Thursday, September 10, 2020

The quest for order. . .

The search for order is as old as man.  We want to think that there is an order to things, a rationale, and a reason for everything.  We want to believe that religion exists to provide this order.  The great temptation over the years has been to corrupt the Biblical faith with reason and an order imposed upon the Scriptures -- all to satisfy our want and, perhaps, need for things to be orderly.

We might have thought that St. Paul felt this way with his call for things to be done decently and in good order.  I am pretty sure that as much as St. Paul felt the same pull for things to be neat and tidy, there is a limit to what might satisfy this desire.  Surely certain things are orderly from God's perspective but the creature is not the equal of the Creator and His ways are far above ours, His reason and understanding beyond ours, and His power makes us even smaller in comparison.  But from our perspective, the order which is the object of our desire is hidden in the brokenness of sin and beyond our apprehension.  It is an article of faith.

I am pretty sure that not only do the things of God seem messy to us but the center of God's mighty work of salvation is also messy and unavoidable.  Though our modern age is particularly fond of order and not all that patient in their pursuit of this order, it is not simply a modern problem.  Yet it cannot be denied that this order which is our desire is even more distant from the modern era -- due not simply to our distance from God and the things of God but because creation itself is moving to decay and chaos as the results of sin's undoing of God work.

There was once a program on TV about life after man, a look at how the cities and accomplishments of man might fare if man disappeared.  It showed how nature might reclaim man's glory and leave in ruins all our greatest dreams.  There was a time when we presumed the triumph of our intellect and will, when we believed the idea that we were in charge of our destiny.  The more recent events of COVID 19 and the protests have exposed the lie underneath all of this.  Yet our will and desire to rewrite history to fit our prejudices.  The once common myth of human progress has been stalled by the current fascination with the redoing the past but when we have tired of all of this we will undoubtedly take up again our desire to manufacture an orderly narrative of the human story and God's creation.  Though there are politics and people intent on slowing the pursuit of the progressive vision, it can only be delayed and seems it cannot be undone. Our lives, we presume, will be better if we are able to finally master the mess that is life we still turn to religion as an instrument of our pursuit of order.  We will manage what people think and say and do to make them conform and behave.

From the Garden of Eden and the fall, man had worked to try and dress up the story and the fig leaf represents the conviction of sinful man that if it cannot be fixed it can still be managed.  There were no weeds in Eden but man has been dividing the world into wheat and weeds ever since.  The command of God was to have "dominion" and there is little doubt that man has defined this as the pursuit of order in the chaos of sin's wake.  Look no more to the neat rows of tombstones in cemeteries to show our belief that even death can be organized.  "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" is not simply the circle of life from man's beginning to his end but has been turned into the idea that being organic is itself a kind of order.  We cannot eliminate death but we can try to order our lives around it in such a way that it appears we have organized and tamed it.  But our lives are a mess and even the redemption of God does not appeal to our sense of order or reason but to faith that trusts in what eyes cannot see and mind cannot imagine.

Lutheranism is a faith willing to live with paradoxes that spoil our order and beg our faith.  We live with seeming Biblical contradictions, without a systematic theology that organizes the chaos of God, and without a real need or urgency to solve the riddles that have preoccupied Christianity since the beginning.  Why some and not others may drive the Calvinist to find order in predestination or Rome to find cover under the borders of the earthly papal kingdom but Lutherans live with the tensions between promise and rejection, trust and disappointment, what can be known and what remains hidden.  The mystery of God is so clear that it can be known by the child but so deep and dark that it confounds the wisdom of the mightiest.  It is the messiness of a world in which faith lives and reason is its servant and not its master.  We are not the masters of order but the victims of chaos -- the chaos of death.

Living in the shadow of COVID 19 and violence all over the world, we should know better.  Our pursuit of order is our vain pursuit of power -- thinking God and the things of God can be controlled or managed.  But we cannot.  The goal is an illusion created by sin and fed by our pride.  We can know clearly only what God has revealed clearly in His Son and this saving will and purpose we apprehend not by sight but by faith.  Is it enough?  Well, that is the eternal question of faith.  Is it enough. 

No comments: