Obey is a killer word--obedience a killer concept. Killer because the word mostly lays dormant around our lives after the obedience to parents and teachers passes; killer because the concept hides from us even when the cuts and callouses on our backs show, instead, lives and minds and hearts twisted about and pulled in every direction by whips and straps and chains overgrown with barnacles during their long, unchecked usage; killer because obedience is a dismal and heavy word meant for the yoke of oxen until, all of a sudden, Christ picks it up and uses it; and with child-like sincerity, the Man Jesus kills with it; breaking it free of its grayness and ungratefulness; turning it into the very word He himself uses to convey the purist freedom; holding it up to express the very idea of being truly alive. He spoke as if, instead of finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, He found, like Noah, a rainbow at the end of a golden arc of obedience.
Obedience is the skeleton key Jesus holds in his hand that opens hidden doors--doors out of death and hell opening into his words and Life; doors entering upon chambers very near the deepest in God’s reality of Love.
There are two simple and obvious reasons you may be sure this is true:
One: Jesus talks about it ALL THE TIME.
And two: nobody else does (at least in the exultant and shining way Jesus does).
In John’s gospel it is masters and servants, shepherds and sheep, doing the works, following, obeying, and doing my Father’s will from cover to cover.
And if God likes talking about something continuously, then the guy who doesn’t is Satan.
Let me try to make myself clear: A man will gleefully talk about obedience (when he must talk about it all) in terms of what it means after he has touched the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: pain, grind, morality, good, bad, right, wrong, law, blind, breaking. But he never even imagines it, much less talks about it, in terms of what it means should he return and touch the tree of Life, thereby ingrafting himself into it: joy, peace, love, contentment, salvation, healing, seeing, wisdom, keeping. Man understands what it means to obey in his reality—which is only a shadow of it and therefore false—but not in God's—which is all at once lit and light and casting the shadow.
Right after love, comes obey. Right after obey, comes love.
I once almost heard a secret about the meaning deep within “hating your father and mother,” but now I will share my own. I think Jesus was talking about obedience.
Jesus seems to be saying, “There is a great law, and one that is close to your hearts: Obey your father and mother. But here is the greatest, and one infinitely closer: You must disobey your father to obey mine. You must disobey your anything to obey my everything."
All there is, is obeying.
Obeying the one is disobeying the other.
All there is, is Love.
Loving the one is hating the other.
“A man can not serve two masters.”
You—the you that you call yourself, which is your will!—are a slave in the middle of God and Satan. The greater you and your will become: the greater becomes your slavishness in the many-roomed mansion of God. The greater God and God’s will becomes: the closer becomes your sonship and therefore freedom in it. You are Adam. It doesn’t matter who Adam thought he was obeying as he touched the fruit. Whether it was himself, Eve, or the serpent—Adam was obeying his master. "Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do."
Adam was obeying his father. And therefore hating God.
A man doesn’t go looking for Jesus because he saw him perform a miracle. He goes looking for Jesus because he satisfies. He fills a need inside the man. Jesus is the bread. He himself—not a sign from him—is the life the man needs. And, so, like His Father, Jesus gives himself.
A man will go over hill and through valley, across lakes and streams, searching for someone, not because he saw a wonderful thing he did, but because he partook of him and his wondrous doings. He partook of him and it satisfied. He was loved. He will go because of love.
Do not work for the life you can merely see. But rather for the one you can partake—unto life; given by life.
"Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?'
Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'"
Why would Jesus, the Obedient Son, speak of believing instead of obeying when it came time to answer a question about work, especially the work of God? Because if work is anything at all, it is a thing that must be done--like obeying. But simply believing seems a thing not so much done as...what?...said?... thought?...felt?
A man could rightly ask of Jesus, "How am I to work on believing in the One? Either I believe in Him, or I don't. Am I to work on saying 'I believe in the One'? OK. I said it. Again I said it. Out loud and more earnestly! I said it in my heart! I thought it in my brain! I felt it in my toes! I believe! Am I to believe more by saying it more? By believing it more? Can this be the only work of God!?"
Suddenly it seems either impossibly easy or impossibly hard to believe in the one he has sent.
So why would the Master say believing rather than obeying is the answer to it all?
Maybe because if Our Lord simply said to obey--that obedience is the answer to God, then a man might work for God with little or no work of God being done in him. Like the Pharisee, he might obey, not out of trust, but out of a desire for something else. Something greater. Something he thinks is higher and more golden than the pure gold of trust. Something he calls Eternal Life. But of what a man calls things and what they are, I can only say, “A man may know the thing he is talking about, but he doesn't know the thing he thinks he is talking about.”
The man who hears poorly, will obey poorly. When his Master walks away, because the man has not love for his Master which transcends time and space, he will forget and begin obeying himself again, which is simply to obey a slave of a dozen other masters. Or the man will obey only because he heard it may bring him nearer the fulfillment of his lack of an Eternal something. Instead of obeying because his obedience is itself the fulfillment of everything he lacks. The one thing he lacks, is the only thing he needs.
It is at least unquestionably so that Christ spoke of believing rather than obeying because He knows His little ones. He knows the children outside of Eden must discover a great truth for themselves. They must learn to see the shape of things as Christ sees them.
Christ, who formed and shaped the world, knows that obedience is a form and has a shape. And that belief is a form and has a shape. And He does not misapprehend them, like man, as unrelated, or in dissimilar categories. As if obedience is a stack of bricks and belief is green. Nay! Christ, who formed life in Himself, knows one is but the perfected form of the other; that belief is but the perfection in shape and form of obedience; that belief is obedience, only and uniquely generated by love and generating love, working its way through the warm chambers and burning machinery of the heart. Whereas obedience generated by any other force but love is something sterile, less, vague, hungry, tiring, smaller, cold, corrupt and dead. It is unbelief. It is obedience that generates any and everything but love.
Obedience becomes perfect in belief. And in its perfected form, obedience is finally free. But obedience in freedom is not shapeless. It has a shape that is singular and finally known.
As when water is truly free, when it has utterly escaped its constraints, it doesn’t take any shape it pleases, but only its most perfect one: the shape of a sphere. Like the perfect shape of any and everything stretching in its freedom, obedience relaxes into the shape of belief.
The men of the world must work to reeducate themselves into the children of God. They must forget that faith is other things and remember again that it is obedience. That "faith in" is almost utterly and completely and alone, "obedience to."
Only by retracing their steps through the garden; only by the will to sacrifice their own beneath the great trees of “Thy Will” and “Mine;” only by the purifying act of love itself may the brothers and sisters filling the void from the first Adam to the last discover the work of God is to believe in the one He has sent.
There are 1000 ways to die, but there is only one way to live. There are many ways to quit life, but only one way to remain in it; and that way lies the entrance to it. There are 1000 ways to die and to quit. And the Mausoleum of the Sick Who Thought They Were Well is filled with demoniac statues of quitters and busts of the dead; every hall and alcove displaying a mockery of humanity frozen in motion. In one stares the crazy face of the hedonist who quit life to pose for a dance of stone. In another lay the unconscious and the suicidal sleepers on beds of alabaster; eyes shut against the day to trick the moon to stay against her will. And in the center, his pedestal towering above the rest, stands the tyrant; one mighty hand upon his brother, the Stoic; the other on his son, the Rational Man; three grim faces set in marble; three pale shadows facing the darkness; devoid of light, each quits life to fight death.
It is interesting to me that one can come to trust certain authors, in the sense of trusting them completely. I have found a few I trust this way, as I am sure you have found many. I like many authors, some deeply. But not every author I like deeply, I trust deeply. For example, I have read a good bit of Nietzche now, and like him deeply—but I trust him hardly at all. Most fiction authors are the same for me: from the likes of King and Rowling to those of Steinbeck. They are making art, sometimes powerful art; art that I can greatly enjoy and find the deepest meaning. But still I don’t trust them. What I mean is, I would not be the least surprised to find one of their books entirely delightful or profound and the next one full of statements of belief, opinions, or views completely antithetical to mine. I would even expect it. (A notable exception is Bradbury. I find my trust for his fiction grows the more I read him). It seems, then, that my trust in the few authors I am about to mention is tied to the truth in them.
