January 24th, 2015
For the past month, I have been foaming at the mouth with the undeniable affliction of reality feeling different. Everything is different. And I call it an affliction, because unfortunately the words to describe an intense feeling of pleasure (the opposite of what we think I mean when I say “affliction”) are victims to meaninglessness. Euphoria, maybe not, but you know what I mean. I think what I am getting at is along the same lines as Flannery O’Connor (although she certainly did not invent the term) being obsessed with a “violent grace.” I have always been amused by irony on the crusty level, but in the deep core of my being, imbibed with paradox. And I think when I say that I am “afflicted” by change and when Flannery says she believes in a “violent grace,” we are really saying the same thing, which is that a revelation of stalwart truth forms the landscape of our mind in a split moment, like a flash flood or any catastrophe that afflicts a place which does not seem to deserve it. In a perspective overlooking stolid time, the unassuming do deserve the calamity of change. But wait, you say, no one ever deserves grace! No one deserves joy! No one deserves the refreshment of eyes that can handle the sight of change! The only thing anyone here deserves is death!
It brings to mind the phrase “I’m better than I deserve.” I know an older man who only ever says that when you ask him, “How are you?” Years ago, I adopted the phrase and use it whenever I remember to be thoughtful. But then, I heard some cynic (woe of woes!) say, “You deserve what God has given you, as a child of God.” And I thought about it, and realized, “No. As a child of God, I deserve death because I am a rebel. I do deserve death.”
But, sweet foundation-lady Paradox, we both know (don’t we now?), that we deserve death and also that we get what we deserve. And if some people receive grace, they deserved it, because they were not purchased under their own account. And because I am being purchased daily, this rebel, I feel the whiplash of joy that comes with it.
I don’t want to paint a picture of the Christian life that is one of bipolar sentimentalism. It is, however, one of being purchased daily. There is a man in the forum of Rome, with his stomach pushed on the edge of a wooden table, shaking his fist of gold coins (with the exact imprint of Caesar’s nature) at the man shaking his fist of door mice. Buying things can be exhausting. That is a little off-topic. Anyway.
I want to show that my life can often feel violent, that I can be hurt by joy, and that change is an affliction. And it has been written in the matrix of nature that there are four seasons with their dates. Click, click, the shifting gears grinding against each other.
But the violence of this all is not something situational. I am not afflicted by something that will pass. I am not only afflicted by change, lady Paradox (Lord Jesus, God-man). I am afflicted by a million things which, like the covenants under the Covenant of God with man, are simply the subsidiaries of the one major affliction of infinite God constantly pushing on this finite creature, Caleb, to comply with his will. That is the affliction. It is the affliction of infinite care. Why does an infinite God care to stoop down to my level and touch everything, not with the whimsy of Disneyland, but the terror of creativity and the wonder of being? Why does he let me see these things, to think his thoughts after him? How dare I, me and Isaiah ask of me in the corner, how dare I think I can come into the presence of a Holy God amidst every created thing holding up the boundaries of his pleasure? That is what creation is, isn’t it? Creation is the set of boundaries God laid down, not to demonstrate that it was his limit, but rather that the finite, the limited, the present, the we, deserve a place in his story. We, the creatures, belong to him and so he gave us a playground we could mess around in, one that is not infinite (he has his own; it’s called the Trinity), but set according to our created natures. The finite get finite pleasures.
And that is the beauty of the resurrection life, I suppose. There will no more be a constant affliction of something that is improbable–an infinite willing love pressed upon cute-faced rebels who even forget their plans of rebellion–and there will instead be the total obviousness we will all feel of his every thought being available to us. It will take the rest of our lives unraveling the boundless creations he has thrown out.