Friday, September 26, 2014

The Burden of the Law

I was reading the blog post Unburdened about how hard it can feel to keep god’s commands. And I was struck by this statement: “the commandments are indeed burdensome, that burden has been laid on the shoulders of [Jesus]. … That same weight that threatens to break our backs actually did crush our savior.” not because I agree with it but because I think it indicates a fundamental mis-understand of the law and our relation to it.
By Pavel Ryčl (,
 via Wikimedia Commons
          I don’t think Jesus felt the law as a crushing burden during His ministry here on earth. I think he felt more the challenge of a supreme athlete performing at the height of His powers. Perhaps like a gymnast performing a world class routine that was supremely choreographed to perfectly fit his talents and style. It was a task that demanded strength, balance, focus and effort. But it was also a task that created joy and exhilaration not heaviness and distaste.
         I remember when I was 20, slim and health. Lost in my own imagination, thoughts of exciting adventure would spur me to run, and I would feel the joy of exertion and skillful balance and the a speed that could make still air a breeze. Now that I’m forty and fat, running doesn’t feel the same at all. It’s something I do out of duty rather than desire. It’s something that feels awkward and unnatural, something that quickly becomes tiring and painful, something that can remind me how un-fun a bit of asthma is. The requirements of running haven't changed, my body has. It’s no longer fit for running. But I’d like to keep running to get at least a little of that fitness back. If I’m dedicated I might be able to lose some of the weight. But I’ll never have body I had at 20 again. No amount of exercise will actually reverse the wear and tear of time.
          Without salvation our efforts to follow the law are like me trying to make myself 20 again by discipline and effort. I might get back to that weight, I might put on more mussel than I had then, I might develop more skill in some athletic discipline. But I’ll need actually roll back the years by working out harder. In the same way following the law in our own strength without the redeeming work of the cross is futile. We might manage to look better to other humans, we might manage conform better to certain outward forms, but we would never get back to that pristine innocence
          And this is what Jesus meant by his burden being light. Choosing to follow Him doesn’t change God’s commandments or the requirements of holiness. It changes how we relate to it and where we will end up in relation to it. Redemption changes our struggle with sin from one that is like growing older where we inevitably lose ground feats athleticism sooner or later, to one that is like growing up, where we naturally gain strength and coordination over time and where the destined result is a coordinated and stable adult body.
        The promise of the Father, the life of the Son, and the seal of the Holy Spirit are out guaranty that no matter what awkward and gangly stages we go through here in this life, in the world to come Jesus will bring his work to completion and we will display full maturity there. Jesus assumes the consequences of all the bumps and scrapes, all the wear and tear, all the mistakes, so that even if we spend our time here in the moral equivalent of curling out on the couch and eating ice-cream, never learning how to throw a ball or ride a bike, He will still present us fit for his Father’s presence.
And that was what was as a crushing burden, bearing all our sins on the cross. This was an unimaginable weight, which was born only through God’s infinite strength. Jesus took all our awful decisions, our rebellious stunts, our misunderstandings and ingrained bad habits to the cross. He felt the impact of all those deforming shapers of character and still He submitted his spirit into the hands of a Father who He could no longer feel. He was buried under the consequences of all our unholiness and rejection of God’s law.
So we don’t have our bad choices deforming our character anymore. While we are still in this world we still feel their ghost in the scares and dents they have left on or bodies and brains. We are still sense the reverberations from the God dishonoring actions of other humans. We don’t have the spiritual body that can perform the perfect and glorious dance of praise to our King that is obedience. But we can practice the steps in the sure knowledge that one day we will be conformed you our resent Lord and therefore be able to join in that performance of perfect beauty and grace.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What if someone thinks you're stupid?

       Some time ago I was in a discussion and my conversation partner vigorously objected to a line of argumentation I was pursuing. Part of the objection was to the obstreperous style I was employing. But what has stuck in my mind was the complaint about the substance of the argument: “It feels like you think I’m stupid.”
          I didn’t precisely feel that she was stupid in any global sense. But I did feel that the argument she was using, (the idea that you can take an anti-judgmental stance and then judge someone else for being judgemental,) was stupid. Not only is it a tell that you’ve realized you are not going to win the argument on the facts, it’s self contradictory and so self-evidently wrong. Useing it is the logical equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. It’s evidence of at least having been dumb in this particular instance.
       But my conversation partner felt that someone knowing that they were perceived as dumb was beyond the bounds of civil discussion. That’ been percolating in the back of my mind. How could any sort of politics or any sort of civilization carry on if no one could be allowed to find out that sometimes other people thought her ideas were dumb.  Without open and honest admission of when you think someone else is being dumb, there is no discussion, just empty flattery.
       Then I read Dave Pascoe’s post about the prevalence of hate in our public discourse, and I connected up this rejection of honesty with the human tendency to generalize from the evaluation of a specific believe or act to a global evaluation of the person. The tenancy is rooted in practical reality. If I meet an anonymous stranger and observe them using a bad argument , all that I’ve learned about them is the in a small isolated instance that did something dumb. But on the other hand that’s ALL I know about him; it can’t help but influence my global evaluation of him.
       Our tolerant society has made this problem worse. In our effort to combat bias we are taught not to have expectations based what people wear, their social standing, their profession, or any other category they are apart of. So instead of having a template based on the influences that might have shaped them, a template that could be quite nuanced, each new person is practically a blank slate. Any evaluation of their behaviors during an encounter will be the only legitimately considered data in the global evaluation of a person.
        Now my conversation partner, from the top of this post, and I have known each other for a great many years and I’ve observed her being smart in many circumstances. There is a certain carry over from the more general situation based on habit. But I think there is something deeper there: a significant connection to our societies developing a tendency towards hating.
       In our eagerness to be nice and not hurt anyone, broad sections of our society have made it a social crime to express disapproval of any fundamental character trait, deeply held belief, or sincerely felt emotion. The only way it’s acceptable to experse a truly negative opinion is when it’s about those classed as outside the bounds of acceptable society. You have to excoriate a person as so lost to reason and good feeling that no right thinking person could have a friendly fellowship with them, before it feels right to disparage an opinion they are championing. I’ve sometimes gotten the impression that I’ve expected to be openly affirming of everything about a person or I’m seen as not really recognizing their humanity, much less being friendly.

        Of course this is a self reinforcing loop the more disapproval is expressed only of those beyond the pail, the more it’s a dehumanizing insult to let slip disapproval of anyone who hasn’t already been cast out. And when any negative evaluation can’t be brought out into the light and put into a rational and just perspective the more it will fester and turn into irrational hate.  I think this is already bringing a lot of fracturing between different groups and is going to bring more in the coming years.