We share our trust of JP. His trustworthiness is not because of perfectness (he can’t seem to bring himself to confess Christ as his Lord even though he “can find no fault in him,” and I am now in a very different universe from him when it comes to evolution), yet I trust him fully. You may feel this way about Wright. I feel this way about Chesterton. What is common, at least to me, is that they seem more like traveling poets or Old Testament prophets. Speaking truth about life. About being. There is no other goal. They are not trying to get the reader or hearer to do anything, like other authors who beg, “Follow me!” while intellectually I understand them to mean: suspend disbelief—which is not belief! Belief is the obliteration of disbelief! No! These authors say, “Follow me” like Christ; fully commanding my belief before another word is spoken. My belief is prepaid. I am duty-bound. Like with St. Paul, if I do not understand him, what matter is that? My understanding has little to do with it. I trust him. My understanding will come through belief. I have found I trust George MacDonald in this way. Their Truth seeks and finds what was long forgotten in me; it is only that I needed to remember. I can trust now because of before; and after will be the same. They do not want anything except your life, except your being.
Jesus was sent to us, but we must come to him.
The Father sends his Son, but pulls his children toward the door at which the Son arrives and stands. The Father sends his Son to as many of His children as will receive him. He sends His oldest and wisest Son to gather his wayward brothers and sisters. To gather the children given him. But the children to whom the Son may go, are only the ones who will receive him. Of all the children of darkness, as many as can must first feel the pull of the Father toward something—the bright and shining daylight of the Son. And the Son is to lose none of all those he finds. But the ones He finds must first want to be found.
John 5 and 6! What are you supposed to do with this? What are you supposed to do with Jesus? Every so-called Christian should sit at the feet of these two chapters until they can find a way not to be offended by Christ or frightened to death of God. Not to move on to Paul’s love until they can withstand Jesus’s.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?”
It seems the eternal decree from God given to Noah after the flood was this: "Never will it be, never should you doubt that it might be, that punishment is a thing I do for punishment’s sake; as an ending; as the final stroke of My will; for My Glory alone. It isn’t. That is not the nature of My wrath anymore than it is the nature of My mercy. My wrath is not for the glory of justice in itself. For that would not be Just. My wrath is only for education; for learning; for betterment; for healing; for salvation; for bringing you out of death to Life; for bringing you out of anything else, including yourself, to Me. I will rain down, I will rain and rain and rain, I will flood every possible corner of your life, to the very point of complete destruction, if that is what it takes for you to look and live; to see My love."
A rainbow is a thing that—like the hope it represents—because it is seen for only a moment, seems only to exist for a moment. But this is exactly not the case. Because it is seen at all, even if for only a moment, a rainbow reveals what is always there, only waiting to be revealed by rain. A rainbow reveals the light. Every part of it, every wave a color of the visible world.
I think my brother in Christ and flesh was very onto something with an idea that hope emerges along with, or as a result of, collision. In his own facing-the-mirror story—which, after much reflection last night and today in the strange corners of that deepest mirror I beheld a similar moment of my own birth, or rather rebirth, of hope—there is a collision with self; a confrontation with self. Maybe the first true confrontation. Not merely of self with self. But of self with something else. Of self with the soul. Which forces a man to consider that hisself and his soul are not the same things. To see himself, not reflected, but trapped in the mirror; to see himself from the outside through the heart-eyes of his soul. To speak to himself from the outside, from that inner soul, to ears that must needs hear. And the message from the soul, repeated aloud in the form of a question by a self whose mouth speaks for the first time, to ears that hear for the first time is: “What if everything is my fault? What if everything I do is wrong?” And the soul begins to assume the position of master; and the self the position of the fool. There is a trading of places and the two are severed from each other because the truth was spoken by one and heard by the other. Known by one, not by the other.
And hope enters at the split. At the collision. At the annihilation. It is the first glow of the lone redeemer in the dust. For if everything I do is wrong, and yet something exists outside myself within me to tell myself this true thing; then, hope of all hopes! it might be true that outside myself and my wrongness—rightness may exist just about anywhere else. And if in my wrongness I despaired the goodness of God, then, Almighty Hope! His Goodness might be waiting just outside, at the deep center of all things.