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 modern Christian man’s delight in a 9 year-old child’s “decision for Christ” and the associated “baptism”—and I claim this, not as theology; nor any other kind of “-ology;” I only claim it as a human being—is a feeling less like delight and more like relief. The relief of something finally finished rather than finally begun. The relief of catching a child just before he tumbles out of the golden arms of paradise onto the painful rationality of adulthood, rather than the delight of letting a child go; of watching him fly brightly on his own; plotting his course courageously and with spirit across a jagged landscape. There seems a desperate relief in this strange “decision”—a finality. It reveals something about us, below what we can see. Perhaps, having ourselves forgotten the way back, it is an unconscious, last ditch effort to trap the child in the sinless land before he wanders away. Perhaps, although too frightening to ponder maybe, perhaps we are welcoming him with open arms into the trap in which we ourselves stepped. Or perhaps it is a vain, blind, inverted attempt to scrape the last of his golden light into his pocket; maybe one day to use again to find his way back.
“Enjoy your cake!”
"A warm welcome!"
--In reality, freezing the child before he steps out of the Kingdom of God rather than into it.
All the anxious adults ply the children with axioms written on the ancient door that separates them. Axioms written in runes the adults themselves no longer understand and no longer speak. This door, at which all have gathered yet none understand—the children on one side, the adults on the other— opens upon the broken kingdom of religious rationality, rather than the Kingdom of God. And the parents, the grandparents, the prophets, and the priests lean close, whispering to the children through the door, “Can you hear me? I know you’re in there! I can feel you just about to come out! Do you trust me? You do? Then, just say the words. Did you say the words? You did? Well then, you made it!” And as the children, now “accountable,” step into their dusty and fearful arms, the exit from Paradise clangs shut. And the words “NO WAY BACK” glow briefly in the moonlight before fading into inexplicable symbols once again. With a strange and hopeful relief, the family turns and walks away.
Jesus is my best friend.
Because he is the best kind of friend. He’s says hard things. True things. True things are hard things. Harder than diamonds. They have to be so they can split coconuts. So they can split the hardest heads before the hardest heads split everything else.
What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?
Heck if I know.
All I know is the collision between myself and the hardest thing left a crater a thousand miles wide, east to west. And the person who walked out found existence softer and easier than he ever imagined. He could somehow feel the earth again in his fingers. A new ability to flex; to bend but not break.
Is your life half gone?
“When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools.”
That is the fate of the man who gained riches by unjust means.
It is speaking of false character and false spiritual wealth—NOT material wealth. That is exactly Jeremiah’s point. We think we understand the difference between material and spiritual worth. But we fail to understand that ANY worth we give to our “material world” (in essence, “what ‘matters’ to me”) comes from somewhere. We fail to understand that we siphon DIRECTLY from what really matters. We are stealing treasure from somewhere we can’t even see. And then, when we finally look back—because we sense the hollowness underneath—we see that our true treasure chest has been emptied out. We are like the baron stealing oil from underneath the preacher’s neighboring land in “There Will be Blood.” We are actually both those characters. The false preacher winds up empty; equally as impoverished as the oil baron.
Jeremiah is saying that when you polish your character (or soul) as a thing outside of you, and believe it can be improved and maintained by a false morality—you are LYING to yourself; stealing from yourself. The worth you stored up within material wealth built up over half a lifetime turns out sadly to be your worth—even worse, it turns out to be you! And when you reach out, it sublimates away because there was nothing there. You had foolishly poured your worth into thin air.
The last chapter of Genesis concludes the story of life. It deals with a question. Maybe the ultimate question: Do you trust life? Or do you mistrust life?
For the anxious man, the obvious answer is to be generally suspicious of life because it is out to get him--to hurt and kill him. And his healthy suspicion of life keeps him safe from...well, life. If the suspicious man wants to live--and by "live" he universally means “a long time"--then he will bend all his attention in service of safety, protection, and security so as to remain alive.
So if the anxious man's fundamental view is that life can not be trusted, and since God IS life, then the dark secret beneath his ground is that God can not be trusted. And because this man is made in the image of God, then his God’s fundamental view must obviously be that man can not be trusted.
Again, if you are suspicious of the life God gives you; it is only fitting that God must be equally suspicious of the life you give him.
But wait…that can't be right...because all relationships are built on trust. Truth, trust, is PRECISELY what binds two into one—moreover inextricably defines it: two things bending and flexing, opposites moving and dancing, juxtaposed voices singing in harmony. This is a reality that, technically speaking, can not be broken. The only way to break it is to hide that reality under the darkness of an idea; a thought; an illusion: the only one I can trust is me.
So what is the proper vision of life?
