Consent (the new basis of right and wrong)

consentIndividualism has some profound blessings to give the world. Free markets, the freedoms of speech and religion, the marketplace of ideas, are all gifts of individualism. The faith statement of individualism is that I have autonomy: the right to choose what happens to me.

Now if I lived on an island by myself and my actions had no effects on others, then I should be fully autonomous. Free from responsibility and, somehow, miserable. Being the very social beings that we are, if I lived alone on an island, I would wish I wasn’t alone.

Then another person, maybe my wife, is added to my tiny world and I am overjoyed. I am no longer alone! But problems arise quickly. Who gets to canoe today? Why should I be the one who collects firewood? Why do you snore so much?

The dilemma is intense. While I desperately want this other person there, they cramp my style.

The broadly accepted modern solution is consent. The way we get the most out of our island is to work together and do things we agree to. We take turns. We learn boundaries (which is basically saying we learn what is yours and what is mine). Consent is very functional. If everyone is consenting, then no one is complaining.

Eventually, we decide that consent is not only functional, it is the basis of morality. Centuries ago, the argument for what is right and wrong was based on our understanding of God and what he wanted. You and I might consent to something, but he had veto power over the decision.

With the marginalizing of God, the only thing we have left to appeal to when someone wrongs us is that they violated our autonomy: we didn’t consent.

A good example of this is Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill 29-year-old in Oregon. She has a glioblastoma, which will take her life in the next several month. With the laws of Oregon supporting her, she will take her own like on 11/1/14. In her recent campaign for more legal suicide laws, she justified her decision by saying:

“I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice,” she says. “The patient can change their mind right up to the last minute. I feel very protected here in Oregon.”

Her proof for the rightness of her decision is her autonomy. She argues it is right because she had a choice and because it was a choice, it is right.

Another example is when nude images of Jennifer Lawrence and many other actresses were hacked off of their phones recently. Many of these actresses had posed for nude pictures before and they had been published, yet they are outraged. Jennifer Lawrence put it this way

“Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she says. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world. ”

Of course it is an outragious violation of Ms. Lawrence to steal images of her to be ogled at by countless men. But her argument is solely based on her lack of consent. Had she consented, then displaying her nude images would have been fine.

Despite being such advocates of consent as the basis morality, we still want to hang on to objective moral authority when we need it. When Janay Rice chose to remain with Ray Rice after he punched her in an elevator (knocking her unconscious), we shook our collective heads. When she forcefully defended her husband after her was suspended by the NFL, we were aghast.

On what ground were we so stunned by Janay Rice’s decision. It certainly wasn’t consent, she was choosing to stay with him. We start fumbling with terms like “cultural expectations” and “it’s just not right.” When pressed, we might even invoke the name of God.

But this is picking and choosing. How is it that abortion, gay marriage, and sexuality are only about consent while physical abuse is different? We want to be free from any restraint for ourselves but are ready to explain to someone else why they shouldn’t smoke on their front porch.

If morality is not based on an objective, unmoving standard, then there is no morality at all. You can try to base it on cultural expectations, but this quickly becomes a mere voting contest where 51% tell the other 49% what to do. Democratizing morality is really just another form of oppression.

The Christian view of God being the maker of right and wrong is not popular until we are harmed. I don’t want God invading my choices, but I would really prefer he limited yours. We define freedom as unlimited choices when real freedom is protection from my own heart. What individualism tried to do is to protect me from you. What it could never do was to protect me from me. That’s why consent will never work as the lone basis of morality. It assumes that what I want is good and right: that I will make wise choices.

There is a long Christian tradition of distrusting my own heart that is so wise, so countercultural, and so timely. As Paul says:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7:15-25

The cross of Jesus stands tall above us all and assumes our foolishness and forgives. It is strength for our weakness, healing for our sickness. Individualism could never do this. Consent, to my heart, is just a tool to get what I want without too much fuss. It could never change what I wanted.

Christ alone condemns my sin and forgives it at the same time. Freedom is not unlimited choices, it is making my desires congruent with His. It is the congruence of our hearts with the heart of our maker. It wanting to do what is right. That can only happen if God changes our hearts.

