Hodge-podge of thoughts

"Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness." ~ Ecclesiastes 7:13-15 (NIV)

I feel like my brain (and soul) have been twisted into a pretzel today! Every time I tried to answer a question, I found eight more questions. Ecclesiastes is really the perfect book for that, especially if you are sardonic by nature. Here is where God speaks to me as a "confirmed pessimist" (as my mother would say)! "Yes, you're right, the world is cursed, we're all destined to die and things probably won't make much sense to you no matter how hard you try!" Isn't it amazing that God gives us such a range in one inspired Book with 66 chapters? We read the heights of joy and prosperity - the underdog victories of the Old Testament to the resurrection of Christ and boatloads of fish in the New Testament - all the way down to the pits of life here on earth - scraping your boils with a broken pot as you sit in the dust by the roadside, mocked and pitied by your friends. Then books like Ecclesiastes that confirm that God's plan will not be laid bare for human understanding until the end of time. What is a Christian like me to think of all this? How does it help me to cope to know that I can't understand?

Perspective, perspective! I have decided that should be the label of my soapbox here on the internet, this blog of my experience. It is all about perspective. To people with cancer, my cancer is a "good" cancer - "oh, you just have that little kind of cancer, the one specific to the thyroid...you have a 80% chance of surviving compared to my 40%". To people without cancer, my cancer is a tragedy - I am a 29-year-old mother who has been given a "survival rate"! To people with no children, my four are overwhelming, a brood of noisy, bodily-fluid excreting, a demanding and hostile undertaking that seems insurmountable at times. To those with seven, I have a mini family! So how do I view my life - the actual lived experience of it? More importantly, how does God view my life? I am reading so much that is confusing right now - two books that make me question who I am as a person, especially since I am a woman. From what is my worth derived? Why did God create me?

It is difficult to know how to gain perspective on the eternal side of the coin while still existing in the temporal. I spent a long time on the phone with my good friend today, whose son died while Aaron and I cared for him in Minneapolis. She is an expert at seeing the eternal, yet living the temporal. She could see the intervening years as a bog to wade through in her quest to be reunited with both son and Savior. She could try endlessly to extract the maximum amount of eternal reward from her daily life with her family and friends, to the exclusion of understanding or enjoying that daily life in it's own rite. She doesn't...she keeps a healthy dose of perspective handy and puts one foot down in front of the next, trusting that her faith in a sovereign God means she is not in the driver's seat, she is not drawing the blueprints. She just has to nail one board to the next, and as long as she keeps the blueprints (God's Word) in front of her, the house will come together as the Architect planned.

The danger in trying too hard to understand the eternal is dualism, an ideology that has existed as one framework in Christianity for centuries, since Paul's time. Dualism was a fundamental philosophy of the ancient Greeks, and persisted in the early Western Church, with modicums such as "Multi quidem facilius se abstinent ut non utantur, quam temperent ut bene utantur" ("To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation") and Luxuria est inimica Dei ("excess is the enemy of God") which provided the foundation for the Monastic tradition. It is the idea that the spiritual and physical realms are forever distinct and do not coexist. Is my daily life merely practice, an exercise in rigorous self-discipline, making my life an example for all to plainly see that God trumps flesh? Is it worth anything in and of itself? If it is all fading away and returning to dust, why invest myself in it? If we espouse dualism - the idea that what I do here is truly worthless and silly unless specifically done God's glory - we are walking a risky tightrope. It inextricably separates the spiritual (eternal) from the physical (temporary) and states that everything temporary is inconsequential and thereby unworthy of pursuit. This worldview has led to beliefs like sex is only a tool to conceive babies, wine is only good as a means of sterilizing water, sweet food is totally frivolous, science is only worthwhile if it directly proves God is our Creator, jobs are only good if they are in ministry, women are only necessary to help men, etc. The problem with this idea is simple: people, animals, food, grass, flowers, cars, jobs, wine and beer, sex, physical, emotional and mental pleasures, books, thoughts, softball games, the Olympics, cancer, suffering, pain, tears...they all matter intensely to that Creator who envisioned them, created them, allowed them, blesses them, watches them through the thousands of years of this cursed world, the fruit of His hand and the passion of His heart. To cast it all aside, abandoning the living of our life to pursue only those limited activities that make our "eternal" list, is to render ourselves irrelevant and our Gospel ridiculous. Who wants a Gospel that is of no relevance to sinners, only applying to mini-gods who follow every letter of the law and dare not show weakness? Christ came to save us - because He values us immensely, in and of ourselves, even in our sinful condition. He loves me, here and now, in all my flawed nakedness, not just the vision of what I will someday be in the perfection of heaven! We are not a means to an end or some megalomaniac's experiment. He created us to love us and so that we might love Him. He created us to experience pleasure, joy, beauty, along with the whole range of negative emotions and sensations.

"The fragmentation fostered by Greek dualism ultimately breaks down any relevance for Christianity in the post-modern world. Because Christians are called to live "spiritual" lives, our dealings with the material world become less and less relevant to us; we separate ourselves from our neighbors, our co-workers, and our culture at large. And we will have little impact on our world because we have little contact with it. As a Christian sub-culture, we have abandoned the arts, literature, films, music, and science to post-modernism. And we have called this abandonment spiritual.

Integrating our view of the spiritual and the material world might have far reaching consequences. Perhaps we can reclaim in the arts and sciences the beauty of creative expression for which God created us. We can cease to frame everything as either/or, and enjoy the many gifts God has given us in our earthly, material world. Perhaps we will value more firmly the creation itself, and become better stewards of the natural resources God has given. We can better see that the material world is imbued with the splendor and majesty of its Creator, and we can rejoice in His presence in all these things. But most of all, perhaps we can have a voice to communicate the relevance of the gospel to this dying generation."
Nancy Scott, "Dueling with Dualism"