Category Archives: Fiction

Trust to hope

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane–Red in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption

Farewell. Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands–Éomer in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

For we walk by faith, not by sight—2 Corinthians 5:7


Reader response to A view from the darkness was notable. It came in the form of email and personal conversation rather than blog comments—probably because of the intensely personal and emotional nature of suffering. It was clear to me that the topic resonated. Unfortunately, this suggests that suffering is as pervasive a part of the human experience as we probably suspect.

In that post I tried to address God’s faithfulness to us, particularly in the darkness—his promises.  Today, I will do my best to describe what I think our role is—how we signal our desire to have an encounter with God. In so doing, I think we’ll see the importance of the larger life narrative to which we ascribe—the robust description of the world (discussed in Which reality, whose philosophy?) that dictates how each of us interprets events.

***

One of the great things about blogging, as opposed both to other forms of media and to life, is that you can edit over time.  Once a newspaper article is printed, your only hope of revision is the little “corrections” box in the next day’s paper.  And as we all know, there’s no revision in life. We can die in the despair of “if I only this” or “had I not that” but there are no do-overs.

I doubt many of you know this (I feel lucky to have you read once), but I obsessively re-read and edit inklingz posts. Most changes are for style or readability, but recently a loyal reader asked if I realized I had altered A view from the darkness in a more material way.  She told me it initially read as if I hoped there was something to find in the darkness and later read with more certainty that indeed we will find God in the darkness.

Had something changed in my thinking?

My knee-jerk response was: Of course not!…I was merely trying to more effectively capture what I wanted to express all along. But on a long run this week (where I accomplish a good amount of my thinking these days), I realized something about faith that is difficult to quantify or explain: God meets those who take a step toward Him in faith, in such a way that faith itself is multiplied.

When I looked into the darkness last week, I can’t tell you I saw much but the thick black of a moonless night. But I also knew there was something I could not see and I was doing my best to reach for it.

I ‘knew’ because of the larger life narrative in which I believe. It allows me to look beyond my immediate circumstances and see a story playing out that suggests that each moment is more than just another moment in a set of disparate, meaningless events (see On the (in?)significance of what we do—two perspectives).

It reminds me of an illustration discussed in Exclusivism that welcomes all—of blind men each touching a portion of an elephant. Each one comes to a unique conclusion as to what he’s encountered—none of them able, based on his limited viewpoint, to identify the massive animal.

Similarly, when we see no light in the darkness we’re not seeing the full picture, the larger narrative.

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Ideas are bulletproof

And the diminution of ideologues

after a hail of gunfire doesn’t stop V

Creedy: Die! Die! Why won’t you die?… Why won’t you die?
V: Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.

—Taken from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta

***

I was watching a favorite evening news/commentary program this week, when one of the most opinionated and partisan hosts on television denied the accusation of being an ideologue. It got me thinking….

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know what the term ideologue means. It occurred to me that its root must be “idea”—a word with innocuous or even positive connotation—and yet my sense is that ideologue is most often used in a pejorative context. I’ve never heard anyone claim to be one, but have heard people deny it.

A William Safire article confirmed my hunch as it recounts Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation in 1847 that ideologue was “a word of contempt often in his mouth.” Safire claims the term ideologue is synonymous with “dogmatic”, “doctrinarian” and just short of “zealot”—labels virtually nobody wants ascribed to them. In 1957, the critic Clifton Felton summed it up: “An ideologue may be defined as a mad intellectual. He is not interested in ideas, but—almost the exact contrary—in one idea” (Language: The Evolution of the Ideologue, New York Times, 13 November 2005).

Safire goes on to suggest the term idealist may be construed more positively than ideologue, the former connoting a “high-minded, visionary, if somewhat impractical”—idealist coming from the root ideal, versus ideologue coming from the root idea…a “model of perfection” instead of “a concept” (ibid). Though I’m sure his history is correct, I don’t believe there’s much of a distinction in today’s town square—I think both labels are used to diminish.

It was not always so:

Before the French Revolution, the philosopher Etienne Bonnot de Condillac took an empiricist idea from John Locke that knowledge came from experience and sensations and not, as the rationalists believed, from innate ideas. Condillac’s disciple, Destutt de Tracy, was known as an idéologiste espousing idéologie after the Revolution (as quote by Safire).

