Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Death of a Salesman

I think my last post has left the impression that I'm frustrated by peoples' unwillingness to buy what I'm selling. I feel like an aggressive homeless person who stands at interesections and rushes out and washes your window with newspapers, and you're left suddenly digging through your cupholder trying to find change because you clearly can't use a debit card. You sheepishly hold out a couple of Coke-covered nickels and you get cursed at. You start trying to find another route.
But then again, homeless people at least have an obvious reason for their hard-sell. Let me amend my analogy. I'm coming off like a drug pusher who's way too emotionally invested in people buying a dime bag.
Did you know that a two-ounce bag of brown-sugar heroin sells for under three dollars in Afghanistan? It used to bring about eighty cents. The fields are planted with poppies; bomb-blasted buildings are full of men with needles in their arms. Ten percent of the population are addicts. Bin Laden sold them death with a few simple promises: seventy virgins, significance, and drugs.
Teen boys born in the US to moderate Muslim parents were joining the jihad after watching some of his videos. A few of them were from St. Paul. Bin Laden had to have been the best salesmen of all time.
The Christian message, by comparison, is almost laughable. Muslim men picture an eternity of hot sex; Christian men picture an eternity playing the harp. And so earnest Christians, convinced that the gospel is true but not quite sure how to sell it, say something like this: Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship. You were made to want God. The only thing that stops you from a relationship with God is your sin, and once you accept Christ's payment for it, you'll have access to God. Your desires will be met (try it and see.)
It is a distortion so close to truth that the Christian can overlook the fact that it's not exactly what he experiences.
The truth is that the space in time between faith and the culmination of faith --believing that you will see God and actually seeing God-- cannot possibly satisfy a human heart. We go from blind to having sight, but the sight is blurry. The more you squint, the more you realize how little you see.
And you're suddenly required to be an Art major too.
So Christians take up their studies. They talk about what they saw in their textbook, about how much they loved the Raphael, and they work diligently on their assignment to copy the Mona Lisa, but in the end they know that they could barely see Raphael's piece because of their stigmatism and that their version of the Mona Lisa will never look like the original.
They eat their carrots to improve their sight and they listen to lectures on Art History, and they're glad the professor has such good vision, but they'd rather see it themselves than have to be told how beautiful the composition is on the screen. And most days, they'd rather skip the lectures completely and sit around watching football.
You see enough to wish like crazy you could see more: that is all.
Because it's not only sin that keeps us from having a relationship with God, it's being not-dead.
I have at times diminished Heaven so much in my mind that I tried to paint this present reality as fulfillment itself. I've acted as though dissatisfaction with seeing "as through a glass, darkly" were something to be silenced. It seemed so unholy, a reality to be embarrassed of and ignored. The truth is that I'm not particularly good at art, and I can barely see The Crucifixion. And yet, I know it's the most beautiful thing I've never seen.


rolli grove said...

I didn't think you sounded frustrated, aggressive or homeless, but forthright, assertive and earnest. It's actually like you took the art and peeled back the paper a moment for those who might not interpret art so well.

your comment on watching community made me smile, I study Kanji and write comments when I could be squinting through my bible study (which is tonight..yargh!). And so you hit the nail on the head, incredible--that's why I'm avoiding it because I think I am tired of crying out to God for water in a land that will never produce any (psalm 63) and crying out for sight in a land that is only partially lit. Some days this pursuit is so fulfilling/enlightening, some days it only makes me realize how hungry/blind I am, and avoidance days are when I think I can "take a break" from being thirsting.

Kelly Holman said...

This reminds me of Desiring God, and then, what I'm reading now, When I Don't Desire God. Highly recommended.

Ben G. said...

What do you mean that "it's not only sin that keeps us from having a relationship with God, it's being not-dead." How does this relate to your comment that the Christian "relationship with God" mantra is a distortion of the truth?

The Goodfellas said...

Ben G.,

I mean that a true relationship with God should be and will be exponentially more than what we experience now. The Hebrew term for "to know" is Iada, which is the same word used to mean "to have sex." Adam knew Eve. The word Joiada is used in the Bible meaning "to know God" - it's a combination of the prefix "Jo" for Yaweh and the root iada (as defined above.) The term is meant to suggest a closeness that is powerful, thrilling, gorgeous. Buddhists picture bliss as being a lack of desire; I think that what Christ meant when he said if we come to him, we'll never thirst again, he wasn't speaking of the cessation of thirst but of a reality in which we'll both desire desperately and be filled.

I have a friend who recently lost a baby, and she's written rather poignantly about the betrayal she felt from God. He didn't speak when she wanted him to; he seemed altogether silent. I think that a lot of us experience this. A sense of betrayal, disappointment - and on a lesser scale, but not less caustic, apathy, disinterest, and boredom.

And what I'm suggesting is that we were never meant to claim that this is what a relationship with God is. We speak with such passion about Jesus conquering the one thing dividing us from God that we fail to notice that there is one thing left: our present state, living by faith rather than sight.

And so Christians come to expect something that was never offered (now) - a fully satisfying relationship with the living God. And so when they become aware of their disappointment, or their disinterest, they assume one of three things: It was all a lie, and the times that they did powerfully experience God were nothing but rushes of emotion based on nothing -- or that they have to try harder (which in a lot of respects is true, but sometimes can turn into a person trying to strong-arm God into giving something he did not say he'd give, leading to more resentment) -- or that they just aren't "chosen." I thought for the longest time that #3 was true, that everyone else had something I didn't have; that I desired God but he didn't desire me.

I'm reminded of Paul's directive to "encourage one another daily, as long as it's called Today, so that none of you will be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." (Not sure I quoted it exactly, but I think I might have.) If it were natural to lift our eyes to God, if it were natural to have our hearts beat madly in love as they should, we wouldn't need to come alongside each other and push each other forward, reminding each other that it's real and that he is who he says he is. Paul prayed that the church would have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ -- he prayed this because our ability to grasp this (emotionally, intellectually, however) is not an indication of its realness. We do not sense God's love in its fullness; sometimes we don't trust that it's there at all.

And that leaves no "assurance of salvation" for someone who thinks that salvation hinges on belief and that belief hinges on whether or not you experience him.

None of this is to diminish the realities of peace and joy that are fruits of the Spirit -- but it is to say that our peace and joy is not from having desires met in this day and time.

But that's another line of thought entirely.

I don't know. What do you think?

The Goodfellas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Goodfellas said...

A quick addition:
I had said that people assume one of three things (if they believe this enough to build a paradigm around it.) I thought of three more --
4. A person doesn't assume anything on a conscious level, but deals with the discomfort by steadily lowering their expectations until religion becomes a dry, emotionless endeavor that cannot disappoint

5. A person comes to believe that desire in itself is wrong, and consciously tries to deaden his heart from anything that feels like its pursuit, thinking that anything but God is a "broken cistern"

6. A person becomes wholly committed to mustering up a fake sense of satisfaction that makes him come off as insincere, delusional, or hard to relate to

The point that I'm trying to make is that any assumption built on a distortion of truth is dangerous. The relationship line is true, it's just incomplete.

I'm glad that "It is finished" wasn't the last thing Jesus said, but that he told us he's coming again. Finished with the barrier that sin created, and then one day, finished with the barrier of mortality - and every incapacity associated with that.

Again, again, I have undercut a greater truth that he is able (even now) to reach through all our capacities and cut us to the core; speak to us, move us, reach us. It is not without reason that we say simply, "I know him."

This can only get longer. I'll end it here. (I did like the other ending better: I don't know. What do you think?)