Fear the Merciful God
CALEB JOSEPH WARNER
I don’t really know how to begin with this one, because I am afraid that if I mention what is in my mind, I am just going to repeat the refrain of my heart. And I have repeated it so many times before. But maybe it is the return to this place that shows devotion distinct from cloying repetition.
There is nothing more difficult to understand in your bones than what faithfulness to Jesus Christ means. Is faithfulness just consistency? Is faithfulness doing something grand with ambition? Does Jesus want from me some great work whether it be a decaying cathedral or undying novel, so he can earn a shoutout at the end of the introduction?
“I just want to thank my parents for this awesome thing I did, oh yeah, and Jesus. But most importantly, I want to thank myself, because at the end of the day I am the one that did all the work and feigned this inane humility and posturing that is at the heart of my false devotion. What is the point of bowing the knee to a God when you can perform the same great feat so easily without him? What is the difference between the man who builds a great work and devotes it to the Lord and the man who bows the knee to the Lord? If the only thing that distinguishes you from the man who hates God is saying that you have Jesus to thank for your unimportant, fecal glory, then you do not fear God.”
We do not show our devotion to the Lord by devoting our human glory to him. We do not show our devotion to the Lord by building pretty buildings and writing pretty novels and living a balanced life and going on diets and not watching too much television and cycling on the weekends instead of masturbating to pornography and enjoying time with people we get along with and being a human. These are human things, which means that they are free to all. Christians do not write better novels or make better buildings or watch less television or cycle on the weekends or know how to best parlay and untie abstract notions. Being a good human is not the exclusive purview of Christians, do you understand? There is a glory to being human, a fundamental glory inside us. And so there must be some other quality beyond this human glory that distinguishes the worshiper of a Lord from the glorious failure of fallen mankind.
Devotion to Jesus as Lord means that we sacrifice to him our fallen nature. That is what God came here for and that is what he wants. The Father demands our broken and contrite hearts. What do you think that means, you idiot? That he wants you to be really good and get good rest and cultivate your human glory by having good prissy taste in clothing or having an immaculate house or making a blockbuster with subtle themes of salvation and new life? Christians the world over are deeply disturbed human beings full of confusion and abounding in steadfast stubbornness, convinced that their little repetitious onanisms of pleasing themselves are like salvation to God. How we count our men before God, how we take comfort when someone says, “I am a Christian” or they say, “That author, I think he’s a Christian.” Who cares? Why are we comforted deeply when we hear that some famous person claims to be a Christian? Because our fear of God is motivated by our desire to please ourselves and what pleases us best is to get the sense that we are on the winning team. That is only one facet of this. We want to fight the culture war, we want Ireland to pass the right law on abortion and we want gay marriage to be abolished and we want the secular suckers to warm to our notions of Lord. We praise God for public intellectuals who are engaged in constant foreplay with the truth. We say, “Oh, Jordan Peterson, he’s close to God. It’s only a matter of time before he turns.” But do we care about the state of his soul or the state of our own assurance that some pagans somewhere are finally not conflating the historical fact of Jesus Christ with Scientology and Hinduism and other bullshit invented by fiction writers? We might jump out of our seats! It is Christians who are to blame for the crossed wires of fiction and reality. We are the ones who have clogged the pipes with superstition and fowl stories of levitating saints and miracles performed by the Holy Spirit and tsunamis provided by our Gob who is occasionally and inconsistently angry. It is no wonder that the world right now is full of bland and deaf secularists who think they have a good enough reason to reject the risen Savior, because they read somewhere in their reddit Sunday School Lesson that the Old Testament is weird or they have seen a meme about Jesus being a zombie or they have read a list of contradictions contained in the Bible as if they are the world’s wisest theologian and the first person to have ever read and interpreted successfully the most thoroughly investigated text of all human history. Unbelievers like this comfort themselves with their own half-houses of cleverness and the belief that they are on the winning team against superstition without first inspecting their own superstitions about the structure of reality and coherence. And many Christians are no less superstitious and unthinking, no less proud and unwilling to have the Lord Jesus change their ways. Before Christ, we bowed before our Gods of the Good Life and after Christ, we bow before our Gods of the Good Life still, moaning with little deaths, moaning, moaning, “Oh, thank you Jesus, thank you!” And would we be ashamed when this God whom we have devoted our good things to and have claimed is the one who has made it all work out flings us into accident and wrecks our life and takes our friends and rips our spouse’s face off? Are we going to say that God did that then, too, or are we too scared? Are we scared that perhaps God has not dealt favorably with us, scared that maybe God is not as good as we thought he was, scared that we have done the wrong good things? We are scared, because we have all our lives brought the good things to his feet, but have never and not once brought the broken and contrite heart to him. And so when our lives are ruined, because it is only a matter of time before all the lives of the faithful fall to ruin in this ruined world and ruined corpse given to traverse it, we feel alone. Because our God has left us, because our God was our own appetite. And you have all your life simply prepared yourself for denying the risen Savior when the shit hits the fan, because you have seen your glory and said, “This is the glory of God, I have God to thank for my good life.” But that glory was bound to decay, because it was not the glory of God. You worshiped the wrong God. You did not worship the God who can deal with ruin.
