If ever the regurgitation of divine love was important, it is now.
Not because the world is ending; not because life is being wrenched away; not because suffering oppresses us. Simply because we are having a moment of stark humanity.
Paul said this, and we eat it up like candy: “For I am convinced that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor things past, nor present, nor yet to come, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ our Lord.”
And frankly, if we entertain that for any brief moment, what do our Gehennas possibly hold against it? The threat of fire? Fire was baptismal before it was every destructive. Abandonment? The loneliest men and women were beloved prophets. What are we, anyway—Manichaeans? The greatest evil we face is the strange demand in our mind that every good has an opposite. That’s why there MUST be a hell. There MUST be evil. Otherwise, what would good be worth? How would we even know it’s good?
Here’s where God dips his spiritual toes in the ever-visceral. Ferdinand de Saussure once said that we cannot know any thing unless it is opposed to something else—that is how we define it. Not by what it is, but by what it is not. God upsets that very human logic by saying, quite simply: “I am.” We respond with, “Yes, but… WHAT are you? WHO are you?” The point: It doesn’t matter. We have already accepted that God is.
Which is why me lingering in bed on any given night, crazed with worry, doubt, fear, or loneliness is preposterous. It’s very human, surely, but demonstrates no real gift of trust. I’m almost sure God is sitting right there next to me, waiting for me to open my eyes and see that he was there all along. God was, is, and will be.
Here’s the thing, folks: imminence has nothing on immanence. That is, what happens in the moment, right now, today, tomorrow, this week—none of it is worth our anxiety. I accept that God is, and part of that is accepting that life is—a life including me, a life that unfolds with me in it. And as it does, things happens in their time and for their reasons. Some days, those things suck. But I can take a deep breath, step back, and lose the anxiety of the moment, knowing it all leads to something very good indeed.
Many non-Christians would laugh at that. Perhaps they would even claim it was a cheap way of divorcing myself from responsibility. It’s pretending there is a world there really isn’t. But, to them I say: there is a distinct difference between faith and the world of pretend. If I wanted to pretend a fictional world, wouldn’t I make it all happy and care-free and loving? My faith wraps itself around just the opposite—pain, suffering, death, misery, anxiety, guilt, shame, sin. Why on earth would I make up such a painful world?
And as far as responsibility is concerned, faith doesn’t do away with it. It just reframes it. Faith tells me that the needs which plague me as a human shouldn’t be my primary focus. Faith calls me to act on an innate spirit of love, setting aside human fear to the benefit of others. It’s my responsibility—and my joy!—to live this out. To satisfy some requirement for salvation? Not at all. As it was long ago expressed to me—we act out of goodness because we are good, not because we are trying to be good. The details? Well, let’s leave those to God.
Though the world will not, at times, understand me, nor I them, still I will do my best to understand that goodness that is gifted to me in my selfhood. One of the greatest gifts of Lutheranism has been the freedom to be as I am—and that, instinctually, means doing good.
I am still human, however. I still stumble, trip, and fall. And it is faith that picks me up, reminds me I am good, and propels me onward. Because of that journey, and for its success, I am every thankful I am both entirely human and entirely imbued with the spirit of God.