Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Willing Suspension ~ Part III

Paranoia - In its more exotic flavors, it is taken to be a species of madness. You’ve observed the man, in fiction if not in life, who walks through the world with a heightened sense of his context, who seeks to discern hidden meanings in the trivial details of living. Why? Because this man believes that someone out there has designs on his life. Someone, he is convinced, is out to get him.

On the other hand, we who are sane know better. We understand that the happenings of our daily lives are largely arbitrary, that there really is no one at large choreographing the dancing particulars of our days. We are certain that nobody is behind the scenes steering us toward some great end.

Yes, that is the way the world works.
Or does it?

Ah, the clarity of madness! Is it not possible that the paranoid man in his delusion has cornered an element of truth that escapes you? Might it not be that the apparent soundness of mind you enjoy is masking a deeper reality? The answer, I’m afraid, is yes.

The further we wade into the great backstory of the world, the more apparent it becomes that the world is lit from behind with the light of a mind. Nothing is incidental or arbitrary. The long arc of history, of which your life is a part, is bending to some chosen end. Of course, contrary to the dark suspicions of the madman, neither the design nor the designer is sinister. (Then again, just between you and me, there’s a good chance he is, in point of fact, out to get you. Yes, I’m quite sure of it. So, go ahead, be appropriately paranoid.)

Now, if it were simply some kind of impersonal principle like fate at the rudder, you might be able to just shrug it off. But this is personal. This ship in which you find yourself as a stowaway isn’t being driven by the wind. There is a someone at the helm. Ours, you see, is a world that is shot through with intentionality, a world shaped by deliberation. Purpose plays across its surface and lurks in its depths. It is emphatically, intensely, unmistakably personal.

What bearing does this have on our conversation? We’ve spoken about the nature of the spiritual life, knowing and being known by God. And we’ve examined the call to believingly enter into the great story of redemption. This personal dimension is the connecting piece. You see, knowing God and owning this story are one and the same. For, believing and embracing this narrative is not simply a matter of assenting to the specifics of a plot - as vital as these are - but in entrusting yourself to a Person.

In John 10, where Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his people, he says something that, understood, is perfectly haunting: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them,” declares the Christ. If you ask me why, in the final analysis, I believe, it comes down to this - I recognize his voice. To be certain, I have looked at the evidence and do find it quite compelling, but, at the end of the day, it’s his voice that I cannot not hear and hearing believe.

To a certain extent, I think the magnitude of what Christ is can be felt even by those who do not finally come to him. Einstein once remarked: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers, however artful. No one can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

Examples of this could be multiplied endlessly. Augustine, who did come to believe in midlife, once said he had read all of the great men of antiquity, yet not one of them ever said, as did Christ, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” He was right. No man has ever spoken like this, and no other man credibly could.

Fourteen centuries later the eccentric and brilliant Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard spoke famously of belief as a kind of leap. In one place, he recounts his own experience saying, “I leapt from the precipice only to find myself caught - caught by a nail scarred hand.”

Kierkegaard was right, you know. Entrust yourself fully to this one, and you will find that your trust is well placed. For we who willingly suspend our disbelief find that there is one who willingly suspended himself between heaven and earth to reconcile God and man. It is he who permitted himself to be transfixed to the fourth wall, the boundary between our world and eternity, to the end that it might be done away with. And even now from behind the world he speaks.

Listen closely. You might just hear a voice you recognize.

1 comment:

  1. Where does one start...to hear the Voice?



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