I sit in the middle (I HOPE it's at least the middle!)of the longest-running assault on my spirit in a while. The business workload has increased substantially, travel has increased dramatically (I literally circled the globe in the last two weeks--California to Scotland to London to Tokyo to California), and the day-to-day stresses of this chaotic life have induced that periodic state I know so well as 'biochemical depression'.
One good side effect of travel is that I get to read a good bit. In the past several weeks of travel I have been able to read a considerable amount of material on Paul. I have seen how the scholarly literature has rejected the popular notion of Paul as 'founder of Christianity', and that he is increasingly being seen as the Jewish theologian and Pharisee that he was. I am amazed at the utter continuity he was able to demonstrate between the New Age of Jesus and the Law and Torah. There were many messianic strains and eschatological expectations in the Tanaakh, and Paul saw them ALL fulfilled in the God-man Jesus the Messiah. "For all the promises of God are 'Yes' in Him" he proclaimed in 2 Cor 1.20. The convergence of the images of the Star of Jacob, the Second Moses, the Davidic Son, the Suffering Servant, the New Melchizedek, the Pierced YHWH, Immanuel, and other images on the one figure of Jesus of Nazareth was a revelation in itself of the ultimate and divine character of Jesus for him. Who else but God could fulfill all those roles? Who else but God could be trusted with judging the whole world in righteousness and in ruling the entire heavens and earth? Who else but God-become-man could live a life in perfect covenant fulfillment, to 'unleash' the promises of GOD?
Paul's unceasing efforts to understand the in-breaking of God's kingdom in the person of Jesus--in the light of Torah--was a testimony to his Jewish zeal and to his personal fidelity to the faith of Abraham and the Fathers (Acts 24.14: But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets;) For Paul, the Kingdom of God had already begun its in-breaking into our history, and his job--in light of the OT scriptures--was to bring the Gentiles into submission and obedience to the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God. He was obviously attacked and harassed on every side (who isn't that ever attempts something great for God?!), but God honored his efforts and stood by him when needed (2 Tim 4.17: But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lionís mouth. 18 The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. ). The Lord interrupted this man's life one day, and it was never the same...
And at the present time I am engaged in one of those gloryless biological struggles, in which the score sits at "Glenn - zero; Microorganisms - 4 million". January brought the normal financial hassles, but was accompanied by a level of detachment that was unusually strong this time. For some reason, the way I "think" makes me often feel like a spectator of life, instead of a participant. I suspect that much of this is epistemic distance, and some of it probably dysfunctional avoidance, but it always feels so unhealthy and abnormal. And this year so far has been the worst...
Between the assault on my morale, the morbid-leaning self-questioning of my character (which ALWAYS occurs when I think too much!), the lack of clarity on my socio-historical identity, the predictable dissonance that comes from performing work-projects for which one is ill-suited, the wearisomeness of hyper-vigilance, and the numbing power of the vagueness of my 'problems', I feel sometimes crushed, sometimes adrift, sometimes evanescent. But at the bottom of my daily morning journal entry, there is always the comment "But Lord, You are still God today"...
It always makes me think about how so much of experience seems almost calculated to destroy that simple truth--that God is God, that God is good, that God is engaged in my life. John said in I John that our victory over the world was simply our faith. I remember the first time I wondered to myself "is that ALL?" Is victory over the world simply that our basic faith in our Lord survives intact? I remember thinking how small a goal that seemed. But that was twenty-five years ago...I know better now...I understand more now of what Paul meant at the end of his life by "I have run the race; I have kept the faith". He avoided the shipwrecks of others and the 'embellishment' of still others. "Christ Crucified" and "the power of His resurrection"...
What has always amazed (and often amused) me about many of these 'assaults' is their vague character. I have no real grounds for doubting God. I have too much personal history with Him, and far too much investigation into His truth to be easily upset--theoretically. But the doubts that come and the challenges about His involvement/interest in my life and situation are always so non-specific and fuzzy. I remember C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters always had the senior tempter instructing the junior tempter to keep his 'client' in a fog--never let him ask incisive questions about anything, especially his doubts. It's a little like the nighttime apparitions we saw as kids. I remember being frightened out of my mind in the 5th grade by some floating white-thing in my room one night, only to find out it was my tee-shirt draped across the back of a chair. By being a bit more 'incisive' and getting out of bed to examine the issue, the vague apparition turned into a very substantial object.
As humans (even those being devoured by microbes, as I am--sneeze, sneeze), we live in what social scientists call a 'universe of symbols'. We are surrounded by symbols and images and metaphors and analogues that have varying degrees of precision and considerable amounts of contradiction. Fuzziness is a way of life. It is certainly predictable that the 'mortal' side of me would attend to and focus on the aspects of my symbolic experience that reinforced its pessimism and its preoccupation with death. And I probably do this better than most (smile)...
I get to start teaching again on March 1st at "my" church in Palo Alto, and I have just posted the syllabus for the 8-10 week class. The class is about one of the most incredible events in spacetime--the Incarnation. Although God repeatedly promised us that He would come to His people and "dwell among them," when He actually DID ARRIVE in history, we couldn't believe it! What is really bizarre about this, to me, is that we decided AHEAD of time that an incarnation 'could not happen' and therefore when it DID happen, we denied it.
I remember a joke from years ago that has lodged its way in my brain. The story begins with a worried wife, visiting a psychiatrist. When he asks what her problem is, she explains that her husband believes that he is dead. In spite of the obvious fact that he carries about his life perfectly normally, he is firmly convinced that he is dead.
The psychiatrist agrees to treat the man, and launches the man into an intense research and reading project designed to convince him that dead men do not bleed. After six weeks of intense study, reading, and even experiments in the morgue, the patient tells the doctor in a session that he is convinced. He knows--better than his own name--that dead men do not bleed. After questioning the patient a few more times about the certitude of this, the doctor then grabs the patient's finger and pricks it with a pin. A small drop of blood appears at the puncture, and the patient turns a deathly pale. "My God!" he exclaims, with shock in his voice, "Dead men DO bleed, after all!"
I often think of this story when I hear someone assert that the God who stooped to create this universe CANNOT have multiple centers of agency/consciousness in Him (i.e., His consciousness CANNOT be greater or more complex that humans!!) or when I hear someone assert that God simply CANNOT take on a human body/nature and walk around in the spacetime He created.
What I find historically interesting is that pre-Christian Judaism actually HAD minority strains of tradition in which a Messiah was divine and in which the Angel of YHWH (Metatron) was a 'second power' in Heaven. And even more fascinating, is that these plurality and incarnation 'heresies' grew and continued well into the Middle Ages in Jewish literature.
But how could God take on human flesh? From what we know about nature and mind, wouldn't that be impossible?
When I ponder the mystery of the Incarnation, I come away firmly convinced that we know so very, very little about 'nature' and 'matter' and 'mind' and 'the universe'...and certainly not enough to say 'it is impossible'!
And so my Lord became a man, and was subject to the challenges I face (I Cor 10.13)...He experienced fatigue, anguish, frustration, and no doubt had similar bouts with 'germ warfare'. And so I turn to Him for solace, for sustenance, for strength.
My Shepherd carries me in His arms and speaks softly to my heart...
(time to go to sleep)