So while ideologue may have originally been a label of esteem—noting the value ascribed to knowledge from experience in place of innate ideas—this would eventually reverse. Today, the most feared individual in the public square is the one who believes in innate ideas—the ideologue.

(Chorus gasps as villain enters!)

The hero of this production (life’s sociopolitical drama) is of course the free-thinking, moderate pragmatist (also very handsome), who does not kowtow to these innate ideas. Innate ideas are a collar that the hero throws off—so he can move the lines where our modern sensibilities suggest they belong, rather than letting it be determined by some archaic and esoteric idea. He is able to take inventory of what the world needs now (love, sweet love) and thus make recommendations on how to proceed. He offers hope for what we can achieve.

The hero’s idea is that an ever-evolving humanity should let human history inform its future goals and aspirations—the way we govern and set up our societies. We can correct so much of what we’ve gotten wrong.

Many of today’s heroes, for example, believe religion was the worst construct ever (while often protecting votes by paying lip service to its value). Sure religions filled a need for ancient people (the logic goes)—helping them construct an understanding of the world and maybe giving them a basis on which to organize communities and care for the disenfranchised. But look at all the war and death they have brought—hatred between nations and peoples. Plus, now we’re sophisticated enough to know they’re mystical and nice, but none can actually be true—certainly not any more than another. Clearly, any new society would want to exclude them; particulay those that make a unique claim to truth.

This type of analysis continues through all aspects of society and culture, driven both by the hero and his focus groups. For example, in our generation advanced Western states have often concluded that religion, nationalism and personal charity should be diminished. State run programs and multinationalism should replace them. The list goes on.

So with the very idea of innate ideas rejected, we move the line to a place where it suits us.

The hero’s new idea simply creates a new ideology—a new set of truths; it’s called relativism. We believe it’s freeing but we’re really just escaping from innate truths, only to bind ourselves with constructed truths. Most often, we’re trading ideas for the hope of desired results (see here); and assuming the means will justify the ends. As those desired results change, so moves the new ideology. So moves the line.

Right now, the prevailing wisdom of Western civilation is that a man should be able to do whatever makes him happy—that no one should impose his ideas on another.

I often wonder how this ideology works, because it seems to create some very difficult conundrums.

What happens when your happiness start to infringe on mine? What happens when a behavior starts to compromise social order? What happens if I still love my religion now that we’ve decided that the new order will exclude it? What if my nationalistic pride comes off as arrogance in the new (superior?) multinational world order?

And assuming we can answer these questions and implement the plan, will we like all the consequences?

At the state level, in the most constructive cases, the result of rejecting innate ideas tends to take the form of social engineering. This is the ultimate reversion to the mean, where focus groups determine allocation of resources, values, standards and laws. It strangles outliers with its fraternal embrace—saying: “Believe anything you want, except the existence innate ideas—believe what you will, as long as it maintains no claim to being uniquely correct”. If you make an absolute truth claim, you will be labeled an ideologue—and you will be demonized.

In the more tragic cases, it has resulted in oppressive fascism; but in reality only a fine line separates the two. Personal liberty and freedom diminish in both, and it’s a short jump to fascism once the will of the people is softened by its mild despot (a.k.a. The State).

Neither is a result I think we want.

But even at the moral level, I’m not sure we really accept the natural conclusions of relativism. If Nietzsche was correct in his claim that “there are no facts, only interpretations”, we are left to ponder how we can defend an Idea that we know in our hearts is right and how we can reject behavior that we know in our hearts is wrong (see Are all truth’s equal?).

On what grounds will we defend the value of human life? Many in history have drawn a line that allows for genocide to achieve some “greater end”.

How will we defend the right to personal liberty? Today, Iranians peacefully protesting a rigged election are being killed in the streets.

And on what basis can we condemn the mass murders and rapes of Darfurian civilians or the Iranian regime’s unwillingness to recognize the voice of its people?

These Sovereigns have drawn their lines as we have drawn our own. In the absence of innate ideas, I would suggest all we can do is advance our own interests. Who cares what happens to them?

