Vile idols are not the ones to worry about (everyone, except for those of the most infantile character, knows what a vile idol is). It’s the idols that are good and right—the idols we our intellectual and enlightened selves call good and right—that are cause to worry. Because they are not good and right. They are idols. Made by man. Hence, they will fail. And even though we know this, we follow these man-made things anyway, claiming we are “following God.” The great lie: We are pretending priests, joyously singing to our beautiful god who sprang up in the garden this morning, even though we put him there last night.
But God doesn't spring up in the garden. Man does.
God can not be created by man. Man is created by God.
Only God is good and right.
Only God never fails.
Sacrificial systems stabilize society. Anywhere there have ever been humans this has been true.
But almost as soon as they do, they destabilize, because the system and all within it fall under the spell of a simple but powerful illusion:
Sacrifice must have a reason.
To sacrifice, to give, to do anything, to release energy in any form must have a reason. And the reason is getting. Therefore the motive force in the universe for giving energy away is getting. The math is: "If I give, do, say, release x...I'll get y." And the corollary: "I will sacrifice a today"...why? for what reason?..." for the promise of b tomorrow."
In the beginning, this divinely straightforward equation, as clear and simple as the bite of an apple, sits comfortably in the pit of our cosmos propelling existence into the future. But before long, a sacrificial/societal system emerges which can only exist for one thing: itself, as it consists of individuals who can only exist for one thing: themselves. By flawless arithmetic the soul is hollowed in exchange for technological gadgetry ejected all around. And yet we know as we stumble over enlarging piles of science and circuitry that some vital miscalculation has occurred. Some essential variable has been left out of our chronic transactional machine. And everyone, captivated by the math, yet unaware of its entropic effect, drifts like sediment towards zero.
Inevitably the stable society which, by definition, promises a benevolent future to its inhabitants, grows into a transactional god ninety cubits high. A thing of solid gold demanding each bow down to the sound of its drums and sacrifice if he is to receive its gifts.
But what about the God of reality? The Jesus of “you will always have later, but you will never have right now again.” What about the God whose pleasure descends as light and fire today upon a living alter bloody with faith--which is sacrifice beyond reason--consuming all within its radius? What about the God of spontaneous, simultaneous, and coexistent sufficiency? When the proper sacrifice is made to the God of reality: which is to give pointlessly, give unreasonably, give only for giving itself, give all, and give best, expecting nothing in return—then stability does not abound...love does. And then not merely a stable society manifests, but rather a Promised Land gushing with milk and honey.
Good and evil are not the same as love and hate. If one can be loving about evil, he can just as easily be hateful about good.
And maybe now that I think about it: to be one is to be the other.
Being like a Berean is like being in love.
But not in love with knowing, which is being right; but rather the opposite: being in love with not knowing, which is probably being wrong.
It’s like being in love with a person.
Like Solomon’s beautiful personification of Wisdom.
To be in love with a thing or a bit or a fact is to be in love with something dead. But it is better to be in love with something alive.
Better to be in love with life.
The adversary of existence wagered that if God’s hedge of protection was removed from a certain man, exposing him to pain and suffering, God, as a useful concept for making life worth its existence would become useless. God would progressively hide from him and as a result the man would curse existence itself. But the adversary miscalculated. Because for a man like Job, exposure to suffering did not hide a revealed God, rather it accomplished the exact opposite: it revealed the hidden God.
Through suffering Job was forced to confront his concepts of God versus the actual God.
As Job was sitting in the ashes of his life, scraping his sores with potsherds he was finally brought into an unhedged view of God. He and he alone.
In the cosmic court room, there is God and you. That’s it. When the verdict is given—the truth spoken aloud—Job walks out of the courtroom into new life. A life marked by understanding.
The raising of the bronze serpent is a story about getting exactly what you want; then, once you've finally got it, feeling that what you got turned out to be a kind of a rip-off, and complaining bitterly about it. It is a massively pivotal story revealing the profound relationship between people's suffering, their complaining, their guilt, and the truth.
In the desert, the Israelites are attacked by snakes, as the story goes, because they were complaining about life. When they admit they were guilty of complaining, they ask God to take away their newer, more profound suffering. But He doesn't. He doesn't just simply remove it. Why?
Maybe let's start with guilt. Something I'm very familiar with:
Guilt is just a 5 letter word. Words are just words. They don’t mean anything in and of themselves. Go ahead. Say the word "Guilt!" fifty times in a row and soon it loses its meaning and becomes what it actually is: just sounds my mouth, breath, and vocal cords make. Words don't point to themselves; they point to something behind them. In the same way, the snakes biting you presently are not there to point out your guilt for hating your circumstances earlier—but rather to point you to the truth behind them: when you hate your circumstances, which IS the life God gives you, then you hate God-- the true guilt. Not that you are doing a contemptuous thing in your complaining, but that you are contempt itself. Not that you are guilty, but that you are guilt itself. The snakes are there to make you aware of who and what and why you are.
Guilt, simply as a word or a concept—as something you think and talk about—only leads to absolving your responsibility by giving it away—to what? To society? To the “father"? To the air?
You can’t hate life and at the same time love God. You can’t hate life and ask for mercy. You can’t ask for mercy from the judge while hating his stupid court. Just what exactly is your crime? Do you even know what you’re guilty of?
Complaining? Hmm? About what? Chances are whatever it is...its life. But when life comes along and delivers a real smashup—real pain—something to really cry about—when the thin shell you’ve been stomping around on, warming with the fire of your hate, suddenly cracks open and out crawls a thousand crocodiles to snap your hands off along with your nice wristwatch—then what? Then maybe you realize you have something to do with the fertilization and gestation of crocodile eggs. So now backed in a corner, inches from death, you admit your guilt and beg for life? But from who? From the life you hate? The god you hate? The sun? The moon? Parking spots? Telemarketers? Loud dogs? Overcooked meals? Every person you’ve ever rolled your eyes at? The stars or sky or clouds? Who?
And why would God suddenly hear your words instead of your heart? The mouth cries, “Help me! I’m sorry! Take away this pain! I’m dying!" While the heart secretly whispers, “Take away my responsibility.” Yet remember: God is a whispering God; which means he also must have excellent hearing.
In the story of the bronze serpent, the Israelites admit their guilt for hating yesterday's circumstances and then plead for today's circumstances to be removed; and it is fully expected. But apparently God hears a secret hidden in the Trojan horse of their words to remove their responsibility--to not face exactly who and what they are.
However responsibility isn’t a thing that can be removed. It is the ability to respond. How can any conscious being avoid that after all? It is reality. In the same way suffering is. They can’t be avoided. Rather they must be incorporated—ingested. They must both be faced voluntarily and accepted--not as something that should be done or even could be done; but rather as an impossible thing that somehow must still be done. That’s just the way it is. Responsibility and suffering go together. Like inside and outside. Two sides of the same coin. The cross and the serpent. The problem and its answer. Each only goes away when they are forged into one in the crucible of the willing heart.
Do not rely on Pharaoh.
Do not rely on Pharaoh to give you what you want.
Because silly! It’s not about getting.
Life takes everything you’ve got anyway.
So give it all now, at the beginning. In every moment you get to choose your sacrifice. The beautiful marvelous gift IS the choice.
“Thou mayest conquer it.”
I’m still on Jeremiah, nearing the end. I had this thought today (and is quite clear, to me at least, when reading him now): All throughout, Jeremiah is speaking about psychology and spirituality. He uses the outside world and circumstances of nations to directly point out the individual’s inner spiritual exile. He is exactly saying that your circumstances, all of them, as far into the wide world as you can imagine, are not telling you something about the state the world is in...they are telling you something about the state YOU are in, as deeply IN as you can imagine. These are the same thing! Jeremiah sees no difference between the two.
"I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind blows."
I don’t need rules to know how to follow them. If my heart is right, the rules follow me.