Consent is a band-aid we use to cover the deep wound in our souls. It masks some of the more ostentatious sins in our hearts, but it can never heal our hearts. For that, we need a healing much deeper and a physician much more powerful. By God’s grace, that is just what he provided.

-Chip

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A Family Lunch at God’s House

feastArriving at Father’s house is always a bit of a challenge. Many times it is difficult to get the kids ready and get out the door and there is always that nagging feeling that I should have a better attitude before going. Either way, we finally arrive and the kids go to play and my wife drifts off to talk with some friends.

As I wander around and look around at God’s family, my family, I am struck by their…well…their strangeness. Uncle Joe is sitting in the corner quietly watching the mulling mass of family. He clearly doesn’t like crowds, but Father was here so he was will to tolerate them to visit Father again.

Aunt Linda is a gossip and I never really liked her even before I knew that. She reminds me of the witch in Tangled. All of her words are filled with half-truths and double meanings. I carefully navigate the crowd to avoid drawing her attention.

Little Billy found a way to spill koolaid on Father’s couch AGAIN! Seriously, where are his parents? That couch now has more red and blue spots on it than its original color. Father is a really rich guy, why hasn’t he replaced that eye-sore of a couch? Looks like Billy’s mom just saw what he did. She is so mortified that it happened again. Now I feel sorry for her. It looks like I am not the only one who gave a dirty look.

Cousin Norman is cantankerous as ever. That man does not know when to shut up. He very much has a speak first and think later philosophy. I see a number of faces giving him a wide berth. No one wants to be caught in his cross-hairs. Personally, I’ve made some peace with it. He is a jerk, but I can tolerate that most of the time.

Ah, finally someone I want to talk to. Cousin Jeremy (he’s actually my second cousin) is by the fish tank. He is a bit of a dweeb and while gregarious, he gets overwhelmed in crowds (I wonder if he and Uncle Joe would get along). Jeremy and I shake hands and discuss the latest tech gadget or website or something.

Both of us have a history of porn addiction of which we are both on the better side of recovering. It kind of bonds us though we both feel a little uneasy knowing how poorly the family would respond if they knew our history. We may be a family, but we can sure be a judgemental group sometimes. Most of the family would simply not understand.

Hearing the bell in the kitchen (which is the signal that it is time to eat) we call file in and sit at the very long table. The rough-cut wood always felt good to lay my hands on and none of us minded the long wood benches on both sides of the table (except Grandpa Randal, but he was never quite happy with anything).

At the head of the table was Father. A tall and strong man who had a well-trimmed white beard and a flannel shirt, we all respected him. He is hard-working, determined, direct, and hard yet carried a very sweet demeanor all the same. He was the sort that if you woke him up in the middle of the night, he used all of the hardness for you. He never complained about helping. He actually only really got on your case when you didn’t ask for his help.

Far on the other end of the table was our oldest brother Joshua. He was so much like Father but yet seemed to present the sweetness of Father’s disposition first and is less intimidating. He had done some amazing work for the family and had worked with Father to rescue us all a family from great danger! He still was scarred from his work, but he never complained. We all felt a deep debt to him.

But he was the sort who never called in debts. One quality they both possessed was endless generosity. No one seems to know where they made all of their wealth from. The food and help and joy seemed truly boundless. Even though the people sitting at this table were sometimes very difficult to get along with, we all agreed that as long as Father and Joshua were going to serve lunch, then we were going to keep coming. It seemed the Air between them was so crackling with happiness, calm, and peace that we just wanted to breathe it all day long.

Being the very messed up family that we are, it was not unheard of for a fist-fight to break out at the table and for Father to walk over and pick the combatants up and bring them out of the room for one of his legendary “talks”. Most such fights happened only once.

Father spread out his great big hands out and blessed the food. That is not to say he prayed. He just made the food a little more wonderful because he could!

In an instant He and Joshua were in action. Flashing in and out of the he kitchen door with plates of steaming food. It was more of a dance with fluid motions complementing the other’s actions. The serving of the food itself was a delight to behold.