The anxious man claims:
“The best thing I can do with something I have a relationship with (a system, a morality, a polity, a person, a faith, a view of the world, an idea, a God) is use it to tell me whether or not life is behaving as I expect. It extends the vision of my eye over an ever-sweeping arc that pays attention to this suspicious world so I can be a good ruler of the living; rather than a good savior of the dying. My world, and hence God’s world, is made up of rule followers and rule breakers. That’s it. Obviously what I can not see can not be trusted."
If the suspicious man asks himself, What is going on behind my back?
His basic assumption is: It can’t be good.
He is like Jacob in the last chapter of Genesis ordering his beautiful son Joseph to spy on his brothers. He does not trust the world--he does not even trust his own children. "Brotherhood may be a fine dream, Joseph, but brothers need to be watched."
If this is your view of Life; then this is your view of God. And your philosophy of life is a kind of totalitarianism.
But that is not God’s view life... or you.
God is truth. Which means God is trust.
God is life.
Trust life. He trusted you with His.
"Christianity" is not a Life 360 app (in the same way a parent is not an "all-seeing eye"). It is not an “application”—an external thing that applies only when you open it up. If so, then it is just one more technically complex hieroglyph to interpret incorrectly, view sporadically, and then use tyrannically. If so, it only increases anxiety and mistrust.
Christianity IS life; in the same way "to parent" is to bring forth life--rather than inspect, or suspect it. It courses through every fiber. To fully utilize this marvel; you can not simply turn it on and check on other’s locations compared to your own—and then call that true, and right, and safe, and good—THAT’S WRONG! Believing that WHERE someone is, has ANYTHING to do with WHO someone is: that is a lie; and one everybody begins to believe. That my position relative to you, tells me who I am and where I am relative to God? That’s the exact trap Moses laid for himself: a stranger herding sheep that weren’t his own. You must go. You must journey to Egypt and do battle. You must uncover the Rosetta Stone engraved upon the heart! The secret stone which interprets all hieroglyphs, all complexities. That stone—that key— is what you give your children. It goes inside and turns locks. It works inside out—not outside in. It fills every crevasse of their world; reaching into places you can never go; telling them who they are no matter where they are.
1 Corinthians 14:20
When it comes to evil, be an infant. Paul echoes the second half of Job’s pivotal, two-part, life-changing verse on how to begin standing up under the weight of life: shun evil. Evil is base. Basic. Evil concepts, attitudes, and behaviors are the most readily detectable and therefore avoidable spirits of one’s soul. Like the ground is more familiar than the stars; such is man's lowness more familiar than his heights. And for the man reborn; the Job who lifts his eyes from the ashes into new life; who innocently crawls towards his bipedal humanity: though he may not yet understand all that is good…all that is truth…at least he understands (without being told and from the beginning) what is lie; what is evil.
But beyond evil, when it comes to thinking, be an adult. Paul encourages that when one comes across a challenging and paradoxical concept in one’s life--in one’s theology, in one’s psychology, in one’s religion, in one’s spirit-- and thinks, Man, I don’t like to think about that! I don’t want to go there! : don’t shun it. That is exactly where one must go. Otherwise at the crossroads of indecision, the moment one selects the path he prefers, he rejects all others. And Paul, the once great and mighty hand of judgement for well-worn pavement, reminds us that walking along unwanted paths and in fields that are “not mine” is the one who stumbles upon buried treasure. Again and again, within deeply mined quarries scarred with years of excavation, it is among the rejected where the cornerstone is found. Go there to build temples.
And everybody looks at each other to see themselves, to figure out who they are—what they must look like—on the inside. But they don't realize it; even as they unconsciously glance at their own reflections throughout the day. Everybody wants to see and be seen; to know and be known. Which means everybody is at once both blind AND invisible; both unknowing and unknown. Deep down everybody just wants to be here. Be alive.
But nobody sees these mirrors. Only vague shapes covered with cloth. With two tiny slits cut in the cloth for eyeholes. Everybody hides beneath their cloth; peeking out. Hide and seek. Can you find me? Oh, no! Don’t find me! I can’t find myself! Who are you? Who am I?
Cloth and two slits. And what’s important is to never let anyone discover who’s really looking out.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into the lounge where I work to get breakfast and I realized this about people and mirrors. There were two people on the other side of the breakfast table. They were studying. I had met them a couple of times already. Briefly. They were medical students. They were both girls. They were quiet, but tense in a “Boy, I just want to make it through another day,” kind of way. They looked at me. And I at them. Their eyes, peeking out of those slits in the cloth.
I see you. Who are you? Who am I?
I looked at them out of my own slits, sat down to start eating, and started talking about nothing really. One of the girls was Vietnamese. I told her I knew ten words in Vietnamese that were not curse words. “I know how to count one through ten.” I stumbled through them like a bad circus act. She said how her language barrier sometimes made it hard to translate the most complicated words, so she had to learn how to communicate difficult things using simpler words and come at the subject from different directions. And I was like, “I love that! That’s perfect!” We talked about how people really like to understand what you’re saying, and you can tell because their anxiety vanishes in the wind, and a smile pops out.