And I contain the worst of you, which is why I started writing this in the first place. I have been very bad and I require some force or God to loose me. If I continue on in my ways, I will die. Not only do I feel that my human glory has run out, my returns from my human glory are diminishing rapidly. When I have gotten myself into situations that require loosing, which is to say when I have rejected the risen Savior with my life and have bowed the knee before my own God of the Good Life, I need help. I need a good word. I need to reset the camera of my eye onto the panorama of hope. The hope my youth gives me is a kaleidoscopic and confused vision that only becomes more divided and fragmented every year. How beautiful is my flailing! And how excellent I can seem! But my greatest failure is always to go back to myself and say, “I must get this in order, I must return to my past visions and must get back to that place I don’t even remember the name of.”
I weigh where I am now with all the promise and clarity and unconscious virtue I felt I had at seventeen and I have been found measured and wanting and extremely tired.
Oh God help that bastard who says to himself, “I need to go back, I have fallen off the way, I need to return, I need to figure out what I’m doing, I need to set a plan and get my life in order, I need to see through the glass dimly, I need to predict the future, I need to be safe, I need to be my own God.”
Has that ever worked for you?
Devotion is not consistent goodness. Devotion refers to where you go when you are not good, when your glory has run out. Most people go back to their own glory, hoping that this fountain has more to give. It is easier when you’re younger, easier to convince yourself that there is still great potential in life. When you are young, you can still see how you could make a good life out of what has not yet happened. But when most of your life has already happened and all that potential has run out, when your life has been chronicled in stone and that life was a life of turning to your waning light, where will you go? What is the highest ground—the holy place untouched by flood? Even the floodwaters of death will cover over your liver-spotted wrinkled head. Death steals your crown of wisdom and your ambition and all that luck plucked off the vine in your early twenties. You’re not going to get away with it this time.
The only place to go is at the feet of Jesus. You can say your whole life that you should just forgive yourself. Give yourself a break. Relieve some of that tension and, dare I say, burden of being. Take a deep breath. Take a deep breath at the bottom of the ocean, let the water into your lungs, let go and let sink. Every time I forgive myself, every time I say, “Well, I still have time, I don’t need to hurry, I don’t need to rush. I can take a break here and there,” I am revealing even in this that I have not yet submitted to Jesus.
Who are the devoted?
They are the ones who when life grows into what it has always been, when the cicadas of terror have woken from their underground slumber, when they have lost track of their self-mythology, when they have failed, they with gum in their eyes from sleeping in past the glory of God go to the point of singularity and ask for forgiveness. The devoted receive forgiveness from the only one who can give it. And when the devoted have not sinned, but are tense and uncertain, it is still the forgiveness of the Maker that unbinds them. Why? Because forgiveness is not, like our fealty, some repetitious act he must perform for us. Forgiveness is total and lasting. And when the devoted are crushing their teeth in pain, they say, “Blessed is the one who has unloosed the world! Blessed is the one who has forgiven me and forgives me and will forgive!”
The devoted are set free from worshipping the aging, dying god of the self who doles out comfort with high interest rates. Coming back to this place of humility is not a cycle of failure nor is it the thing that holds us back from flourishing into the human glory promised, however little, by our humanity. Coming back to Jesus and receiving the Gospel, day after day, is the devotion required. This means that we are tired of helping ourselves, tired of striving, tired of a confused mind.
Even if the devoted are not living lives of sin or ongoing struggles or single sins, they know that when or if they do express their temporary fragility, they must go to Jesus. Jesus is the one who centers life, who is the point of singularity that unwinds into the fruit of reality. And we go to him every day and in every moment until there is no more apathy, no more striving, no more sadness, no more death, no more fear. To fear God means that we fear the greatest evil greater than the problem of evil or suffering. The devoted fear not knowing him and only knowing their own guilt for the rest of eternity. As it is now, we are safe from all fear and the terror of our fragmented selves. We are loved with a perfect love and love like this will restore this ruined world and unforgiving self.