in a cupboard under the stairs on No. 4 Privet Drive.
They know exactly what it means without explanation. What they don’t know, even when it is explained to them, is what “The Sociological Effects of Child abuse in preteen Development in Suburban Foster Care” could possibly mean. Not because it is dull, or overly complicated, or full of too many statistics and facts, but because it is FALSE.
I suppose the critics of Genesis 6 would prefer the Bible to say something else (I think the rationalistic Christian has no idea what they want it to say). But what else could the Bible say? It just says what it says. I suppose the critics would want it to say, “Chapter 6: A Study of The Unexpected Decline of the Prehistoric Sumerian Empire Secondary to Sociological and Philosophical Influence of Feminine Diversification in Near Eastern Civilization.”
But it’s obvious that nobody will ever want to read that paper. Because the average human is first and foremost a poet and a mystic and is like a son of God and a daughter of man and is emphatically not a collection of dry, false statements loaded with wrong assumptions found in the humanities and religious studies of modern man.
Because anything with the breath of a human in it is divine. Anything—anything written, sung, studied, interpreted, or analyzed—anything that includes a human being or passes through a human mind is instantly mythic and psychological and spiritual and divine, and must be seen from the inside; otherwise those human studies are not merely complicated, pseudo-intellectual, overly factual or any of those things we might say about historical papers and journals or even everyday opinion, rather they are simply inhuman and therefore simply untrue.
Solomon might as well have replied, “Lord, I am blind. I want to see,” like Bartimaeus, when God asked him one dark evening before his reign, “What do you want?” Because Solomon's answer was essentially the same. And in both cases God granted their wish. Which says something.
But the important point of the story, for Solomon as well as Bartimaeus--even though every Calvinist (who for some reason is determined everyone should be as sad and angry as John Calvin, believing with the Pharisees man was made for the Sabbath) would heartily disagree--is not whether God knew, or didn't know what Solomon wanted before He granted his wish, but rather, whether Solomon knew, or didn't know what Solomon wanted before He granted his wish. It has been long argued using the scriptures, by persons much smarter than I, how gravely important it should be to me that God knows what I want. But what it is not arguable in the scriptures is how important it is to God that I know what I want. God actually knows what I want: sure, I'm not debating that. I'm simply pointing out that even if it is awe-inspiring and comforting; it isn't very helpful. But what is helpful, because God knows it's helpful, is if I actually know what I want. God implies in His question and answer session with Solomon: not only is it wise to answer the question, "What do you want?" correctly, but also foolish to answer incorrectly. He leaves no room for the arbitrary answer. So if I answer, “I want a long life,” it reveals not how wise I almost am, but how foolish I certainly am. God seems to say it is not merely wishful thinking, or positive thinking, or maybe even a slight overreach in powerful thinking to desire all my enemies to be defeated, but profoundly foolish thinking—not because wishing for their defeat makes me wrong, but because it makes me weak; that it is not only wishful thinking or forward thinking to desire wealth, but foolish thinking—not because wishing for wealth makes me wrong, but because it makes me cheap. Therefore the wisest man in all the world answers not, “I want to see long life,” or “I want to see all my enemies defeated,” or, “I want to see wealth,” but instead, “Lord, I am blind. I just want to see,” in a sense, see everything. Because when a man finally sees everything, one of the first thing he sees is how little things are. Because he simply sees, for example, he sees how little a thing like a man’s net worth is. He sees low enough to see the infinite wealth adorning a lily of the field. And in the very next instant the foolish man who once saw his own life and the terrifying and inevitable death thereof, as a tragedy of incalculable loss, now sees with wisdom his life is no larger or more important than a lily plucked from the soil worth ten thousand of Solomon’s kingdoms and tossed away in the breeze.
