Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the sound of a shaken leaf

One of the “covenant curses” is curiously descriptive of the jittery culture of fear in which we now live:

But if they will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments . . . I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth them. Leviticus 26:14, 36.

Paul commands us, as members of Christ, “be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2.

For what is at the core of all “realistic” consequentialist appeals to do grave evil for the greater good is, ultimately, a refusal to trust that God knows what he is talking about. It is the conviction that the Christian revelation is not an insight into the very nature of reality but an idealistic daydream that hard thinkers and tough-minded men must sweep away in favor of ‘practical’ solutions. In this analysis, the functional belief of the Machiavellian is ‘you shall embrace evil, and evil shall make you safe.'

The response of Christian revelation is that this is, not to put too fine a point of it, a lie from the pit of hell, as well as a snare and delusion. Revelation claims that Christ intends our happiness and know better than we do what is actually the best way to realize it. This involves a conception of Christ’s commands as something other than impossible ideals or as cruel, irrational restrictions we have to obey for no reason other than fear: in short, it involves the idea that the one who created us did so because he wills our happiness and that obedience to him is actually ordered toward life and freedom, not toward our destruction.

Prudence is the clear-eyed ability to see what is so. The cultivation of fear, in contrast, places us not in the real world but in a fantasy world of Bruce Willis movies. In the real world is God and our duty to our family, community and work. This is not speculation, this is the teaching of the gospel. For the world, readiness comes from being afraid, tense, jumping at the rustle of leaves, worried about what horrible thing might happen and laboring to fantasize about what crimes you might commit to stop it.

For Paul, readiness comes from peace. That is why he tells the Ephesians to let their feet be shod with the “preparation of the gospel of peace.” Ephesians 6:15. Paul does not command us to rehearse the horrible ways in which we and those we love might suffer (and this was a man who experienced more actual suffering than we ever will). Instead—from jail—he wrote:

"Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, think on these things." Philippians 4:8.
--Chronicles Magazine, Sept 2008

No comments:

Post a Comment