Our talking continued. I didn’t want anything. I just wanted to talk. We talked about life and what I learned about patients and people and myself. And how, not very long ago, I didn’t really like people, and I had gotten myself into a real hard place in life. And I was miserable. And I began to discover some things.
One of things was: I wasn’t very good at telling the truth.
The slits on my cloth ripped open a little wider. Letting in more light. Letting out more light. They’re looking at me now, you see. Staring. No one is moving. I talked about what not being truthful meant in my life and how it came to be that I began to see how destructive it was to my soul and to the the people I cared about. I talked about how you can have all these wants, and desires and goals and then wake up one day and somehow you’ve turned out to be a bad husband. A bad father. A bad human. A kind of “un-human.”
The opening in the cloth is gaping. I am emotional. They are emotional. One of the girls keeps dabbing at her eyes.
There you are. What do you see? Who are you? Who am I?
Pretty soon, the mirrors are uncovered. And now there are three mirrors all facing each other across a breakfast table—a holy space— reflecting endless patterns back and forth. Me you. You me. Light shining. Mind-boggling.
We talk about many things. I tell about how one of the things I think Jesus really offers is how to be a real human being. How to wake up and live. Right now. How to change from a wooden boy in to a real boy.
One of the girls says in a kind of awe, “What is going on here?”
And the other girl, the Vietnamese girl, says quietly as she keeps dabbing at the place her slits used to be, “I know, this is so…healing.”
Truth always comes to a head. A point. Like Nathan Jessup couldn't about himself--we can’t handle it. Like not being able to handle snakes. But to live again, you must be able to. And will be able to.
I was the governor of my province. And everything was jacked up. Everything was in turmoil.
All my decisions seemed to make it worse.
Then at the very end. When the foundations were trembling. When it was critical and the heat was on; I got out of the limelight; away from the crowds; into the back room of myself. The judge's chambers—the green room. That place no one else enters. The ego’s lair. Behind the wizard’s curtain. And in that quiet place, guess who was in there? Jesus. It turns out he had been trying, all this time, to save my world; but man, he was bloody and beaten to a pulp—bound with cords. And there was this other voice in that room. One who would do everything to stroke my ego—to keep it safe. One who “cared about Me.” It whispered in my ear, “Get out of here! Now! You do not want to confront this!”
Then. I spoke.
“See! The truth is...the truth is…See, I know what the truth is! It was everybody else that...They deserve…Now look, I know what I’m saying! I’m in control! I didn’t hurt anybody! The reason all this is happening is...What happened was...the truth is...the truth is…the truth…
...What is the truth?”
And as he was dragged out, back into that other place—that front place—where life actually happens--leaving me in silence, Jesus did not speak. Just left this question ricocheting off the walls of that far back room:
“You’re the governor. The top of the rule of law. You control judgment. You sit at the judgment seat. You’re making all these decisions out in the light of day. You decide who lives and dies; and back here...back behind it all...you don’t know what truth is?”
Error:_Danger Will Robinson.
Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.
Does not compute. Does not compute. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Does not compute. Does not compute. Does not compute...
Operating System Malfunction.
Error. Fatal error.
Because an alive 42 year old person should know what the truth is. Right? Uh oh. Oh no. It just might be that I’m not alive. That I don’t even know how to live.
Sick. Paralyzed. Lame. Blind. Dead. Desperate. Cold. Empty.
And then one fine day, like a fish out of water, gasping for my last breath, eyes wide and dilated, moaning, catatonic; floating in the surf; I listlessly bump up against something. And Jesus looks down and says gently, “hey, look who finally washed up at my feet.”
God is saying to the Israelites through the symbol of Moses’s raised serpent, “That feeling of discomfort slithering and squeezing around your midsection is a sign of undealt with truth in your life. All those parts of your world you once felt ok ignoring...denying—have become obstacles—a sign of your unredeemed state—your suffering highlights your need for salvation. They—the undone things—have turned your landscape into a place where you can no longer peacefully ignore; no longer make things irrelevant. This desert of discomfort is not a place of peace. It is a place of broken relationships littering the ground around you—a place of not working on what you are supposed to be doing —of not becoming what you always should have been—of truths avoided; not ‘faced.’ I will not help by ’taking it away,’ I will help you by drawing your eye sharply to where you need to look the most—to the point of truth. If you really want help, it’s time to look here—to face the snake. Here is the hope lying within. I promise you, you can do it. I have created you to be able to handle snakes."
Can you sense the relief that the problem is actually you? For if the world is the problem; then that is hopeless.