This is a continuation of my ongoing exploration of Fear; which is not like a dangerous expedition through an unexplored cavern, but a dangerous expedition through an unexplored closet. And, by the way, if this jagged little object from the bottom of a rather messy closet seems incomplete, it is only because it is a piece of a puzzle. Like myself. And like every human. And it is like us not only because we are all tiny pieces of a gigantic puzzle, but also because we are each a gigantic puzzle unto our tiny selves. A gigantic puzzle within a gigantic puzzle. Puzzling, eh?
So here is another tiny piece to try and fit.
When you have finally been scared to death, not as the phrase is commonly used, but rather as scared in death or frightened of death; and not merely frightened by a vague vision of your future death or by small jump-scares of death in your otherwise pedantic journey; but when you actually melt with terror and surprise at the living putrefaction, at the busy and thriving state of decay and death discovered just beneath the pretense of your pedantic life; when you tremble at the actual deaths you caused and the actual deaths you are—fear that your life is truly dead; that’s when you are truly frightened. That is the true terror of Revelation, the true fear that rattles loose a mystery in the prophet's Good News: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” That is exactly the terror of the poor goat who, up until that moment, because he was always rather bored and timid and anxious and weak and miserable like a little sheep, actually believed himself a little sheep, now suddenly quakes and bleats before the shepherd--a shepherd who regards what goats believe with all the concern of a tollbooth collector, shaking his head and pointing with his staff to the other goats as his eye moves on to others. That is the terror of the chaff screaming away in the wind, “Wait! No! I am the wheat!”
While the man with his back bent to the threshing floor, winnowing fork in hand, says almost to himself, “I never knew you.” And keeps threshing.
I grow weary of the endless talk about the end times. Especially the type spouted by those eager churchgoers who burn their heads over Nineveh so seriously like Jonah, saying things like: "You don't have to look too far to see the signs of the end times. Everywhere is terrible. If there was a ever a time for the Apocalypse, it has to be this time." All this kind of babbling thinking and speaking smacks of wishing God would destroy the world rather than save it. It smacks of a false solemnity with barely a pretense of fear; like that of an Aztec priest discussing his grim sacrificial duty, who, safe from the fires himself, almost seems to enjoy the thought of a virgin (which almost by definition is a person who doesn't know any better) being flung into a volcano. And because I have been the unwilling participant in so many of these end times discussions, either formal or informal, I have discovered it is apparently the special purview of everyone from 13 to 103 who has, one, an opinion and, two, circumstances. Which means, even though it is a favorite topic of a wide variety of Christians, it is not an especially Christian topic, but only an especially human one. But for my part, I do not grow weary merely because it is the darkest way to talk about a thing as beautifully lit as Christ and His Church, but because it is the dullest. And it is exactly because of this penchant by puritans for tirelessly polishing a dark thing up into a dull thing, that I believe this sour-hearted, half-speak so commonly heard at church to also be the most wrong thing.
The human idea of the judgment and wrath of god and its terrible effects is not especially special, but the Christian idea is. The Christian idea is this: The warning of End Times, of ultimate Judgment and wrath, is not to produce flight. It is to produce fruit. It is not to start a person fleeing for their lives, but to stop them--for there is nowhere to go--to stop them fleeing from their lives, and to stand firm, plant roots and grow for their lives. It is not to make them run, but make them repent. Not to make them focus on the End, but on the Beginning. Not to increase worry to withered heads already hanging down in their hands, but to encourage those withered heads to rise up and wait at the door all night and look for the Lord in the darkness.
The frightening warnings in Revelation should not induce fighting and fierceness, anger and resentment, complaining and bitterness within the soul—all of these of course are already there. If the only frightening they do is frighten the soul to a gnashing pessimism, then that soul was not nearly frightened enough. The warnings should, and in fact do when read properly, induce the opposite. Which is: they should induce change. For that is what a revelation is. It is a new vision. One gained not merely by changing one desolate landscape for the next, but by changing one’s point of view--so all at once one may see the entirety of the universe in the portrait of a sinner. A shift in point of view so remarkable that one no longer casts his narrow, roving eyes upon the horizon from now till the end of time, but instead does the reverse. He goes all the way to the end and turns around--in essence, goes to Hell and back-- and by placing his back to tomorrow, looks toward today; comes back to that which is new and right now; sees not the time a human ends, but the time he begins. He stands with the glowing Hell of fire and brimstone behind him, with the smell of ash still in his nose, shining with a new spirit, one of hope for the hopeless and charity for the undeserving and faith in the faithless.
