Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meditation XXXVI--Through the lens of metaphor

"For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind."

In this chapter from John's Gospel we find the incredible story of Christ healing a man born blind. The chapter opens with the disciples asking what may seem to the modern reader to be a very strange question: "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was was born blind?" The question is steeped in the prevailing error of the time, one based on an assumption that such maladies are the direct result of doing wrong. It defies reason that an innocent child could have done something before birth that he would be so cursed. Likewise, if the parents had done something worthy of punishment, why inflict that punishment on the unborn child?

Of course, the disciples, to carry the metaphor further, are blinded by the cultural and "spiritual" norms they have been born into. They can only see the either/or. And the answer, whether they realize it or not, says something about the nature of the God they are at Jesus' feet to learn about. With either expected answer, that God must seem a capricious overlord where rules are concerned.

But Jesus, ever the contrarian who adamantly pushes away from the trap of either/or thinking, says that neither option is correct. Then he adds, somewhat cryptically, that the man's blindness was there "that the works of God might be displayed in him." So while He could have said that this has nothing to do with God, He is clear that God is in the center of it, just not in the way everyone thought. I'll argue that the miracle of the man's healing, however, was only one part of Jesus demonstrating the "works of God."

See, the rule-makers/enforcers of Christ's time (and ours) were more interested in using the event as a way to trap their political enemy. After questioning the event, the man, his parents, and then the man again, they find themselves questioned. The healed man says, "We know that God does not listen to sinners." The statement is telling because they had adjured him to tell the truth (because they did not wish to believe the man's account), saying, "We know that this man is a sinner." Leaving aside for now what "sin" may or may not actually mean, we see these men expected a specific answer. Because Jesus was already their enemy, they could see nothing good coming from Him. This is further shown by them throwing the healed man out of the synagogue, for what can only be seen as having the audacity to stand up to them, with the classic circular argument: "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?"

It is easy for us to condemn the words and actions of the Pharisees here, and even to see the same mindset among certain people and groups we are familiar (or think we are familiar) with. I could not help but see corollaries in political groups on the right and left and in between, who see those who think differently from them as not only wrong, but grotesquely evil. What is harder, and more necessary, is that we look within ourselves for the germ that not only makes, but builds up enemies by ignoring the good right in front of us. That is the germ that, left unchecked, becomes terminal disease of the mind. As Jesus would tell the Pharisees, "now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains."

Stories like this show why an understanding of and openness to metaphors are so important. It was not love of the law that made the Pharisees unable to see the Jesus' truth, but their love of self made them turn the focus knobs of their microscope on the law until they could find their hatred, and this disguised as concern for the people. Our lens should not be scripture, but God Himself, whom we must continually seek. Otherwise, we cannot find joy, even in miracles.

Heavenly Father, we grope alone until you take us by the hand. And we do not always know it is You leading us. So quiet our minds that we can adjust to the light you give, and grant us vision of heart to trust You in what seems like darkness and even against the narrow vision of our times. Amen in Christ.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Scott Cairns' The End of Suffering

The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in PainThe End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain by Scott Cairns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was not what I expected, and at first, not what I wanted. I cannot tell yet if it is what I needed. While some of the ideas may not be new to people who have spent a good deal reading this niche of literature, it is certainly more honest and better grounded, theologically and rationally, than other work I have read on the subject, including Lewis' sometimes infuriating The Problem of Pain.

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