God and earthly things

I have been reading in Joe’s blog again, a few of the posts from early October.

A recurring theme is the desire or the call to wait in silence for God only — in other words, to have all the trust and dependence and hope and desire aimed at God, not at earthly things.

This sounds good and feels right in crisis — when earthly things are failing rapidly and miserably, when disappointment is keen and ever-present. When earthly things are obviously in opposition to trust in God, well, it’s easy to see the opposition. It’s not always easy to choose God, but it’s at least clear that a choice needs making.

On the surface, it sounds like a total rejection of the world and earthly things, as if matter and flesh and bodies and pleasures and pains were evil. As if one should never go to or trust a doctor or any other professional, or a friend or family member. As if the only possible spiritual life is a desert mystic hermit’s life of isolation and separation.*

I don’t think Joe means it quite in that way. I think he’s talking about ultimate trust, ultimate desire, and so on — the creature, created things, are good when they are in their right place in our hearts — not first, as replacing or displacing God, but second, as his good gifts.

At times, there are real goods in earthly things — sometimes friends show real kindness and love, sometimes strawberries taste fantastic, sometimes doctors diagnose correctly and treat effectively and sickness yields to medicine.

At times, earthly things fail or disappoint — all creation is affected by the fall and the subsequent curse.

Somehow, the key seems to be to accept the good and the bad among earthly things as reality, as provided by and presided over by God, whose purposes cannot be thwarted, and whose goodness and love are trustworthy.

That’s not to say that good and bad are meaningless categories. Call the pleasure pleasurable and thoroughly enjoy it (but don’t pin your hopes on it or demand that it last forever or think that it’s the ultimate good or the fountain of life). Call the pain painful and don’t try to escape or transcend or deny the suffering (and don’t pin your despair on it or believe it will last forever or think that it’s your ultimate doom).

Over and over again, God is revealing to me lately how skeptical and afraid I am about him — how much I fear that perhaps he isn’t good and loving after all. I fear that I only believe in his goodness and love because I want to. I fear that the evidence for his goodness and love is not actually there, or is ambiguous, or is contradicted by evidence that seems to suggest his injustice, hatred, or non-existence. Or that his goodness and love are no goodness or love I would recognize as such, but the “goodness” and “love” offered by an abuser.

*Often, when I consider a deeper commitment or surrender or relationship with God, I fear that I’ll become uninteresting to or uninterested in my friends and other earthly things. I think the truth is that I would become more interesting to and more interested in them — provided the commitment, surrender, relationship, was real and not just religiosity. How is it done? Wait in silence for God only, I suppose.

———

I read one more post, and once I finish this comment I’m off to bed.

Joe writes about needing authorization to come through so that he could get his chemo pills, and how he had visions of kicking down doors to demand justice, while his wife was trusting God instead.

How do you know when kicking down a door might not be exactly the provision God is offering? Waiting on the Lord doesn’t always (ever?) mean simply sitting on your hands and doing nothing — when does waiting on and trusting God include action, and when not — and how does one know what action to take — how does one discern whether the urge to act in a certain way is the voice of God, or the voice of a demon, or the internalized voice of a negative relationship, or the internalized voice of a positive one, or the voice of indigestion or hormones or brain chemistry?

I remember asking Joe similar questions in my therapy — and at least on one occasion he pointed out how very often in Acts the apostles said “it seemed good to us” when they made a decision.

Just because I have an impulse doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. The thing to do is pay attention to the impulse, reflect and pray, and then decide as best one can in the circumstances — it’s another occasion to trust God, that he can and will provide even if I decide badly or wrongly.

One of my best antidotes for my fears is to face them squarely — and see that even the worst possible outcome won’t destroy me. This works only when I am trusting God. Otherwise the worst possible outcome might be “God doesn’t exist.” But when I trust God, even death, even life in the psych ward, even losing all my friends and family, even not sleeping tonight, even being afraid, cannot destroy me.

I think that’s what Joe was getting at — his door-kicking urge was born of fear — not just fear that God wouldn’t provide for his chemo pills (death can’t destroy him), but perhaps fear that God isn’t trustworthy even in death.

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