Bartimaeus was a man who new exactly what his problem was. And because he knew it, he also knew what life, problem solved, would look like. And a man who knows this—knows exactly his problem and can see the other side, this other life—is a unique man, maybe the most, in all the world. He will stand out and shout to the crowd, “I know something now!”
Because a man who finally knows his problem finally knows its answer, or might, or something of it, and draws closer to it. He to It and It to him. The answer is, strangely, and, in part, finally seeing both things, maybe loving both things, certainly accepting both things: problem and answer. It is a faith, a realization, a sight before sight, a sight while yet blind. And somehow through this one and only possible vision in blindness: truly seeing the utter darkness; through this one and only possible health of sickness: finally accepting the fatal illness; through this one and only possible heartbeat of the heartless: at last reaching out and feeling the beating heart of another; the troubled soul begins to know the troubler of souls is near. Answer calls to answer: like calls to like: Seer of his own sightlessness calls out to the Giver of sight who, in turn, calls out to the seer of his own sightlessness. The two meet. They will meet. They must.
It is the beginning of Faith. It is local and particular—as beginnings only are and only can be. Faith does not begin abstracted out to a distant philosophy or mythical something far off in the future, then walk slowly backwards to end at a very concrete, very practical and very alive now. Rather now is first. Now is the dawn of Faith, not its dusk. Blind Bartimaeus’ faith instantly shines a broad and universal daylight; instantly reaches philosophical and mythic proportions. Not the other way around. The question is immediate—right now—just like it’s answer:
“What do you want me to do for you, Bartimaeus?”
“Teacher, I am blind. I want to see.”
“Your faith has healed you.”
Immediately he received sight and followed Jesus along the road.
A man will never find the answer to his problems until he realizes he has an even bigger problem with the answer. Only then will he discover the problematic answer to his problem is the problem of Jesus, the bearer of Elijah's nickname: the Troubler of Israel.
There is no answer for everything. But there is a question. And that in itself is an answer.
After much and much thought, after imaginings of biggest bangs and destructions and creations, and even still being quite unable to describe my progress through this issue, because it’s an indescribable process, I have come to the absolute conviction (two words I am careful as a miser with) that existence had to begin by Will and Design almost completely intact, de novo. With great apology to skeptics and scoffers and even a few spiritual scallawags, and after circumnavigating the universe like Magellan, seven days for creating the whole thing seems close enough to me. I just don’t see any other way for it to occur by the existence I see in front of me right now. Everything I see has a birth and a death. And the birth implies the death just as much as the death implies the birth. The evolutionary theorist seems to try to deny this fact by his theory. Any plausible theorist, any sophisticated thinker, cannot deny the destination or the end or the death of things; claiming, as the evolutionist does, their pointless or endless or deathless progress into oblivion; while at the same time admit they had a beginning, and a birth.
It just seems absolutely clear that things have an ending, in the sense of a destiny. Their existence reaches towards becoming what it is they are always supposed to become. In something as simple as a blade of grass or a tree or as complex as the most complicated creature—man—every existing thing is reaching towards what it is at all times. There is no evidence to me, in the existence around me, that there is a slippery slime and smearing of creation into an ever blurring and stretching of what things are into a vast blob of gray-greenness, of short things becoming endlessly taller and taller until they fall over, or expanding everywhere, until they simply fill in the endless shapelessness of the universe. The universe has a shape and a form or we could not speak of it or describe it, for our very language would be as ever-changing, as formless and void, as the shape-shifting mouths that spoke it. Our tongues should fall off or elongate to drag on the floor before we could finish a sentence. It simply takes opening one’s very own round, doubled, and crystal clear eyes—eyes that aren’t slowly becoming rounder or squarer, or coalescing into one or dividing into three, or progressing towards some impossible state beyond clarity; seeing through pupils—pupils that aren’t forever dilating to swallow the eye whole at twilight or forever constricting to blot out the sun at dawn—this very obvious thing around you: Things are. And always are. And although it is an obvious fact things change and grow, it is just as obvious a fact every growing thing reaches out, not forever into blind oblivion, but for something: to be what they are, to be a final thing, not a thing with no end, which is to say, a thing with no future. But a thing with a definite future and a particular end, which is to say a thing of hope and eternity.
