Christianity is frightening. It is not for the timid.
The ancients knew they could not control their world and thus offered sacrifices to the gods in an attempt to exert some control.
We moderns have deceived ourselves. We think that we control ourselves, our environment, the things and even the people that surround us.
It is this, our self-deception, which makes Christianity so wild and dangerous.
That faith can be only the gift of God emphasizes the scandal of our human condition ~ the scandal of our absolute dependence on Him. I have to depend completely upon what very largely I do not know and cannot control. ~ H.A. Williams
This giving up of ourselves to that which we cannot control is terrifying. It is a blind leap into the void.
Yet our belief that we can have some control over our own lives is really just a shutting of our eyes to reality, a whistling in the dark.
We cannot control what happens to us. We are able to control only our response to what happens, and a giving over of ourselves to that which we cannot understand means giving over the only thing we are capable of controlling.
It is a giving up of all control. And in return, it is a wild kind of freedom, a dangerous adventure to which the ending is known but not all of the steps along the way.
It is invigorating, lavish, and exhilarating.
It is abundant.
Art credits: plaque depicting scene from the “Aeneid” by Sebastian Brant and Johann Grüninger ; rock garden photo by Jim O’Connor; photo of girl on edge of canyon by Edmilson Sanches
Formulas are nice when you want to control your results.
Living creatively is risky.
Yet the first thing that we are told about this God in whose image we are created is that He Himself is creative. He is a creator.
You can never tell what will come of living creatively. Even many who are courageous enough to practice an art form and share it with the world would prefer to live more formulaically.
Many of our choices in this life can be directly guided by what God says through His Scriptures. Am I angry with someone? I should not kill them. Do I see something I like in a store window? I should not steal it.
Yet there are so many other areas in our lives where we are asked to live as courageously as artists, to be riskily creative with our choices. We ask God where we should live, where we should go to school, whom we should marry, what sort of career we should pursue, how exactly we should parent our children, and we are dissatisfied with the answer that God can use us wherever we are and on whatever path we choose.
There are other, more specific situations, in which we long with all of our being to do the right thing, to obey God, to be like Jesus, yet that right thing is far from clear. This is where we yearn for a formula. We desperately want to be able to turn to a page, a verse, and get a specific answer for a specific issue.
We tell ourselves it is because we want to obey, yet perhaps it is often closer to the truth that we simply do not trust God’s Spirit in us. We do not trust that the Holy Spirit can guide us in the way that honors God. We are too fearful to take the risk of living like an artist.
I have been in the middle of just such a situation this week and have found myself searching anxiously for a formula to tell me what to do. I was attacked by a dog, a dog that is owned by a neighbor with a history of keeping dogs who have to be put down for attacking people.
Whether or not my neighbor knows God, I am not aware. What an amazing opportunity to make God known to her! And I live in a neighborhood filled with children. God asks us to protect the weak, to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
How can I do both of these things? How can I glorify God to my neighbor and protect the children of our neighborhood at the same time? Certainly an eternal soul is more important than any physical harm, yet God also calls us to work toward justice and the defense of the weak.
Part of the trouble that I (and most of you, I would wager!) like to know my path several steps in advance. Preferably enough steps in advance to allow me to see the end. I do not like walking forward when I can only see the space where my foot will land next.
I knew my next step. I knew that God was asking me to meet with the owner of the dog and just speak with her, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know what would happen after that. I wanted to see all the way to the end, to know how I would both protect the children and make God known to my neighbor.
God did not ask me to plan out all of my steps to the end. He did not tell me the formula I should use to accomplish both of these goals. He did not give me the task of making certain that everything was ordered perfectly in order to reach His aims.
He only asked me to do the first thing and to trust Him with the rest, to live creatively and allow the Spirit to guide me one step at a time.
So I did. I met with the dog’s owner without knowing what would come next. I took the risk of starting down this path, trusting that God will shine His light ahead when the time is right. I don’t yet know the ending to this story. I don’t know how God will work things out.
So I live like an artist, taking the risk to wait for His light without planning all of my steps to completion, knowing that God is far more able to control the ending than any number of formulas that I might follow.
Even though I still like formulas.
Art credits: God Creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars by Jan Breughel; Paint-by-numbers photo by Isabelle Bart; Christ with the Children by Carl Bloch; Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki
We are all walking wounded.
We have all been hurt. We have all been rejected. We have all offered our hearts only to have them thrust back into our faces.
Why would we continue to offer what no one seems to want? Why would we want to keep risking when we seem to receive so much hurt in return?
Why would we continue to make ourselves vulnerable, holding out our hearts in cupped hands, when so often the result is more bruising, more cuts, more places that will not heal?
Because this is what God did.
Yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son…
This. This is why.
God continually offers Himself to us. He offers us His heart.
God continues to offer what we don’t seem to want. He risks Himself and often receives hurt from us in return. He continues to make Himself vulnerable, holding out His heart to us while we simply thrust it back into His face.
While we were still sinners. When we were God’s enemies.
That was when He offered up His heart in the form of His Son.
And that is why we continue to offer our own hearts, to make ourselves vulnerable so that we can form the sort of community that demonstrates to the piece of world around us the immense and vulnerable way that God loves.
art credit: painting of Christ Crucified by Velazquez