Oswald Chambers wrote some time ago, “The recognition of sin does not destroy the basis of friendship; it establishes a mutual regard for the fact that the basis of life is tragic. Always beware an estimate of life which does not recognize the fact that there is sin”.
We shouldn’t be surprised by sin. I am not saying that we avoid revealing its consequences, or of admitting that sin hurts. But the fact of its existence surprises most Christians, and that’s silly. There is something repulsive about a narrative that is blind to the fact of what is. Exaggerated or naive positivism is a lie. Choosing to ignore what is does not immunize us from its consequential nature.
If we’re aware of our own sinfulness, we can extend grace toward others who sin against us. Once we accept reality, our eyes are opened fully to sheer wonder and terrifying beauty. Then we can turn back and, with bright eyes, extend a hand to the other.
I feel as though I am in the dock, standing before some accusation, unsure whether to deny or accept the charge. I have waited so many weeks for this moment. So much planning and preparation, so much pent-up apprehension and excitement for the unknown, that now I am ashamed that I yearned for this day. A soldier is only a soldier when he is called upon to perform his work. Until then he is simply a man who plays with rifles and stomps around like a fool. In the barracks being a soldier is serious stuff. It requires firmness, morale, and dedication to duty. We train and propose scenarios, attack and defeat the enemy, but all in our heads. What rubbish it all is. It is rhetoric, a farce of emotion to mask what it is we prepare for. For what are we preparing? To defend our hearth and home? Democracy? The Republic? For our brother next to us? Maybe, but that is not what the battlefield is made of. It is made of death, of hurling missiles and men at each other for no high purpose of Democracy, or freedom, but to hurl missiles and men at each other—to destroy another. That is what it comes down to. There are no thoughts of democracy when one is holding the shattered body of a friend.
None of us pretended it would be easy. We knew some of us would die, but it was glorious in our heads. We were nearly jealous of those we imagined killed by the enemy. Dignity, honor, sacrifice, they would be remembered in stone. But we expected it to be a competition, not a one-sided slaughter. And slaughter it was, for the ones who fell were killed like sheep—without fanfare or hardly notice. I didn’t know Pelotte or Volcy were killed. No one saw them die. They didn’t run when the rest of us did. They just never got up.
“It is never because a person is convinced intellectually that he crosses over into the existential”
“We may well resign ourselves to it. The Church does not exist, either at the level of freedom, or at that of the proclamation of the Gospel message, or at the level of intellectual responsibility…True, the Church is in Christ. That I deeply believe. But nothing of her truth, properly so called, is making its appearance in the world today. We have to make a choice. Either there is no God, and Jesus is a human model, in which case I see no reason to bother with the Church; or else we have come up against the stone wall of the silence of God, and our prayer is lost in the void of his decision not to be there any longer…All the assembling of biblical passages to prove to me that this is not possible does not alter one whit the easily observed mediocrity of the Church.”
It doesn’t take special insight to sense Jacque Ellul’s pain and frustration eking into the page of his work Hope in the Time of Abandonment. Without making a properly lengthy introduction to the book, his favorite by his admission, I will say it is a true gem and one any Christian should consider. At least any Christian who has taken a few askant looks around the room to see if anyone else is uncomfortable with this pained dissonance that we call Christendom. Few Church leaders are as pessimistic of the state of things. Again it does not require a study of any depth by experts to see the Church is desperately mediocre. But Ellul does so expertly and with passion. He does not ignore strong scientific and philosophical evidence, but his emotions are not atrophied. He is a believer and he also feels too. Where the Spirit does not move we are left to contrive and construct, heap upon heap. The Church has heaped a massive assemblage of religious artifacts and techniques. We are in so much danger of blindness. If we look the situation squarely on, we either give up in despair or we do something radically different. Every heart knows and senses the Absence.
However, I have not heard anyone give a greater explanation for the Hope within. Neither have I found a stronger encouragement and challenge to the Church. We are called to so much more, and we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by “the master of ceremonies, the real conductor of the orchestra, the archangel of mediocrity and confusion.”
There must be something in opposition to fear. Certainly not an avid belief in our own efforts or the goodness of others (or ourselves), for we know where that will leave us. To pretend all is not lost will inevitably leave one disappointed in the long run. Pretense just hides from fear and does not oppose it with any strength. Most of us live in sheer pretense.
What is needed, however, is to accept that everything is already lost and to peer beyond that inevitable reality and see the residing truth that lives in opposition–radical and stubborn opposition.
I know every one of us fears desperately at times. Even those of us who mask it behind a representation of confidence and indifference are haunted by their certain horror. And horrors truly abound in this world. To outlive Death does not mean to deny its reality but to deny the power. When we live into that knowledge we can begin unimaginable work with each other–cultivating, encouraging–not in ignorance of Death but in a revolutionary opposition. And free from fear itself.
Here is a weathered pine hanging onto a particularly unforgiving slope on Whiteley Peak. Somehow we all held on.