And the steak. Yes, that’s right, steak. Steaming with a simply intoxicating smell. You barely needed your knife it was so tender. Each delightful mouthful seemed a tad better than the last. Combined with a wonderful grape juice and a lovely baked potato, Father had outdone himself.

Some of us fancied ourselves to be good with a grill, but Father put us all to shame. It remains wonderful to me how much he loves to serve us good things. Really good things. It is such a deep part of Him that I can’t imagine Him not being so giving. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Him not taking care of us one way or the other.

As our bellies become full and a hearts happy, I noticed how much easier it was to care for my family. Sure they are a mess, but Father loves them very much. He is just as irritated by their stupidity as I am, but the well of His love for them is immensely deeper than mine.

We are a family because of him. If he hadn’t adopted all of us, we would never have gotten to sit at that table together and enjoy His wonderful food, wonderful demeanor, wonderful Self! As we move along as a family and slowly become more like Father, I think I could grow to even like most of them. One day, even love them.

It’s hard to hear Father criticized because of His adoptive family. We don’t represent Him very well. He knew that He would be criticized for adopting us and He did it anyway. Yet another way He is a great Father.

So, we left. Full from a meal at our Father’s table, we left to face another week of life in a challenging world with a messed up family. Father handed each of us an invitation to be back next Sunday for lunch. I waved to Jeremy on my way out.

I guess I’ll see him next week at our Father’s house.

-Chip

The great family photo above is courtesy of Andrew Lance and is used with permission.

Godzilla vs. Jesus

Godzilla_(2014)_posterAs many of you know, I am an avid fan of the Godzilla franchise. The King of Monsters has been ravaging Tokyo for sixty years now and despite terrible lip synchronization, sometimes laughable translation from Japanese, at times painful special effects, campy plots, and Godzilla 1998 (which, for the record, is not a real Godzilla movie), I have enjoyed Godzilla for many years.

Sometimes the best relationships are the ones where everyone is clear about weaknesses in the relationship. I am acutely aware of Godzilla’s awful movie moments (if you need a recap, here are the Top Ten WTF Moments of Godzilla), but I think that the mythology of Godzilla is so compelling that it fully overcomes the weak stories told within it. Godzilla is so good, the I love him despite his bad moments.

It was this past January that I found out that a new Godzilla movie was going to be released on May 16th. There remains some bitterness in my heart that no one told me about this before then, but I am slowly forgiving all of you. My impatience for the release has been difficult to contain and now I am a mere three days from seeing Godzilla again.

The astute among you will see that I am releasing this post on Monday the 12th and will assume that I wrongly said the I only have three days left. I am a blogger after all and precision really isn’t our thing. In this case, you should know that I have tickets to see Godzilla 2014 the day BEFORE it comes out. I shall pause a moment while you overcome your envy.

Godzilla has such a grip on my imagination and affections that it has caused me to pause and ask an important question: Does Godzilla hold a higher place in my affections than God himself?

It is the nature of idolatry to love something God made more than I love God. Martin Luther once said that the heart is an idol factory and mine is no exception. Could I have allowed a fictional character to supplant the all powerful, all knowing, supremely delightful God? I know there are times that the great radioactive beast feels more desirable to me and that is a serious concern.

This led to a bit of a crisis in conscience for me. Should I really indulge a movie that I risk idolizing? I was very relieved to see that there is no nudity or sexuality in the film because I would have had to let it pass then, but what if there is a more sinister sin in my heart than lust.

You can imagine the concern this brought me. I really, really, really, want to see this movie but I do not want to dishonor God in seeing it. How can I enjoy this good thing without making it a God thing? Then I read the passage below.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Tim 4:4,5

Paul seems to say there is a catagory of good things (like Godzilla) that is NOT to be rejected but “recieved with thanksgiving.” Then he gives the reason we should accept it, because it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Godzilla made holy? Godzilla created by God? I think so!

The fact is that Godzilla is a part of God’s good creation. God’s image bearers became storytellers (like God) and made a story which I am to enjoy and thank God for. God is not a curmudgeon in the sky who says we are not to enjoy his good gifts but rather we should not love them and ignore the giver. Jesus is a better gift than Godzilla, but that does not mean that Godzilla is not a wonderful gift.

In fact, the nature of idolatry is not that I love Godzilla too much, but that I love Jesus too little. If I loved Jesus more, I would enjoy his gifts even more than I do now. Far from rejecting his gifts as evil, I need to recognize what is really evil, me.

But I am not just evil, I am also loved by a God who lavished such sweet and tender affection on me. He took my evil and punished his own son for it. He then took Jesus goodness (and his reward) and gave it to me. He is a far better God than I ever would deserve. In addition to all this, God then appointed Gareth Edwards to direct a movie from Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers where an enormous radioactive beast destroys San Fransisco.

That right, God is so good that he even made an awesome movie for me to enjoy. Not only is he shown to be kind beyond words by giving the gift but he is honored by my enjoyment of it.

So I will go and see the movie and I will enjoy it deeply.

Also, to answer the question you are all asking, who would win Jesus or Godzilla. Jesus would walk on the scene and Godzilla would bow to his maker. Jesus wins every time!

-Chip

The image above owned by Warner Brothers and is used under Fair Use

When You See a Tornado

4099585916_053b450ffa_bWith Easter just ahead of us, I have been asking myself why I don’t think much about storm shelters. A very natural question you must agree. These valuable, lifesaving devices spend whole years of my existence without serious thought. Part of the reason is that storm shelters are mostly underground and don’t draw the eye very much. They usually aren’t specifically made for aesthetic appeal.

It is the nature of purely function items to draw our attention much less often than flashier ones. Compare your favorite TV show (with no practical value) to the plumbing in your house (with immense practical value). Which one draws more of your attention? Which are you more thankful for?

The answer to that question will likely depend mostly on whether you have been without indoor plumbing before.

So this raises the difficult question of why I am not particularly thankful for storm shelters. Surely I should give a fleeting thought of gratitude for the men and women who thought of ways to protect me from dangerous storms. Why am I so prone to forget that they even exist?

Part of the problem is certainly that I am not often reminded of the need for them. If a tornado came tearing through my neighborhood once a week I would hold them in high regard. Not only that, I would invest heavily in one to make it secure and comfortable for my family when a twister comes barreling through. I would feel strongly about others having one as well and would consider anyone who doesn’t have one a fool.

Sitting in that shelter with the wind blowing in the ground above me, I would thank God that he had this kind of protection for us. I would hug my kids close and be so grateful this protection existed for all of us. I would send out Facebook messages talking of the wonders of my storm shelter. One of my greatest possessions would be my storm shelter.

But the fact is tornadoes do not weekly pummel my home. I don’t even own a storm shelter.

I think this is the fallacy I believe when I see Jesus on a cross and I don’t feel anything. I see the shelter but not the storm. I see the rescue but not the danger. If there really is a Hell and a Heaven, then Jesus’ rescue of my soul becomes sweeter than anything else. I go from apathetic about Jesus to a wonder-filled love of him.

The reason I am sometimes apathetic is that I don’t really believe there is a storm coming. If Heaven and Hell aren’t real, then Jesus’ cross is useless. Does it feel useless to you?

You obviously don’t think the storm is coming.

-Chip

It’s a Virtue, We Just Don’t Like It

5546445177_3251db342c_b We like virtues. We really do. Well, maybe we like them in theory, but not always in practice. Who could rail against love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness? These attributes are nearly universally valued by people.

But when I say valued, I mean I value it when other people do these things. I am not always so interested in doing them myself. I do get rather outraged when people do not treat me the way I want to be treated.

There are virtues in the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23) that are not so widely lauded. Most people have a grudging acceptance of patience but more often have a punchline that implies that it is impossible. Faithfulness reminds us too much of how much divorce we engage in. That is really uncomfortable, better not mention it. Gentleness really sounds like weakness. We’ve all known gentle people: they cry a lot when they are bullied at school.

And no one will ever stitch self-control on a pillow. Self-control implies that I can be held responsible for the porn I look at or the video games I am playing or the laziness I so deeply want to indulge. It implies I can do things I don’t want to do. That is downright unAmerican.

But the virtue with the worst reputation is not one of the Fruits of the Spirit. It is maligned when it is discussed, misrepresented when it is described, and we complain viciously when other people don’t possess it.

That’s right, it is humility.

Humility is terribly misunderstood in our day. I think most people would describe it as the lack of pride. No one would tolerate love being described as the lack of hate or joy being the lack of sadness, but poor humility is always described by its opposite. We just know we don’t like arrogant people.

But then we run into semantic troubles. We talk about pride in our work and pride in our country. We take pride in our family and pride in our possessions. We talk about jobs as if they can allow a man some pride. With all of these uses of the word pride, it is difficult to define humility as the opposite of them. When we say pride, we mean many different things.

So humility really needs to be described on it own terms.

Often, when we think of a humble person, we think of a things like the old English term of being in a humble estate. That means poor. This is misleading. I have known many arrogant poor people and arrogant wealth people. Humility and pride are states of the heart, not dollar amounts in a bank.

So what is humility? One of the most helpful descriptions of a humble person came from C. S. Lewis.

To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert. Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

Humility is the self-forgetfulness we experience when we look at the stars on a clear night. Some describe it as the conviction that we are small, but I think it is more like the conviction that God is more interesting and delightful than I am. It’s not that I’m boring, it’s that he is fascinating.

Humility treats others well because it has compassion for their pain (treating it like I treat my own) and delights in their good (again, treating it like it was my good). Humility does not feel entitled to being served and, quite the opposite, delights in serving. Humility loves to see joy in others eyes and loves to serve them to see that joy.

Humility is not overly concerned with its reputation. This is one of the great lies of our society, that a humble person feels badly about themselves. A humble person is not thinking of themselves much at all. They have a delightful focus on the world around them which is not distracted by the constant posturing for appearances.

Humble people loves kids. They love the sincerity and delight that children possess. Far from being too wise and polished for children, humble people don’t mind getting on the ground and being silly with them. Because of that self-forgetfulness they experience, humble people don’t have to keep up appearances and neither do children.

Humble people love Jesus. They see him and are awestruck. They delight in the fact that he humbled himself more than anyone else ever could.

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Phil 2:6-7

Do you see it? Do you see how amazing it is that he was not stuck on being thought of (counted) equal with God. He chose to serve us. Why would he do this?

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb 12:2

He did it for joy. He humbled himself for the joy he would experience later. He humbled himself because humility and joy are very nearly the same thing.

If you’re like me, you are no doubt feeling quite guilty right now. You are looking into your soul and seeing the stunning amount of naval-gazing you do and then realize the you are currently naval-gazing. Crap! What can we do?

I recently heard a wonderful lecture by James McDonald (see a wonderful excerpt here) where he made a fascinating insight into humility. He noted that the bible does not command you even once to be humble. Rather, it always tells us to “humble yourselves.” His argument is that humility is much more action oriented. It is the choice to clean up that mess you don’t have to, to serve someone for the joy of serving. Far from the ivory tower solution of considering my own humility, he says to over and over again that “humility is not a feel thing, it is a do thing.”

You want to be humble. Go change a kids diaper. Do you want to broadcast your stunning deed on Facebook? That is your pride trying to rob you of the much deeper joys of humility. God knows you did it. He encourages you to show off to him that you did it (Matthew 6:4-6). By implication, he wants you to love that your Dad is proud of you and delighted by your good deed. He wants you to be so pleased that he is pleased, so delighted in his delight.

He wants your joy. He wants your humility. What I never knew before is that these are nearly the same thing.

Humility is not only the foundation under joy, it is the foundation under love. You will notice that love has the strange components of loving actions and loving feelings. If you only describe love as an action or a feeling, it becomes either useless (just a feeling) or martyrdom (just an action). It must be both.

And that is where humility comes in. We must harness the joy of a delightful world full of image-bearers of God to pry the claws of stupid pride out of our souls. We are then free to joyfully look outside of ourselves and drink deeply of a joyful and sweet God and his lovely creation. The joy of humility is the fuel we use to love and sacrifice and serve. Under all that good is a humble heart that just doesn’t find itself all that interesting.

So do the humble thing. Go to God with your stupid pride and naval-gazing. Tell him about it. Then accept that he really does love you and really does forgive you because he really is that good. It takes humility to trust him, but isn’t that what this is all about.

Once you accept that he is trustworthy, then real joy is yours. Drink deeply of all the joys outside yourself. Drink from the deepest wells of joy which are scripture and prayer. Love the lesser joys too like nature, great books, people, great stories (movies too!). Stare deeply into things you love and forget yourself in them. Then make that joy complete by thanking God for them and then telling people about them.

Don’t buy into the lie that humility is miserable. Humility is joy, real joy.

-Chip

Photo is is from Waiting for the Word and is used with permission

As I Lay Dying

car accidentI never saw the ice.

Awakened by a tapping on the window, I look around. My head is bloody and resting on the door of the car, which is resting on the ground. The steering column is pressed against my chest. Each breath is very painful as I feel several broken ribs grinding on each other. My legs are pinned to the floorboard while a pool of blood begins to fill the broken glass to my left as the driver’s side window rested on the snowy ground.

Tap Tap Tap…

I look up across the width of the car too see a face looking down to me.

“I’ve called 911, there help coming for you man. Hang in there.”

I recognized the face of the trucker who had done his best to avoid hitting me. His face now showed grave concern. He had no way to get to me and I imagine I looked terrible.

Another agonizing breath.

I know I’m in trouble. I have a lot of blood coming out of my arm, my head is swimming. It will take them some time to get me out, probably too much time. My thoughts drift to Sam and the kids, what they will do without me. How will they be financially, emotionally, spiritually? Who will walk Rosie down the aisle at her wedding? Who will shovel the driveway? Who will support my boys through the disappointments of life?

I begin to panic. I need to survive. They need me. They need me to survive this. Yet a quick look at the blood I am losing reaffirms my belief that I am certainly dying.

“Sir,” I said weakly.

“Yeah man, I’m here.”

“I need you to tell my wife something.”

“Now don’t go talking like that. You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna tell her it yourself.”

“Shut up! I need you to remember this.” I yelled weakly. “I need you to tell her that I love her and that I am so sorry I can’t walk through life with her.” I inhaled with a harsh gurgling sound. “I need you to tell my boys that I love them and that I am proud of them.” Another painful breath. “I need you to tell Rosie that I have loved being her Daddy and that she is so beautiful.” Another breath, this one came a little easier. “Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“Dude, I don’t need to tell them. You’re gonna tell them. You’re gonna come out of this.”

“Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“OK, I promise. Now you tell me that you’re gonna make it.”

I was going to make no such promise. The reason for my pessimism was the same reason for the urgency in his voice. In our hearts, we both knew I was, in fact, not going to make it.

I saw some blue and red flashes on the man’s face and he quickly left to direct them to me. I passed into unconsciousness…

It is a strange sensation to die. The pain begins to fade as my grip on this world loosens. It is more pleasant that I would have anticipated before. The grinding of my ribs fades to obscurity. As my physical eyes close, I begin to have another sense. An awareness of things that must have always been there, but indiscernable.

It is like sight, but not like it. There is awareness of direction of things, of a beauty to the worlds that I missed before. It is like seeing the significance of something directly. Before I would use a poem or a painting to show me what I could not see, now I see it.

This is most acute with persons. I can feel the paramedics coming toward the car and I can see them. Not their bodies, their spirits. I see the man whose exhausted from a long shift and wishes he was home. There is another younger man who is excited to be on a real accident site for the first time. I can see the apprehension and guilt of the truck driver who is questioning whether this was his fault.

What is striking though, is the crowd of people there I hadn’t seen before. Thousands of them, tens of thousands. They stood in a wide half-circle looking at me. Sweet expressions of anticipation. They had been waiting for me. Waiting with excitement.

I recognized a young and beautiful woman toward the front. “Grandma Brushaber,” I said.

She smiled and nodded. I had never seen a soul smile along with a face before.

Looking over the crowd, I saw them. So many faces I recognized. Souls I recognized. Nanny, Jean Viar, Miss Quincy, Grandpa Gruver, and a vibrant and healthy Joshua Gruver.

It was strange to see Joshua’s childlike delight in the whole affair. While much of the crowd was somber and serious, he was honestly thinking of jokes about how I had found such a dramatic way to die. It was strange because the jokes were actually hilarious.

The other striking feature was the brilliance of the lights. So many lights. They were so crisp and bright.

“Grandma Hanson, I know what you meant when you talked about the lights!” I said. She smiled sweetly back at me.

But I knew there was someone missing.

“Jesus?” I said.

“We’ve come to bring you to him,” said a genial Danish relative who had prayed for me before I was even born.

It was then that I realized my body was still speaking even as I struggled to leave it. A paramedic had climbed down into the car with me and was doing his best to stop the bleeding. I couldn’t hear his words, but his urgent heart screamed, “Don’t you die on me. It’s not time to go to Jesus yet.”

But he was wrong. It was time.

Joshua and Grandma Brushaber helped me out of my body. I was a bit unsteady, but they are magnificently strong, not wavering a bit even though I am taller than both of them. We walked together as the crowd parted to allow me to pass.

Then he arrived. A small man, not taller than five and a half feet, came running through the crowd. He was obviously middle eastern, but even more obviously the God of all things.

He jumped to me and hugged me with an intensity I could never have imagined. Even though I could not see his eyes in our embrace, I could feel his heart. He loved me like I love my little baby children. It is a sweet and intoxicating love. It shouted off my soul and echoed back to his.

We may have embraced for a second or a thousand years, I couldn’t tell. But I had something I had to ask.

“Jesus, what about Sam and the kids. They need me.”

He answered with some words that I don’t remember, because what mattered was how concerned he was for them as well. He was worried for them too. It was not the desperate worry of the powerless but the delighted concern of one who can act. He was concerned for them and would make sure they were cared for. That was good enough for me.

“Let’s go meet our Father,” he said, “He has been looking forward to having you home.”

We walked through a bright doorway into a place that words don’t describe. It’s not because words haven’t been made to describe it, it is because words cannot be made to describe it. The place was like an explosion of joy filled an enormous room and kept bouncing from soul to soul and back to the God who started it all.

We walked together with Jesus occasionally stopping to tell me how happy he was that I was with him. I was struggling to understand why he kept saying that. Why would he be so happy to see me? I am the one who got to be happy to be with him.

As unimaginable as the place is, it is a pale gray shadow compared to the Spirit in the center.

He is magnificent of all magnificence. Even with my new eyes, I needed to shade them from his intensity. As Jesus approached him, I could feel the vibrating energy between them. It was just on the edge of being seen. It moved in an eternal and endless dance between them.

Of course that energy was not a thing, but a part of God himself. No one will ever see that mysterious Spirit, but his quiet presence is everywhere.

“Daddy, I want to bring you one of your boys. This is Chip.”

It was like watching a seemingly endless sea of joy breaking into a storm. The delight that Daddy felt at me being there was so…wrong. Why would he be so happy to have me? I am the one who is lucky to have him. I am the prodigal and he is the Father and Older brother who are delighted to have me back.

Questions like that do not last long in this place. There is simply too much to experience to think overly long about myself. Even as I bathed in those opening moments of Heaven, I knew I had an eternity left to explore this place and this God.

And that is how long it will take.

-Chip

2500 Tons of Awesome….or Awful

pacificrim_trailer_hd_screencaps_21One of the best movies to come out last years was Pacific Rim. Sure it had some plot holes, but that was more than made up for by interesting characters and delightful action.

The most endearing character to me is a scientist named Dr. Newton Geizler (or Newt). He is fascinating because as he fights the monsters (Kaiju), he is fascinated by them. This is highlighted in an exchange that happens with Newt.

Newt: (The Monster) was two thousand five hundred tons of awesome. [uncomfortable pause] Or awful, you know, whatever you wanna call it.

Hermann: Please, excuse him. He’s a Kaiju groupie, he loves them.

Newt: Shut up, Hermann. I don’t love them, okay? I study them. And unlike most people, I wanna see one live and up close one day.

Raleigh: Trust me, you don’t want to.

To be honest, I’m with Newt.

There are no Kaiju in the real world, but there are awesome and awful things. Why does a storm chaser look for a dangerous tornado? Why does the Seattle volcano evacuation literature remind people not to go toward an erupting volcano? Why do we watch videos of fire and hurricanes with fascination?

Let’s be clear, these events are human tragedies. Hurricane Katrina cost over a thousand lives. In 1985, the eruption of the Colombian volcano Nevado del Ruiz sparked a lahar that killed 23,000 people. The 2004 tsunami killed at least 184,000 people and displaced millions.

When Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Phillipines in 2013, I was watching it closely. Part of me was excited to see suck a magnificent and powerful force of nature. The typhoon was exceptionally beautiful to see and awesome in the power it was releasing.

I also was worried. There were millions of people in front of one of the most powerful storms ever. I prayed for them. They weren’t prepared (no one could be) for the kind of power that storm was releasing. The weeks that followed highlighted the immense human tragedy that the typhoon caused.

article-2501471-19594E8400000578-211_964x676One of the most poignant images for me is this one. It shows a father carrying his daughter who died in the flooding. My heart breaks for this man. I can’t imagine carrying my Rosie. The weight of that loss is too much for me.

Think of it. You see the fear in you child’s eyes but can’t stop the water from coming. Selfishly, I would rather die than live with that memory.

So which is it? Are these forces of nature awesome or terrible?

There is an ironic reality to this. They are both. I think they are necessarily both.

Think about it, when we see a tornado swirling in the distance with its massive power and strange grace, we are awestruck. This thing is magnificent because it is like God. It spins with power and yet it is controlled, staying within a fairly cleanly defined area. It is awesome power just beyond what we can understand.

God is like that. We look at him and he is both awesome and terrible in his power. Not terrible in the sense of evil (for that matter, the tornado isn’t evil either), but terrible in the sense that should we defy him, terrible things will happen to us. Think of what Jesus said.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 ESV

It is not cool to mention that we should fear God these days. We have a hard time reconciling this with the god we have made up in our heads who only loves us and gives us whatever we want. But the God of the Bible, he is one to be feared. In Job, he chose to come in a storm (possibly a tornado). In Exodus, he come to his people as a fire on a mountain.

The fact is, God is awesome and terrible too.

So what are the typhoons and earthquakes and volcanos? They are little images of a much more powerful God. Just like cool breezes and sunny days are there to remind us of the gentle and loving father we have in Heaven, the asteroids and solar flares and tsunamis are there to remind us that we serve a powerful God. One that we can’t control. One that we should get out of the path of his wrath.

Just as people prepare for disasters that we know to be coming (see your grocery store when a blizzard is coming). We have been warned to get out of the way of the ultimate disaster which is the just anger of God at foolish sinners. Paul warns us of the wrath of God:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:5-6

The wrath of God is coming and you and I are guilty of most, if not all, of the items on the list above. So what should we do?

(I)f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10 ESV

What is the shelter from the greatest disaster of all? Jesus, he is the one who protects us.

But back to the original question, how should I feel about these great forces of nature. I should be awestruck by them and stand in amazement of them as little images of the much greater and powerful force that is God himself. I should be amazed by them as I am amazed by Him.

I should also mourn. These are terrible disasters and the human suffering also breaks the heart of God as well. But in that mourning, I should not think that a typhoon or tsunami is the great danger. Those things can only kill me. No, what I should fear most of all is God himself.

And then I should do whatever it takes to get out of that disaster’s way.

-Chip