The illustration often used when teaching such a small idea as receiving Eternal Life, or Mercy, or the multitudinous and cosmic gifts of God, is that a gift is received only when the one gifted actually takes it. In fact, it is so often used to describe how to receive the salvation of Jesus, that the illustration becomes at best a faded truism, having lost its real meaning, and at worst becomes a foolish and dangerous theology which completely misrepresents the most important idea of a gift. For whether a gift is received has almost nothing to do with taking or getting—anything. The point of a gift has to be that one already had it long before he took it, and that taking it or holding it is the least part of receiving it. So the old, faded and formulaic illustration on how a gift is received should be crumpled up and tossed out.
A gift can absolutely be fully given and fully held without it being fully received. This is exactly the sense in which every parent tells their child he is not living up to his potential. The gifts are there and they are his—but untapped; sitting wrapped within his skin, or maybe even unwrapped and held in his hands and even seen by the child, yet still unreceived. What the gift is, remaining opaque to the child himself.
Whether or not one receives a gift has nothing to do with the fact that it is his. Whether he receives it or not, only depends on whether he enjoys it or not. To enjoy a gift one must give the gift oneself, or, to make my meaning clear, give oneself to the gift. Giving, not getting, is the way one receives. When he starts to give the gift—give unto the gift, in a sense, give what the gift asks of him—is the moment he receives the gift. This is a more proper—no, not more proper—this is the only way that existence, life eternal, the miraculous gifts of God—work.
Mercy has already been given. It is man’s. Forgiveness was his from the beginning—from his Heavenly Father. The only way one may receive the divine gift of Mercy is by using the gift, giving himself over to it, becoming it and giving it away. To say it another way, the way God himself said it as He walked the streets of first century Jerusalem: "The only way one may enter the Kingdom of Heaven is to already be living in it."
It is this exact paradoxical meaning of receiving a gift--that a gift enjoyed is a gift used--that every poet, painter, pianist, and person knows intuitively. The purpose of the Birthday tradition of placing gifts in boxes and wrapping them with colorful paper is that gifts are a surprise. The point is precisely not to know what the gift is, but rather to open the box and say, “What is this? What do you do with it? Mercy? What is mercy? Life? What is life?” And the answer is something like, “That is for you to figure out. 'Ask and you shall receive.' Enjoy.” To really receive is to have joy—to enjoy. And on the day of our birth, our dining tables are piled with these gifts.
One may open a box and hold up the gift within and gaze into the Unknown that is his. Yet even after opening and having, there is no receiving unless there is enjoying. These are the same ideas: enjoying and receiving--and not enjoying and not receiving. The one who enjoys the gift, which is to say, the one who listens to what the gift says of its own spontaneous voice; listens to the song it sings and responds to the voice; receives it. Like a child. For the child, as opposed to the adult, knows exactly the meaning of a gift: how to receive; what to do, for example, with the gift of a tree. She needs no instruction from anyone else, rather the tree unwraps itself before her eyes and she runs to what is hers, what was always hers, embracing it, listening all the while as it says something like: “I am to climb. I am a tree, and a tree is for climbing.” And before there is time to think or reason or explain, she is already swinging from its branches, laughing with the laughter of its leaves.
In the same way, the gift of Mercy says something like: “I am Mercy. Come and listen to me, I desire to be used. I desire Mercy.“