For me, the best part of writing this blog has been receiving the comments, including the rich offerings that began with the entry If it’s not a club, what is it? and went way beyond it.
I am still pondering Hamish’s statement that “it is only at the moment of desperation, when self-sufficiency is abandoned, that salvation becomes necessary and community becomes possible,” and what it means for independent, healthy, middle-class me – although Paul points the way, as does Allan in his alleycat blog.
And I now think all the time about Clark’s (the mystery contributor’s) interpretation of “being saved” as “being free.” Both Jesus and St.Paul draw the same parallel as Clark did, reminding their Jewish listeners of how God saved them from slavery in Egypt. But somehow, the word “saved” has become rather stale and static for many Christians – and almost meaningless for non-Christians.
The word “free” on the other hand, is dynamic and life-giving. I have a photo of working-class girls and women playing jump rope on a city street – a delightful picture of a joyful community at play. The caption is a line from a poem, “that thrilling free feeling of feeling free-wheeling.”
I know that free feeling, and I know what thwarts it. The generic term is being “a slave to sin,” but for me it’s the specifics that hit home. It’s the burden of comparing myself to others or worrying about what others think (as St. Paul asks, “Why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?”) It’s being a slave to my inner task-master, or to convention, or to habit, or to my off-and-on addiction to the screen.
I know for others, the enemy of freedom is about money and security. I remember my colleague Brigitte observing, “The opposite of rich is not poor. The opposite of rich is free.” And it is also true that the opposite of poor is not rich. It is also free.
It’s no wonder that St. Paul reminds us that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” – freedom for its own sake! – and then warns, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
The parable problem
Which leads me rather indirectly to Richard’s comment. I don’t know the answer to Richard’s questions – I want to thing more about them myself. But I do have some thoughts about the “questions behind the questions,” which I believe are, “Why can’t Jesus just come right out and explain things? What kind of teacher keeps things deliberately vague and unclear? “
Jesus does not call himself a teacher, and discourages others from doing so. He doesn’t call himself an artist either, but He acts like one. Poets, painters and playwrights don’t blurt out their message in a sentence or two, or even in a closely-reasoned analysis. They can’t. Their message can only be conveyed through imagination and experience.
I think it’s the same with Jesus. Jesus says, as Richard notes, that faith is fundamental to a relationship with God. But faith does not come through knowing the rules, or knowing who is in and who is out. Rules can prevent destructive behavior and prompt decent action, and the Old Testament gives us those. But simply knowing the rules also breeds judgement and a false sense of control.
If we want to move from slaves to sons, as Christ says, then we need a different sort of relationship with God — one with more freedom, and a deeper understanding of God’s perspective.
Rules and definitions can’t give that understanding. Instead, they stop the action by giving us a false sense of security. Jesus keeps the action moving. To the beleaguered, He says, “only believe.” Simple trust is good enough. But He doesn’t let the rich young man be satisfied with just believing. He calls him to go deeper: “sell everything you own.” It’s another sign that Creation is not just a one-time event. God is constantly creating in us, and calling us to do the same.
The other problem with rules and definitions is that they are inevitably partial and misleading. To draw on the Shakespearian analogy I’ve used before, how can Shakespeare accurately explain his creative process to Hamlet, and the part Hamlet plays in it, without destroying Hamlet’s illusion that he is an entirely autonomous being? How can Hamlet understand that his life has been programmed by a person not yet born, for the benefit of an audience he does not, and can never, know? Could Hamlet and the Danish court carry on, knowing their every word was being put into their mouths, and these words were in a language they, as Danes, did not speak? There are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your philosophy indeed!
Shakespeare doesn’t break into Elsinore to reveal himself, as God does in our world. But if he did, I think the truest explanation would be, ”Hamlet, you’re like a character in a play.” The analogy is truer than the explanation.
I’ve cut out so many things I wanted to say that I wonder if my thoughts even make sense. But enough.
Friends, you’ve had a chance to read the comments from Dan, Hamish, Richard, Clark and Paul. What is your response to the issues they raise?