…But then again, I’m an ideologue.

I understand that scares people, and admittedly not all ideologues are Good. It all depends on what that one idea is.

My idea is a Man.

He started an upside-down, inside-out Kingdom where glory comes only through service (see here). A Man who lived this out by dying to win his great victory—a victory that demonstrated the value of human life and the dignity of each person (see here). And it guaranteed the ultimate restoration and Shalom of this fallen world (see here).

Consequently, I believe what we do on earth matters, both in relation to each other and in relation to the created world. I believe in human dignity, the right to personal liberty and the obligation to defend the defenseless, to enfranchise the disenfranchised (see here). And I believe that we are not granted the privilege of ignoring any of the above in the interest of pursuing other personal or national interests.

I’m interested in lots of ideas, contrary to what Mr. Felton might have suspected, but I will not forsake the above for any other. No end is greater than what is required by this Idea.

***

By the way, I think John Locke was right, at least halfway. We should have a worldview that is informed by experience and sensation. Truth should not only be right, it should feel right (we know this in our hearts)—it should be consistent with what we see around us (see also here, here and here). But his argument does not offer logic that allows us to reject the notion of innate truth.

We’re left to ask, what if there are some ideas that are innate?

True, many are the claims of innate truth; and they are different in nature. But shouldn’t we at least understand what those claims are before rejecting even the possibility? I can tell you this; they wouldn’t go away just because we thought them inconvenient. They wouldn’t die just because we wanted them to. Ideas are bulletproof and innate ideas are eternal. An idea can still change the world.

***

Evey Hammond: Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot… But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes and I know, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them… but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it… ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love… And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man… A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget.

V for Vendetta, Alan Moore.


As a rule, only very learned and clever men deny what is obviously true. Common men have less brains, but more sense.

—William T. Stace

Upside-down, Inside-out

THE EMPTY TOMB

Easter presents the most important question that each person must answer in his life—what happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth? Contrary to the eponymous Bunny which has become the symbol of this day, Jesus of Nazareth lived—he was a historical figure—he was real. The life of Jesus Christ is arguably better documented than that of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln—and the historical documentation is sourced both from sympathizers and critics (ironic that the writings of those who despised him are some of the best evidence of his life—ah, the law of unintended consequences!). Jesus lived.

Jesus was also killed. This relieved his enemies—those threatened for either political or religious reasons (perhaps both in some cases)—by the message he propagated. He proposed nothing short of a re-ordering of all things, an upside-down, inside-out order that meant those on top might end up on bottom, and that those on the bottom might actually be on top. He was the evidence himself, he claimed—God come to earth in the form of a human—arguably the most radical cosmic re-ordering possible!

As if that wasn’t enough to upset people, he added that he just might destroy the Holy Temple and rebuild it in three days (a claim understood by many to mean that Jesus would die and rise from the grave on the third day—a claim of deity, no doubt).

So it was in the interest of the establishment (or so they thought) to get rid of this man and his upside-down, inside out rhetoric—just in case. The religious establishment trumped up false charges and used the political establishment to carry out a rigged trial and an execution by crucifixon. It all came down to the body—and everyone knew it. The body was the only evidence needed to prove that Jesus was a phony, that there would be no ‘rising again’ on the third…or any other day—that there would be no new Kingdom with an upside-down, inside-out order.  They had snuffed out the man and now planned to extinguish his following.

So they put Jesus’ body in a cave with a sealed rock in front of it and armed guards to protect it.

How did it come to this?

APPEASING THE DEEP MAGIC

Jesus didn’t just talk about a re-ordering; he lived in that reality. As an adult he chose to live as an itinerant preacher—with no home and virtually no belongings. He spent those years with a group of close friends, walking from town to town and sharing in the lives of the people they met. Jesus’ ministry was one of satisfying needs, whether they were physical (feeding them), medical (healing them), social (spending time with them) or spiritual (offering them a relationship with the God of his Kingdom).

His good friend Paul described Jesus in this way: “…being in very nature God, [He] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

But there was a Need that Jesus could not satisfy through his life or ministry.

C.S. Lewis describes the Need as Deep Magic. In Lewis’ fairy tale land of Narnia, we find Aslan the Lion discussing it with the White Witch (see here). They are addressing the fate of Edmund, one of Aslan’s young friends. Edmund had broken the Law of Narnia and the Deep Magic required his death as punishment.

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller.  “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?  Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning.  You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill.”

[…] “And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine.  His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“Come and take it then,” said the Bull with the man’s head in a great bellowing voice.

“Fool,” said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, “Do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force?  He knows the Deep Magic better than that.  He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

The White Witch ruled Narnia, but Aslan was its True King. And though Aslan conceded that the Deep Magic must be appeased by death, he loved Edmund.

Quite a conundrum. And so it was for God.

The Bible tells us that God created us to have a relationship with Him—that He loves us more than we could ever hope or imagine. Our consciences likely tell us we have not loved God in like fashion. If our consciences don’t, then perhaps a look around the world would suggest something doesn’t add up. “What’s happened to the American Dream?” asked Night Owl in Alan Moore’s The Watchmen as he looked at the chaos in a rioting New York. “It came true. You’re looking at it” came the reply. Even with all our best efforts and intentions, we have fallen short, individually and collectively.

The Apostle Paul says it this way: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23a). Or Isaiah: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (53:6a).

Worse still, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).

“He knows the Deep Magic better than that.  He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says, all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.”

We are all Edmunds and the Deep Magic must be satisfied.

GOD’S TREASURE

Jesus once said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

One thing we learn about God, in Jesus, is that though He created all things, he does not possess all things. What else could have prompted Him to come down to earth himself? It was a mission—a treasure hunt of sorts. His treasure was not in heaven but it was here on earth and he was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan (back in Narnia, of course).

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Who better to look into the stillness and the darkness before the dawn of time than the God who created time? God knows the magic deeper still. He came to live among us, not to teach us about life (as many say now); or to usher in some form of political realignment (as many expected then), but to bring home the treasure He lacked in heaven.

You.

His fallen creation had been separated from Him in such a way that he could not have the union he most deeply desired. Only in His death could the Deep Magic be appeased. Only with the Deep Magic appeased can we enter God’s presence.

So Jesus let his captors ridicule and torture him, let them take him outside the city gates and hang him on a cross between two ordinary criminals in a junkyard.  He drank the cup of God’s wrath and satisfied the Deep Magic. Jesus came to die, because you are his treasure.

It was his battered and bruised body in the cave behind the stone.

UPSIDE-DOWN, INSIDE-OUT

When Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother Mary got to the cave to look at the tomb, they were greeted by an Angel who rolled the stone away for them, scaring off the guard. Jesus was gone.

“Don’t be alarmed” said the Angel of the Lord. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here…” (Mark 16:6).

He has risen indeed!

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

As Aslan knew, there is more to destroying death than just rising from the grave. Death itself starts working backward. All of creation will be restored. Everything sad will come untrue (Samwise in Tolkien’s Return of the King).

Victory through death. A master who serves. A God who becomes obedient to death.

Who could have made this up? Who would have had the audacity? God became a man and instead of rising to power on earth, he lived a life of service—then died at the hands of those he served. And his great victory came not from his strength but from his willingness to die. He gained his treasure by giving his life.

Yes, the wages of sin is death “but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Yes, we all like sheep have gone astray, each turning to his own way “but the Lord had laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6b). All have indeed sinned and fallen short of God’s design for their lives but “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23b).

Do you know that you are God’s treasure?

This is the invitation of Easter—it’s an invitation to all in Need to come to the banquet table in God’s Kingdom. Come as you are; you cannot earn your way in, for the work was done on your behalf. Come and claim your inheritance—given freely by the God who loves you.

Jesus turned things upside-down and inside-out on that first Easter.

He was taken out of the city so that we could come in. He was mocked and ridiculed so that we can be rejoiced over. He was removed from God’s presence so that we can enter it. He died so that we can live.

He is the King of the upside-down, inside-out Kingdom.  Through his death, he recovered his treasure.

So what did happen to the guarded body of Jesus the Nazarean?

May we all find something as we look in the empty tomb this Easter.