I returned this past week to some of my favorite Kierkegaard writings appropriately titled Provocations, and the first excerpt dealt mostly with loving one another, particularly those who we find slightly more difficult to love. Immediately, I can point to a feast of examples where I fail this self examination—but that’s not the point of his writings. Rather, he wants to reminds us that we are not alone in this, and explains the beauty of why that is.
“Love does not vault into heaven, for it comes from heaven and with heaven. It steps down and thereby accomplishes loving the same person throughout all his changes, good or bad, because it sees the same person in all his changes.”
God promises to give us a new heart, one capable of genuine affection. Paul wrote that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” We were created to live and love as Christ did, but we must first unveil ourselves to the Eternal, and be recipients of this descending gift. We are to be transformed so that our desires are God’s desires; to rejoice in what pleases him, and see the beauty and worth in the stranger before us, for each is the veiled likeness of Christ himself.
Kierkegaard ends with a daunting display of Jesus’ boundless love for Peter after the infamous denial outside the house of Caiaphas, and its fresh, transformative ability:
“He did not say, ‘Peter you must first change and become another man before I can love you again.’ No, he said just the opposite: ‘Peter, you are Peter, and I love you; love, if anything, will help you to become a different person”
I can think of few more beautiful messages of the cross, and the redeeming power it unleashes on this world than the ability to approach every conflict with grace; to deal with every individual with love; to not withhold, but to give freely. No more conditions, because love itself, if anything, will be what changes us.
I’ve recently begun reading John Piper’s Desiring God, a book that introduced me to the intricacies of worship and joy when I was a younger christian, and his guidance continues to inform and sharpen my understanding still. Perhaps my greatest struggle as a maturing believer has been the role of joy in obedience and obligations. As a 25 year old facing a host of new responsibilities and expectations, it’s comforting to be reminded of the joy that is promised in these duties.
Christ taught a narrative that has been sorely corrupted by Kantian notions self-denial. We are at times falsely led to believe that true Christianity is solely the life of sacrifice; to take up our cross daily is an end in and of itself. Piper reminds us instead that this is a path, and that joy is the destination. The proper reward for service, charity, and obedience is joy itself, and greater joy than we can possibly imagine. We are to delight in these things and do them out of an overflow of blessing from the Father. We do them out of love, and receive love in return. And so love builds up love, and joy builds up joy.
The ultimate end of faith on earth is not self-denial; it is the pouring out of the perfect joy, harmony, and rhythm enjoyed in heaven. Piper pleads for us to remember these promises of Christ, and not the morality of Kant:
“Don’t let your childlike awe and wonder be choked out by unbiblical views of virtue. Don’t let the scenery and poetry and music of your relationship with God shrivel up and die. You have capacities for joy that you can scarcely imagine. They were made for the enjoyment of God. He can awaken them no matter how long they have laid asleep. Pray for His quickening power. Open your eyes to His glory. It is all around you.”
I haven’t read up on David Bazan enough to really speak to who he is, I’ve only loved his music and his honesty. The first song I was exposed to of his seems to be less a play on words, and more of an irreverent response to one of Christ’s most cherished promises to us: “my yoke is easy, my burden is light.” Honesty seeps out of Bazan’s Secrets of the Easy Yoke, and rejects the formulaic Christian songs of hope and assurance. He doesn’t sing what orthodoxy tells him to, he sings what he experiences. The song tells of a deep deep chasm between him and God. Midway through, he utters the lines “I still have never seen you, and some days I don’t love you at all.” We cringe at the words, at the boldness, but know all too well how true they can be. He goes on to say “if all that’s left is duty, I’m falling on my sword. At least then I would not serve an unseen, distant lord.”
What can be so unsettling about his music is that he’ll sing of despair, doubt and struggle, and will finish without resolution. The song doesn’t come to a triumphant end, with renewed faith and perseverance, where he laughs off his spiritual lull, and returns a man renewed. He doesn’t write his music like that, cause that’s not how it always goes. Our spiritual trials don’t always end that way, and certainly not so quickly. Frankly, they rarely do.
Bazan helps me feel ordinary when I feel like an exception. There are days that I don’t love God. And on days like that, the last thing I want to do is listen to a song about someone going through similar trial, and emerging at the end of the day falling in love with Him all over again. Music like that make me wonder what’s wrong with me. It forces me to doubt my make up, my DNA, and wonder if I have a uniquely difficult composition. Maybe this is my flaw, but I want to know that the duration and depth of my valley is normal. I want to know that the soul needs to heal, needs to be massaged, needs to work through the callouses before I feel that presence again. And I want to know that God works in His time, and that the angels do sometimes wrestle en route to our aid, and will often show up just as we’ve reached our last bit of resilience. I find comfort in that place. I believe with all that I am capable of that God is faithful, and will redeem, and will renew, and does cherish us, and holds us close. There is intimacy in our interaction with Him, and it’s beautiful. It’s beyond beautiful. But periods of dryness are characteristic of any love, and Bazan helps me understand mine.
I find comfort and normalcy in Bazan. He faces doubt with audacious tenacity, daring every notion of God, and questioning the most foundational of Christian holdings. He’ll direct anger at God, question His goodness, grimace at other believers, and flat out deny any love for this figure he feels strangely and continually drawn to. He can experience a constant sensation of detachment from the divine, and yet relentlessly pursue it nonetheless. Bazan gives me courage. He refuses to shy away from his doubt and restlessness, and never hides it from critics with stronger certainty. But faith and certainty are not synonymous. Bazan has the guts to continually stare at where he thinks God is, at times see absolutely nothing, and sing into it nonetheless. I don’t believe I would admire any man that would not call that faith.
Bazan isn’t someone I always want to listen to. It pains me to know a spiritual struggle marked by so much difficulty. My faith in Christ has shaped me. I wouldn’t dare try to put it to words at the end of this rambling, for fear that they wouldn’t have the strength and eloquence it deserves. I hope David finds what he’s been pulled to all this time. He comforts me when I find myself in those depths where he writes, but I hope he leaves them as well.
This post was considerably influenced by Justin McRobert’s blog. I urge you to read his as well, as he writes far more knowledgeably and persuasively than I do.
The common view is that life itself, whatever life is, does not care one way or another any more than the ocean cares whether we swim in it or drown in it. In honesty, one has to admit that a great deal of the evidence supports such a view.
But rightly or wrongly, the Christian faith flatly contradicts it. To say that God is Spirit is to say that life does care, that the life-giving power that life itself comes from is not indifferent as to whether we sink or swim. It wants us to swim.
Okay, I love grammar. I stink at it, but I love it still. And the best part of having a precocious interest is knowing stuff that others don’t. So, here’s what we all do wrong, and now you can correct them…and be better than them.
Gray | Grey: Gray is the American spelling, and grey the British spelling of this color (errrr… colour).
Nauseated | Nauseous: You feel nauseated. Something that induces that feeling is nauseous.
Awe Shucks | Aw Shucks: Aw shucks is a folksy, humble saying. Awe is to be filled with wonderment. Awe shucks really doesn’t mean anything.
Emulate | Imitate: When you want to match someone, you emulate them. So say, trying to climb the same tree as your brother. That’s emulating. If you try to just be like someone, you imitate them.
Every day | Everyday: If its an adjective, its everyday — like everyday low prices. If you do something on each day of the week, you do it every day.
Koala | Koala Bear: A koala is not a bear, so it’s just wrong to say that. Know your marsupials!
Ukraine | The Ukraine: Ukrainians have kindly asked that they be called simply Ukraine. Literally — they passed a law.
Oh, and I got most of these from here. I aint no guru.