Friday, February 13, 2009

the chaos around the corner


i wanted to follow-up on my recent post about the human condition. in that post i made the point that the life-soup in which we find ourselves is little more than chaos. i thought i would like to dig deeper here, explaining what i meant by the word.

of course, my view of the universe is informed by my own life-experiences and perceptions, how could it be otherwise? and what i have found is that humanity -- my own and everyone else i've ever met -- is both dramatically beautiful and profoundly marred. i suspect this is your experience as well.

it's like you own a rich and beautiful dinning room table. it's a deep, multi-grained wood that shines with elegance. there is only one problem. down the middle there is a deep, jagged gash right through from side to side. you can see what the table once was, you can see the beauty, but the cut is deep and ugly. this is humanity.

said another way, people are capable of wonderful acts of kindness and beauty, and yet those same people are also capable of monstrous evil. and these acts are our choice. that is, we are here thrown upon the earth -- no choice there -- and we are all of us beings-toward-death -- no choice there, either -- and yet we are quickly called upon to make something of this life we've been given through our choices. and, it is with these choices that we create this life-soup that i have called chaos.

but this is not all. add to these choices the reality of natural disasters, and the chaos gets even deeper. for example, on january 1, 2002, a good friend of mine, the reverend stan jones, was returning home with his family from a new year’s eve celebration. in the wee hours of the first day of the year they were traveling on a deserted road when a 100 year old tree fell, crushing them, killing stan, his wife, and two of his three children. chaos, i say, chaos. of course, this is only my viewpoint, but i wonder, is there another that explains the facts?

what i am actually here doing is making an argument for a view of the universe that does not include a sovereign God, at least not in the sixteenth century sense of the word. i am saying that this world is set off with its rules and forms (some of which literally crush us) and we are set in it both with the freedom to make of life what we will and the responsibility for what we make. and God, also by their free choice, does not pre-ordain or override our choices, but instead works with us, both within and through those choices.

so, this world -- both morally and aesthetically -- could be whatever we choose to make it; and what have we chosen? we could have a clean environment, but we are consistently choosing to destroy the natural world. we could have a peaceful existence, but instead we consistently chose otherwise (additional examples could be endlessly multiplied). this is what i meant by the life-soup of chaos, or what the old timers called total depravity, by which i mean we are not as bad as we could be (things could always get worse; we could always be worse), but rather our entire humanity has been marred by wrong, selfish choices.

it seems to me this is the only conclusion, unless you are willing to make God the author of all events and therefore the author of evil. a conclusion to which i am not yet willing to succumb, even in my steep need for security.

but, think of this. if we are free to choose, we could also make choices, at least in our little place, and even at this late date, which stand against the push of evil. in fact, a good argument could be made that we are responsible to make such choices.

whenever i think in this regard -- standing against the chaos -- i'm reminded of camus' famous essay called, the unbeliever and the christian. i find his words deeply provocative and challenging, especially one statement. camus writes:

"Hence I shall not, as far as I am concerned, try to pass myself off as a Christian...I share with you the same revulsion from evil. But I do not share your hope, and I continue to struggle against this universe in which children suffer and die."

the implication, of course, is that those with hope do not continue to struggle. that somehow hope cuts the nerve of anger and rage against the night. is this fair? asked another way, because i choose to be a christian with hope for a future beyond our current chaos, do i continue the struggle in the now?

each must answer this for themselves, but i would argue that the struggle -- the fierce push against the forces of death and destruction -- at least from a christian point of view, is the ground of the kingdom of God. for example, one need only sit a few times across the table, as i often have, with those who are freshly told they are dying, to see the utter and stark battle for meaning being waged there, and the utter and stark solitude of this moment.

said another way, when the christ offers life he offers new life -- that is we reinterpret our biography, and he offers a new way to live -- that is we are offered an affirmation of this one life we have and we are offered a calling to make it better for ourselves and those around us.

thus the kingdom struggle is a struggle to be a witness, to be on vigil with the other, to stand with them in their moment of terror or grief. and it is also uniquely this: a steep push against the forces of darkness. that is, for the follower of the jesus-way, the kingdom is about the other.

let me end (finally) by repeating what i said in that previous post: ...if the human condition is chaos then the ways of the christ are not meant to sustain us in safety, but instead [they] are meant to enable us to stand in the very midst of the hellish suffering we see everyday, both in the ones we love and in ourselves. another way to say this is to say that the kingdom of God is the fierce fight we wage against these forces of chaos. [here] no single person prevails, but the king will see to it that all of us prevail, someday. this is the blessed hope, and without that hope there really isn't much to what we say we believe.