“So I was way too busy, totally overcommitted, and living with a chaotic, packed schedule. But I thought I was different because I had a calling. After I saw that protester arrested, I had become consumed with the idea of how important law and economics are in shaping the culture we live in—for better or for worse. Only in retrospect did I realize that, while the house of my life was decorated with Christian content, the architecture of my habits was just like everyone else’s. And that life had been working for me—until it collapsed.”Justin Whitmel Earley. The Common Rule (p. 4). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Recommendation: re-read Romans 7-8 out loud.
What I’m suggesting is not a replacement for studying the Scriptures, nor for any other method of reading, but an alternative I’m suggesting can bear fruit from time to time.
On this occasion, read not with an eye to understanding what on earth Paul is trying to say in Ch 7, but with an eye to what happens to Paul as he contemplates God in the process of explaining to the believers in Rome.
By the time Paul gets to the end of Ch 8 he is enraptured by the character of God: caught up in delight at the recognition of the profundity of Who God is and what He does.
By the time he gets to 8:31 the quill of his amanuensis has begun to sing, the scratches on parchment become rhythmic, and in my mind’s eye, by the end of the chapter Paul is standing, arms trembling, voice crescendoing, and then he collapses to his knees as his spirit and the Spirit commune in adoration, before he has calmed and can resume penning what would become known as chapter 9.
All true theology is doxological.
When unchallenged and unconfronted by people who know us, one inevitably becomes uncorrected and imbalanced, and lacunae develop in one’s introspection. One’s mind becomes pre-programmed to avoid these mostly unexamined and consequently sensitive areas, and it permits oneself to sally forward “assured” of our own righteousness.
Why “sensitive”? Because to examine these lacunae forces one to acknowledge a tension between the comfort our introspection has provided and the reality of our own need for repentance and forgiveness: for reformation.
As humans we seek to live a managed life, but God seems to insist that we live a formational life, and He will orchestrate circumstances to ensure that no blind spot remains unchallenged. The solution is not to exert greater control, but to confess, repent, receive forgiveness, and embrace new learning with humility and gratitude.
“What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”
The secret to avoiding this (practically speaking) is a commitment to community: to knowing and being known. This is a determined investment in the process of becoming vulnerable to being known well and the responsibility of knowing others well. The personal character quality required is humility.
Where did life begin? In Eden. In Eden were all the necessities of life: nourishment, shelter, communion, knowledge, purpose, and identity.
What is a sacrifice? The separation of body from life by a blade, and consumption of that body by fire.
What did God put at the entry to Eden? An angel with a fiery sword.
What are we to conclude? Access to life is made via sacrifice, and the life you want is a result of being separated from your flesh, and letting former things be consumed that you might find new life, no longer in the flesh, but in God.
I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1
The significance of an animal offering, the reason why the aroma of the animal turned into rising smoke becalms God’s “burning nostrils” (the Hebraic term for God being angry) is that it represents a complete offering to God, nothing is reserved, all is given, fulfillment is realized in giving up one’s tenuous claim to physical life and finding new purpose in being made living spirit-rising smoke/cloud. We think of it as violence, God views it as total dedication, and in receiving that offering He imbues the animal with spirit (transforms it into smoke, and receives it into Himself, whose glory is always seen on earth as fire or smoke, pillar or cloud).
Please consider the previous paragraph provisional. I’m exploring something here; I know I’m on to something, but I wouldn’t want to be pinned down to defending it as presently expressed.
In Christ, all death brings about new life.
“You started life in the cozy comfort of your mother’s womb, but then you got squeezed out, screaming. You died to the womb to come alive in the world. Then you had your first day of school, your first date, your wedding, your first child, your first grandchild, the death of your mother and father. Each of these crisis moments is a small death that shatters the world as you know it. If life carries on at all, it carries on with a new, unknown horizon. No wonder life can be terrifying. You’re constantly dying to this to come alive to that.”
Sacrifice is an act of separation, of division. The animal is divided into parts, some of which are laid on the altar, some of which are thrown away, in some cases some of which are eaten and some of which are given to God.
Adam is put into a comatose state, as if he died, and his ribs are separated. When he rises again, God has brought about new life from his side.
Christ is hung on the cross and his ribs are separated by a spearhead, and from his side flows blood and water, which gives rise to new life.
Grain yearns to reach fulfillment by virtue of being separated from its husk, ground and baked, that it might rise to new life as bread.
“Sacrifice is a pathway, a movement through death to new life. In sacrifice, we die to one state so we can rise in an exalted state.”
Are you grieving, Christian? What is dying or to what are you dying? And what is being given new life or to what new life are you rising?
This meditation was inspired by a couple sections of Theopolitan Liturgy by Peter Leithart (including pages 51 – 55). The quotes are from those pages and the ideas are restatements of, or were provoked by, ideas from the book, applied to the concept of grieving.
Vibrating with rage, the misshapen, bony finger pointed at me. “He is a law breaker,” the Adversary screamed.
I stepped behind Jesus and his shadow fell across me: “I confess, I am blameless,” I said in grateful relief.
If “cultures are patterned environments of material things” we must ask, whence arises a zeitgeist? One cannot divorce the two, and yet each material thing itself has no spirit. Together, however, they engender a spirit of the age, which is unmistakably perceivable and formative.