Tag Archives: Christianity

Which reality, whose philosophy?

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
The Desiderata

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14

I had a tremendous sense of peace come over me on my way to work this morning. I thought about the claim in the Desiderata that “whether it is clear to you or not, the universe is unfolding as it should”. I looked up and saw the moon hanging in the clear blue sky and as I breathed in the morning air, it occurred to me that it is by the grace of God that I awoke this morning—it is He who set my path before me today.  I thought of the Psalmist’s confidence that he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (from Psalm 27 which I try to read each morning).

I began to wonder why such peace today and such strife on other days. I think, as the Psalmist hints, it has to do with what we “see” going on around us—or perhaps more acuurately, how we see what’s going on around us.  The psalmist’s ultimate reality rested in seeing “the goodness of the Lord”. Today I happened to be focused on that reality.

But there are competing claims as to the nature of “reality”—each vieing to be the lens through which see the world. Many philosophies are or have been in vogue at one time or another. I find tremendous value in many of them, and I am conscientious of oversimplifying this brief discussion in a way that does not do them justice. That said, I believe there is an Ultimate Reality (more on this in Upside-down, Inside-outOn the significance of what we do: two perspective) against which all other philosophies fall short—in both explaining our experience of life and in prescribing how life is best lived. This Ultimate Reality is sometimes harder to sense, but that makes it no less concrete or real. In fact, I would argue it is much more real. Inasmuch as all other philosophies are partly right, they are right in that that they point to this Ultimate Reality.

Two quick thoughts on this.

1. Many of us have not considered whether there is something beyond the here and now. Therefore, we spend life focused on the tangible world. We try to succeed at work, find comfort in the love of families and friends and generally enjoy this world while we are on it. We find our significance and meaning in these things (discussed in The Problem of good in the world: Pt. IPt. IIPt. III). It is a reasonable worldview if the here and now is the only and the ultimate reality, but I would contend that in the end it’s a brutal worldview—performance-driven and leaving many questions unanswered. We most feel the dissonance created by this view when we can’t get something we desperately want, or lose something (or someone) we greatly loved.

I find that more and more I write these entries because I realize how much I yearn for many of you, my friends, to know—or at least consider whether—there is something beyond the here and now. The Ultimate Reality, I contend, is an understanding of ourselves and life in the context of our relationship to the God of creation. I believe this is the only way to fully understand the significance and meaning of our lives and the best framework for how to live them.
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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.

A Witch Reigns, but a Lion Comes (Narnia part 1)

“Prepare the victim,” said the Witch.  And the Dwarf undid Edmund’s collar and folded back his shirt at the neck.  Then he took Edmund’s hair and pulled his head back to that he had to raise his chin.  After that Edmund heard a strange noise—whiz—whiz—whiz…

… it was the sound of a knife being sharpened.

At that very moment he heard loud shouts from every direction — a drumming of hoofs and beating of wings — a scream from the witch — confusion all around him.  And then he found he was being untied…

When the other children woke the next morning…the first thing they heard…was that their brother had been rescued…they all went out, and there they saw Aslan and Edmund walking together in the dewy grass, apart from the rest from the court.  There is no need to tell you (and no one ever could) what Aslan was saying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot.  As the others drew nearer Aslan turned to meet them, bringing Edmund with him.

“Here is your brother,” he said, “and—there is no need to talk to him about what is past.”

…one of the leopards approached Aslan and said, “Sire, there is a messenger from the enemy who craves audience”

“Let him approach,” said Aslan…

… “What is your message, Son of Earth?” asked Aslan.

“The Queen of Narnia and Empress of the Lone Islands desires a safe conduct to come speak with you” said the dwarf “on a matter which is as much to your advantage as to hers.”

A few minutes later the Witch herself walked out on to the top of the hill and came straight across and stood before Aslan.  The three children who had not seen her before felt shudders running down their backs at the sight of her face; and there were low growls among all the animals at present.  Though it was bright sunshine everyone felt suddenly cold…

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offense was not against you.

“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 know 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.”

 

Taken from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe