Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Utopian Visions, Part 4

There's an old country song by Hank Cochran called "Make the World Go Away." That phrase seems to be a suitable way to begin this post.

The last time, I wrote about God's tough love for his creatures. I said it wasn't a smothering kind of love, but a love that waits for us to open our eyes and see what is in store for us if we will only return to him.

Our blindness is something to which we cling with fierce determination. It is so much easier and more satisfying to demonize people with whom we disagree and make enemies of them. It's so much more fulfilling to deny their essential humanity, and that they might have valid reasons for doing what they do, than to do the hard work of actually listening to what they have to say. It is so much more enjoyable to take the cloak of judgment from God and wrap ourselves in it, and pronounce sentence on other human beings in this world.

We are damned if we cling to this insane way of life. Love and forgiveness are inextricably tied together. When you wish for a good life for someone else, you have in a very real sense forgiven them of any wrong they may have done against you. When you actually act upon that impulse, and work toward helping to provide that good life, you are turning faith into action. The Bible says that "faith without works is dead." What good is our faith if nothing comes of it?

More to the point about which I've been writing, what good is faith if it has no effect on the lives of people in the world, here and now? Does it do anyone any good to participate in the destruction of the natural environment that sustains us here and now? Does it do anyone any good to strip mine and clear cut God's good Creation?

There's a lively and acrimonious debate on the validity of man's contribution to "global warming," or as it's more precisely called, "climate change." A lot of the debate is over whether it's actually taking place. The climate records are pretty clear -- it's taking place. The argument might be more profitably about what part our own human activities have had in affecting this climate change.

Whether you accept the common view that mankind has contributed to climate change because of fossil fuel use, or deny that this is the cause, the reality is inescapable. The climate is changing. Adaptations will have to be made to facts like receding polar ice caps, diminishing snow pack in mountain regions, and rising sea levels. Weather cycles are changing, producing stronger storms and more extreme temperatures, both highs and lows, in winter and summer. These changes are impacting growing seasons and wildlife populations. Whether we made this happen or not, we will have to accommodate to these changes.

If our attitude is one of "let it go, God is gonna clean house soon anyway," then we truly are hateful and murderous people. We are judged on the quality of our lives in the here and now, and willfully acquiescing to the deprivations of others' lives does not reflect love as a real presence in our own.

Let me be blunt. God's love is a tough love, respecting our own choices, but always ready to forgive and welcome us back. At one and the same time, God came to earth as Jesus, divinity clothed in mortal flesh, and allowed men to kill him as a final and totally atoning sacrifice for our sinfulness. God made that gesture independent of anything we had done, have done, or will do in the future. Jesus' time on this earth was brief, but no one can deny the impact those thirty-three years have had on us since he walked among us. He came as the sacrifice, but he gave his followers marching orders. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Heal the sick. Befriend the marginalized. Judge not, unless you want to be judged by the same standard. Give up all you have and follow him.

By this measure, our love is to be as assertive as God's was. God sent his own being to live among us. We are to do likewise, to go where we are needed to be Jesus here and now. This is really like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, though; the father didn't drag the son back home. Instead, he waited all the days to see his son returning because his eyes had been opened to his true need. We must be where we are needed, to be there when our help is required. That's why we're in Haiti, that's why Christians are always where there is poverty, hatred, hunger, need of any kind. Sometimes we're slow in realizing the need, but we respond.

"Creation care" is what the new Christian environmental sensibility is called, one name among others. We were originally chartered with caring for God's Creation; that hasn't changed, even as we were evicted from the Garden because of our willfulness and pride. We are still to care for God's world. We can not exist independently of our world. Our technology doesn't give us that out. If the world goes, so do we. I'm not sure that God would be pleased. I don't have that kind of faith. Do you?

So, to wrap this all up, here we are. We believe in a future Kingdom of God that will see an end to all sorrow, to all pain, to death itself. I yearn for that communion with God that I swear belief in. I can not prove these things scientifically. Science is not the tool for that, as marvelous as it is at discovering the ways our world works. The appropriate tool for that is faith, the hope in things unseen. We will all one day know if this is truth or not, for as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, "For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone."

We hope for this utopian vision, this Kingdom of Heaven, but we're not building it entire at this time. No, we're working on it, or should be, getting into practice for living in that world. You might say we're in a training camp for saints. We won't be able to build the perfect world as we are now. It will take new hearts in new bodies to achieve that. We can be obedient, though, and do what Jesus told us to do, to follow his marching orders. We can hear and humbly try to fully understand Micah 6:8: "He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God."

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